The writer Ezra Pound once said that “artists are the antennae of the race”; they sense things before others do. Živilė Gimbutas’s book examines how their unique sensibilities inspire their work.
As an independent scholar and translator, Gimbutas casts a large net. By “artists” she means much more than just those who pursue visual arts; she includes writers, poets, and musicians. Her goal is “…to show what fiction tells us about artists.” As she demonstrates in the many ways that artists are portrayed in fiction, their lives follow much more than the “tortured- artist-as-outcast” cliché.
Her examples range widely within comparative literature of the last 100 years. They include James Joyce (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), Willa Cather (Song of the Lark), W. Somerset Maugham (The Moon and Sixpence), Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse), John Updike (Seek my Face), M. Allen Cunningham (Lost Son), and Dodie Smith (I Capture the Castle, but perhaps better known for 101 Dalmatians!)
Her material is well-organized under two broad sections: “Parameters of Individuality” shows us the important personal background of various artists, and “Aesthetics” illustrates how the individuality of each artist is expressed. As she notes, quoting from James Joyce, “We [artists] are what we were; our maturity is an extension of our childhood.” This nicely ties the two parts together: the life experiences of the child are focused through a lens often involving an appreciation of nature, to create an aesthetic vision. Perhaps the most interesting observations are psychological, involving insights of Freud, Jung, and Otto Rank on characteristics common to all creative artists. There is a very complete bibliography for those wishing to learn more.
Although this is a scholarly study, and the writing is academic, it is cross-disciplinary and accessible to anyone with a serious interest in literature, art, psychology, the creative process, and aesthetics.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.