An Artist or a Thinker?

“…the artist possesses a weaker morality than the thinker; he does not want to be deprived of the glittering, profound interpretation of life and guards against simple and sober methods and results. He appears to be fighting on behalf of the greater dignity and significance of man; in reality he refuses to give up the presuppositions which are most efficacious for his art, that is to say, the fantastic, mythical, uncertain, extreme, the sense for the symbolical, the overestimation of the person, the belief in something miraculous in genius: he thus considers the perpetuation of his mode of creation more important than scientific devotion to the true in any form, however plainly this may appear.”
from Human, All-too Human by Friedrich Nietzsche

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16 Responses to An Artist or a Thinker?

  1. kimiam says:

    I wonder which artist Mr. Nietzsche had a grudge against to write such a thing.

  2. Dr. N gives me the creeps sometimes.

  3. 100swallows says:

    Nietzsche said somewhere else that you didn’t find artists going to the stake like Bruno or Jerome of Prague. When push comes to shove, your artist gives in. Why? Because he is not interested in the truth of things, only in the myth, the romanticism around them. He wants a good story. He is actually averse to clarity and definition. So he is responsible for perpetuating the great errors. Artist of all times have always, as the Spanish expression is, “lit one candle to God and another to the Devil”.

  4. wrjones says:

    What the hell is he talking about?

  5. kimiam says:

    It takes no small sum of arrogance for a man to believe he grasps the entire, absolute truth. That would be like perfection of knowledge.

    One mans God is another man’s graven image or Devil or whathaveyou. There is a Star Treck episode, very old, but it stood out to me. The away team landed on a “primitive” planet that worshipped the sun and there was extensive dialogue about how Earthlings once worshipped the sun until they became more advanced. Eventually it was revealed that the sun the primitive inhabitants were talking about was actually the son…of God.

    I have two sculptures directly about this very thing, but on some level all art is about truth or lack thereof. Always about perception, perspective, interpretation and that is the limitation of human.

    One of my pieces is called “The Truth” and one is called “Letting in the Light”. They came to me as a pair. I sometimes debate in my mind if letting in the light is sharing the truth, revealing the truth or demanding the truth from the facades around her out of desperation, but perhaps in vain. The truth is looking at his closed fist, but I wonder if he is holding the real truth, if he’s ever really looked at it before, if he’s about to destroy it, trying to hide it, trying to protect it. Is the truth really in his other hand, the one behind his back and he’s diverted attention away from it or simply doesn’t recognize it himself? These are the same things I ask when I encounter someone in this world.

  6. cantueso says:

    Did Nietzsche himself believe there was such a thing as truth? That is almost impossible after Schopenhauer and after Kant.

    “Human, All-Too Human” is very late, isn’t it? That was when Nietzsche was already severely off balance, living in pain, poverty, solitude and in an ecstasy of creation. That was when he developed those grand ideas about himself as an artist.

  7. erikatakacs says:

    Interesting thoughts. I know at least one artist who’s just like described by Nietzsche…IMO character has nothing to do with people’s careers. So this kind of thinking is wrong.

  8. cantueso says:

    To swallows:

    It is tue that, as you or Nietzsche say, you don’t find artists going to the stake. Maybe it is not because of the way they are, but because rulers don’t think they are ideologically influential, at least not as individuals.

  9. iondanu says:

    I’m with Nietzsche on this one…And the artist he was angry with (after being absolutely fantical about, was Wagner…) And by the way, he was almost from the beginning “living in pain, poverty, solitude and in an ecstasy of creation”… don’t know about off balance… In a way, he was like Van Gogh: he didn’t create nothing when “off balance”… When he was off balance, all bets were off (to Nietzsche for the last 10 years of his life…)

    And not only artists bent… Galileo, who was no artist, as far as I know, did bent to avoid the stake (the legend of what he said, eventually, under his breath, is not relevant, in this perspective…)

  10. 100swallows says:

    That’s right, isn’t it, Danu? Galileo did back down.
    Nietzsche’s depression (madness) did get worse and worse; but I don’t think anyone has to point to that to explain this reflexion. Maybe a little too his disappointment in Wagner.

  11. zeladoniac says:

    I think there’s a lot of truth to his point of view; artists are frequently kept aloft through magical thinking when nothing else is available. What I can’t agree with is the final conclusion. Science and art are made from the same spark: both depend on uncertainty and imagination to conceive of something fantastic.

  12. 100swallows says:

    Yes, zeladoniac, scientists need imagination and inspiration too for their hypotheses but artists actually pooh-pooh the investigation. Maybe this is a bad example: Anonymous wrote in the St. Thomas post that she couldn’t believe he had painted that picture because the story it illustrated was so “silly”. Now if he had thought so do you think he or any artist would have refused the commission alleging that the story was not TRUE? He wanted the money and he wanted the world to suspend disbelief while they admired his painting. He also preferred to have the story around because it was pretty or, to some, useful.

  13. lichanos says:

    >> “I wonder which artist Mr. Nietzsche had a grudge against to write >> such a thing.”

    I think he was talking about himself, more than anything. He certainly has described his own approach to philosophy. He was a great “ironist” after all. Perhaps, he’s hoist by his own petard here, or is he being ironic? Such ambiguity has saved the face of many a sloppy thinker or lazy creator.

    As for artists “going to the stake,” well, perhaps he lived too soon. He missed out on the edifying spectacle of the murder and incarceration of artists by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and innumerable other modern dictators of the various political stripes. Geezz! Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were exiled from Brazil for their music! Others were less fortunate.

  14. 100swallows says:

    Irony, yes, Lichanos. And you never know when Nietzsche actually has gone over the edge. Have you seen those last incredible letters to his mother? Was he in his right mind when he wrote them?
    You are right—he was a sloppy philosopher. But who would like to have grown up without reading his brainstorms?
    Yes, times changed and the stake became popular with thousands, including many who never realized they were standing up for anything, or weren’t.

  15. Richi says:

    One can scientifically study the rainbow and find that it is caused by the difference of the wave-lengths of light, and scientists might say that this is the reality of the rainbow.

    But when the poet exclaims:

    “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky”

    What about then?
    Do we have the right to say that the knowledge or experience of the scientist is right and that of the poet is wrong?
    The scientist gets exited over the process, while the poet is excited over the result of the process. Somehow the rainbow exists for neither.

    What would be your favorite painting with a rainbow depicted, Swallows?
    As it doesn’t exist – it’s probably beyond sculpure;-)

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