Leonardo Da Vinci is quoted as saying that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” I think that this true statement definitely applies to the photography of Patrick Demarchelier. Demarchelier received a camera as a gift on his seventeenth birthday, which is how his passion for this art began.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier
Later, he pursued this interest professionally in Paris, working as a fashion photographer along with (and learning from) legends in the field such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Jacque Guilbert.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier
Over the course of his long and very successful career, Demarchelier has worked for magazines such as Elle, Marie Claire, Mademoiselle and Vogue, creating some of the most memorable and iconic images of celebrities, including Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson and Christy Turlington.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier
What I find most interesting and distinctive about Patrick Demarchelier’s style is that it has a simple and classic feel across its wide range. There’s certainly a vintage feel to much of his photography. Many of Demarchelier’s images are in black and white and his portraits sometimes resemble Hollywood shots of famous actresses of the 1930’s and 40’s.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier
Yet, somehow, his style isn’t at all retro. In fact, it feels very fresh and contemporary. Stripped down to the basics of form, elegant fashions that reflect an impeccable taste and poses that capture expression more than dramatic movement, Demarchelier’s photographs appear timeless.
photo by Patrick Demarchelier
This is the case whether a given picture resembles in some respects vintage photographs or whether it features futuristic fashions. A striking simplicity of content and form defines the sophisticated, classic style of Patrick Demarchelier.
The images of Thomas Dodd: A photographic journey through art history
by Claudia Moscovici
To explain the conceptual revolution that occurred in art at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, some art historians claim that photography eliminated the need for representational art, or the kind of art that tries to imitate “nature” by depicting faithfully what the eye can see. We can add in parentheses, as E. H. Gombrich observes in The Story of Art, that the notion of the representation of what the eye can see has changed throughout the history of art. Needless to say, it too is shaped by social assumptions. Nonetheless, the difference between a kind of art that aims at faithful visual imitation of the three-dimensional qualities of physical objects and one that doesn’t remains relatively easy to discern.
The invention of photography had a lot to do with the move away from visual representation. To say that photography eliminated the need for representational art, however, is an overstatement. Undoubtedly, the invention of the camera encouraged artists to experiment with other means of representation in the same way that the invention of machines displaced hand-made crafts. The camera probably did for painting what the industrial revolution did for artisanship. But that doesn’t mean that artisanship—or hand-made beautiful objects—are no longer valuable. For what the human imagination, sensibility, eye and hand can create will always be somewhat different from what can be made with the aid of machines. The texture, sense of color and vision that are captured by painters are not identical to those that photography can produce, even though photography can bring us closer to visual reality and even though photography is also artistic. The painterly photography of Thomas Dodd illustrates that rather than replacing painting, photography can transpose and “immortalize” it, so to speak, in a new medium. In fact, Thomas Dodd, an Atlanta-based photographer whose works are featured in galleries and magazines throughout the world, offers a journey through art history. His images allude to the paintings of some of the best-known artists in the world, including William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Gustav Klimt, the Pre-Raphaelites, Maxfield Parrish and René Magritte.
During the nineteenth-century, the painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) came to epitomize the standards set by the French Academy for Salon art: a polished execution and idealized genre paintings that focused on mythological themes and usually represented women and girls of an other-worldly beauty and perfection. During the second half of the century, however, the Impressionists, though originally ridiculed by critics, set new aesthetic standards for art. The changes they created became irreversible. The Impressionists’ greatest contribution to art was not so much to change the notion of painting as representing what the eye can see—or the standards of verisimilitude that had been dominant since the Renaissance—but to alter what the eye should see as well as where and how it should see it. Their violation of the rules of the Beaux-Arts system was not revolutionary—in the sense of transgressing its underlying premises or goals–but it was thorough, in the sense of changing almost all of the means of reaching those goals. The Impressionists considered that the best forum to observe and represent nature would be in the open air—which is why their works were called plein air paintings–where the play of light and shadows would be most natural, striking and intense, rather than under the dim and artificial lighting of the studio. Furthermore, the art students in the academies conveyed the three-dimensionality of forms by means of the subtle shading which was first perfected by the Renaissance masters. The Impressionists, on the other hand, evoked a sense of three-dimensionality by representing the dramatic contrasts of color that could be observed in vibrant sunlight. In seeking to capture visually the play of light and shadow—and its transformations—the Impressionists used rapid brushstrokes to produce paintings that looked rushed and unfinished as opposed to the well-rounded, glossy and polished forms and subtle shadings respected by the Beaux-Arts system. Similarly, rather than depicting a posed or characteristic angle of the objects painted, Manet and the Impressionists showed objects from uncharacteristic, and often, truncated perspectives. This truncation of subjects and objects, which is especially obvious in the paintings of Renoir and Degas, openly acknowledges the incompleteness of our field of vision and powers of representation.
The Little Sheperdess, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Sometimes photography preserves and honors our artistic heritage, despite the irreversible changes that occur in the history of art. This is certainly the case with the photography of Thomas Dodd, who devotes several of his images to experimenting with the rich artistic legacy of Bouguereau.“Spellbound” retains the same softness and fluidity of forms and represents a similarly idealized feminine beauty that we found in the nineteenth-century French master. The woman’s sweeping movement, in a veil-like dress that envelops not only her, but the entire image, creates an aura of mystery. The focus, however, lies in her gaze: bold, powerful yet undeniably feminine. As if to emphasize that she’s the center of this imaginary narrative, Dodd surrounds the female figure with soft clouds that dissipate, at the corners, in a painterly roughness that seems created by a palette knife in oils. This contemporary image, however, doesn’t reproduce Bouguereau’s works. It borrows from and pays homage to them, taking us on an evocative voyage through art history.
“Spellbound” by Thomas Dodd
While “Spellbound” only alludes to Bouguereau’s paintings, “Maybe Someday” deliberately mimics their setting and figures. The woman in this image (below) has a very contemporary look. Yet she appears cast in a Bouguereau painting, as if she were an actress on a painted stage. Her sideway glance, her costume, her posture, the clouds that surround her: all these gestures and props appear staged by Bouguereau, over a century ago. But her slim face, her painted toenail, her tossled hairdo remain contemporary, reminding us that the past cannot be fully recreated or brought back in its original form. It can only be taught, respected and evoked.
The American painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) was an iconoclast, though many see him as a traditionalist. He deliberately went against the modernist trends in art of his times to bring back Neoclassical standards. He is known for his luminous paintings, pastoral settings and idealized Neoclassical imagery. In the painting “Daybreak,” the girl’s calm repose has an angelic quality, as if she herself, not only her state, were in a liminal space, somewhere between reality and dream.
“Daybreak” by Maxfield Parrish
With digital photography and a masterful control of light, Thomas Dodd captures the spirit of Maxfield Parrish in the image “Daydream”(below). Like Parrish, he depicts a young woman, dressed in a white in a flowing dress, at sunrise (or sunset), when the light changes–and play of shadows–are most colorful, nuanced and intense.
“Daydream” by Thomas Dodd
There are certain art movements that never go out of style: Art Nouveau can be counted among them. Highly stylized yet in harmony with nature; ornamental yet profoundly philosophical; sexually daring and controversial yet utterly refined, Art Nouveau continues to please the public. It’s therefore not all that surprising that one of Dodd’s biggest artistic inspirations is the Art Nouveau movement, particularly the works of Gustav Klimt. As we know, art Nouveau is an ornamental style of art, architecture and decoration, which peaked in popularity at the turn of the 20th century, sometime between 1890-1905. Seen as, quite literally, the “new art”, Art Nouveau employed ornamental, floral motifs and stylized, curvilinear forms that are coming back in style today. Although the Art Nouveau movement was greatly influenced by the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, some of the its main motifs and decorative designs were also associated with even more popular artists, including Gustav Klimt, Antoni Gaudi and Louis Comfort Tiffany, each of whom adapted and reshaped the movement according to his unique artistic style.
“The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt
In his article “Live Flesh” (“The Nation,” January 23, 2006), the critic and philosopher Arthur Danto describes Klimt’s gilded, ornamental paintings as efforts to depict erotism to its limits, transcending, and perhaps immortalizing, the flesh: “Klimt, of course, depicted lovers clasped to each other in intense erotic embrace. There is nevertheless something operatic about Klimt’s lovers, as if they were figures in a myth. Like Tristan and Isolde they are caught up in the sweep of passion as the music swells around them. Sex is somehow meant to be transfigurative, a way of transcending the sweaty realities of the flesh depicted.”
“Echo” by Thomas Dodd
This is precisely what Thomas Dodd does in his image “Echo,” an homage to Klimt. Although the painting doesn’t have the usual art deco floral motifs, the background becomes a gilded decoration which envelops the delicate face of the young woman. With her lips half-open and her eyes closed, the young woman’s state seems to waver between dream and fantasy. The erotism in this image, like the one depicted by Klimt’s paintings, is powerful yet subtle. Dodd’s image suggests a beauty not only beyond the realm of the possible, but also already transcendental, as the human form blends into the golden background: fluid yet at the same time, somehow, dry and crisp like a gilded leaf pressed for ages between the pages of an old book.
“Dogma” By Thomas Dodd
When we look at the image “Dogma” (above), it becomes clear that Dodd finds inspiration in Surrealism as well: particularly in the works of the Belgian modernist artist René Magritte (1898–1967) . Surrealist art often combines the best of both worlds: a “realistic” representation of objects, which requires talent and technical skill, and a fantastic imagination that takes us past the threshold of the rational and the knowable, so we can explore the mysteries of the subconscious. Surrealism offers an escape from the real world yet also probes the depths of a perhaps truer and deeper reality: the reality of human desire; of our dreams and nightmares; of our hopes and fears; of our collective past and a visionary future we can barely imagine. Surrealism can also be playful: at least in the hands of an artist like Miró as well as in Magritte‘s linguistic imagination, whose paintings are filled with visual puns and paradoxes.
“Not to be Reproduced” by Rene Magritte
In “Dogma” the young woman, looking poised and professional, holds firmly with one hand a book. Yet her head dissipates, along with the memorized and predigested knowledge of the book, into thin air. The background around her, rather than sustaining life, appears caustic, as if an acid were spilled upon the image to destroy its contents. Knowledge can be fleeting and even harmful.
