In Faustus, Mephistopheles, speaks for the Devil and seduces Marlowe into wagering his soul, in exchange for his gifts of talent and intellect.
There are many variations on the Mephisto character– Devils, Demons, Apparitions–and as you can see– I’ve chosen a spider– a big hairy fucker with ghetto teeth.
There is a marvelous movie starring Klaus Maria Brandauer from 1981 also called Mephisto — in which an actor finds the role of his lifetime playing this deceiver, only to cast a spell over the Nazis, entreating them to become his biggest fans and, in the process, having this role subsume his selfhood. It is a searing portrait of an artist losing his soul–one who probably didn’t have much of one to begin with. It is a great film.
The Mephisto character is a lot about ambition and pride and how the mixing of both can be lethal to one’s better sense.
When you work in the art world (or really, any creative community), there are all kinds talents. There are virtuouso talents; those that loom large and
are truly visionary. . .there are journeyman talents–those who work at it everyday, brick by brick, and build something salient for the world and themselves.
There are small talents made into something much bigger and huge talents that produce the puniest of statements.
The most common thing in the world? Wasted talent.
The sidewalks are littered with wasted talent; those who could’ve done SO much more with what they had. If one could choose guts or talent? Take guts every time. The guts will carry you where talent will not.
It is why a syphilitic dwarf like Toulouse Lautrec was a great artist and LeRoy Neiman wasn’t.
It is why Ray Charles was endlessly soulful and Liberace is not.
It is how one turns the suffering into the spirit.
There are guys who can draw all day and never produce anything interesting, and then there are talents that begin in a threadbare state and evolve into something special. Van Gogh was not a great draftsman at the beginning of his career. He had to work at it. And he turned his idiosyncratic mark-making into flashes of the transcendent.
The Mephisto character has also been used in countless comic books and horror movies. He comes as a friend or seducer and then whispers the Devil’s message, or in some cases, does the Devil’s deeds. It is a great demon in German literature, with almost all of the Mephistos being somewhat musical or poetic in some way. Mephisto is almost always an elegant, if evil, apparition or character and often a musical conductor–always a Machiavellian type who seeks to sow discord among people.
I know more than a few people like this in the art world. Those unsatisfied with where they are, so they seek to disparage everyone else in an effort to elevate themselves. It is a sad way to be. . .and throughly transparent.
There are also those who suck up to the gatekeepers and institutional types. For them I have one thing to say, “It must be tough using Preparation-H for lip gloss.”