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Monday, October 10, 2016


     Daniel in the Book of Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon’s dream. The king dreams of a sculpture made of gold, silver, brass and iron—seemingly strong but flawed because his feet are made of both iron and clay. The clay will cause the sculpture to topple. Recently newspapers talked of Michelangelo’s David and the unexpected weakness of his feet. Feet of Clay has been employed for millenniums to refer to a person’s weakness of character.

Peter Paul Rubens

     Today we talk of Achilles Heel as a failing that can cause a powerful figure to perform ineffectively. Greek mythology relates the prophesy that the baby Achilles would die at a young age. Thetis, his mother, took her child to the River Styx, believing its magical powers would shield Achilles from harm. Thetis immersed the baby in the water holding him by his heel—the water bathed every part of his body except his heel—a physical failure. Achilles lived through many battles but during the Trojan War died from a poisoned arrow shot by Paris that become fixed in the one weak spot his mother could not protect. 

     In folklore, a Golem is created from inanimate matter—clay or mud. Raw material that leads to an unfinished human. It is often employed today to describe someone blundering, and dense who may carry out man’s orders under some conditions but is hostile and destructive under others. 
   I don’t read many biographies anymore. Bios often show the feet of clay, the Achilles heel, the sometimes destructive artist I had previously respected and admired and I find it affects my enjoyment of their work. It’s hard for me to separate the shallow, often despicable person described in the page of a book from my personal image of the painter, actor, or author whose work I once treasured. Many people can compartmentalize and separate the artist’s work from his or her behavior, I find it difficult. How about you?


jean harrington said...

Elise, I think I can make that leap sometimes, if not always. Whatever Frankie Sinatra's personal life included, for example, it didn't diminish his superb phrasing when he sang. Picasso's well known womanizing didn't strip him of his genius. No doubt, a tougher one to accept is Dickens leaving his wife after what 10 12?, children. However, that said, the artist's work stands alone, separate from the flawed human who created it. On one level, should we be grateful that in all their imperfection, some gifted people can nevertheless create beauty? Another thought: I remember New Criticism, which among other things, discouraged reading into a creator's life. Theory being the work told you all you need to know. Perhaps that's where you're coming from. It, too, is a valid position. An interesting blog.

Elise Warner said...

More to think about, Jean. I do agree with you about Sinatra and Dickens.

Anne Marie Becker said...

I think I can admire the "gift" in people, even if they aren't great people. I feel like maybe there's a balance there, or they're supposed to learn something from their art and maybe never do? I don't know. It is interesting to contemplate, though. (And how funny you mention "Golem" kids and I play Pokemon Go, and there's a Golem creature that evolves from a Graveler, which evolves from a Geodude, or something like that. ;) )

Marcelle Dubé said...

Interesting post, Elise. I try to avoid meeting artists whose work I admire because when I'm disappointed in the person, I can't keep admiring the work. For me, it's all wrapped up in a package. I realize that may be unfair but that's how it is.

Elise Warner said...

Yes, Marcelle. When I stage managed some of the stars were marvelous people as well as performers and set the tone for the entire company while a few were so ornery I found it difficult to admire them as I once had.

Sandy Parks said...

I agree with your comment on reading biographies and seeing a respected character in a less than perfect light, but to me that simply proves they are human and in ways not so much different than me. That gives me hope that perhaps I can succeed in life, too.

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