The Bishop of Nice carefully observed Michelangelo’s painting of the murals in the Matisse Chapel in Venice. He concluded the artist was a “…man of genius, who, all his life, worked, searched, strained…in a long struggle…to draw near the truth and the light.”
The world produces few geniuses. It produces many artistic people—painters, sculptors, writers, photographers, for instance—who are willing to forego profits and material comforts in the struggle to express their own vision of ‘the truth and the light.’ Rather than give in to the market place of commercial buyers, countless numbers labor on to make their own creative statement. Only a limited number will achieve a livelihood exclusively from these creations.
Uncompromising artists exemplify the first great virtue—individual integrity. They have the capacity to hold to a standard of upright conduct when it is inconvenient or unprofitable to do so. For in its bedrock essence, integrity is the ability to form and stand by an idea. Unintimidated by a need for affection, a craving for security, or the pleasures of conformity, the creators hold fast. It follows; they can call their sacred souls their own.
Constantin Brancusi was a model of artistic integrity. As a young Romanian Sculptor, he walked penniless to Paris to develop his craft. By the time of his death in 1957 at age 81, he was widely acclaimed one of the finest sculptors of the twentieth century. In responding to a critic of his soaring forms and master reductions, he declared, “The idea is the essence of things.”
Brancusi’s life was as pure and untainted as his work. He shunned publicity, even when his exhibits drew thousands. He lived quietly in Paris and worked determinedly in a small studio tucked away in a blind alley, while making no effort to market his works. Some he refused to sell and bequeathed to the People of France.
His death was as discreet as his life. The body was placed on a makeshift bier, and only the closest friends knew of his passing.