April 19, 2011

Fadeout for artists?

The film director Steven Soderbergh recently announced that he plans to retire from movie-making once his next two films are finished. A folly? A whim? A PR stunt? Who knows, but he sounded sincerely tired of it all in the interview I read.

This startled me, because Soderbergh, while working in Hollywood, has gained a reputation as a serious film artist. And retirement rarely seems to interest serious artists – least of all visual ones.

Lucian Freud and Cy Twombly are still painting, and still doing powerful work, in old age. Nor is the career longevity (and physical longevity) of artists just a product of modern healthcare. In the 16th century, both Michelangelo and Titian lived very long lives and both worked brilliantly into their last years. Titian's late works are his greatest of all and several scintillating masterpieces were left unfinished when he died. Michelangelo also left an incredible unfinished masterpiece – when death obliged him to lay down tools, he was the architect of St Peter's.

If great artists work well beyond retirement age, it is surely because, especially for a painter, writer or similarly skilled worker, it can take a lifetime to learn all the skills. Only then can you work with total freedom: hence the striking phenomenon of "late" styles.

Today, the novelist Philip Roth consciously practices a "late style", describing his recent novels as Late Roth. He shows no actual sign of retiring, although he has spoken as if he might.

Soderbergh is a post-modernist whose artful film-making has never been that intense or personal – he is rather a master of style – so his claim to be outta here might be read as a cool rejection of the romantic idea of the consummate artist. And yet film directors have been just as addicted to work as any painter – Soderbergh himself made the film Eros with the veteran Antonioni, and Claude Chabrol made one darkly comic thriller after another up to the end. By the time he died last year at the age of 80, he had made more than 80 films. And he was a master.

There is at least one startling exception to the rule that real artists never retire: Shakespeare. He made his money in London then retired to his native Stratford, like Prospero relinquishing his magic in The Tempest. However, Shakespeare is an exception to every rule and the ultimate biographical enigma.




Anyway – a happy fade-out Mr. Soderbergh.
If he really does get round to it, he will strike a blow against the myth of the artist as someone driven by passion and necessity to do what she or he does.
How sophisticatedly modern is that?

for Beata

3 comments:

Beata said...

Aha, interesting. Food for thought.
Thank you.

Charles said...

The first thing you realize is that the thing you love doing is worth doing so much so that it is worth your obsession. That is the fire that stokes the engine.
After that, you work hard and never give up, no matter what. Once you decide this, everything you want is yours —

Beata said...

Yes, this is how I feel too. Thank you for verbalizing so eloquently.