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Peeks and Piques! The Price of Genius

By Raymond J. Steiner
ART TIMES Sept/ Oct 2011

WE’VE PROBABLY ALL heard about long-suffering spouses of creative people — the wives — and yes, sometimes the husbands — who have to stand in the shadows of celebrity artists (of all stripes), and the toll of such uneven ‘presences’ when united in marriage. Over the past thirty-or-so years that I’ve been profiling artists — and meeting spouses, I’ve been privy to both spoken and unspoken tensions. It comes with the territory, I guess.

It probably wasn’t until Mommy Dearest came along, however, that we began to take a closer look of the toll it also took on their offspring. I did see that there were very often strained relationships between artists — most usually men — and their children. If proud of their ‘famous’ Dads, a lot of them resented the time taken away from them that was devoted to ‘art’. Time spent in the studio is more ‘important’ than time spent in the nursery or going to recitals or tossing a ball back and forth. We all know the concentrated dedication that it takes to transform a so-so artist into a master — but kids who need our love and attention — who expect our love and attention — do not always know or appreciate what lies behind their parent’s life. In a great many cases, having a child is less of a desired event than it is an ‘accident’ that crops up in an artist’s life — the focus, as we all know, is to satisfy that inner drive — a ‘fault’ that neither an artist parent nor an artist’s child can ever really understand or correct. One artist friend of mine once told me that “his paintings were his children” and that “they will support me when I get old” — and, in fact, although he married a woman who had children from a previous marriage, he himself never fathered any. A blessing, perhaps. I recall after profiling another artist, that he thanked me for “explaining him to his daughter” — already a mother herself, living in another state, and estranged from him for some years. Soon after the profile was printed, they re-connected and picked up at least some semblance of reconciliation. Of course I felt pleased to be told this — but I suspect they were a whole happier than I was about the outcome. Just recently I met the daughter of another artist that I had profiled years ago — in July of 1984 just before we founded ART TIMES. A handsome man with prodigious talent and a very popular teacher, he was beloved by almost every one I knew who either met or studied with him. Although I knew him for years, I never knew he had either a wife or a daughter — and meeting her after a visit to my studio was taken aback when she told me who she was. “Oh my, “ I said. “I never knew he had a daughter.” “Well,” she said quietly, “sometimes he didn’t, either.” An old story I thought. But then she came out with an interesting comment. “When I lost my father, though, I felt like I lost a library.” That really made me sit up. What a tribute for an artist, for any human being! Imagine having a tombstone that reads: “Here lies a library”. It’s just too bad that greatness so often engenders so much hidden sadness. Small wonder that history has shown that so many artists were dissuaded from their choice of careers by parents and elders. It takes age and experience to discover that genius comes with a heavy price indeed.