Tuesday, January 16, 2007


I just finished reading The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone. It's a biographical novel of Michelangelo (you know, the famous sculptor/artist whose statue of David and the paintings in the Cistine Chapel are super famous) that gives a very interesting view of his life. It seems that while Michelangelo had a very productive life, it wasn't a very happy one.

One of the first things that I noticed about Stone's portrayel of Michelangelo is that he was obsessed with creating sculptures and a true perfectionist. For a large portion of his life (into his 60s it seems) his every action was calculated toward a goal of sculpting marble - either getting a commission or improving his talent (or both). Not only did he want to sculpt, he wanted his pieces to be as real as possible.

His obsession with carving perfect sculptures drove him to do endless studies of the human form. He even spent months sneaking into a morgue to dissect bodies so he could figure out how the body really works. This during a time when, if caught, he would have immediately been executed. He always put his art above himself.

Unfortunately, politics kept getting in the way. It almost seems as though the more famous he got for sculpture, the more he was pressured to do other things. He would have ignored this pressure completely if it weren't for the fact that it was usually the Pope that was pressuring him. At a time when the Pope seemed to control and/or influence most of the world, it was pretty much impossible to refuse a commission (although Michelangelo did try).

However, no matter what he ended up doing, his goal was always to carve statues out of marble. In fact the four years he spent on the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel was simply to get the Pope to allow him to carve marble. Granted he could have finished in a much shorter time except his perfectionist nature wouldn't allow him to paint something that was good enough and/or to allow him to accept help in painting. It took four years because, marble or not, it had to be perfect.

This obsession with marble lasted his whole life (he kept carving until he could no longer even stand - pretty much until the day he died). The only thing that got him to branch out willingly was probably his perfectionism. He was appointed the architect of St. Peter's because he couldn't stand the shoddy job that the current architects were doing.

For all of his amazing talent (and his talent was truly amazing) he never seemed to enjoy life. He spent most of his life either carving or in torment because he wasn't able to carve (for whatever reason). He never married, never had a family, never tried to enjoy life. He was too obsessed with carving - working 20 hour days for two or three years while producing a sculpture - to let happiness intrude on his life. All in all, if someone told me they wanted to be the next Michelangelo, I would tell them to aspire to the talent of Michelangelo but not to his life.

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