Brainstorm by Thomas Dodd
One of Dodd’s most interesting Surrealist images, “Brainstorm”, depicts a more complex process of creativity. Dodd explains that “Brainstorm,” also called “Woodshedding“, refers to a phenomenon called “woodshedding” in Jazz music, whereby a musician shuts himself in a woodshed to practice and improvise new songs until he or she creates is satisfied with the performance. This creative process plays a central role in all kinds of creativity, be it music, the plastic arts, creative writing, or photography. As Thomas Edison famously stated, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration”. For further information about Thomas Dodd’s painterly photography, please take a look at his website http://thomasdodd.com.
Romanian masterpices at the Grimberg Gallery: Balancing originality and autonomy with tradition and patronage in contemporary artistic styles
By Claudia Moscovici, art critic, founder of the postromantic art movement, and author of Romanticism and Postromanticism (2007)
Since the modern era the notion of “artistic style” has become synonymous with “originality”. Originality represents a step beyond individuality. It traces each artist’s unique fingerprint, setting his art apart from the works of other artists. This understanding of “style”, however, is relatively new in the history of art. Before the nineteenth-century, originality and individuality were not the most highly prized qualities of art. As for autonomy, or regarding art as separate from social functions, this notion didn’t even exist before the modern period.
During the Renaissance, the artist emerged as an individual assumed to have a unique talent that was in some way useful to those in power. Artists helped elevate the status of the Church or the State through their masterpieces. They were also considered useful to society in general, by providing works of rare and incredible beauty that the educated public could enjoy. Despite, in fact, being “original”, Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo perceived their paintings and sculptures as a means of elevating and preserving the social order of their times not only as a mark of their individual genius. No doubt, both Leonardo and Michelangelo could afford to select among patrons and to aggravate those they did serve by postponing deadlines to perfect their masterpieces. In this way, they created the blueprint of the temperamental and independent “artistic” personality that would emerge more fully with Romanticism. Despite the increased prestige of masterful artists, however, Renaissance art contributed to the glory of the patrons and the community (or the nation) it was created for. In other words, art’s undeniable beauty was inseparable from its social usefulness.
As artists’ prestige increased during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, so did their relative power and independence from patrons. Romanticism marked this transformation by explicitly declaring the artist to be a creative genius and by regarding individuality and originality as the supreme qualities of true art. Yet for most Romantic poets, writers and artists, as for the Renaissance masters, art was still bound to its social function. The artist or writer imagined by poets like Wordsworth, Lamartine and Hugo spread to the public, through his unique aesthetic sensibility, imagination, discernment and talent, not only aesthetic pleasure but also a heightened and more empathetic moral and political consciousness.
While earlier forms of Romanticism couple social utility and beauty, late Romantic and Modern art and literature would come to disassociate them. As early as the 1830’s, the autonomy of art from society was proclaimed by Théophile Gautier’s phrase, “art for art’s sake” (l’art pour l’art) and by his criticism of the notion that art had to be in any way useful to society.
postmodern philosopher, Arthur Danto
Postmodern art resurrects the notions of art’s utility and individuality, but usually only to critique them. Gautier’s well-known polemic in his 1834 preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin—“the most useful place of a house is the latrine”—seems to have turned into a twisted prophecy almost a hundred years later, when Marcel Duchamp, under the pseudonym R. Mutt, exhibited a urinal as an objet d’art at the 1917 Independents’ Exhibition in New York City. With this partly joking provocation, art took a seemingly irreversible conceptual turn. As the philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto convincingly demonstrates, what constitutes art can no longer be discerned visually.
Ion Dimitriu Barlad – Enescu
Contemporary Romanian art, however, seems to distinguish itself through a partial return to the worthwhile aesthetic values of the past. And it’s about time. The Grimberg Gallery features some of the best contemporary Romanian artists, each of whom has a unique style; each of whom pays homage to the artistic past rather than only turning away from it. To offer only a few examples, among many talented artists: Ioan Dimitriu Barlad’s masterful sculpture is perhaps the most explicit homage. His bust of the composer George Enescu (1881-1955) captures the musician in a realistic style and paradigmatic pose: a particularly expressive moment of sensibility and contemplation.
Ioan Stoenescu – Icoana cu medalioane
Ioan Stoenescu’s Christian icon, “Icoana cu medalioane”, evokes the now lost art form of medieval “illuminations”: smaller oval portraits of revered saints surrounding the central depiction of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, painted with great delicacy and skill. A gilded foil illuminates the composition from within, giving it an otherworldly aura.
Adam Baltatu – Nuduri in peisaj
The painter Adam Baltatu reawakens our interest in figurative art, which is, indeed, after decades dominated by abstraction and conceptual art, becoming popular once again. His “Nuduri in peisaj” (“Nudes on landscape”) shows the beauty of the countryside enhanced by the beauty of feminine forms. The artist conveys the two women with a sense of harmony, balance and muted colors reminiscent of post-Impressionism, particularly of the paintings of Gauguin and Cézanne.
Iosif Iser- Odalisca
Iosif Iser’s “Odalisca” (“Odalisque”) also evokes post-Impressionism in style, although the odalisque was a favorite theme of Neo-classical and Romantic painters (particularly Ingres and Delacroix). Iser’s odalisque holds a relaxed, modern pose, displaying her half-veiled body in an almost defiant manner reminiscent of Manet’s Olympia.
Doru Moscu – Alfred’s dream
Doru Moscu’s “Alfred’s dream”, painted with broad brushstrokes of blues, grays, browns and greens, is more Expressionist in style. In this painting color assumes extreme importance, suggesting a somber mood, as furtive and enigmatic as the shadowy man on the right side of the canvas.
Mihai Zgondoiu -Artist`s Golden Hand Triptic
Surrealism has experienced a contemporary rebirth as well, as we can see in Mihai Zgondoiu’s “Artist’s Golden Hand Triptic”. In this monochromatic composition the artist’s hand, in a golden cast, stands out in poses suggestive of classical sculptures yet truncated, headless, and fragmentary: like the pieces of a disjointed dream that assume great symbolic significance.
Aurel Tar – Lectura
Aurel Tar’s “Lectura” carries the legacy of Impressionism forward, into the relatively new field of digital art. A painting reminiscent in theme and style of the works of Morisot and Cassatt–a mother reading to her tired, sleepy daughter as they wait together at the train station—has a (paradoxically) new feel through its explicitly retro look (the newspaper print-like pointillism of digital art).
Why is it is it so important for contemporary artists to reinvent, in their unique and original styles, some of the greatest traditions in art history? I think, first of all, because no art exists in a cultural vacuum. Complete individuality is an illusion. Originality, when pushed to an extreme, risks degenerating into mere shock value. Just as contemporary artists can’t reject the influence of the artistic movements that came before them, they shouldn’t underestimate the importance of their patrons: the critics, the viewers, the buyers and the lovers of art.
Picasso and Gilot
For, to conclude my introduction with a citation by Picasso—arguably the most subversive and original modern artist—even subversion cannot exist without tradition, nor can originality exist in the absence of sound aesthetic standards:
“Today we are in the unfortunate position of having no order or canon whereby all artistic production is submitted to rules. They—the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians—did. Their canon was inescapable because beauty, so-called, was, by definition, contained in those rules. But as soon as art had lost all link with tradition, and the kind of liberation that came in with Impressionism permitted every painter to do what he wanted to do, painting was finished. When they decided it was the painter’s sensations and emotions that mattered, and every man could recreate painting as he understood it from any basis whatever, then there was no more painting; there were only individuals. Sculpture died the same death. … Painters no longer live within a tradition and so each one of us must recreate an entire language from A to Z. No criterion can be applied to him a priori, since we don’t believe in rigid standards any longer. In a certain sense, it’s a liberation but at the same time it’s an enormous limitation, because when the individuality of the artist begins to express itself, what the artist gains by way of liberty he loses in the way of order, and when you’re no longer able to attach yourself to an order, basically that’s very bad.” (My life with Picasso, Françoise Gilot, 21)
Returning to some shared artistic criteria and reclaiming art’s role in society doesn’t mean reverting to the rigid criteria of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, which can be respected but not revived. It means revitalizing the importance of art today. As we’ve seen in my brief perusal of Romanian contemporary art featured by the Grimberg Gallery, individuality of style can coexist with respect for past artistic traditions and artistic freedom is entirely compatible with an appreciation of art’s patrons: us, the viewing public.
The legacy of Michael Hafftka: Emotion and expressionism in Holocaust art
by Claudia Moscovici
Michael Hafftka is an internationally renowned artist, whose works are displayed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art, among other museums. Art critics have dubbed his powerful and moving painting, “The Selecting Hand,” “the Guernica of the Holocaust”. This comparison with Picasso’s masterpiece is flattering and apt. Both paintings represent the atrocities inflicted upon innocent individuals: in Picasso’s case, the bombing of Guernica in 1937 by German and Italian planes (at the incitement of Spanish Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War); in Hafftka’s case, the suffering and death of millions of innocent victims during the Holocaust. Both paintings express undisguised pain and emotion in a way that is disturbing to viewers. Both stand as compelling anti-war symbols and reminders of the atrocities of the past for future generations.
In this spirit, Hafftka’s “The Selecting Hand” was selected as a representative work of art for the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date of January 27—the day that Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1945–was designated by the UN General Assembly as a day of commemoration of the Holocaust. On this day, “the UN urges every member state to honor the victims of the Nazi era and to develop educational programs to prevent future genocides” (www.ushmm.org). This day of international significance also has a profound personal meaning for Michael Hafftka. “I painted it in 1986 in memory of my parents and my family who perished in the Holocaust,” Hafftka declares in his artist profile on The Huffington Post. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-hafftka/)
“The Selecting Hand” alludes to the selection process in Nazi concentration camps. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, this process was quick and, for the most part, arbitrary. As soon as they stepped out of the deportation trains—where, usually, they had been deprived for days of food, water and hygienic conditions—the weakened victims were led by guards into the selection line. The guards first separated men from women and children, ripping apart families whose only solace and strength was each other. Then, following a brief and superficial visual inspection, the Nazi physicians decided whether an individual was fit for work or should be sent to the gas chamber. Babies, children, pregnant women and young mothers with small children were doomed. They were immediately taken to the gas chambers. Disoriented and frightened, the victims often didn’t even know where they were headed, since the death chambers were disguised as public showers. We see this aspect of the selection process featured in Hafftka’s painting, which reveals a woman with her blonde hair half shorn and a young child, crawling to her right, trying hopelessly to cling to life.
Although not painted in a realist style, “The Selecting Hand” is nevertheless a historically realistic painting. It’s accurate right down to the imprint of a hand on the wall and the slots through which the toxic gas Zyklon B (crystalline hydrogen cyanide) was channeled through pellets down the airshafts of the gas chamber. The painting shows the horrific and brutal reality of the Holocaust as it was. We see intertwined human beings fighting for life. Their bodies and individuated features are blurred by the toxic gas as it engulfs them. Darkness surrounds both the dead and the dying.
