Thursday, July 27, 2006

woe is me

The ABCs of the Romantic artist

For a long time, it seems, being a great artist — a “skilled manual worker,” as Samuel Johnson put it — was enough. For Bach and Mozart, for Rembrandt and Titian, even for Shakespeare, their art was their job. Their output was valued, but in a social order dominated by church, royal court and wealthy patrons, their standing was not high.

Then came the Romantic movement, and with it, artists turned from pleasing the world to indulging themselves: they rebelled against conventions, proclaimed their uniqueness, disdained the bourgeoisie as philistine, savored their own melancholy and formed cliques. Many also chose a bohemian lifestyle to exhibit their otherness.

Flaubert's skewering of Romanticism, when he turns Madame Bovary's suicide - the ultimate Romantic gesture - into a farce, is hilarious. There have been others:
In truth, this was already such a cliché that around 1839 a mischievous Spanish artist, Leonardo Alenza y Nieto, painted his “Satire on Romantic Death,” which portrays a crazed-looking artist as he leaps from a cliff, dagger in hand, leaving behind his sword, writings and a poet’s laurel on a cross. In the background, two other artists have already committed suicide, one by hanging, another by gunshot.
And yet, the Romantic artist continues to be one of the dominant ways of thinking about creative people. Shuffle over to the music section to see it in action, in Kelefah Sanneh's article on DMX.