If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Secret Lives of Great Artists

When I took several art history courses in L.A. City College in 1968 I got D's, even though I was an art major. Those bad grades were part of what caused me to lose my college deferment and to get drafted into the army during the Vietnam war. I never got bad grades again! And yet, I still remember the artists and the major art movements to this day.

I just finished reading a book that has inspired me look at art history afresh. It is entitled Secret Lives of Great Artists by Elizabeth Lunday. What makes it interesting is the odd angle she takes on well known artists. She tells some bizarre stories that I don't remember from my college art classes. Maybe I would have paid more attention if the professors would have spiced up the history with these oddities.

I don' remember hearing that:

* Leonardo Da Vinci was publicly accused of sodomy and was notorious for leaving work undone.
* Sandro Botticelli tried to crash a large rock on his neighbors roof for making too much noise.
* Michelangelo Buonarroti had such bad body odor, from not bathing, that he drove his assistants away while painting the Sistine Chapel, which was not painted lying on his back.
* Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio was constantly in fights and even murdered a man in a bar room brawl.
* Rembrandt Van Rijn, whose was inspired by Mennonites and even painted a Mennonite minister and his wife, did not follow their morals. He had several lovers and was dragged before a church council for "living in sin."
* Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a Pre-Raphaelite painter with serious addictions, dug up his dead wife
to retrieve personal poems he had placed in her coffin.
Paul Cezanne had an inflammatory temper and hated to be touched.
* Henri Rousseau was jailed for bank fraud.
* Van Gogh performed missionary work among the poor. During his periods of insanity he would eat paint directly from the tube! Yummy.
* Edward Hopper was a wife-beater and his wife a husband-beater.
* Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo...well, their sexual escapades are no secret, even Frieda's trist with Leon Trotsky.
* Georgia O'Keeffe often painted in the nude and chased off nephews and nieces who spied on her.
* Jackson Pollock's couldn't draw so he dripped. His alchoholism killed him in a car crash.
* Andy Warhol was shot by a radical feminist. He turned back to religion and painted a series on Da Vinci's Last Supper (I just bought a book about this entitled The Religious Art of Andy Warhol by Jane Dillinger).
* Salvador Dali, who I have been aware of since high school, was so bizarre it would take a book to write about his weird antics (May years ago I read his autobiography. This was one strange dude. Maybe that's why I like him so much).
I have always wondered why so many artists seemed to live such tortured and bizarre lives. There must be something in the psychology of creative people that lends itself to this. Anyway, this book by Lunday highlights the strange aspects of artists lives. Unlike art history in college, it kept my interest.

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