Marlon Brando and the Genesis of "Artistic Suicide"

Photograph by Cecil Beaton/1946/



Telephone Conversation with James Grissom
July 1990


We are talking about great artists--great known artists--and they should all be studied and revered and copied and held in esteem. I'm all for that, but I think we are wasting our time--you are wasting your time--if you only focus on the great stage performances or the adagios or the arias or the novels. All of those things emanate from the very human desire and gift of expression, and it is around us all. We might draw comfort, and we might find some distant and necessary friendship, by reading Tennessee's plays or listening to Ravel or Aaron Copland, but what it is speaking to, I think, is our own artistic soul, our own artistic attempts.

My mother's name will only appear in texts or in conversations because she was my mother--the mother of a man who inexplicably became famous. I want you to know, however, that my mother was a great artist, a powerful artist who poured creativity and ingenuity and brilliance into raising her children, infusing us all with imagination and the ability--with no paranormal influences--to remove ourselves, to lift our bodies and our minds, from locations and situations that were brutal. That is art, and if we studied people like my mother, there would be shelves of books on her work with her children, her friends, her small circle of enchanted friends. Tennessee's mother was like this. I bet yours is too.

We walk among art each and every day--not just the music and the buildings and the offerings of professional so-called artists. Examine a life--any life--and you'll find the artist at work. We survive by so many means, by the crafting of characters, the stringing together of words and biographies that get us from nine to five; from humiliation to humiliation; from sunrise to sunset. Study those artists as well. And ask all of us so-called professional artists how we might encourage everyone to build and honor that artistic impulse within all of us.

The artistic suicide is not only the drug-addicted actor; the alcoholic singer; the writer who makes bad choice after bad choice. Artistic suicide, like charity, begins at home. We kill the artists within ourselves in the quest to get by, to walk within the lines, to mind our manners.

Write about that.


© 2013 James Grissom

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