So, the other day whilst out running a thought suddenly assaulted me. By which I mean that this mental intruder jumped out from a nearby bush, blocked my path, forced me to perform an emergency stop and delivered a storm of blows to my whole self for which I was, sadly, unprepared. The result was that for the rest of my run I was mentally bruised and desperate to avenge myself. I’m hoping that with today’s post I’ll be settling the score with the intrusive thought. You, fellow bloggers and readers, will the judges.
|Nijinsky: mad genius or misunderstood creator?|
Nijinsky’s final performance before being committed to an asylum took place at the Suvretta House Hotel in Budapest, Hungary. In front of an audience of two hundred people, the creator of L’Après-midi d’un faune, sat in silence staring at them. After half an hour he began to dance, but not to a set routine. His movements were unpredictable and wild. According to Mr Davidson, Nijinsky “laid a velvet cross on the floor and stood at its crosspoint with arms outstretched. He then proceeded to dance the First World War.” His encore saw him facing the wall and making strange movements.
Thus, Nijinsky’s “moment of madness” had arrived. Madness that had been accelerated by Diaghilev’s rejection of him when the latter found out the dancer had married the Hungarian socialite Romola de Pulszky (Nijinsky and Diaghilev had been in a relationship years earlier). Reading the article again for the purpose of this post I thought of a different reason for Nijinsky’s mental instability. My theory does not override James’s analysis at all; it merely expands on it. Besides, my totally unscientific proposition is based on what I’ve come to observe in and accept from what we have come to know as “the artist as a crazy genius”.
What if Nijinsky, like many other artists, had made an imaginary map, a map that signified the territory their art had created and struggled with the idea that not everyone would be able to navigate freely on that map? A piece of art, whether it is a choreography, a musical score, or a sculpture demands a rather intimate level of commitment from those to whom it is directed. When you, as an artist, are in the process of building this imaginary map, you must accept that between conception and completion, reality will set in and your map might look and feel utterly different to what you expected or believed it to be. This can be rather disappointing for many artists, but it becomes really frustrating if the audience (your audience) “gets lost” whilst traversing your map. For Nijinsky the answer to this question arrived on the night that he premiered The Rite of the Spring. We all know what happened that night at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. What is less known is that the audience didn’t have any problems with the musical score (after all, Stravinsky was able to play the entire piece a few days after without any interruptions) but with the choreography. Traditionalists were outraged, critics were divided over it and the attending public didn’t know what to think so many joined forces with the traditionalists. Unsurprisingly, Nijinsky fell out of favour with Diaghilev who thought the world was not ready for the former’s ballets. As a consequence Diaghilev spoke to the dancer’s sister, Nijinska, and asked her to advise her brother to take a sabbatical.
Was, then, Nijinsky’s madness partly a case of his art being misunderstood as opposed to mere pathology? If art lovers are used to a certain type of map, what happens when their cardinal points are dislocated? What happens if north suddenly becomes west and a desert is no longer barren land, but the depth of an ocean?
I am not suggesting that there is a causal link between madness and art (or vice versa as some of you will rush to say). Plenty of artists go through life without ever paying a visit to a sanatorium. However, the history of art is full of creators who, sadly, lost their minds for various reasons. Lack of acknowledgement at the time they existed has always been one of those elements. Art is not just an ability we possess, but also a skill we develop through life. A reader who rejects a writer’s ability to create an alternative map; a ballet enthusiast who refuses to engage with a choreographer’s futuristic vision; they are not merely stating an opinion (for opinions are there to be expressed freely since we all have them) but also violating – albeit unconsciously – the artist’s individual human experience. No wonder, some artists go mad. It is this dichotomy of creating, first for him/herself, and then including an imaginary public. Here, of course, I’m referring to those artists for whom there is no such thing as “target audience”. If you are an author or a musician who knows which levers to tweak in order to get a reaction – and acclaim – from your “crowd”, then, this post is not for you. If you, on the other hand, have drawn or are in the process of drawing your own map, Nijinsky’s tale is a cautionary one. Even if a little bit of madness in the arts world is welcome every now and then.
Next Post: “Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts”, to be published on Tuesday 22nd October at 11:59pm (GMT)