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Can a "genius" or a "real artist" be a decent pers

Leigh Witchel


37 members have voted

  1. 1. Can a "genius" or a "real artist" be a decent pers

    • true, extraordinary talent and decency don't mix
    • false, they do

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Leigh, I'm not sure that I would consider "genius" and "real artist" to be synonymous. I think there are a lot of real artists in the world who are not necessarily geniuses (genii?). And there are certainly some geniuses who are absolutely not what I would consider real artists! In fact, I think I might question if there are any, or at least very many, who are both!

As to whether a genius can be a decent person, absolutely! Not that they all are, however ;) I have known some who really do not have people skills at all, but are frighteningly brilliant or brilliant in what they do artisically. It seems to me that sometimes the genius aspect of what they do does not always apply to other aspects of their lives, which is why I wonder if the two terms of genius and real artist are that related. Does being a genius in terms of one thing, like choreography or music or performing artist or painting, make one a genius?

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I should have voted false, as I didn't actually read the statement...

Many geniuses/real artists are incredibly focused on their area of genius/art.

This may mean that they often prefer to pursue their passion at the expense of acting "decently".

As an example, I am reminded of a passage from Maria Tallchief's autobiography, where she decided to separate from her husband because she enjoyed dancing more than being a wife (not that this means that she wasn't a perfectly nice person, just that she put artistic accomplishment ahead of her personal life at the time).

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I think it's very clear that they can and do mix. However, people of great talent tend to be cut a lot of slack by the people around them, and that can encourage self-indulgent behavior. This can be exacerbated when the talented person in question is also in a position of direct power over other people, as in the case of a director or choreographer. It seems to be very hard for "stars" in any field not to get a little spoiled. Even if they're the most decent people in the world, the special treatment and attention they receive has a certain effect – how could it not? They're human. But that doesn't excuse the more extreme forms of abuse, demands, and power plays.

However, focusing on one thing with great intensity can lead to less-than-spectacular social skills and a certain lack of consideration. But that can be true of any demanding job that requires 24/7 attention, and "genius" doesn't necessarily enter into it.

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I'm not sure I answered correctly because a statement was not used to answer true or false, rather a question. I think a genius or an artist can act like a decent person. I'd agree with Dirac that "great" people are often indulged, which can lead to poor behavior. A great choreographer who berates dancers while working would most likely do the same if he/she worked in an office. They might lack coping skills. Or they are just bullies.

I remember when I first started going to Manhattan School of Music when I was 14, I was told to accept that I would be yelled at or humiliated by my teachers, coaches or conductors. This was called artistic temperament. Later, when I started at the New York Times as a copy boy, I was told that editors or writers might yell at me and take out their frustrations at me because working at a newspaper was very stressful and these were the top editors in the world. It was accepted and I accepted it. But that's crap. By now, I've come across brilliant people, geniuses, artists that know how to deal with people or act civalized. I've found many talented people who didn't like getting into fights because it wasted energy that could be put towards their work.

I think the key is not to put geniuses/artists on a pedestal in that they are perfect and brilliant in all aspects of their life. Wasn't that one of the themes of the play Amadeus? Salieri was pius and expected to be rewarded by God with genius. Yet, Mozart was crude and rude but had great talent.

On the other hand, spending 8 hours a day in a practice room doesn't exactly help with people skills. I came across a few artists (child prodigies particularly) that did not know how to handle themselves in social situations because they didn't have the training by playing with kids their own age or hadn't gone to school. Those things teach us how to deal with other people or our frustrations.

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i have voted 'false', on the wording of the poll itself.

i agree with dirac and with dale.

i also agree with victoria, that the terms


'real artist' , and

someone with 'extraordinary talents or gifts',

refer to (at least) three distinct and potentially separable things...

(although someone COULD be all of these!).

the issue, however, beyond the semantics of the poll, DOES concern me.

i am inclined to believe that unless someone is a decent human being, i really don't want to even know or see what they can do artistically...but usually, of course, one finds out AFTERwards, what the person is like...

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Grace, do you mean that you may be in the minority in holding the opinion that one usually finds out later, or in that you prefer to not know of or see what they do if they are not a decent person?

I have known some very talented individuals, who were called by some to be "genius", and some were nice; some were horrid.

(many were "real artists" , or even "with great talents", but not many were what I would have called a genius)

It would be better - of course - if anyone working with other people would develop at least a few people-skills.

I have also experienced it that the things we dancers thought were absolutely wonderful - and usually the choreographer was real nice, too - were not taken well by the audience. But, that is another topic....

I think it does not have to be true, that to be a genius, one has to be rotten to your dancers (or whoever!).


