talent ≠ character

In the wake of the John Galliano incident, I spent way too much time procrastinating regarding my own writing by reading comments about JG and getting depressed. First, it shouldn’t, but it surprised me how many people were willing to overlook and make excuses for his ugly remarks or not understand how he could hold those views in light of his talent. Seriously?

That’s like saying, “You make pretty dresses (books, music, art, etc) so you must be all pretty inside too.”

Then there were those who eviscerated Mel Gibson and somehow thought this was different. Um, no. Whatever your political, sexual or faith orientation, a bigot is a bigot. Blaming it on his inebriation? Mental illness? Come on. Try lack of character. Lack of good character. Just because someone writes great music or novels or designs or acts well, doesn’t mean anything about what kind of person they are. I’m not sure how this fairy tale took root in our culture (lots of blame to go around including the Romantics to Hollywood movies), but it’s demonstrably wrong. Coco Chanel: compelling rags to riches story, iconic designs and she was not only a Nazi sympathizer but collaborator and notorious anti-Semite. Wagner, another anti-Semite, yet his music has endured. Others are blogging about this and noting the difference between the art and the artist.

And I’m not alone in thinking about what Woody Allen said: “People worship talent and it’s so ridiculous. Talent is something you’re born with, like Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] is born tall. That’s why so many talented people are sh*theels.”                         …and then he married his step-daughter.

So once again, talent does not equal good character. Fame does not equal good character.

It is, however, a worthwhile endeavor to improve your own character as your improve your writing (or other art) because you do not have to be an unhappy, miserable jerk to create something wonderful and worthwhile…or controversial. Truly controversial, not merely shocking. I know plenty of now-sober writers whose decision to set aside the bottle or needle has no doubt extended their years to work, improved the quality of their life and relationships, and given them the clarity we all need to create art that creates connection.

more on shock and awe

Been thinking more about the need to shock in fiction. Watched Sydney Pollack’s doc “Sketches of Frank Gehry” last night. Pollack said, and I’m paraphrasing, that he thought of talent as “liquid trouble.” The trick was to let it seep out in productive and creative ways, to use the talent. Also made the point that liquid trouble was largely frustration with things as they are and the desire to change them. If you strive for excellence, then you’re definitionally competitive and ambitious. Reminded me of something I read when Ricardo Montalban died. He was a famous perfectionist and it grew directly out of his faith. He maintained that we create in imitation of God and have an obligation to get it right.

Taking all of this together, trying to shock the audience/reader makes sense – it’s the obvious way to jolt someone out of complacency. The problem is that it loses its effectiveness if done too often and the ante continues to go up. It seems that we need more creativity to express that frustration with the way things are without going solely for shock value. Right now I’m thinking it’s about leading the audience on a journey so that by the end they see things as if for the first time. Yeah, easier said than done. Believe me, I know.