By Josh Fox
The life of an artist is one that seems undeniably tied to the whims of fate. Sometimes, an artist is able to live a rich and fulfilling life, but other times, they are plagued with nothing but suffering, whether it be self-inflicted or completely out of their own control. Whatever extreme it might fall under, the life of any famous artist should certainly be something to take an interest in.
Take, for instance, one of the most famous men of all time, Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci was known as a Renaissance man, a title attributed to him as a result of his wide variety of talents. In addition to being a brilliant painter (the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper being two of the most famous paintings of all time – the latter even being the most reproduced religious painting of all time), Da Vinci was also a brilliant scientist who studied human anatomy to produce drawings far ahead of his time, and conceptualized designs for flying machines, solar powering, and other devices that were only limited by the era he was born in. Leonardo da Vinci was the rare example of true genius.
Unfortunately, not all artists were, or are, as blessed as da Vinci. Take Amedeo Modigliani, for example. Modigliani was an Italian sculptor in early twentieth century France, but as was the case with many artists, he wasn’t alive to experience any of his success. After graduating from art school, Modigliani rejected the bourgeois lifestyle he was born into and started obsessively partaking in drugs, alcohol, and other staples of the Bohemian lifestyle. It’s speculated that this was largely motivated by Modigliani trying to hide his tuberculosis, as people with tuberculosis were ostracized and pitied in France. Whatever relation the disease had to his lifestyle, it caused his death at thirty-five, and he has been forever remembered as a tragic artist.
When you’re talking about tragic artists, though, it would be impossible to try and avoid talking about the reigning king of tragic artists, Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh suffered from depression at a young age, and it was never helpful that his peers and teachers would constantly reject his artwork. At the time, Impressionism was the focus of the art world, and van Gogh’s art was viewed as too dark to fit in with that. Van Gogh refused to change, and because of this, he spent most of his adult life in poverty, spending all the money his brother gave him on his art and barely even eating. This all led to the deterioration of his friendship with Paul Gauguin, which in turn led to the famous severing of his own ear. Van Gogh then spent a year in an asylum, never fully recovered, and shot himself two months after being discharged. Is there any wonder to why he’s regarded as “the artist where discourses on madness and creativity converge”?
This is the life of an artist, it seems. It has its ups, it has its downs, it has more downs, and odds are that the ups won’t come back until you’re dead. In spite of all that, people still find themselves drawn to the profession. It’s almost as if art, no matter the form, is something that people will truly throw away their lives for. As crazy as that is, there’s a majesty to that line of thought that’s simply undeniable.
Gardner, Helen. Art through the Ages. Harcourt, 1970, pp. 450–456.
McQuillan, Melissa. Van Gogh. Thames & Hudson, 1989.
Secrest, Meryle. Modigliani: A Life. Knopf, 2011, pp. 298.
Sooke, Alastair. “Leonardo Da Vinci: Anatomy of an Artist.” Telegraph, The Telegraph, 28 July
Tralbaut, Marc Edo. Vincent Van Gogh, Le Mal Aimé. Alpine Fine Arts Collection, 1981.
Werner, Alfred. Amedeo Modigliani. Thames and Hudson, 1967, pp. 19.