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Monday, May 4, 2015

a question of genius

way back decades ago when I first moved to Chicago there was a homeless woman who frequented the Gold Coast area where my apartment was located.  she would make money to live on by selling her art work. these simple drawings had a great deal of charm but I would not call them works of genius... but then what is genius?

One way of defining genius would be when the "genius" sees things we all see and yet sees more than we do or something else than we do or has some deeper understanding of the nature of "life, the universe, and everything" (L, tU & E) to copy a phrase from a comic genius Douglas Adams.

I hadn't thought about Lee Godie (the homeless artist) in years - everyone in the neighborhood knew her. Last night's play (Title & Deed) reminded me of her, in that I think the one and only character (who might or might not have been homeless) had moments of genius interspersed with moments of lunacy. Perhaps this is "apriori" to genius to some degree.

The Michael Patrick Thornton performance was undeniably brilliant - so brilliant I kept wanting to enter into a conversation with the character he played, the Traveler.  The character made so many interesting observations about "L tU & E" - about the meaning of home, the search for home, the nature of family, of traveling, of seeking. Unfortunately these observations of genius were interspersed with the lunacy of sentences like "the ritual gargling with sand for my third birthday" - such that I felt I had fallen into the Dadaist universe of Travesties from two nights earlier...





The last two sentences above ring 100% true- this was a brilliant performance- it wasn't even really a performance he so inhabited the character he WAS the character....



so here is the thing- I frequently wanted to laugh (and did so mostly into my hand) because I found some of the dialogue so outrageous and ludicrous- there was one point where he goes on and on about a field of shorn sheep and a couple of cows all facing in the same direction huddled together in the snow- yeah... right... remain calm buddy - time for the medication. but then he would say something so brilliant - it was a kind of razor's edge - genius and lunacy...

in the end - I found it painful - so much to talk about and so little opportunity to have the discussion...
so I find myself unable to give a thumbs up or thumbs down because this one is out beyond that kind of review. I found myself wondering if reading the script would give me a better understanding, but then again maybe not...

anyway to bring things full circle- I never considered Lee Godie an artistic genius but apparently others did because she has a wikipedia entry  LOL -

Lee Godie (born Jamot Emily Godee; September 1, 1908 – March 4, 1994) was an American self-taught artist who was active in Chicago during the late 1960s until around the early 1990s. She was a prolific artist who was known for her paintings and modified photos which are shown in galleries and museums such as the Hayward Gallery in London and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She is often considered Chicago's most collected artist.

Lee Godie was notoriously wary of divulging personal information about herself. She was married twice and had four children. It was possible that she had once wanted to be a singer, but wasn't allowed by one of her husbands. Following the death of two of her children, her life was transformed and Godie reinvented herself as an artist in Chicago. Godie remained in downtown Chicago for almost a 30-year period, becoming a facet of the social milieu during that time.

Godie lived on the streets, sleeping outdoors or in transient hotels. She could be seen sleeping outdoors in sub-zero temperatures, "on a concrete bench...clutching her large black portfolio case." Living outdoors seemed to be by choice, since she had quite a lot of money saved and did not seem to enjoy being indoors.

Godie had a unique fashion style and could be seen wearing different swatches of fabric wrapped around herself or fur coats that were pieced together. She also used her own paint to transform her own personal image, painting "big orange circles over each cheek" and painted-on eyeshadow.

so maybe (and clearly the answer for some is YES) she was an artistic genius- but I did not find her art to be such-  Here are some examples from the internet...




here she is- when I was running into her she looked like the photo n the upper right hand -


so it is a question of genius... what is it? who has it? and how can it be differentiated from lunacy? and I do not have the answers but appreciate those whose seek them...

next up The Herd at Steppenwolf...



and then we will also squeeze in another work about genius - this one- my favorite film from the Sarasota Film Festival about the (IMHO) genius David Foster Wallace... (see - http://blog.semifreelife.com/2015/04/competition-blown-away.html )

So as always- stay tuned!!!

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