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diane - i meant that i imagine i am in the minority in CARING that artists 'should' also be decent people - and further that undeniably 'great' artists, working with 'ordinary' people, should treat them with the respect any human is due - always.

and that people whose values disgust me (if i happen to know that), are not people whose work i feel i should take any interest in. to take a severe example - if we think of nazism, or serious racism, or pedophilia, or child cruelty (or animal cruelty), or whatever you find absolutely unacceptable behaviour - if a person with such a history or active inclination produces some appealing art - ought we to admire it?

ho hum - THAT will set the cat among the pigeons...sorry, 'guys'!


i agree with this, which diane wrote:

It would be better - of course - if anyone working with other people would develop at least a few people-skills.
i would add that it's not so hard, really. and that many such people in dance DO "work with people" ALL their working lives - and some seem to get worse rather than better over the years. i think that has to do with what was said, up above, about great artists (or 'famous people') being increasingly indulged as their reputation increases/as they age.

p.S. nice to be speaking with you again, diane. :)

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I voted that they do mix, even though it is true that talent and uniqueness can make a person appear somewhat eccentric. I would like to add that I have had to deal with a number of people who think that the two are interchangeable. This kind of twisted logic reminds me of "all fish are vertebrates. All fish live underwater. Therefore, all vertebrates live underwater." Translated into our terms: "Geniuses/great artists are prone to personal excess/arrogance/eccentricity/mannerisms/depression. I am eccentric/arrogant/depressed/ill-mannered. Therefore, I am a genius/great artist." :rolleyes:

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Hmm…hundreds of people looked at this thread, and only 14 had an opinion on the matter. I find this to be an implausible ratio. It's an interesting topic, let us know what you think!

I put "Elusive Muse" into the VCR again recently and noted that Suzanne Farrell's mother had her own take on this issue. Under normal circumstances she might have been expected to object to a sexagenerian displaying erotic interest in her teenaged daughter, but in this case, "He was a genius!"

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Genius and good character are no more or less likely to mix than genius and bad character -- and jerks with no talent at all.

For every great human artist -- Yo Yo Ma comes to mind -- there are people whose company you would shun and people whose personality you simply don't care about. Would you do a kindness/character screen on the best heart surgeon in town if you really needed his talents?

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samba's post is very interesting to me....food for thought.

when you write "Genius and good character are no more or less likely to mix ", it seems to me that, in general, we may be more likely to ASSUME that good character WOULD mix with genius - since 'genius' seems like a virtuous quality, as is "good character".

i guess it comes down to how one defines 'genius'.

is it an amoral description - extraordinary competence AT something/anything? or is it more than that - a complex of human qualities?

i suppose one COULD define hitler as a genius AT what he did...

but i would never have put that word together with his name - i guess 'genius' DOES have some moral meaning to me - which is a bit wierd, when i think about it. i guess i grew up assuming the word 'genius' was attached to 'good' people - which must be where we are getting this discussion from. maybe lots of us grew up thinking that....

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Robert J. Oppenheimer was a genius at nuclear physics.

He was the "father of the Atomic Bomb".

He only showed "good character" when he stood up to the US government and tried to reverse the horrors his Manhattan Project team had unleashed.

By contrast, Werner VonBraun was a genius at rocket science.

He actively, and happily built V2 missiles for the Nazis. He supervised the use of slave labor for his rocket program. He never had a problem with that, denying it was of any importance til the day he died. This was not a "good character".

My point is that genius brings consequences to the world. How the genius handles these consequences, is sometimes more important than the worldly effects of the work they leave behind.

VonBraun eventually put the US on the moon. Except for American chest puffing what has that really amounted to?

Having recently viewed a documentary of his waltz with Hitler, I felt ashamed for him. Some genius.

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[board Host Beanie on. . .]

This has little to do with what Watermill has written, which falls well within the bounds of interesting and impassioned discourse, but just because we've had a somewhat rough night here at Board Host Central, may I ask that we neither a: invoke Godwin's Law nor b: venture too far into the quicksand of politics. . .at least tonight.

That being said, further discussion from all parties is welcome.

[board Host Beanie off.]

edited to replace non-functioning link

Edited by carbro
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I think that part of the Western idea of genius has become associated with the concept of virtue, especially after the Enlightenment, in which any great good was pictured as an angel, and described in blazonry as the "Genius of (Liberty, Knowledge, Strength, France)" and so on. The idea of "genius" may have become confounded with the Arab/Persian "djinn", elemental fire-spirits of immense power, but no particular moral sense. The Djinn were sort of relativists run amok! "Whatever [and I do mean whatever] works..."

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