Since part of the significance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which Hafftka’s “The Selecting Hand” in turn commemorates, is to educate the public about the Holocaust and prevent future genocides, the question arises if we—“we” understood as humanity in general–ever learn from the history of the Holocaust enough not to repeat such disasters. Certainly, if you look at the number of genocides that followed the Holocaust—in Zanzibar, Guatemala, Pakistan, North Korea, Laos, Congo, Cambodia, Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Congo and Somalia among other places—it would seem that humanity hasn’t learned much from the past. Yet, hopefully, the future isn’t entirely bleak.
Our hope of dignity and survival consists in spreading truthful information about atrocities around the world and in combating indifference to human suffering in the places that aren’t immediately affected by them. Totalitarian regimes, ethnic or religious antagonism, and sociopathic rulers will no doubt continue to exist for as long as human beings live on this planet. Such dangerous and dark forces of history will continue to foster hatred and destruction around them.
Many have said after WWII that they didn’t know of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis. Some have claimed they knew about “pogroms”, but not about mass genocide in concentration camps. Today, in an Internet age where information travels almost instantaneously to all corners of the world, claiming ignorance can’t offer the same shield from knowledge of the truth. We have fewer excuses—or reasons—to remain indifferent to atrocities perpetrated against the innocent. For, as Elie Wiesel reminds us in Night, “The Opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” Michael Hafftka’s painting, “The Selecting Hand,” represents an homage to the victims of the past and a reminder to us today that we cannot afford to be indifferent to genocide ever again: no matter where it takes place and no matter who are its victims.
Emotion in the history of art
To my mind, one of the key aspects of Michael Hafftka’s art is that it evokes emotion. It is certainly inspired by visceral feelings processed through thought, aesthetic intuition (balance, shape, color, harmony) and the mysterious ingredient which we still call talent. It is impossible to look at any of Hafftka’s paintings and not feel the emotions it inspires, even before we analyze it intellectually or ascribe it a specific theme: be it suffering, death, disease, love, betrayal or pain. Because emotion is so central to Hafftka’s process of creation and to the viewer’s experience, it’s worth briefly integrating the artist’s richly emotive art in the history of art.
We tend to associate art and emotion. The Romantic notion of art as the product of an emotive, sensitive and inspired artist who creates masterpieces to move the public has not altogether disappeared from the popular imagination. Yet, in recent history—particularly since the movement of art for art’s sake in the nineteenth century and the formalist and conceptual currents of the twentieth century—emotion has almost disappeared from art itself. Even in the movement of conceptual art most closely associated with emotion and spirituality—abstract expressionism—emotion is a part of the process of artistic creation and palpable in the moving effect of art upon (some) viewers rather than readily recognizable in the artistic object itself. There is, of course, no eternally valid rule that dictates that emotion should be an inherent part of a work of art—or of any part of the artistic process, for that matter. And, in fact, art has not always existed as separate from artifact and artistic objects have not always been valued for their expressive powers.
For the ancient Egyptians, to offer one notable example, art served a largely symbolic and religious function. Tombs, busts and paintings were used as a means of preserving and glorifying the souls of kings, queens and other privileged members of society. E.H. Gombrich tells us that, appropriately enough, one Egyptian word for sculptor was “He-who-keeps-alive.” Egyptian artists depicted the human figure not as they saw it, nor to express or provoke emotion, but to capture the essence of an important person’s spirit for the afterlife by representing his or her body from its most characteristic angles. The face was shown in profile; the eye from the front; the shoulders and chest from the front; the legs from the side, with the feet seen from the inside and toes pointed upward. (The Story of Art, 60-1). For millennia Egyptian figures had a frozen and immobile, non-expressive look that strove to freeze the souls of powerful men and women in time and to safeguard their happiness in the afterlife.
Greek art was perhaps the first—and certainly the most influential art in the Western tradition–to capture the essence not only of the human spirit, but also of the human form, with all its movement and powers of expression. In Greek art, we feel, even the body seems infused with a soul. Myron’s famous sculpture of the discus thrower, Discobolos (c. 450 B.C), which is of the same era as the better known works of the sculptor Pheidias, displays the beauty, poise, force and movement of a young man’s efforts to launch the discus he holds in his hand. The sculpture is not entirely naturalistic—in the sense that athletes who would try to assume the same position would not be able to throw the discus very far. Nonetheless, it captures the elegance and athleticism of the male body in the first blush of youth. Part of this sculpture’s naturalism lies in the way it conveys movement and emotion through the positioning and poise of the body. This artistic video on classical sculpture by Philip Scott Johnson highlights this phenomenon:
More generally, classical Greek and Hellenistic sculptures rarely look stiff or contrived because of the way in which the human form is balanced: often in a position of counterpoise, with the weight shifted upon one leg, which allows sculptors to reveal the muscular curvatures of the body.
While classical Greek sculpture tends to focus upon the beauty of the human form, Hellenistic art—the art of the empires founded by Alexander the Great’s followers—places increasing emphasis upon the expression of emotion. The kinds of feelings represented in Hellenistic sculpture, however, are not those of everyday people in ordinary circumstances. Rather, Hellenistic art usually exhibits the emotions of extraordinary individuals engaged in tragic conflicts. To offer one well-known example, the sculpture Laocöon and his sons (175-50 B.C.)—executed by Hagesandros, Anthenodoros and Polydoros of Rhodes–immortalizes the story of a priest who is being punished by the gods for forewarning the Trojans not to accept a giant horse which, as it turns out, carried inside it enemy soldiers.
This sculpture was rediscovered in Rome in 1506 and many art historians believe that what was found was not the original sculpture, but a Roman copy. Whether or not it is the original work, The Laocöon Group made a strong impression upon Italian Renaissance sculptors, especially Michelangelo. Laocoon is frozen in an image of terrible anguish since his punishment consists of having to witness two gigantic snakes emerge from the sea and suffocate with their coils his beloved sons. Hellenistic art, at least in this representative sculpture that would become a favorite during the Renaissance and the Neoclassical periods, privileges the expression of a kind of emotion that is at once mythical and dramatic: mythical in its literary and religious references, dramatic in its depiction of human tragedy.
The painting and sculpture of the Renaissance masters continues to focus upon the expression of emotion on a grand scale and to grapple with the connection—as well as the hiatus–between the human and the divine. Michelangelo’s The Dying Slave (1513), for example, reveals the moment when the slave lets go of earthly life as his soul escapes toward heavenly existence.
Despite the twists and turns of his beautiful, muscular form, the slave’s body reflects the resignation, tranquility and spirituality of the transition from life to death. Emotive expression, Michelangelo shows so well, is not necessarily primarily located in the face. The whole body, every movement and gesture, expresses the feelings and attitudes reflected in the face.
This total, eloquent expressivity of sculpture reaches its apex, many believe, in Lorenzo Bernini’s The ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1645-52). The sculpture represents the sixteenth century mystic in a state of rapture. We witness the moment when the angel of God pierces the young nun with a golden arrow, provoking the paradoxical feelings of pleasure mixed with pain and of sensual abandon mixed with divine illumination. As she swoons, half-closing her eyes and slightly opening her lips with ecstasy, Saint Teresa becomes the very embodiment of religious fervor, spiritual attunement and passion. Even the drapery that enfolds her body swirls and twists around her with the same mixture of passive yet passionate frenzy visible on her face.
But what about the expression of more modest, individuated feelings? In the modern period, few artists were as thoughtful and successful in showing the relation between human form and feeling as Auguste Rodin. Despite the religious allusions of The Gates of Hell, Rodin brings emotion down to earth by materializing a passion that functions not only as a connection between the human and the divine, but also as an intimate and profound connection between earthly lovers. Perhaps no one else has described Rodin’s most sensual and moving sculpture, “The Kiss,” as eloquently as his friend, the art critic Gustave Geffroy:
“The man’s head is bent, that of the woman is lifted, and their mouths meet in a kiss that seals the intimate union of their two beings. Through the extraordinary magic of art, this kiss, which is scarcely indicated by the meeting of their lips, is clearly visible, not only in their meditative expressions, but still more in the shiver that runs equally through both bodies, from the nape of the neck to the soles of the feet, in every fiber of the man’s back, as it bends, straightens, grows still, where everything adores—bones, muscles, nerves, flesh—in his leg, which seems to twist slowly, as if moving to brush against his lover’s leg; and in the woman’s feet, which hardly touch the ground, uplifted with her whole being as she is swept away with ardor and grace.”
Rodin revealed human love and life as a process of mutual creation between women and men. Passion is not only a union with those we desire and adore, but also an elevation through shared feelings and sensuality which is always in process, never complete. His representations of the fragility of our mutual creation were as inchoate, vulnerable yet compelling as the material shapes that seemed to emerge only part-finished from the bronze or blocks of stone.
We have seen that art can serve many different purposes in different contexts such that it’s impossible to define it in relation to any set of common qualities, including emotion. Yet, as I have also suggested, when emotion is materialized in art, it renders artistic objects all the more poignant, moving and palpable for viewers. The expression of emotion not only touches us, but also enables us to connect to artistic creation in a way that’s unique and irreplaceable. Emotion and art don’t have to be interconnected. Yet what powerful and meaningful art is produced when they are! Next I’d like to examine Michael Hafftka’s artwork in the context of the expressionist tradition it’s informed by and continues.
Emotion and Expressionism in Holocaust art
The Holocaust brought out the worst in human emotion: hatred, prejudice, fear and indifference to immeasurable human suffering. Indifference too is an emotion, not merely the absence of feeling. Its underlying foundation is often contempt: in this case, for the lives of specific groups of human beings deemed by the Nazis to be “subhuman”. After all, as Samuel Beckett famously stated, “Nothing is more real than nothing” (Malone Dies, New York; Grove, 1956, 16). It is only fitting that the horrors of the Holocaust be captured by an artistic movement known for its emphasis on emotion and reviled by the Nazi regime: Expressionism.
In retrospect, the best-known artist considered to be the forefather of the Expressionist movement is the Norwegian painter, Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Rather than focus, like the Impressionists did, on the optical experiments with play of light in natural settings, Munch turned within, to express through art our most raw human emotions: love, jealousy, hatred, anxiety, fear of death. Munch rendered explicit the goal of his art, stating: “We want more than a mere photograph of nature. We do not want to paint pretty pictures to be hung on drawing-room walls. We want to create, or at least lay the foundations of, an art that gives something to humanity. An art that arrests and engages. An art created of one’s innermost heart” (Edvard Munch, http://www.edvard-munch.com/backg/index.htm).
