By P Chong Thurs. 7 October 2010
It often happened that the status of being a genius is only conferred on an artist, poet, writer, musician & composer long after their death.
Greatness is often acquired by being born great, some achieved greatness & still others have greatness thrust upon them. Whichever category that greatness comes about, there is always that element of luck in question.
What’s the whole point of suffering a lifetime & only to be recognised when one is no longer around?
In this 21st century, we find the phenomenon of paintings being sold at auctions for ridiculous prices, literary works being included in school curriculum globally or music being played in prestigious concert halls. Yet during the lifetime of these artists & “conferred” geniuses lived in abject poverty, or being ridiculed or insulted by the public & press media. True geniuses really do not seek out personal fame or fortune. To them it’s all a question of creativity – being able to express themselves for the greater benefits of the community. Sometimes personal glory is conferred out of immediate recognition by the public, while for most the best song & music become interred with their bones . . . only to be resurrected much later. Such is the nature of things & the irony of it all.
One of the most recognised geniuses who suffered this fate is none other than Vincent Van Gogh, a Dutch artist, symbolically considered to be a
misunderstood genius. At the time when he was working as a dealer jn an art firm, he was able to make a decent living. However, after a sad love story, he quit his job and got into religion, where he got involved with missionary work. He soon lost that position as he was most fanatical & zealous about his pursuit.
He finally landed up in the art of painting. However, he was not understood in this area either. He only managed to sell only one piece of his work “Red Vineyards” and that was to his friend.
Today we know approximately 850 canvases by the artist, many drawings and engravings. Once a cafe allowed Van Gogh to organise an exhibition and sell his paintings. Not a single painting was purchased. As a result, many of Van Gogh paintings were simply thrown away or given away to those who wanted to paint their new pictures on the canvas. Today his masterpieces hang in the most prominent museums; they are hunted after at auctions and stolen for private collections.
John Keats, an English poet, one of the best lyricists of the world literature, did not live up to its glory by just a few months. The young gifted poet was terminally ill with tuberculosis. During his short literary career, Keats did not hear a word of praise from serious critics, who shape public opinion. Keats died very young – at age of 25, and shortly after his death, his book of poems was published. It was so popular with readers that critics could only posthumously acknowledge his genius.
Another poet who died young – Arthur Rimbaud – was more fortunate with the patronage of senior writers. The gifted young man was proclaimed the new Shakespeare and predicted brilliant glory. But Rimbaud gave up writing when many were only beginning – at the age of 20. He decided to become an explorer and gold producer. However, it did not work.
Rimbaud died at age 37, in a hospital, where he was regarded as a businessman. The cause of death was amputation of the leg, which adversely affected the overall health of the poet, undermined by travelling. After the death, poems of Rimbaud, as well as other poetry of the Symbolists who called himself “cursed poets” have gained popularity, and today Rimbaud has a strong place in the “golden fund” of the world poetry.
Geniuses are a dime a dozen
But to be conferred the status as such
Only posthumously is sad indeed.