Thursday, January 28, 2010

The true artist

A quote from George Bernard Shaw, which I stumbled upon in a comment on Word Garden:
The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art.
What do you think? Must an artist renounce all other responsibilities to be a real artist?


John Wenger said...

You quoted Shaw, who said, "The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art," and you ask if we agree. Perhaps it would be better to ask Shaw, who was a theater critic as well as a playwright. It seems to me that he rebutted his own statement with his life.

Besides, there is a bigger question here: why should the advancement of art trump feeding one's wife? Or, more grandly, why art?

Sally said...

Perhaps it is so - for some. However, a responsible person will find a way to produce his art while supporting himself. A responsible person will not require the labor of others to achieve his goals.

wyvernfree said...

I always think it's kind of weird when a quote from a character in a play is offered up as a quote from the author. No one would do that with a line from a movie, would they? I mean would anyone attribute the quote about "the problems of three people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world" to the author of "Casablanca" rather than to the character, Rick, who spoke it? Obviously the AUTHOR didn't believe that or he wouldn't have written the script about them, right?

In this case, given that A) Shaw is a satirist, B) Man and Superman is a comedy, and C) the character who utters that line, Tanner, is an insufferable blowhard, I'm probably less inclined to believe it's true than I was before I heard it in the first place. ;-D

cinderkeys said...

Aw, geez. I actually had NO IDEA that a character said that instead of Shaw himself. In my defense, I went to two different quote sites after stumbling across the thing in someone's comments, and no one attributed it to the character. So my dumbness was more cultural illiteracy rather than a total lack of fact checking. :)

I still think it's an interesting question. Stated less extremely, how do you strike the balance between feeding your art and taking care of your responsibilities?

wyvernfree said...

No, I didn't mean the fault was yours. :-) It's a pervasive thing. You see quotes from plays and classic novels attributed to the authors ALL THE TIME, whereas I don't think it would ever occur to people to do that with lines from movies or TV shows. It's like people believe that authors of famous literature were always speaking in the first person or something. (And, curiously, that they were never being sarcastic. Snarkiness wasn't invented in the age of the Internet...)

Personally, I think the whole premise of the quote is kind of, well, immature and pretentious (and I haven't read Man and Superman in a long time but I'd put a pretty good bet on it that Shaw meant it that way.) The idea that art is so 'pure' that it must be engaged in 24/7 to the exclusion of all other things is silly and I think Shaw was making fun of it (he certainly didn't approach his own art that way.) No other meaningful human pursuit needs to be constantly attended to to the exclusion of one's responsibilities-- science, philosophy, etc. Why should art? And indeed, many of the greatest artists of all time were not single-mindedly interested in art. Leonardo daVinci spent a lot of time on science and inventions. William Carlos Williams was a doctor. If anything, I think most artists have curious minds, so they're probably more likely to be interested in more than one thing than your average person. And even if they're not, I can't think of any reason why spending time doing something else-- whether that's designing inventions, giving piano lessons or waiting tables-- would damage their ability to be creative.

It's just another one of those things that romantically pretentious teenagers think is true, in my opinion. :-)

Jannie Funster said...

Line from a play or not, my hubby I consider a True Artist, but thankfully feeds me and shods our child quite nicely.