His most famous work, “The Scream”, exists in several forms: two pastels (1893 and 1895), two oil paintings (1893 and 1910) and several lithographs. In fact, “The Scream” remains one of the most well known paintings in the history of art, selling for $119,922,500 in 2012. “The Scream” series began as an introspective expression of agony, or as Munch put it, “the study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self”, but soon became a general symbol of humanity’s angst in the modern era. The bright colors reflect feelings of madness and hysteria, while the skeletal form on the bridge confronts our mortality, sketching the boundary between life and death.
Expressionism as an art and literary movement, however, crystallized a decade or so later, in Germany, at the beginning of the 20th century. Expressionist painters, poets and writers placed primary emphasis on the expression of emotion, images and impressions that haunt human beings: in dreams, visions, and in life in general. Not shying away from the underside of human emotion, Expressionist artists conveyed anger, hatred, fear, jealousy, often mixing sex and violence. As the psychologist Carl G. Jung observed, “One does not become enlightened by imaging figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious”.
With this apt citation, Robbin Zella, the Director of the Housatonic Museum of Art introduces the work of Michael Hafftka, an American artist whose paintings convey the horrific experiences and the dark emotions that characterize the Holocaust. The son of two Holocaust survivors, Hafftka experiences the pain and misery of this dark era of history not as a direct witness, but as someone deeply haunted by the experience nonetheless. For him it becomes a revelation as well as a way to commemorate the suffering of his parents and other victims of the Holocaust. Michael states: “I began to paint my dreams and soon enough the experience of painting brought on exciting and mysterious experiences, as suggestive as dreaming. I felt freer than I had ever felt before. Painting became revelatory” (Michael Hafftka: A retrospective: large oils 1985-2003, Housatonic Museum of Art, Bridgeport CT, with an introduction by Robbin Zella).
Externalizing the nightmare that has haunted his family and his childhood, Hafftka expresses the raw emotions and undisguised horrors of the Holocaust. In his oil painting “Chain of Command”, we see mutilated–decapitated and amputated–humanoids whose features have been wiped out by misery and torture. Most of them are naked, deprived of every shred of civilized humanity. It’s not clear anymore who are the victims and who are the victimizers. As we know, in the sordid life of the concentration camp, prisoners acted as guards and torturers of fellow prisoners. With each person fighting for even one more day of survival, empathy was rarely possible in this environment. At Auschwitz, Polish and Ukrainian prisoners guarded the Jews, and some of the Jews were forced to be a part of the group that ran the crematoria. Humanity is desecrated to the core, reduced in its entirety to an emotion that is inseparable from sensation: unspeakable pain.
In the painting “Ceremony”, we see the aftermath of the slaughter of the innocent. The title is somewhat ironic, however, since millions of human beings were ruthlessly sent to their deaths–gassed and burned–with no ceremony whatsoever, and no real burial to commemorate their death. Their truncated, desecrated bodies become intertwined in the last effort to defy death in the gas chambers by climbing upon another body, living or dead, for a last breath of air.
As Sam Hunter states in his introduction to Hafftka’s series of paintings of the Holocaust, “The maimed and truncated body forms, with their ghastly pallor, recall the visual obscenities of the Nazi death camps seen in postwar photo journalism, not to mention Picasso’s mournful and eloquent Holocaust elegy, “The Charnel House”. (Michael Hafftka, with an introduction by Sam Hunter, DiLaurenti Publishing, 8). Like in Picasso’s masterpiece, there is no human emotion left on the canvas in “Ceremony”. Instead, it’s all transposed to us, the viewers, who observe with horror the gruesome spectacle of death.
On saving European art from the Nazis and The Monuments Men
by Claudia Moscovici
Winston Churchill is well known for a famous quote (among many others) about the importance of art to civilization. When asked if he planned to cut out art funding to channel more money into the war effort, he responded with a rhetorical question: “Then what are we fighting for?” Indeed, one of the battles against Hitler and the Nazi regime during WWII was over art. Since Hitler’s men pillaged museums and private collections and hid the artworks throughout Europe, the Allies were obliged to look for it and try to retrieve it. This effort was spearheaded, however, not by Winston Churchill, but by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
FDR had long supported the arts as an important part of the New Deal projects. The Federal Art Project (FAP) became the visual art component of the New Deal Works Progress (active between August 29, 1935 and June 30, 1943), whose goal was to revive the U.S. economy and overcome the effects of the Great Depression. The FAP encouraged public art of all kinds: paintings, murals and sculptures. It sought to bring art, once again, to the foreground in the country. Unlike Hitler, who repudiated modernism, Roosevelt maintained a pluralist stance, encouraging both representational and abstract art works. FAP displayed, for instance, the works of Jackson Pollock long before abstraction became a mainstream movement during the 1950’s, establishing New York City rather than Paris as the new epicenter of the art world.
Hitler, too, had his own art program and ambitions. A frustrated artist who was denied admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, he nonetheless pursued his artistic dreams in his own way. Hitler wanted to create the world’s largest and best art museum, called the Führermuseum. During WWII, he pillaged many of Europe’s best museums in the countries he conquered, as well as private collections owned by Jews and other people he deported and sent to concentration camps. The art he stole and the art he destroyed reflected his particular taste as well as his intolerance to the tastes of others. Unlike FDR, who embraced all kinds of art, Hitler launched a culture war against modern art, which he viewed as “degenerate”. He ordered that many of the masterpieces of Cubism, Futurism and Dadaism, including works by Pablo Picasso, modernism’s most notable figure, be systematically destroyed. Launching a propaganda campaign against modern art, Joseph Goebbels called such art “garbage”. On March 20, 1939, Hitler ordered the Berlin Fire Department to burn over a thousand paintings and sculptures and over 3000 watercolors, drawings and prints of modern art.
While repudiating modern art, the Nazis coveted the masterpieces of past centuries. Pillaging conquered and occupied countries, they looted their museums and private collections. Then they surreptitiously shipped and hid the artworks in caves and private houses throughout Europe. Hitler’s plan was to eventually collect most of these works in the Führermuseum, which was to be built in the town of Linz, Austria, where he spent most of his youth and which became a cultural center of the Third Reich.
In 1940, Hermann Göring, known for his ostentatious wealth, greed and pretentiousness, ordered the Nazis to seize Jewish art collections (including the collections of very wealthy, notable families such as Rothschilds, the Rosenbergs and the Goudstikkers) and collect it at the Musée Jeu de Paume in Paris before sending it to Germany. This operation was organized by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (or ERR, the Reischsleiter Rosenberg Institute for Occupied Territories, led by Alfred Rosenberg), which dealt with the patrimony of countries under German control. Göring placed Bruno Lohse in charge of Musée Jeu de Paume, its curators and staff. He supervised the shipping of artifacts to secret places in Belgium and Germany. Between 1940 and 1942, Göring traveled to Paris numerous times to oversee the shipment of art and artifacts. These looting operations, which by 1945 included hundreds of thousands of works of art, spread to other countries around the world, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia and North Africa.
The allies took note of the plunder of European art by Nazi Germany and established their own agency, the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) organization, to protect artwork from destruction by bombing and retrieve the stolen art objects. A recent movie called The Monuments Men (February, 2014), directed by George Clooney, with an all-star cast which includes Clooney himself, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Cate Blanchett, follows the efforts of several art connoisseurs—museum directors, curators, art historians and architects—to enter European combat zones during WWII and reclaim the artworks and private collections stolen by the Nazis. This entertaining and informative film is, in turn, based on Robert M. Edsel’s best-seller, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (Center Street, New York, 2010).
Although The Monuments Men received mixed critical reviews, I think this movie deserves a lot of credit for reminding us of Churchill’s wise words about the value of art: if we don’t save art and culture, perhaps the greatest achievements of our civilizations, then, indeed, “what are we fighting for?” Today art is not threatened by war as much as by a growing public indifference to it. It seems that nowadays art and literature risk being replaced with entertainment. Artists, critics, movie producers, actors thus face another challenge: making art and culture visible and relevant again to the general public. After all, to paraphrase Churchill—with a difference–what are we living for?
A Toxic Love: Gilot describes her Life with Picasso
by Claudia Moscovici
There are dozens of biographies on Picasso, but his psychological profile comes to life with nuance, insight and sensibility in the autobiographical writings of his long-term partner, Françoise Gilot. In Life with Picasso, Gilot illustrates that there’s no contradiction whatsoever between being a great and innovative artist, or an “artistic genius” if you prefer, and being an irredeemably bad and selfish human being, or a psychopath. Although Gilot doesn’t use this clinical label, I believe that this is the psychological profile that emerges from her personal accounts of Picasso’s personality traits and behavior. She also offers unique insight into the artist’s immense creativity and resourcefulness, which doesn’t in any way contradict the image she sketches of his emotional poverty.
My point here is not to clinically diagnose Picasso, since I’m not qualified to do so. Nevertheless, I’d like to offer from an informed lay perspective a vivid and high profile example of the manifestations of psychopathic traits in someone with extraordinary artistic sensibilities and intellectual acumen. I will rely upon Gilot’s autobiography to dispel the popular misconception that being gifted, cultured and sensitive implies that you can’t be evil. Of course you can. As Hannah Arendt illustrates in her work on the banality of evil, during the Holocaust tens of thousands of intelligent, educated and seemingly “normal” men and women participated in Nazi crimes against humanity. Most of them probably had a conscience and felt some remorse. Some, like Eichmann, did it of their own volition, for their benefit and completely remorselessly. That smaller subset of cruel men and women do not prove, pace Arendt, the banality of evil. They were not ordinary human beings who fell prey to extreme external pressures during extraordinary times. Instead, those shameless individuals prove the banality of psychopathy: namely, of being born with the psychological drive to use and destroy others.
The German people, like the Russian people, have no particular character traits that made them more likely to commit genocide. Unfortunately, psychopathic rulers rose to power in their midst. They encouraged other similarly disordered individuals, as well as the rest of society, to behave ruthlessly towards fellow human beings. Such evil individuals have existed throughout human history, everywhere around the world. They become particularly dangerous and influential in certain social circumstances, such as during war, civil war or in totalitarian societies, when crimes against humanity are condoned and even encouraged.
