Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Artistic Temperament - A Writer's Definition

Guest post by David Pulyk

Some have it, most don't. If you don't have it, can you get it? Probably not. So then what is it? A concise definition seems to be as illusive as the condition is itself.

Taken separately, artistic by definition refers to that which is a manifestation or compatible with an artist's attitude or intention and is characterized by taste, discrimination and judgment or by art and skill, without being mechanical. Being artistic is innate, given that these people have a natural aptitude even though the techniques for their chosen field need to be learned. Likewise, people who don't have these innate abilities can learn them to some extent, even to the point of becoming exceptional, but without this inner "gift" can they ever become more than great technicians? Perhaps only the most arrogant can truly say. But being able to copy a Renoir is in no way the same as being able to conceive as Renoir did.

Temperament, on the other hand, refers to the physical character of a person as determined according to medieval physiology as the relative proportions of the four humors in his body - choleric (black bile), melancholic (blood), phlegmatic (phlegm), and sanguine (yellow bile). The proportions of these control the characteristic or habitual inclination, frame of mind, or mode of emotional response that form a person's constitution or makeup. Temperament is also innate; you are born with it and it is almost certainly fixed. You are of a cheery disposition or you are not. You are by nature an introvert or an extrovert. And so on.

It is when the two are put together to form artistic temperament that there seems to be some confusion. Perhaps the most recognizable form of artistic temperament is reflected in the mad genius, whose excessive sensitivity and irritability, coupled with their self-absorbed nature leave them with a lack of restraint and a general impatience when dealing with anything beyond the scope of their own vision. It is in this form that we view them in regards to other conditions, most notably mania and depression, and maybe this is because these two opposites of the same coin leave them oblivious to the outside world. They shy away from the external world because everything affects them so deeply and they feel so intensely while they are in this state that they really can't comprehend anything beyond the walls of their own mind. Their whole focus seems to be internal, on their own struggle, but it really is not. The fact of the matter is they absorb everything beyond themselves, even if they are not aware of it.

It could be argued that everyone is to some degree artistic, and, of course, everyone has a temperament, for this is just the natural reaction to outside stimuli. And there are those who have artistic temperament that are not geniuses or stark raving mad, and, likewise, geniuses and those afflicted with insanity that do not exhibit any artistic temperament.

Leaving myself open to certain criticism, I would venture to say that the artistic temperament is the search for and the expression of truth through some form of art. I believe this search is also innate and ingrained. With pen, brush, or clay artists express some form of the truth, even if it is a truth only they can see or believe, even if it is a truth they are unable to explain, and sometimes even if it is a truth they are not consciously aware of at the time. This truth is the intangible that others recognize in their works. This is what sets them apart.

Note: The basis for the definitions was derived from Webster's Third New International Dictionary.
Copyright © 2010 David Pulyk


  1. Exactly!!! I love it and agree completely. You can learn technique, but you can't "learn" innate talent.

  2. I'm a recording artist, published author, painter, and graphic designer. I don't know how my wife lives with me. #grace ch:


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