Artist vs. creation: Who do we judge?

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, as depicted by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1887. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A few blog posts ago, I rhapsodized over a set of Goethe quotes I discovered and one of my fellow bloggers, Servetus, brought up a good point in her comment about what Goethe was like as a human being.

It made me think. Although I waxed lyrical over good ol’ Johann, would I actually have liked him if I’d met him in person? (Assuming, of course, that I could travel through time and he understood my German.) Would we have smiled or laughed together over a joke, or would he have merely nodded at me and gone on with his life?

It’s an interesting point to ponder. Would I have enjoyed meeting my literary heroes — Austen, Shakespeare, Dumas (peré) and the Brontë family, for example? I guess that would depend upon how approachable they were.

There are a huge number of famous, talented people all over the world, but I tend to like them more if they show some graciousness and humility in addition to that talent. If you’re famous, you have to grow a thick skin by necessity, in order to deal with those who would take advantage of your fame. Some people are going to push the limits of courtesy, or even the law, no matter what.

But I’ve noticed that for some famous people — including writers — the beauty of what they create is somewhat marred when you know their unpleasant back history and how they treated their family and friends. Perhaps all that beauty went into their work and nothing was left over for personal relationships? Sad if that happened to be true.

Does knowing the back history of composers, writers and other creative people ruin my enjoyment of the marvelous work they’ve created? A little bit but not much, because I’m able to separate the two.

In some cases, knowing who someone was even evokes my pity and admiration. Beethoven lost his hearing but still produced incredible work; he also had courage and a sense of humor.

Vincent van Gogh struggled with mental problems but produced a host of genius paintings that are still well-known to this day.

I’ve always liked the “Dr. Who” episode where the Doctor and Amy Pond use the TARDIS to show Vincent van Gogh how much his work is admired in the future. And wouldn’t that be a marvelous thing if we could go back and do that for writers, composers and artists whose work didn’t get the recognition it deserved during their lives? (Video credit: Jess K. on YouTube)

Blog readers, your thoughts?

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