Analogously, I’m surprised to hear people interviewed on the news about a violent crime remark that “Such horrible things don’t happen in our neighborhood.” Why would they not? Disordered, conscienceless individuals exist in every kind of neighborhood. Until they’re caught and sentenced for their crimes, they’re free to live wherever they want. I also sometimes hear people express great surprise when the vicious murderers turn out to be educated men and women: teachers, professors, doctors, scientists, lawyers, musicians, writers or artists.
Psychologically speaking, there’s no contradiction whatsoever between being naturally gifted in all sorts of ways and being a psychopath. Psychopathy constitutes an emotional deficiency that leads to lack of empathy for others. It’s not an intellectual or artistic deficiency. If anything, as Robert Hare observes in Without Conscience, the opposite logic applies. The more charming, educated, refined and talented a psychopath is, the better his camouflage. Such an individual is more likely to get away with his misdeeds because others will give him the benefit of the doubt or excuse his bad behavior. If you look at evil people throughout history, you’ll see that they cut through every culture, society, level of education, occupation and class. Most psychopaths, as we’ve seen, don’t achieve great success because they tire quickly of their endeavors. But some of them become rich, powerful or famous. A few can even be “artistic geniuses” like Picasso.
In Life with Picasso, Gilot describes Picasso in terms of nearly every key symptom of psychopathy: his total absence of empathy and love; his lack of remorse and facile rationalizations for hurting others; a lust for seduction as a form of exercising power over women; duplicity and manipulation as a way of life; the pattern of idealize, devalue and discard in every romantic relationship he’s had; the underlying desire for control; an unshakable narcissism and the drive to do evil by damaging the lives of the women who became his partners. I’ll now describe Picasso’s pathological behavior in greater detail by relying upon Gilot’s autobiographical account, coupled with relevant psychological explanations of how psychopaths and narcissistic controllers behave.
1. Seduction as a Power Game. Gilot describes how from the very beginning of their relationship, Picasso wanted to be the one in charge. He regarded seduction as a power game, in which he reserved the right to make all the key moves. When she refused to be a passive pawn and didn’t play the predictable role of a “respectable” woman who resists his advances, Picasso was taken aback. She states:
When he dropped the last piece back unto the table he turned abruptly and kissed me, full on the mouth. He looked at me in surprise. “You don’t mind?” I said no—should I? He seemed shocked. “That’s disgusting,” he said. “At least you could have pushed me away. Otherwise I might get the idea that I could do anything I wanted to.” I smiled and told him to go ahead… He looked at me cautiously, then asked: “Are you in love with me?” I said I couldn’t guarantee that, but at least I liked him and felt very much at ease with him and I saw no reason for setting up in advance any limit to our relationship. Again he said “That’s disgusting. How do you expect me to seduce anyone under conditions like that? If you’re not going to resist—well, then it’s out of the question. I’ll have to think it over” (Life with Picasso, 24).
It’s not surprising that Picasso subscribes to traditional gender roles and expects a certain behavior from a “proper” middleclass woman. After all, many men of his generation did as well. More striking is the manner in which he views courtship as a game of conquest with no real adversary. He expects his partner to play into his hand as a passive pawn. Of course, since psychopaths also enjoy a challenge, Gilot’s failure to conform to gender stereotypes also initially intrigued Picasso. In fact, it led him to pursue their relationship further.
2. The Aesthetization of Erotic Experience as a Substitute for Emotional Bonding. Instead of bonding with their partners, psychopaths conduct sensory experiments. They explore how each woman responds to their touch. They sense her taste and feel the shapes of her various body parts. Of course, erotic experience commonly includes a sensual component. For psychopaths, however, the aesthetic and sensory appeal of sexual pleasure completely replaces establishing an emotional connection with their partners rather than supplementing it. Sensual and sexual experimentation is part of a psychopath’s general tendency to view others solely as objects to be used for his gratification. Gilot describes her first intimate experience with Picasso as follows: “He took his hands away. Not suddenly, but carefully, as though my breasts were two peaches whose form and color had attracted him; he had picked them up, satisfied himself that they were ripe but then realized that it wasn’t yet time for lunch” (26). To Picasso, his new girlfriend represents a beautiful, pleasurable aesthetic object meant to appeal to his senses and satisfy his desires when and where he wants her.
3. The Assessment/Mirroring Phase. Robert Hare and Paul Babiak describe in Snakes in Suits how during the “assessment phase” of the relationship a psychopath will convey to his target four main messages: 1) I like you; 2) I share your interests; 3) I’m like you, and 4) I’m the perfect partner or soul mate for you. This process constitutes the “mirroring phase” of the psychopathic bond. Granted, most romantic relationships entail some aspects of mirroring. After all, that’s how couples discover their points in common. But with a psychopath the reflection tends to be instant and total. It’s a simulated bonding that’s way too fast, too soon and too good to be true.
This happens before any real emotional connection can take place. It occurs before the partners have gotten to know each other well, over time and in different circumstances. Instant bonding, as we’ve seen in Carver’s analysis, is a symptom of shallowness of emotions rather than of miraculous compatibility. It means that the psychopath will detach from you and latch on to another target as easily as he initially attached to you. Yet through their conversational glibness and innate charm, as well as through their extraordinary capacity to identify and reflect your deepest desires, psychopaths can initially make you feel like they’re your dream come true. They present themselves as the only partners who could possibly fulfill whatever’s been missing from your life. This is exactly how Picasso makes Gilot feel after only a few brief encounters:
It was in November before I had a chance to visit Picasso again. One thing stood out very clearly: the ease with which I could communicate with him. With my father there had been no communication for years. Even my relations with the one boy my own age I thought I loved were often difficult and complicated, almost negative. Now suddenly with someone who was three times as old as I was, there was from the start an ease of understanding that made it possible to talk of anything. It seemed miraculous. Seeing him after an absence of four or five months and across the filter of my summer’s experiences, I had the impression I was rejoining a friend whose nature was not very far from my own (31).
If you read other biographies of Picasso, you’ll notice that each of his partners felt this way initially, when he was in the process of courting her. Yet these women were radically different from each other. Picasso couldn’t have possibly been identical to them all. He only pretended to be like them in order to hook them emotionally. Then, after he lost interest in each one, he no longer mirrored her particular personality traits and interests. With Olga, the Russian socialite and ballerina, the subversive and misanthropic artist transformed into a social butterfly. For several years, he joined her at the parties of prominent politicians and aristocrats.
Until, that is, he tired of her after having met Marie-Thérèse Walter. She was a seventeen year-old girl who made the middle-aged Picasso feel young again. With her, he acted like a rebellious, sex-starved and in some ways sadistic adolescent. That role fit, since Marie-Thérèse was not only very young, but also sensual and submissive. With Dora Maar, his eccentric, demanding, unstable and artistic girlfriend who was a Surrealist photographer herself, Picasso engaged in stormy fights, intellectual conversations, joint artistic projects and heated aesthetic debates.
Until he met Françoise Gilot. To her, he revealed a more reserved and cynical persona. In his eyes, she was a somewhat timid, awkward and androgynous misfit. Having no deeper sense of identity and being motivated by an insatiable hunger for conquest and control, a psychopath will become whatever you want him to be in order to seduce you. He just doesn’t stay that way for long because this isn’t who he really is. Once he conquers you, his interest in you naturally diminishes. Consequently, so does his incentive to be, do or say whatever pleases you. In fact, after the seduction phase, the roles reverse. The target is increasingly pressured to do everything possible to please the psychopath, not the other way around.
4. The Custom-made Mask of the Psychopath. Psychopaths instinctively know what it takes to seduce a woman. They not only reflect your identity, but also anticipate your desires and conform to your needs. With a promiscuous woman, a psychopath may cut to the chase. He’ll make the process short and sweet. By way of contrast, with a woman who presents a more “respectable” image, that same psychopath can be slow, gentle and disarmingly shy.
This is the role the usually impatient and assertive Picasso chooses to play with Gilot. “He stretched me out on the bed and lay down beside me. He looked at me minutely, more tenderly, moving his hand lightly over my body like a sculptor working over his sculpture to assure himself that the forms were as they should be. He was very gentle, and that is the impression that remains with me to this day—his extraordinary gentleness” (52). Picasso intuitively knows that he’s dealing with a reserved and intelligent woman. Making steamy declarations of love might have worked with more naive and sentimental targets. But with Gilot, he takes a slower, more cerebral, approach to seduction. This strategy pays off. She recounts with nostalgia and lyricism the seemingly promising beginning of their romantic relationship:
I lay there in his arms as he explained his point of view, completely happy without feeling the necessity of anything beyond just being together. . . We continued to lie there, without saying a word, and I felt it was the beginning of something marvelous—in the true sense of the word… If he had taken possession of me then by the power of his body or unleashed a torrent of sentiment in declaring his love, I would not have believed in either one. But as it was, I believed him completely… I had not thought before then that I could ever love him. Now I knew it could be no other way. He was obviously capable of sidestepping all stereotyped formulas in his human relations just as completely as in his art. One recognizes stereotypes even if one has not experienced them all. . . When I left there that day, I knew that whatever came to pass—however wonderful or painful, or both mixed together—it would be tremendously important (53-4).
Certainly, Gilot’s relationship with Picasso turned out to be very important to her. He became not only her lover, but also her life partner, her artistic mentor, her best friend and the father of her children, Claude and Paloma. But their relationship was not filled with mutual caring and respect, as she had hoped. By the end of their love affair, the pain Picasso caused her far outweighed the initial pleasure she experienced with him. In addition, her narrative shows that the relationship that she, herself, came to regard as the foundation of her life represented just another game of conquest to him. In clinical terms, she was his “narcissistic supply,” like all the other women in his life. As Dr. Roger Melton explains in his illuminating article, “Romeo’s Bleeding: When Mr. Right Turns out to be Mr. Wrong”:
Unlike men that can honestly struggle with their own uncertainties and confusions about a relationship, and recognize the part they play in creating problems and conflicts, there are other kinds of men that see love as a game and you as their pawn. In this cruelly covert contest, cunning is their watchword, deception is their fix, and control is their high. Just as addicts are unrelenting in pursuit of making the next score, these kinds of men are unyielding in their hunt for women that they can deceive and manipulate. Unlike emotionally sound men and women, who respect others as much as they do themselves, controlling men respect no one. To them, people are things. And things can be used (obgyn.net).
