Last night I watched a Smithsonian documentary on Lucian Freud, grandson of Sigmund and perhaps one of the most original, if not most talented, figurative painters of post-war Britain. Gone in his portraits is any effort to idealize the human form. If anything, his obsession with painting the nude had more to do with finding its essential fragility.

Though I was interested in his work, I was more interested in learning about the kind of man he was. From a number of interviews given by his “sitters,” some of whom were his wives and lovers and others of whom were his children (he had 14 known children by different women, but he was rumored to have fathered as many as 40), I learned that he was an unapologetically selfish philanderer who had little interest in sustained intimate relationships–least of all with the mistresses and daughters he seemed to have grieved so thoroughly.

Having rent many a blouse over men like this, I felt a certain contempt for this darker aspect of Freud, but really I was much more taken inside myself when learning about his single-minded devotion to his art and about his devil-may-care attitude over what others thought of him and of his predilections.

I found myself wondering about what my own writing, and painting, would have amounted to had I been capable of the same selfishness and dogged, day-in-day-out focus and what it could be from here forward were I to somehow acquire this capacity.


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