Decadence and Creative Genius

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  • 8/3/2019 Decadence and Creative Genius



    Genius, Vice & the Art of LivingAn essay by J. Erik LaPort

    Art n. skill, cunning, esp. applied to design, representation or imaginative creation; (pl.)branches of learning traditionally supposed to prepare for life or advanced studies; fine, painting, etc.

    Artistn. highly gifted practitioner of any craft; one who practices art

    Geniusn. (pl. iuses, -ii), tutelary (protective) spirit; exalted intellectual power; personhaving this

    Depression, escapism, drugs, alcohol, religion, philosophy, art, poetry, literature, adventure and

    insanity its what we call life. You see it staring out at you through the eyes of the genius, thewise, those with an elevated understanding of life; those who have experienced it. How can wereconcile these? Can an individual embody each of these? Indeed theyve already beenreconciled for us in the tragedy of the creative genius. How many great minds in even our recenthistory, musicians, artists, and entertainers our true modern artists have lived so inextricablywoven into a tapestry of tragedythe kind of tragedy that increases their fame and their fanslove for them. We relate so well to what they must have been experiencing if not in measure, inspirit.

    We can easily draw the conclusion that vice and genius are often inseparable. We feel itintuitively. And these eccentricities ofvice are so completely accepted, if not expected, as

    companion to art, creative genius and wisdom. The alternative is a dreary stale view of reality.We all seek escape in some way. In desperation we are looking for a new way to view the world.We are looking for lost illusion. We wish we were never told the trick behind the magic. Wewant to see it as magic again and when we realize that no matter how hard we try to believe inSanta Clause again we simply cant. We know too much so we look for new illusions, new eyesin which to see through. God I need a drink (to change this dreary view and allow me to let my mind andinhibitions run free like I feel so deeply they should). The artist loans us his eyes to see through so thatwe may recapture the reality around us anew.

    You and I forgive ourselves our little sneaks of vice. We need it. It adds character to our livesthe way a pinch of salt, so bad for the health in excess, can bring out the flavor of an otherwise

    bland dish. But if we were to listen to the prohibitionist we might be convinced that ourdabbling in vice is evil, with no other possible conclusion than complete destruction of the soul.Bullshit is usually the first word popping into my mindat this thought. Is there anyone whodoesnt enjoy their own private little evils as part of their innate genius? We might actually buyinto the evil crap but deep deep inside we know that those little vices damn near make up thesum total for any true character we might exude. Lets face it; monks are boring at a party.

  • 8/3/2019 Decadence and Creative Genius



    The problem lies in our system of judgment. To a head-hunter, the warrior who destroys hisenemy and takes his head is a step closer to heaven and revered as a hero. If I did that in myneighborhood I would come home with quite a different welcome. So we develop our values,judgment of the goodness or badness of our thoughts, actions and deeds, based on our societysvalue system. But where did that system come from. Surely it came from someones personal

    value system or collectively from the majority, right? If these people or this society formed thevalues we live by they must be superior to us ordinary beings, are they not? But the problem iswe lose sight of the fact that life, existence and the development of character and wisdom cannothappen without polarities.

    Why is it that the people with a tremendous amount of character, appeal or charisma happen tobe the worldliest, well-traveled, awash in life experiences and living wisdom? Or have made itthrough some of the most grueling and terrible ordeals humanity can face? Something draws usto this person, this special kind of genius and we can never really put our finger on why. Oftenwere drawnto someone we dont really like (or dont want to but cant help ourselves).

    The simple answer is energy. Some call it chemistry. The boy who teases the girl, gets her torespond and banters and jokes back and forth seems to get the girl every time. The nice sweetguy left standing there never understanding why the girl is always drawn to the bad boy. But allof us are drawn to the naughty once in a while. And why is it that we feel so damned alive whenwere breaking the rules?

