If I asked you to describe an artist, what would you say?
I’d be willing to bet that descriptions such as “buttoned-down” and “nine-to-five” wouldn’t be high on your list. The more common word, if you’re polite, would be “eccentric.”
Whatever word or phrases you use, I’m sure you’re familiar with the creative type. I certainly am.
I met Mike during my senior year of high school, which I spent at a boarding school in Michigan. The kid was weird, even for an art student.
Like him, I studied creative writing, but to this day, I can’t find words to describe his hair. The few times he participated in group readings, he’d hide behind the podium and leap out, startling the audience.
In the middle of the semester, he petitioned the school to have a bathroom in his dorm basement turned into an office, and to our surprise, the school allowed it. He put a plant in the window, laid a board across the sink to serve as a desk, and used the toilet as his office chair. If you wanted to talk to him, you had to leave a memo on the bathroom door.
I was always mildly irritated with Mike, and not just because working with him involved more trips to the boys’ bathroom than I cared to take. I thought behavior like his sustained useless, and possibly even harmful, misconceptions about artists.
We hear a lot about the link between creativity and behavior, like Mike’s, that leads people to question an artist’s sanity. It’s an interesting correlation, but it should be handled with caution.
Of the 50 or so writers on campus, 49 of us never considered locking ourselves away, avoiding food and company in favor of poetry and plays. In fact, the artists I most admired then came from trailers in rural Michigan, or dairy farming communities in Wisconsin.
Every week, I meet people who are active in the arts in one way or another, and so far, no one has invited me to sit down in the stall adjacent to his “desk.” Artists may be crazy about what they do, but it’s a mistake to think they’re all just plain crazy.
As for Mike, I looked him up the other day and was not surprised to discover a video of him reciting his poetry in wrestling face paint and a three-piece suit. Since our graduation in 2004, he’s become somewhat of an Internet sensation, earning a few interviews. The first one I read cleared up a mystery that’s been baffling me for nearly a decade.
It turns out that Mike wasn’t acting strange for attention, or because he wanted to conform to the common idea of how creative people are supposed to behave. The poet actually has a high-functioning form of autism.
There’s no denying that how an artist sees the world will affect his work. But ultimately the person, not the condition, is responsible for transforming any vision into art.
Call Laurel Black, Paducah Sun arts and entertainment writer, at 270-575-8641 or email her at email@example.com.