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message 1: by Heather (new)

Heather | 8542 comments I have a folder of Psychology in Art, but it was very different than this one. That focuses on your view of the art itself depending on the psychological make-up and biography of the artist.

This folder is dedicated more to the psychology of the artist himself or herself. I find psychology fascinating, and I am also intrigued by some reasons certain artists paint or sculpt or produce their work.

I follow the Quora question and answer site and someone asked the questions "Did Caravaggio have bipolar disorder?" Nobody has answered that yet. So I did some digging.

Let's look at a few artists and I welcome any thoughts you have on the information given.


message 2: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 116 comments Can I just say I have grave concerns about playing pop psychologist to artists like Caravaggio and Vincent van Gogh whose personal dramas take over the way we look at their art.

Caravaggio: bipolar? Unlikely. There are two excellent and relatively recent biographies, M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio by Peter Robb and Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon. I favor Graham-Dixon's for its exploration of the role of Charles Borromeo's purifying theology that was so dominant in Milan and the Piemonte where Caravaggio grew up. G-D makes a persuasive argument about Caravaggio making an art that was for the poor and oppressed. Now this is not to say that Caravaggio didn't have some serious mental health problems, loads of anger issues. But let's be careful about going for whatever disorder is the flavor of the month.

As for poor old Vincent, well he had a monstrous inheritance of family dysfunction, religious fundamentalism and mental illnesses that likely had a genetic component. Again, I refer you to a biography, Vincent van Gogh: The Life by Stephen Naife and the late Gregory White Smith. It's a real doorstop and there is a couple hundred pages of family background before the authors start in on Vincent, but it is useful stuff. Moreover, they spend a lot of time analyzing the kinds of illnesses, physical and mental, that Vincent might have had. They also very satisfactorily debunk the myth of the suicide, providing an utterly credible demonstration that Vincent was shot, perhaps accidentally, by a couple of wealthy lads summering in the area who had taken glee in generally tormenting him. For years I tried to find suicidal ideation in Vincent's art, life and last days and couldn't. Now I know why. There wasn't any.

Rather than play Freud or Jung to this artist or that, it might be more interesting to look at ways that art can be an therapeutic avenue or a way of understanding cognitive development. Lots of good books there, starting with Herbert Read's "Education Through Art" from 1943. Or consider the case of Lonnie Sue Johnson, who was an artist for The New Yorker magazine and suffered massive brain damage. There was a wonderful small exhibition on her and her art at the Walters Art Museum in 2011. (https://thewalters.org/event/puzzles-...)


message 3: by Heather (last edited Jul 13, 2018 11:24AM) (new)

Heather | 8542 comments Ellen wrote: "Can I just say I have grave concerns about playing pop psychologist to artists like Caravaggio and Vincent van Gogh whose personal dramas take over the way we look at their art."

I agree with you on what you said in what I posted above of your comment. I do not intend to play psychologist to any artist nor have any of us diagnose things about which we don't know all the facts. In fact, I created a folder for just that that you said "Take over the way we look at their art" https://www.goodreads.com/topic/group... And it focuses more on how their lives (what we know of them) make us see their art. I didn't get much commentary in that folder, but I am still curious as to if and how knowledge of the lives of artists can affect how we see their work. I know that when we know something of their life, we may see their art differently, I wanted to know how?

Again, as for "playing psychologist", I don't want any of us to diagnose any of them. I am hoping for comments more like yours that bring up books and/or articles that purport some sort of mental diagnosis, if any. I am not saying that Caravaggio was schizophrenic, I only had time to post that one article that I found but there is a LOT of literature out there to support other ideas, including his lifestyle, childhood, other influences in his life that could have made him produce the work which he did. Same with Van Gogh and other artists.

It took me a long time to post just that one article on Caravaggio as I didn't even post half of it.I would hope that there could be a conversation with other articles or books supporting other ideas about artists.

I will continue to find other articles or synopses of books that support one idea or another and I really hope that other members will do the same.

I don't want a debate at all! I just want to introduce various ideas about the psyche of different artists and perhaps how their life and/or mental state affected their work.

Basically, I want this folder to contain only factual information already investigated, written and published.

Does that make sense? I hope I have clarified the intent of this topic.


message 4: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 116 comments Absolutely! And I apologize for getting snarky. I believe in biography as an essential approach to an artist and their work. I believe in historical, social and economic lenses when it comes to methodology. I can even see my way to more contemporary approaches like feminism and queer theory. I just get so terribly antsy when it comes to attaching a diagnosis that cannot be verified.

