Notes about genius

November 19, 2011 permalink

Yves Saint Laurent and Arthur Rimbaud

Every man needs aesthetic ghosts in order to live. I have pursued them, sought them, hunted them down. I have experienced many forms of anxiety, many forms of hell. I have known fear and terrible solitude, the false friendship of tranquilizers and drugs, the prison of depression and mental homes. I emerged from all that one day, dazzled but sober. … I did not choose this fatal lineage, yet it is what allowed me to rise up in the heaven of artistic creation, frequent what Rimbaud called “the makers of fire,” find myself, and understand that the most important encounter in life is the encounter with one’s self.

From the farewell speech of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, translated and presented as the opening monologue of the recent biopic L'amour fou.

Based on what I know of Saint Laurent from only having watched this film, a comparison to Arthur Rimbaud would be apt, perhaps drawn out over a far longer stretch of life: instead of abandoning his craft at 21 and fleeing to north Africa to become a merchant, YSL simply bought a house there, kept cranking out his culture-shifting art for the next few decades, survived the alcohol and drugs that came along with the celebrity, and slowly amassed a treasure trove of art and sculpture that sold recently for close to $500M. And yet he struggled with depression and unhappiness for all but “two moments a year”, his entire life. The NY Times review of L'amour Fou has down the sense of nihilism you get from the film’s protagonists’ lives:

To be surrounded by the most concentrated beauty the world has to offer and yet be chronically depressed is to confront the sad reality that material bounty may bring fleeting pleasure but nothing resembling peace of mind. To realize that you may have the world while still feeling as if you have nothing is to experience a closer encounter with the void than most of us are likely to have.

Other recent fashion documentaries worth watching, even if you’re like me and not really well-versed (or especially interested) in fashion:

January 2, 2011 permalink

Genius Childhood Recaptured at Will

But genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recaptured at will.

Charles Baudelaire, from The Painter of Modern Life. I often see this quoted by itself, so here’s some context:

But genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will, childhood equipped now with man’s physical means to express itself, and with the analytical mind that enables it to bring order into the sum of experience, involuntarily amassed. To this deep and joyful curiosity must be attributed that stare, animal-like in its ecstasy, which all children have when confronted with something new, whatever it may be, face or landscape, light, gilding, colours, watered silk, enchantment of beauty, enhanced by the arts of dress. A friend of mine was telling me one day how, as a small boy, he used to be present when his father was dressing, and how he had always been filled with astonishment, mixed with delight, as he looked at the arm muscle, the colour tones of the skin tinged with rose and yellow, and the bluish network of the veins. The picture of the external world was already beginning to fill him with respect, and to take possession of his brain. Already the shape of things obsessed and possessed him. A precocious fate was showing the tip of its nose. His damnation was settled.