To an Artist Dying Young

Disband cult of squandered potential and concentrate on accomplishments
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 25, 2008 12:15 PM CST
Actress Marilyn Monroe is shown on the set of her last movie, "Something's Got To Give," in Hollywood, Ca., in this April 1962, file photo.   (Associated Press)
camera-icon View 3 more images

(Newser) – Heath Ledger's death at 28 recalls a long tradition of bright young careers snuffed out before their time, from Shelley and Keats to James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. The Romantic ideal of the doomed artist holds great appeal, Ben Macintyre writes in the Times of London, but we go too far with the "morbid celebration of pointless death and wasted genius."

Since Aristotle, great artists and thinkers have been associated with melancholy. An early death, brought on by disease or one's own hand, has become almost a mark of achievement. Artists from AE Housman to Billy Joel have celebrated the prematurely dead hero, Macintyre says, but that Romantic prejudice that needs to end. "Some great artists die young," he writes, "but no artist should be rendered great by dying young."