Thanks, Heather. You are a wonderful group leader!


message 5: by Heather (new)

Heather | 8542 comments I'm so glad I could clarify that, Ellen! And we are on the same page...right?

And thank you for your gracious comment! You made my day! :)


message 6: by Heather (new)

Heather | 8542 comments And with your invaluable information from reading biographies, I think you will definitely be a great asset to this thread! Please enlighten us to what else you've found!


message 7: by Heather (new)

Heather | 8542 comments Ellen wrote: "I can even see my way to more contemporary approaches like feminism and queer theory."

I agree completely with that! Another reason I created the other folder. I'll bring it more to the top closer to this one where we can post our own experiences as to if and how knowing the background of an artist affects us.

Because knowing something of a background of an artist, does affect how I see their work!


message 8: by Heather (new)

Heather | 8542 comments This thread requires a bit of research and my posts usually take a long time to find and read the information. I want to apologize if I'm not always following up on it due to limited time.


message 9: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 116 comments Heather wrote: "This thread requires a bit of research and my posts usually take a long time to find and read the information. I want to apologize if I'm not always following up on it due to limited time."

Heavens, don't worry! I for one am a casual visitor. Sometimes I'll post a lot; other times I'll be silent or just lurk. Don't fret.


message 10: by Heather (new)

Heather | 8542 comments Ellen wrote: "Heather wrote: "This thread requires a bit of research and my posts usually take a long time to find and read the information. I want to apologize if I'm not always following up on it due to limite..."

Thank you, Ellen :)


message 11: by Geoffrey (last edited Jul 20, 2018 09:23AM) (new)

Geoffrey Aronson (geaaronson) | 930 comments There are two artists whose psychological profile both intrigues and horrifies me-Dali and Picasso.
I have read numerous accounts that Dali´s wife was a serial philanderer and would rub his nose with the fact. This would imply some masochism on his part. He also neologised his own psychosis or neurosis with a term that presently eludes me.

As for Picasso, he was monstrous to former lovers. He was a lover to Dora Maar, a very eccentric painter in Paris in the mid 30´s, and after when he took up with his much younger lover, would parade her under Dora´s balcony in the early evening. When the younger requested that Picasso stop harassing his former lover as she was emotionally unstable, the Master responded that if Dora had a nervous breakdown again, it was nothing, she was due one anyway whatever he did.


message 12: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 116 comments They are very different those artists, in talent, accomplishment and depravity. Picasso? Well.... I have to teach him every semester and I am still working on better ways to contextualize him, his genius, his accomplishments and his absence of moral character and human decency.

Dali I regard as a minor talent who has lasting importance largely because his brand of surrealism/fantasy/illustration/advertising is accessible and appealing, particularly to people with money. You might enjoy the chapter on Gala Eluard Dali in Francine Prose's "The Lives of the Muses" (2003). She was older than Dali, a Svengali in her own right. Weird stuff but interesting. And the other chapters are worth a read, too.


message 13: by Geoffrey (last edited Jul 20, 2018 09:30AM) (new)

Geoffrey Aronson (geaaronson) | 930 comments Thanks for those comments, Ellen. I have always thought Dali to be highly over rated, but a minor talent,,,,,,,,hmmmm......I am not so sure about that. He thought himself to be second to Picasso and was unequivical about voicing that opinion.

As for Picasso, he stated that Braque was the superior but considering Bs emotional demise during WWI, was out of contention as painter of the century. Interesting that when P died, Max Ernst got the designation as #1. I would agree with that. ME was probably the better even when P was alive.

I suspect that one`s fame often is boosted by the persona. Picasso was quite a character. ME wasn`t flamboyant. That would account for considerable difference. And Andy Warhol garnered considerable attention on account of his albino qualities, mysteriously enigmatic silences, and the Factory legend. Otherwise a very minor NYC illustrator.


message 14: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 116 comments Yeah, Dali thought himself pretty special. He was a prodigy when young, and I rather like his early work (big gallery at Reina Sofia in Madrid). But I don't necessarily think anyone's opinion of themself is something to be taken seriously. Witness the current POTUS. B's didn't have an emotional demise in WWI--he enlisted and was shot in the head. His recovery was slow. And I don't really know who designated Ernst #1 effective 1973. I think this ratings are all rather beside the point, anyway. Artists are good in different ways. Some are better than others. Few are really comparable in terms of quality, talent and lasting impact. IMO anyway.


message 15: by Geoffrey (last edited Jul 21, 2018 01:25PM) (new)

Geoffrey Aronson (geaaronson) | 930 comments I understood that Braque never fully recovered and his art work suffered.

