The fragile artist

Last week my wife and I finally watched Running with Scissors, a strange story based on a memoir. One of the characters was an aspiring poet. This character dreamt of fame, of having her work published in the New Yorker, of public readings to thousands of people. But she was a disturbed and, at times, psychotic woman. In the film she babbles on about tapping into her unconscious, and encourages her pupils to do the same. And never achieves the sought after stardom.

Even though she isn’t a visual artist, which is what I focus on in The Aesthetic Elevator’s writings, this character speaks of the stereotypes applied to so many artists, and certainly some great artists. Many writers and visual artists seem to possess such fragile egos a person is scared to sneeze around them for fear of upsetting them, throwing them into a rage or depression. Such attribute which are ostracized in the rest of society are often glamorized among artists. People are led to believe this is part of a writer or painter’s genius and that we mustn’t disturb their awkwardness; therein we might disturb their greatness and be deprived of a masterpiece.

I also heard a spot on NPR this weekend. I don’t remember the name of the program off-hand, but a Christian pastor and a Rabbi were discussing the importance of living in community in relationship to their respective faiths. I’ve been talking about this, living in community, with an office-mate over the last couple of years. We don’t necessarily desire to create a hippie commune, but something in-between this and the typical segregation of suburbia is desirable to us. We see how it could provide an accountability missing in the lives of Christ-followers.

Would such a living arrangement assuage the unstable lives of certain artists? Granted, many of the ones I’m thinking of off the top of my head were bipolar, and such physiological conditions may require more than a life of community to find a kind of “normal” life.

I’m not bipolar nor do I suffer from an extraordinarily fragile ego, so it’s sometimes difficult for me to understand the perception of my peers. It’s hard for me to sympathize with artists who blow up at critics and take everything so personally. But I understand that this is the stereotype and realize most stereotypes have some basis in reality.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

One Response to The fragile artist

  1. Austin says:

    You might want to check out the new Christian community growing up around the monks at Clear Creek, Oklahoma, about 50 miles from you. There are even some artists among the people there. The monks’ website, with directions, is at

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