Gilot realizes early into their relationship that Picasso wouldn’t be able to give her any real emotional warmth and support in life. But before their children are born, she implicitly consents to participating in an unequal relationship. She gives him all the love and support she can while he gives her nothing but his artistic talent in return. It’s only after having kids together that Gilot realizes that she can no longer tolerate this fundamental asymmetry between them. It drains her strength and emotional energy. From that point on, the role of martyr no longer suits her. She explains, “At the time I went to live with Pablo, I had felt that he was a person to whom I could, and should, devote myself entirely, but from whom I should expect to receive nothing beyond what he had given the world by means of his art… During the next five or six years… I had had the children, and as a result of all that I was perhaps less capable of satisfying myself with such a Spartan attitude. I felt the need of more human warmth” (335).
5. Cracks in the Psychopath’s Mask. As we’ve seen, psychologists who treat victims of psychopathic seduction state that it’s very rare for a psychopath’s mask of charm to remain seamless over time. Early on in the relationship—in fact, usually as soon as the manipulation phase begins—psychopaths tend to give out signs of their real selves. Unfortunately, victims tend to ignore those red flags because by then they’re already emotionally hooked on, or at the very least intrigued by, the psychopath. Picasso, for one, reveals the ugly aspects of his character. He tells Gilot that he regards other human beings as mere objects to be used and disposed of once their value has expired.
She recalls, “One day when I went to see him, we were looking at the dust dancing in a ray of sunlight that slanted in through one of the high windows. He said to me, ‘Nobody has any real importance for me. As far as I’m concerned, other people are like those little grains of dust floating in the sunlight. It takes only a push of the broom and out they go’” (84). Obviously, this is not a very auspicious sign for Gilot herself. It signals not only Picasso’s underlying narcissism, but also his utter contempt for humanity. Yet by this point, she’s too smitten with her lover to leave him. She also mistakenly believes, as do many women who get involved with dangerous men, that she can improve his bad character through her good example and nurturing love. She’ll eventually discover that love can’t change everyone. Some people are irredeemably bad.
6. Psychopathic Possessiveness. When psychopaths want a woman, they become very possessive of her. Such men view their wives, lovers and children the same way that the rest of us view our cars or stereos: as objects they own, which nobody has the right to take away from them. When a psychopath is still in the idealization phase of the relationship, you’re like a hot new Ferrari in his eyes. When he’s tired of you and is ready to discard you, you become a beat-up Yugo to him. Either way, he regards you as his property, to do with as he wishes. Viewing Gilot as his possession, Picasso attempts to isolate her from others in order to control her more completely. She recounts: “‘You should wear a black dress right down to the ground,’ he had told me one afternoon, ‘with a handkerchief over your head so that no one will see your face. In that way you’ll belong even less to others. They won’t even have you with their eyes.’ He had this idea that if someone is precious to you, you must keep her for yourself alone, because all the accidental contacts she might have with the outside world would somehow tarnish her and, to a degree, spoil her for you” (81).
The need to keep the current object of their desire “pure” is not the only reason why psychopaths isolate their targets. More importantly, as we’ve seen in Carver’s explanation, once a woman is removed from others, the psychopath can manipulate and control her far better than when she has external sources of support. Needless to say, the opposite doesn’t hold true since psychopaths have double standards. You can’t really “own” or limit a psychopath’s contact with others as he does yours. At best, he will tell you what you want to hear and do whatever he wants behind your back anyway. Psychopaths strive to maximize their options in life—by being free to pursue anyone or anything at any time—while narrowing down the options of their targets, which they keep on a very tight leash. Picasso’s quite explicit about his intention to lock up his new girlfriend in this little box of an existence—living solely for and through him—when he tells her: “‘There’s one thing I’d like very much,’ he said, “and that is if you would stay there, beginning right now, up in the forest; just disappear completely so that no one would ever know you were there. I’d bring you food twice a day. You could work up there in tranquility, and I’d have my secret in my life that no one could take away from me… You’d be completely happy, because you wouldn’t have to worry about the rest of the world, just about me’” (47).
Although Picasso couches his request in flattering and even romantic terms, he describes a gilded cage: the prison-like existence in which you might keep a household pet, not the woman you trust, respect and love. In addition, Picasso is quite explicit about the fact he doesn’t intend to return the favor. He’s not willing to limit his own freedom for her sake. In fact, he even voices the fear that having his girlfriend move in with him might restrict his movements, a downside which he’s not prepared to accept. Gilot recounts, “But then he began to think it over and he said, ‘I don’t know whether it’s such a good idea or not because it’s binding on me, too. If you’re agreeable to having no more liberty, that means I wouldn’t have any more, either’” (47). Only once she refuses to move in with him, does Picasso become very adamant about this idea. Living together becomes, as it often does for psychopaths, more about taking possession of and exercising control over his latest prey than about embarking on a promising new life together.
7. Lack of Remorse for the Harm Inflicted on Others. As we’ve seen, research shows that the most dangerous quality of psychopaths is their ability to rationalize their misdeeds. When Picasso leaves his previous partner, Dora Maar, for Françoise Gilot, Maar suffers a nervous breakdown. Her close friends and even her casual acquaintances are genuinely worried about her. Some fear that she’ll commit suicide. But Picasso, her long-term lover, couldn’t care less. By now he’s in the midst of his hot pursuit of Gilot. He’s already done with Maar, ready to toss her away like an old sock. His callous attitude and actions show that he regards his former “soulmate,” who had been his partner in both life and art for several years, only as a handicap or (at best) as a potential back-up, in case he might wish to use her again. When a mutual friend, the poet Paul Eluard, reproaches him for the heartless manner in which he left his girlfriend, Picasso blames the Surrealist movement (to which Maar belonged) and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (whom Maar was seeing to cope with her anxiety and depression). Adding insult to injury, he also points fingers at the friends who try to help her. He sees everyone as a potential culprit except, of course, for himself. Picasso complains to Gilot:
“After Lacan had left with Dora, Eluard was so upset he accused me of being responsible for her state because I had made her so unhappy,” Pablo said. “I told him that if I hadn’t taken her up, she’d have reached that state long ago. If anyone is to blame, it’s you and the surrealists, I told him, with all those wild ideas promoting antirationalism and the derangement of all the senses. Eluard said that any influence they had had on her was indirect, since it was all theoretical, but that I had made her unhappy in a very concrete way. What I do know,” Pablo told me, “is that after she met me she had a more constructive life than before. Her life became more concentrated. I built her up” (89).
Psychopaths are so self-absorbed that they believe that even the women they’ve used, deceived, hurt and abandoned should feel grateful for the mistreatment. In their pathological minds, at least those women had the great privilege of being a part of the psychopath’s life. Of course, the inverse is never the case. If any woman dares to cheat on or leaves a psychopath, he harbors a grudge against her for the rest of his life. This sums up Picasso’s attitude towards Gilot, once she becomes the only woman to stand up for herself and eventually (after years of suffering and self-sacrifice) leave him. Normal people, however, can’t comprehend the psychopath’s callousness. When she hears her lover’s excuses for mistreating his former girlfriend, Gilot takes her rival’s side rather than Picasso’s: “I felt very upset by this story. I suggested that we had talked about it, he might like to be alone. He said, ‘No. The present always takes precedence over the past. That’s a victory for you. . . Life must go on and life is us’” (89). Gilot, however, doesn’t feel victorious. She refuses to participate in her rival’s humiliation. She insists that Maar deserves more consideration from Picasso even if he’s no longer in love with her.
Picasso dismisses her moral qualms as purely sentimental: “‘That kind of charity is very unrealistic,’ he said. ‘It’s sentimentality, a kind of pseudo-humanitarianism you’ve picked up from that whining, weeping phony, Rousseau. Furthermore, everyone’s nature is determined in advance’” (90). As we’ve seen, psychopaths are skillful sophists. They commonly present human values as useless, dated norms followed by sheep-like individuals. Using pseudo-intellectual arguments, they persuade their current partner to hurt their former partner. As a result, the women end up turning against one another rather than uniting forces against the psychopath, who is the real culprit. Such machinations also fulfill the psychopath’s sadistic tendency to inflict maximum emotional damage upon the woman he discards while turning into an accomplice the woman he currently pursues. Gilot recognizes this strategy. But she succumbs to Picasso’s pressure anyway. “He told me he had already given Dora to understand that there was no longer anything between them. He insisted they understood each other perfectly on that point. When I seemed reluctant to believe him, he urged me to go to her apartment with him so I could see for myself. I was even more reluctant to do that. But he kept on urging” (103).
When Picasso takes his new girlfriend to Dora Maar’s house to rub his newest affair in her face, Maar sees him more lucidly, as a person incapable of genuine love. Of course, since she’s jealous of Gilot, who has just replaced her, she also insults his current victim in the process: “‘You’re very funny,’ Dora said to him. ‘You take so many precautions in embarking on something that isn’t going to last around the corner.’ She’d be surprised, she said, if I wasn’t out on the ash heap before three months had passed, all the more so since he was the kind of person who couldn’t attach himself to anyone. ‘You’ve never loved anyone in your life,’ she said to Pablo. ‘You don’t know how to love’” (106).
Seeing her new lover without his mask of charm momentarily triggers Gilot’s self-preservation instinct. It makes her want to flee from Picasso’s grasp and end their relationship. After all, reasons Gilot, if her lover is capable of mistreating his former girlfriend, why wouldn’t he behave the same way with her once he tires of their relationship as well? But Picasso manages to turn this situation around. He makes Gilot feel “special,” both through her association with a man as talented and famous as he is and in her own right. He convinces her that she’s the woman he prefers to the one he’s just discarded. If he wants her and not Dora Maar (or anyone else), Picasso reasons, it’s because in his eyes Gilot is superior to Maar. Furthermore, if he mistreated his former girlfriend, he continues, it was only because he wanted to prove his love for Gilot. Yet even this declaration of love reveals his underlying sense of entitlement. It also hints, quite ominously, at physical violence. Gilot recalls:
“I did that for you,” he said, “just to make you realize there’s nobody else as important as you are in my life. And this is the thanks I get! You have no grasp of what life is really like. I ought to throw you I into the Seine. That’s what you deserve.” He grabbed me and pushed me into one of the semicircular setbacks on the bridge. He held me against the parapet and twisted me around so that I was looking down into the water. “How would you like it?” he said. I told him to go ahead if he wanted to—it was spring now and I was a good swimmer. Finally he let go of me and I ran down into the subway, leaving him behind me on the bridge (107).