    Theres a line that we walk called normalcy. It is the line of whats acceptable and normal. Itsmore of a corridor or pathway actually with walls on each side that were not supposed to gobeyond, but for some reason nature made those walls just short enough for us to jump over. Ifyou veer off the line to one side you are on the side of the saint, the holy, the all-pure and good. Ifyou wander off to the other side you tread the region of the damned. Here is where all thingsunholy lie. It is the domain of the drunkard, the whore, the criminal. Throughout our lives we

    tend to swerve, if not completely off the main path, at least towards one side or another. Somedwell right on the edge never fully crossing over either wall. Accepted as being normal but theproximity to the out-of-bounds side making them stand out in the crowd a bit but stillaccepted as normal, in a way, by all their peers; the craziest guy in the room may not be so crazyin another room syndrome.

    If we looked at the (secret) trail left by the amazing personalities that weve come to admire itmight be quite surprising as to how often and how far the tracks weave towards extremes orover these walls of the sinner and saint. It is exactly this experiencing the wholeness of the paththat builds character. No religion I know of forbids these extremes. In fact it is quite acceptedthat you will experience them at some point, yet there is always the notion of using these

    extremes to teach the value of the middle. Without these extremes there could be no religion.Why would the sinner need forgiveness if there were no sin? Prayer and a redeemer would beunnecessary. There could be no enlightenment or even learning from ones mistakes. The truthis that our personal extremes develop our true character. For example, you dont have to beEXTREMELY brave for an experience to be a life-changing one. You simply have to exude abravery that feels extreme to you. This then goes toward building a brave element in yourcharacter, and so on with other experiences.

  • 8/3/2019 Decadence and Creative Genius



    People of character and genius are rarely what we would consider the worlds first classcitizens. Think of your favorite entertainer, writer, etc. and ask yourself if you delved deep intotheir real-life biography would you find the stereotype of a proper upstanding citizen. Theanswer is most definitely not. But society tends to adopt the eccentrics because they add asplash of color to an otherwise boring tapestry. Often the eccentric artists and geniuses are

    paraded around in high society as status symbols themselves with all their faults actuallyapplauded, admired and excused.

    Do you need examples? Van Gough, Verlaine, Hemmingway, Picasso, Wilde, Voltaire. Toodisconnected from the present for you? Too artsy-fartsy? fair enough. Lets try Hendrix,Morrison, Joplin, Marley, Belushi, etc. This might just be a bit too rock and roll for some. Whatabout leaders whove seen both sides like Malcolm X or John F. Kennedy, Ho Chi Minh or FidelCastro? Clinton, among others, was a complete womanizer and the public loved him for it. Thelist goes on and on. Simply at the mention of these names their lifestyle comes straight to minda fraction of a second before their genius does. It doesnt take a genius to see the pattern ofgenius. Most people who we associate character with have some pretty off-the-beaten-pathstories to tell, stories that helped build the charisma that draws us, and most likely would not beconsidered clean upstanding (read boring here) role models of society. That is, unless they wereadopted as such in order to spice up the dullness of the immediate society in which they reside.

    So is there a way to classify creative genius? Is it simply character or charisma? The fact is thatthe man of character doesnt have character so much as he has characters. Take Hemmingwayfor an example. The man could rightly be called a genius, an adventurer, a whore a drunkard, afighter, a romantic, an artist, a depressed suicide case or a number of other labels. Certainly eachone applies. Lets get a bit introspective for a moment. Imagine that each thing you do or eachcharacter you play in the drama of life calls for you to wear a different mask. Do you really wearonly one? I doubt it. I dont.

    You might wear the mask of a respectable businessperson during the day, the loving parent, theplayful rebel shooting pool or attending a concert, the drug user smoking a spliff, the snobby artcritic with martini in hand, or the tender lover or complete whore in the bedroom. You wearmany masks; perhaps all of these and more. So do I. So does everyone to some degree. Itsimportant to remember firstly that those masks arent really you. Theyre just parts of you. Howcurious it is that when someone says that they really want to get to know you, when in actualityjust want to know one of the masks you wear that bears a similarity to one of their favorites.And did you ever get the feeling that if they actually saw a few of your other masks it just mightshock the pants off of them. Quite often we become very careful which mask we show, and towhom.

    But our real heroes, our artists and entertainers, especial