An Artist without the Temperament: How Rare!


In reading May’s accounts of her travels and adventures, and hearing how other family members saw her, it occurs to me that May Alcott Nieriker is the first artist I’ve ever ‘met’ that didn’t have the artist temperament.

How do I know? I should know, I’ve been ‘blessed’ with one. 🙂 My art teacher in 9th grade whom I greatly respected, wrote on my report card that I had one. Years later I met a photographer at a newspaper I worked at. This teacher had acted as his mentor; my photographer friend was deeply impressed that this teacher bestowed such an honor on me.

And what is the artist temperament? Someone who has this temperament tends to be very sensitive and emotional. Life is a constant series of storms and calm seas, back & forth and back & forth. You’re plagued with doubts and insecurities; you’re driven by your passions. You get lost in your creative moment and that’s how you create art or music or literature. Finding balance and peace can be a real challenge.

I find my artist temperament to be a bit scary so I back off from it when I see it coming. That’s probably why I’ve never created anything I consider to be artistically significant. It changes me into someone I don’t want to know, and believe me, nobody else wants to know me either!

Sound familiar? It should to anyone familiar with Louisa May Alcott’s life of turbulence. She was given a king-sized dose of artist temperament. Unlike me, she wasn’t afraid to embrace it. Her description of the vortex she would enter when writing sometimes sounds very tempting to enter into. I’ve only allowed that to happen over the course of a few hours and it is exhilarating, at the time. After I come out of it, I’m irritable, more self-centered than usual, inpatient, and hard to live with. Remembering Louisa’s ‘mood’ pillow (love that idea!), our favorite author had that problem in a big way.

I have since found that age and the deepening of my faith in God has helped to calm the waters and I’m happy with that.

And what of May? She seems to have been spared this temperament, despite the fact that she was a gifted artist, very focused, ambitious, devoted to her studies and her work. How did she ever pull it off? That would have been a great story to chronicle! I do believe she was born under a lucky star – lucky in that she inherited the best of her parents’ genes. While Anna and Lizzie had too much of Bronson in them (the placid part), Louisa had too much of Abby. May had a good measure of both – the fierce life force of Abby, smoothed over by the serenity that was Bronson, while getting the gift of art from both. Now that’s a lucky break!

One Reply to “An Artist without the Temperament: How Rare!”

  1. Here’s an interesting comment from May, about her own temperament, from the Memoir. She is writing about staying on in Europe to continue her studies, knowing well her vocation. Yet she expresses doubts too:

    “Next week I may get discouraged and then think strongly of sailing immediately, such being the ups and downs of an artist life and temperament.”

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