With hindsight, Gilot admits that if she had not been deeply in love with Picasso, she’d have seen her lover’s behavior—not only towards Dora Maar, but also his bullying of her—as a terrible sign and run away from him. But by this point, she was too far-gone, under her lover’s hypnotic control, to heed the blatant red flags and escape the relationship unharmed. “I suppose I should have cooled off towards Pablo. But I didn’t. I was bothered by what had happened and its implications, but my feeling for him had deepened to the point where it was stronger than any of the warning signals” (107). Psychopaths bank on their victims’ emotional attachment once they gradually abandon the pretense of goodness and begin to show, more and more, their true colors.
8. Psychopathic Manipulation. Many of the women who recount their life experiences with psychopaths on the website lovefraud.com state that the more they gave in to the psychopath’s manipulation and the more they colluded with his unprincipled acts against others, the more he demanded from them and the weaker they became to resist his bullying in the future. Placating a psychopath doesn’t buy anyone peace for long. In the long run, it only feeds his insatiable hunger for control and penchant for evil deeds. Françoise Gilot learns this painful lesson as she struggles to appease her lover by repeatedly giving in to his demands. After getting her to contribute to hurting her rival, Picasso strikes next much closer to home.
He asks Gilot to leave her ailing grandmother, who needs her attention and care, so that she can move in with him. In so doing, he asserts his power over his girlfriend and tests her loyalty to him. As we recall, psychopaths view their partners’ love and loyalty as a zero-sum game. If their partners care about their parents, grandparents, children or friends, to them that means less love and control for themselves. Only once their victims are both physically and emotionally isolated from everyone and everything else, do psychopaths feel like they’re “in charge.” At that point, however, they also become bored with their defeated targets and move on to new ones. Power isn’t always bad, just as charisma isn’t always dangerous. But psychopaths use the power of charisma for predatory purposes. As Roger Melton elaborates in his article on narcissistic controllers,
Unhealthy control originates in a desire to dominate another, either through words or actions designed to both charm and harm—to captivate while simultaneously damaging the emotionally captured. It is this pairing of charm with harm that is the hallmark of Controller manipulations. Preaching sugar while practicing poison, they are experts at concealing their true natures. Hiding bad intentions beneath polished appearances, they have perfected the art of ‘looking good.’ It is this uncanny ability of Controllers to alternate looking good with manipulative behavior that perpetuates tormenting emotional snares for those they target as victims (“Romeo’s Bleeding: When Mr. Right Turns out to be Mr. Wrong,” obgyn.net).
Picasso tries to convince Gilot that abandoning her grandmother isn’t really personal. After all, he generalizes, any action for yourself is bound to hurt someone else. There’s no way to live in such a way that doesn’t cause pain to others. Besides, he adds, Gilot’s romantic love for him should trump her familial love for her grandmother:
“Look at it this way,” he said. “What you can bring to your grandmother, aside from the affection you have for her, is not something essentially constructive. When you’re with me, on the other hand, you help me to realize something very constructive. It’s more logical and more positive for you to be close to me, in view of the fact I need you. As far as your grandmother’s feelings are concerned, there are things one can do and make them understood, and there are other things that can only be done by coup d’etat since they go beyond the limits of another person’s understanding. It’s almost better to strike the blow and after people have recovered from it, let them accept the fact” (100).
Such nonsense doesn’t persuade Gilot. “I told him that sounded rather brutal to me,” she recounts (100). She counters that hurting those you love is, indeed, very personal. Furthermore, you can easily prevent it by not doing whatever it is that would hurt them. In response to her reasonable objection, Picasso presents a more metaphysical argument. He depersonalizes the whole scenario again. “‘But there are some things you can’t spare other people,’” he said. “‘It may cost a terrible price to act in this way but there are moments in life when we don’t have a choice. If there is one necessity, which for you dominates all others, then necessarily you must act badly in some respect. There is no total, absolute purity other than the purity of refusal. In the acceptance of a passion one considers extremely important and in which one accepts for oneself a share of tragedy, one steps outside of the usual laws and has the right to act as one should not act in ordinary conditions’” (100-1).
This argument gets to the core of a psychopath’s self-centered worldview. In the first part of his defense, Picasso stated in general terms that hurting others was unavoidable. But Gilot easily refuted this proposition by saying that she could, indeed, avoid it by staying with her grandmother. Picasso then flatters his girlfriend’s self-love. He tells her that she, and their love for each other, is extraordinary. They’re therefore above the pale of the moral codes that govern the rest of humanity. Some of the women who contribute to lovefraud.com have described in their testimonials how they have abandoned their partners, their friends and sometimes even their children for such an illusory cause as being considered “special” by their psychopathic lovers.
Picasso describes the supposedly unique bond between himself and Gilot in terms of a higher power, perhaps the hand of fate itself. “‘It’s a question of the recognition of one’s destiny and not a matter of unkindness or insensitivity,’” he tells her (101). What Picasso’s really saying here is that his needs are supremely important while those of others don’t matter. But he’s framing this egocentric assumption in seemingly ethical terms, which would sound more acceptable to his scrupulous girlfriend. Any savvy psychopath knows how to use the fact that most people have a conscience as leverage for his own selfish purposes. The appeal to moral standards, just like the histrionic simulation of love, constitutes yet another one of the psychopath’s many ruses. It enables him to get what he wants from others while making it his life’s goal to undermine both the moral and the emotional fabric that binds other human beings together. Above all, Picasso’s argument reflects his absolute selfishness. As Melton elaborates,
At his core, every Controller is monumentally self-centered. He is not just on an ego trip. He is on an expedition. In his mind, everyone orbits around him, as if people are his planets and he is their shining sun. What he wants he should have, simply because he wants it. He needs no other justification. Seeing himself as the center of everyone else’s universe, he is blind to the fact that anyone else’s wants or needs are more important than his own. Doggedly locked into this self-image of grand, “godlike” proportions, he may literally feel entitled to other’s worship (“Romeo’s Bleeding: When Mr. Right Turns out to be Mr. Wrong,” obgyn.net).
Gilot recognizes her lover’s argument as sheer nonsense covering up an act of immorality. “I told him that a primitive person could face up to that idea much more easily than someone who thought in terms of principles of good and evil and who tried to act on the basis of them” (101). When a psychopath can’t win an argument using his charisma, eloquence and sophistry, he usually falls back upon the strategy of bullying others. In this case, Picasso tortures Gilot by branding her with his lit cigarette. Needless to say, she doesn’t take it well. “I told him I often thought he was the devil and now I knew it. His eyes narrowed. ‘And you, you’re an angel,’ he said, scornfully, ‘but an angel from a hot place. Since I’m the devil, that makes you one of my subjects. I think I’ll brand you’” (101).
Since even physical violence fails to intimidate her, Picasso relies upon a purely emotional—and highly manipulative—appeal: whom do you love more? he asks her to choose. Your grandmother or me? He then turns the tables on his girlfriend and makes her feel guilty for not caring enough about him to sacrifice her relationship with her grandmother for him. “‘Don’t I count in your life?’” he demands. “‘Is this all a game for you? Are you so insensitive as that? … You should be worrying about me. I need you… And since I can’t get along without you, you have to come live with me’” (101). The repeated emotional blackmail eventually wears her down. Gilot moves out of her grandmother’s house to live with her lover. It’s a decision that she’ll soon come to regret.
9. The Psychopath’s Mask Peels Off. Some people say that the best way to kill passion is by moving in together. While this cynical view may be only partially true of normal, loving relationships, it’s one hundred percent true of psychopathic bonds. In a Schopenhauerian perversion of love, once a psychopath establishes a dominance bond with a woman, he also starts to get bored with her. Not surprisingly, when looking back upon their life together, Gilot concludes that the only time she and Picasso seemed happy together was during the three years before she moved in with him and when she was carrying his children. She states, “As I began to think back on our life together, I realized that the only time I ever saw him in a sustained good mood—apart from the period between 1943 and 1946 before I went to live with him—was when I was carrying Claude. It was the only time he was cheerful, relaxed and happy, with no problems. That had been very nice, I reflected, and I hoped it would work again, for both our sakes. I knew I couldn’t have ten children just to keep him that way, but I could try once more at least, and I did” (212). If psychopaths often ask their partners to have children with them, it’s obviously not because they care about kids, since they can’t love anyone meaningfully. Psychopaths enjoy marking their women, whom they consider their property. Impregnating women makes such men feel more potent and virile, especially as they age, as was the case with Picasso, who was much older than Gilot.
10. Stringing Women Along: The Psychopath as Puppet Master. Since, as we’ve seen in previous discussions, psychopaths enjoy sex and power—especially when the two are combined—they’re great jugglers of women. They especially relish creating rivalry and jealousy among their partners. They instigate feelings of mutual disrespect and even hatred. Watching several women fight over them validates their ego. It also offers priceless entertainment. Picasso unabashedly confesses to Gilot his delight in having women assault each other over him. He recounts how Marie-Thérèse and Dora Maar had an altercation over who was his real girlfriend. Instead of diffusing the tension, he encouraged them to escalate from a verbal to a physical fight. Picasso tells Gilot, “‘I told them they’d have to fight it out themselves. So they began to wrestle. It’s one of my choicest memories’” (211). Jealous fights, as well as mutual insults and devaluation, offer an amusing spectator sport for psychopaths. It makes them feel in charge: like they’re the puppet masters manipulating all these women’s emotions. This rivalry also has the additional advantage of creating artificial barriers among the victims. The women’s aggression turns against one another rather than towards their real enemy, the psychopath who is using and mistreating them both, plus several others that they may not even know about.
Psychopaths tend to select trusting and trustworthy women whom they can manipulate and taint. They enjoy the thrill of getting them to collude in their lies and machinations against others, including family members and friends. They resort to emotional blackmail to get their victims, who are often decent human beings, to cooperate. This establishes a link of complicity in the psychopathic bond: something along the lines of, you lied to your family (or my family, or our friends, or your spouse) too, so therefore you’re just as bad and deceitful as I am. Furthermore, psychopaths need to have their sense of power over you constantly reaffirmed. Since they’re at core malicious human beings, the way you help confirm their power best is by colluding with their projects to deceive and hurt others.
