Classical figures who were masters in one art and hopeless at another?
September 7, 2017 3:14 AM   Subscribe

JMW Turner was a masterful painter. He was also a keen, but by all accounts dreadful, poet. One article I read recently described his poems as "totally devoid of any literary merit". What other famous classical artistic figures were masters of one field but terrible in another. Did Shakespeare do sculptures, did Mozart pen any vampire romcom?
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Man Ray wasn't a hopeless painter, but his decision to abandon painting in favour of photography was probably a wise choice.
posted by pipeski at 3:57 AM on September 7

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a great writer, but he was terrible at spotting forgeries (he got conned by some girls who created fake photographs of fairies). In general, Doyle was very gullible for someone who created the hard-nosed Sherlock Holmes character.
posted by alex1965 at 4:09 AM on September 7 [5 favorites]

Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan was brilliant when writing for Gilbert, and fairly mediocre the rest of the time. A few of his works (Lost Chord, Golden Legend, etc.) are considered pretty good, but most of it (cello concerto, Ivanhoe) is forgotten.
posted by Melismata at 4:52 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]

I can attest that Stephen King is a famous writer, but will forever be considered an obscure YMCA basketball coach.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:45 AM on September 7 [5 favorites]

Sir Edmund Gosse pretty much was the category killer of his day with his autobiography, but as a translator, he was dire. While he did much to popularize Ibsen, his translation of Hedda Gabler was embarrassingly bad.

Mark Twain was an appalling investor, falling for funding a grandiose typesetting machine that never was completed, and went bankrupt.

(I'm sensing a pattern here: all guys so far, and a bunch of cases of engineer's disease …)
posted by scruss at 5:49 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]

Henry James was famously a huge flop as a playwright.
posted by neroli at 5:51 AM on September 7

Hugh Laurie is one of the great comics of our time and also a very accomplished dramatic actor, but his 1996 novel "The Gun Seller" was terrible.

For that matter, quite a few modern actors have tried their hands at literature and music with very middling results. I'd say William Shatner, but I'm not sure if he's a great actor and a terrible musician or the opposite. Surely he's bad at one of them.
posted by 256 at 5:58 AM on September 7 [8 favorites]

Isaac Newton was a great scientist but a dreadful theologian.
posted by tully_monster at 6:18 AM on September 7

I tried to read Bob Dylan's novel/prose poem Tarantula this summer. It is absolutely incomprehensible, incoherent. Pages and pages of babble. It may have some worth as a reflection of his thought processes at the time, but even this value is pretty marginal.

I love you, Bob!
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:23 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]

Opinions may vary, but the Rock Bottom Remainders is generally seen as a not-very-good rock band, despite having many illustrious authors as members,including Stephen King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, and many special guests who are distinguished authors and mediocre musicians.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:29 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]

Sorry that this example is not classical.

Madonna acted in a few movies, and it's painful to watch.
posted by duoshao at 7:10 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]

As long as we're doing contemporary people...Michael Jordan famously tried out baseball at the AA level, and didn't do very well.

Legendary tennis player John McEnroe has tried many things including a rock band and a talk show, and has failed miserably. In his (ghostwritten) book he talks about how his wife, singer Patty Smyth, pointed out to him how terrible he was by saying that she's bad at tennis that level it's a skill you're born with, not learned.
posted by Melismata at 8:14 AM on September 7

Isaac Newton is justifiably famous as the inventor of classical mechanics (physics) as well as calculus. But he spent as much or more time on alchemy and trying to find hidden messages/prophecies in the bible, work for which he isn't renowed today.
posted by wnissen at 8:49 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]

Isaac Newton also spent a lot of time (more than on calculus or physics) writing really cringey obsequious letters to rich and noble patrons seeking favor and attempting to social climb. Even by the standards of the day, they were horrible, and totally not successful in gaining him favor.

Penn Jillette also said multiple times he would rather be a rock star than a magician, but has no talent.
posted by seasparrow at 9:08 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]

John Wilkes Booth was by all accounts one of the best actors of his generation, but I find his political philosophy a bit on the cringeworthy side.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:23 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]

Can you clarify a bit what you mean by "Classical"? I don't really know what it means as a reference to a time period unless we're talking about ancient Greece and Rome.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote a number of comic short stories which...well, comedy often doesn't age well so maybe they were funnier at the time, but I think there's probably a reason few people know he wrote them.
posted by phoenixy at 10:27 AM on September 7

One of my poetry professors at IA told us that e e cummings wanted to be a painter.
posted by brujita at 10:28 AM on September 7

George W. Bush is a great painter, in comparison to his ability to Presn'dunt.

Brad Pitt is a good actor, and now a crappy painter.

Jim Carey is a great comedic actor, and also now a crappy painter.

Caravaggio was a great painter, and a terrible surgeon.

M C Esher was a great artist, and a mathematician

Joni Mitchell is a great musician, and feels she is a better painter

Grace Slick was a great singer, and now paints
posted by Oyéah at 10:36 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]

Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan was brilliant when writing for Gilbert, and fairly mediocre the rest of the time.

They were truly a matched set, then -- Gilbert was tone-deaf.

Nabokov's (English) poetry is terrible.

And to turn your example inside out, Edward Lear, renowned as inventor of the limerick and author of inspired nonsense poetry, was also a prolific landscape painter; I really like his work, but he was no Turner.
posted by jamjam at 12:21 PM on September 7

I can attest that Stephen King is a famous writer, but will forever be considered an obscure YMCA basketball coach.

And a terrible director.
posted by panama joe at 12:53 PM on September 7

I don't know if this is too recent and I can't say the opinion is universally held, but Placido Domingo has had a long, wonderful career as a tenor (and now a remarkable though not always wonderful one as a baritone) but is a dreadful conductor.
posted by Smearcase at 3:54 PM on September 7 [1 favorite]

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