As for Ernst #1, I don´t know who designated him that, but I have most recently read that Cindy Sherman has that nod currently.

It´s like movies. For years, Citizen Kane was rated #1 but then most recently Vertigo grabbed that spotlight. Was it the AFI´s directors who decided that? Was it a sounding of the country´s film critics? Who? And in Picasso´s case who crowned him King Artist? I don´t know. It´s interesting that there are those out there casting their two cents in the winner´s circle, and yes, it must be taken with a speck of salt.

I would certainly put Ernst up there but #1? Picasso #1? Dali #2? We´d do better at rating baseball players. At least we can compare their ERA statistics and batting averages.


message 16: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 116 comments Braque did recover and painted beautiful works for decades after. In my opinion and that of most scholars well informed about cubism and modernism. And honestly these artists simply aren't comparable. No artists are. One might argue that Michelangelo was better than Pietro Torrigiani who was in Ghirlandaio's workshop at the same time as M, and I'm pretty sure everyone would agree. But the idea of ranking artists in the 20th and 21st centuries is like ranking random pebbles picked up on the beach. It just doesn't mean anything. With ball players you can look at performance stats but even then saying definitively that Ted Williams is better/worse than Lou Gehrig or Babe Ruth or Alex Rodriguez or pick a player is a game I would never play. And honestly, why would you. What on earth would be the point?


message 17: by Heather (new)

Heather | 8542 comments Exactly Ellen! I don’t know how anyone, critics or not, can rank or compare artists from at least the last couple centuries. And you said it, what is the point?

Personally, I am not going to change my opinion of a work of art based on how the art world, my Humanities professor or even my best friend ranks, appraises or likes it, or it’s popularity in the eyes of the general public. I know what I appreciate for myself. Maybe the only thing that might increase or decrease my appreciation would be knowing more of the background of the artist, and if known, what he or she was thinking or intending when producing it. Those factors do influence my perspective but as Ellen said, there is no point in someone else telling me who is better because that doesn’t bear any weight on my personal opinion of the piece.

So basically, is the rank according to art critics really what determines the value of the piece? What is the point of ranking overall anyway?


message 18: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 116 comments What determines the "value" of a piece is the art market and that is simply a matter of popularity, scarcity and demand. Obviously, if one is writing a textbook or even something less wide-ranging, one will choose artists to include based on how "important" they are, how relevant to your slant they are and whether or not you can get decent images for them at a manageable price. The chestnuts we all learn aren't necessarily the best works by the best artists. IMO.

I learned eons ago that what matters to me matters only to me. I may express dismay that someone I respect or love doesn't share my taste for a particular artist or work, but my affection doesn't make it a masterpiece and some else's disdain doesn't undermine its importance.

In my teaching I aggressively discourage conversations about what is best and I focus on how we can explore works of art in terms of their quality, their content, and their effectiveness of expression. I don't rank my students. I don't rank artists or works of art.

Having said that, I used to play a game with docents particularly on long bus trips. I would ask them to choose the 5 "most essential" artists from 1300 to 1950 (or so). They had to be able to argue how each artist on their list, in THEIR opinion, shifted the arc of art history. You want Michelangelo on your list? Fine, but why not Raphael or Leonardo or Giotto? You want Picasso on your list? Fine, but why not Kandinsky or Matisse? That kind of thing. It was all done in the spirit of games played on long journeys and it was often enormous fun. And the docents seemed to like equally proving their points and having their opinions shifted.


message 19: by Heather (new)

Heather | 8542 comments That does sound fun! I would love to play that sometime but only with friends or acquaintances who are about as knowledgeable as I am regarding art and artists. For example, I would never want to play with most or all of you active members in the group, you all know so much more than I do and my arguments would be limited to say the least!

Cool idea, though!


message 20: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 116 comments Heather wrote: "That does sound fun! I would love to play that sometime but only with friends or acquaintances who are about as knowledgeable as I am regarding art and artists. "

What's important is not how much you know but how hard you try to articulate your point of view. The fun in a mixed group is that less informed people can get more swayed by what they like and what they think they know and more expert types get bogged down in traditional hierarchies. Achilles heels all around.


message 21: by Mark (new)

Mark André Ellen wrote: "What determines the "value" of a piece is the art market and that is simply a matter of popularity, scarcity and demand. Obviously, if one is writing a textbook or even something less wide-ranging,..."

da Vinci -
Bounarroti -
Vermeer -
van Goth -
Picasso -


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