Inspiration from Michelangelo

July 20, 2009

Last night I watched an old movie, The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo and the painting of the Sistine Chapel.  There were a lot of lines there that really resonated with me, especially as it relates to my current book project – which frequently makes me feel overwhelmed and at times, immobilized. Also a lot of great lines just about art and creating, in general. Even though it is an old movie, it was pretty good, and it was one of those grand ol’ Technicolor classics, so it was pretty to look at, too. Here’s a few of the parts that meant something to me.

Michelangelo sketches a man in a bar – then “makes him a saint” just by adding a halo.

Michelangelo repeatedly says he is not a painter, but a sculptor. Sometimes the fear of painting the work before him, paralyzes him. When he gets a burst of determination, he declares: “Painting is not my trade, but I will make it my trade.”

Pope: “When will you make it end?”
Michelangelo: “When I’m finished.”
(This becomes a running line, throughout the film.) – And this is exactly the dilemma I am feeling right now with my book. “When will it end?” “When I get all the information in there that I need to.”

Exhausted and sick, Michelangelo declares: “Even if I had the strength to go on, I don’t have the will.” That’s a crisis of faith, of sorts, and something I can totally relate to.  I’m beginning to wonder if I have the will to see my own project to completion.

“You’ll always be an artist. You have no choice.”

“Don’t you want to finish?” “More than my life.”

The Pope in the film turns out to be a man of little faith. He is surprised at Michelangelo’s portrait of God, that God is not angry or wrathful. Michelangelo explains -“Not yet. Not at Creation.” The Pope says only a man of faith could create such a work of art. It is through his art that Michelangelo expresses his faith, and makes it more solid.

Both the Pope and Michelangelo egg each other on – virtually tormenting each other. By badgering each other, they encourage each other to fulfill their life’s mission and work. At one point when Michelangelo is ill, the Pope observes: “An artist is destroyed when he is kept from his work.” The Pope understands the cure for Michelangelo’s illness is to return to his art.

Even after Michaelangelo has been working on the chapel, probably for years – he still says he is not a painter, but a sculptor. When the Pope asks him to do more work, in addition to the ceiling – Michaelangelo rebels (but does it anyway), still complaining that he is not a painter. It was really interesting to see how this weighed on Michaelangelo, and to see how despite his distress over having to paint – and to paint something on such a grand and magnificent scale – he still managed to excel at his work, despite its burden and his own nagging self-doubts.

© writingreading, 2009