cover image The Art of Youth: Crane, Carrington, Gershwin, and the Nature of First Acts

The Art of Youth: Crane, Carrington, Gershwin, and the Nature of First Acts

Nicholas Delbanco. HMH/New Harvest, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-544-11446-3

In this accessible but uneven counterbalance to his earlier Lastingness: The Art of Old Age (2011), University of Michigan professor Delbanco studies the lives of three artists%E2%80%94Stephen Crane, Dora Carrington, and George Gershwin%E2%80%94all of whom produced brilliant work while young and none of whom lived to see age 40. He depicts Crane, who wrote The Red Badge of Courage when only 24, as "an inattentive caretaker of his own gift." Carrington%E2%80%94a peculiar choice, insofar as she was largely unknown until the first retrospective exhibition of her paintings 38 years after her suicide%E2%80%94he deems an artist undone by self-doubt, ambivalence, and self-destruction. Gershwin emerges in the best light: an artist of boundless enthusiasm and ambition, who composed in a wide variety of musical idioms, and "whose impact during his lifetime was largest and who died at or near the apogee of fame." Delbanco identifies common denominators that unite these artists%E2%80%94"energy, a need to produce that borders on compulsion, a personal elan"%E2%80%94but is understandably more circumspect in his ability to pinpoint how each came into their prodigious gifts. A chapter on himself as an artist who has lived long enough to enter the "middle game" of his career is a touch self-indulgent. (Nov.)