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I'm not a phony, you're the phony.

Last night I watched the movie, Pollock. J went to bed early because she has a disease, but I stayed up late to watch the end, which is very depressing. Harris' performance as Jackson Pollock made me think of Jack Kerouac and a host of other insane geniuses. Why is it that so many brilliant artists also have such tortured souls and turn into severely screwed-up, alcoholic, abusive people?

Clearly you can have one without the other: there have been incredibly intelligent and creative people who were also fairly well-adjusted, and also, obviously, plenty of lunatics who did not make any great contribution to the arts. But for those like Pollock, I wonder if there is not some cause and effect involved. Did he need that mental instability to create his art? Did the art inside of him contribute to his instability?

I started thinking about this in terms of absolutes. Imagine that you are Jackson Pollock. Let's say we could take away all the causes that led to your drinking and rages but it would also render you unable to produce any more art. Would you take it? Now imagine in reverse, that you could choose to lose a bit of your mind and know that as a result, you would become a great artist. Double or nothing. Take it or leave it.

Of course, this is a fanciful hypothetical and for Pollock and his ilk there may not be much choice involved, but it still got me to wondrin'. It's an interesting problem I think. What if the pain is necessary to produce the work? The suffering of one person may be the catalyst for creating great works of art for the entire world. If Pollock's dementia had been checked before he discovered his "drip" technique, well, someone else might have done it sooner or later... but maybe not. Similarly, how many revolutionary masterpieces will we never see from those who don't go over the edge?


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3 comments:

Sascha said...

What are you saying? Are we slowing ridding the world of genius through the use of prozac, ritalin and lithium? Something to think about...

Nathan said...

That's not just hypothetical - people struggle with that choice with antidepressants and the like...

sui generis said...

Good points, both. I could have kept going on that line of thinking for a while but I had to stop somewhere. It's a topic close to my heart.