By turning “their” women against one another, psychopaths make each of them simultaneously their co-conspirator and their dupe, the deceiver and the deceived. When she deflects her negative emotions towards other women, the psychopath’s wife or girlfriend remains blind to the real threat posed by her own partner. Emotionally, this perspective may be easier to accept than the truth: namely, that your supposed soul mate wants to destroy you and is using you as a weapon to hurt others and vice versa. Only when you’re strong enough to open your eyes and face reality do you begin to see the machinations of the psychopath as puppet master. Françoise Gilot describes this strategy with characteristic lucidity. She compares Picasso’s habit of stringing several women along to a Bluebeard complex and to a bullfight. Although these analogies may seem radically different, they describe the same phenomenon. In this process, the real enemy—the one who gores you in the end—is the man generating all the drama and rivalries among women in the first place:
Pablo’s many stories and reminiscences about Olga and Marie-Thérèse and Dora Maar, as well as their continuing presence just off stage in our life together, gradually made me realize that he had a kind of Bluebeard complex that made him want to cut off the heads of all the women he had collected in his little private museum. But he didn’t cut the heads entirely off. He preferred to have life go on and to have all those women who had shared his life at one moment or another still letting out little peeps and cries of joy or pain and making a few gestures like disjointed dolls, just to prove there was some life left in them, that it hung by a thread, and that he held the other end of the thread. Even though he no longer had any feeling for this one or that one, he could not bear the idea that any of his women should ever again have a life of her own. And so each had to be maintained, with the minimum gift of himself, inside his orbit and not outside. As I thought about it, I realized that in Pablo’s life things went on just about the way they do in a bullfight. Pablo was the toreador and he waved the red flag, the muleta. For a picture dealer, the muleta was another picture dealer; for a woman, another woman. The result was, the person playing the bull stuck his horns into the red flag instead of goring the real adversary—Pablo. And that is why Pablo was always able, at the right moment, to have his sword free to stick you where it hurt. I came to be very suspicious of this tactic and any time I saw a big red flag waiving around me, I would look to one side of it. There, I always found Pablo (242-3).
Aside from the entertainment value and the sense of being in charge, the psychopath gets something else out of generating conflict among his targets. He also gets back-ups to his back-ups. Given that he’s bound to mistreat every woman he’s involved with, he certainly needs them. It seems as if psychopaths know, through both intuition and experience, that the honeymoon phase won’t last long no matter how exciting and promising a given relationship may seem in the beginning. I’m reminded once again of a beautiful quote by Gilot, who herself paraphrases Picasso:
He said, “We mustn’t see each other too often. If the wings of the butterfly are to keep their sheen, you mustn’t touch them. We mustn’t abuse something which is to bring light into both of our lives. Everything else in my life only weighs me down and shuts out the light. This thing with you seems to me like a window that is opening up. I want it to remain open. We must see each other but not too often. When you want to see me, you call me and tell me so” (53-4).
What a touching way to describe the whole process of psychopathic seduction, from the initial idealization to devalue and discard! It almost makes it sound appealing rather than appalling. If relationships with psychopaths are so fragile and delicate, like the sheen on the wings of a butterfly, it’s because they have no foundation whatsoever in reality. Or rather, because everything positive about them is based on illusion, manipulation and deceit. The psychopath knows this at all times. Yet he may sometimes engage in double think: which is to say, believe at a given moment that his love for you will last even though he knows from experience that every feeling, interest and relationship he’s ever had was ephemeral. Unfortunately, once you’ve fallen under his spell, you’re much more convinced than he is that your relationship’s solid and real, based on mutual caring and genuine respect.
As we’ve seen from Gilot’s juxtaposition between her feelings for Picasso and his for her, the difference in your attitudes is not necessarily one of intensity, but one of depth and duration. There’s a huge, unbridgeable gap between his forever “for now” and your forever “for always.” In fact, as you eventually find out, it’s a veritable abyss. When the relationship begins to crack once the honeymoon phase ends, you feel confused and wounded. What happened to all his promises of love and commitment? Were they offered in a parallel universe? You never realized that his “for life” really meant “for as long as you give me a buzz” or “for as long as I feel like it.” Given all those nice words, flattery and promises, and especially given the emotions, time and energy you’ve invested into the relationship, you couldn’t tell that he dwells in the shallowness of a perpetual present; that momentary sensations, desires and objectives is all that counts for him.
When one’s “love” has the lifespan of a butterfly—to use Picasso’s metaphor—one must find other flowers to pollinate. Given their restlessness and shallowness, psychopaths need to secure multiple sources of novelty, pleasure and excitement. And they’re quite good at lining them up. They place several women in reserve, filling their lives with back-ups to their back-ups. That way as soon as one relationship sours, it’s no big deal. They quickly move on to another. Besides, no woman will be pleasant and obliging every minute of every day. When one woman’s tired, unavailable or in a bad mood, a psychopath can always fall back on another one to console him. He feels entitled to it. After all, in his mind, he’s perfect all the time!
Picasso, for one, isn’t shy about sharing with Gilot the main intention behind his machinations. He wants to destroy the self-esteem of women who previously had a positive image of themselves: “‘For me, there are only two kinds of women—goddesses and doormats.’ And whenever he thought I might be feeling too much like a goddess, he did his best to turn me into a doormat.’” This constitutes the raison d’être of just about any psychopath. As we’ve seen, an emotional predator’s goal is not to build a healthy and enduring relationship with his partner. Rather, it’s to amuse himself and feel more powerful by undermining her dignity before moving on to his next target. Picasso sampled several different types of women. He idealized each one at first as a “goddess,” but eventually treated all of them like a “doormat.” Gilot perspicaciously identifies the dualistic mindset behind using a woman as a temporary fantasy (the idealized new girlfriend) to displace another woman who represents mundane reality (the current devalued partner):
[Marie-Thérèse ] haunted his life, just out of reach poetically, but available in the practical sense whenever his dreams were troubled by her absence. She had no inconvenient reality; she was a reflection of the cosmos. Marie-Thérèse was very important to him as long as he was living with Olga because she was the dream when the reality was someone else. He continued to love her because he hadn’t really taken possession of her: she lived somewhere else and was the escape hatch from a reality he found unpleasant. But once he had, in order to take fuller possession of that form of hers for which he had such an insistent desire, sent Olga away, then reality suddenly switched sides. What had been fantasy and dream became reality, and absence became presence. Along came Dora Maar to take photographs of Pablo, and Pablo became very interested in her (235-6).
She goes on to recount how, following the same logic of turning each previously idealized “goddess” into a devalued “doormat,” Picasso discarded Maar once she, herself, caught his eye. Gilot realizes that there’s a certain predictable pattern to the way Picasso perceives his relationships with women. She sees that if she doesn’t escape of her own free will, he’s bound to step all over her as well.
11. The Devaluation and Abandonment Phase. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what he sets out to do. Once Gilot moves in with him, Picasso begins to treat her as he did all of the other women who shared his life. Once she’s under his control, he becomes bored with her, cheats on her, bullies her and lies to her. He also imposes upon her humiliating double standards, which we’ll shortly examine in greater detail. He demands that her whole existence revolve around fulfilling his every need, yet nothing she does pleases him for long. At the same time that he controls every aspect of her life, he also begins to distance himself from her to pursue other affairs and flings. When Gilot confronts him with her warranted suspicions, Picasso becomes downright indignant. He refuses to admit the truth about his infidelities:
From the time I went to live with him in May 1946 until his trip to Poland with Eluard and Marcel, Pablo and I had never been apart a single day. After his return from Poland he began taking short trips to Paris without me…. Once when he didn’t come home… I dragged a mattress out onto the balcony and stayed there, sleepless, until I saw the car pull up in front of the garage just before dawn. When Pablo came up the stairs, he flew into a rage, accused me of spying on him and said he was free to come in whenever he wanted to—all this without my having said a word to him…. “Instead of sleeping in bed where you belong, you’re out here waiting for me. It’s obvious to anybody that you’re trying to take my freedom away from me” (336).
Never mind that Gilot can’t do anything without Picasso’s knowledge and approval, let alone travel by herself or engage in extramarital affairs, as he does. No doubt, Picasso’s attitude reflects the epoch’s double standards for men versus women. But it’s also a symptom of a psychopath’s sense of entitlement. It reflects the view that he’s far superior to his mate and therefore deserves to do whatever he wishes while she’s to remain under his thumb. The “doormat” phase of the psychopathic bond has clearly arrived for the former “goddess.” Gilot offers a moving description of her own devaluation: “In the weeks that followed, I saw that both spiritually and physically he was erecting a wall between us. At first I couldn’t believe it possible that he should want to stay apart from me at the very moment I was making the greatest effort to be close to him” (336).
If one takes into account the clinical information on psychopathy, however, the fact that Picasso loses interest in his partner precisely at the point when she’s most emotionally invested in him doesn’t seem like a coincidence. As we’ve seen, once a psychopath hooks a woman emotionally, she no longer presents a goal to him. He regards her as his rightful possession while feeling entitled to pursue other challenges by seducing other women. To psychopaths and narcissists, having such double standards is as natural as breathing. Which leads us to our next point.
12. The Psychopath’s Double Standards. A psychopath will happily and with great ease leave his current partner for another woman or just because he feels like it. But he’s not likely to be as cavalier about a break-up when his partner chooses to leave him instead. That’s not, of course, because he loves her and would miss her. It’s because, as Roger Melton explains, psychopaths are narcissistic controllers. Being left by their partners wounds their inflated egos. Although he cheated on Gilot and neglected her towards the end of their relationship, when she finally decides to leave him, Picasso feels furious. Since the honeymoon phase of their relationship is long over, this time he doesn’t couch his argument in phony other-regarding terms. Instead, he explicitly reminds her of her inferior position: “Your job is to remain by my side, to devote yourself to me and to the children… Whether it makes you happy or unhappy is no concern of mine” (355).
Picasso attempts to prevent Gilot from leaving him not only to reassert his power over her, but also because, as we’ve seen, psychopaths like to have numerous pawns at their disposal. They dwell in what’s been called in literary studies, following René Girard, “the triangulated space of desire,” or more aptly, of duplicity. They need to be cheating on someone to enjoy a given target. They need to gossip with the woman they’re chasing about the woman they’re dumping. They need to find yet another woman to deceive the girlfriend with and enjoy the double, triple or even quadruple duplicity. Each relationship is triangulated. It consists of the psychopath, his current target to whom he’s criticizing his previous victim, who’s now become his back up.
Feeling confused? Then try putting yourself in the poor psychopath’s shoes! If there’s nobody to gossip about, nobody to complain about, nobody to deceive, nobody to conquer from another man, nobody to cheat on, nobody to hurt, nobody to malign, then sexual relationships lose their spice. Romantic partners become as familiar as old shoes. Normal life, believing in moral standards, having genuine emotions and lasting relationships is really boring from a psychopath’s perspective.
13. The Emotional Vacuum. If ultimately Gilot can no longer be persuaded by Picasso’s arguments to stay with him, it’s because his actions have spoken louder than his occasional declarations of love. After all, it’s very easy to tell a woman that you love her. It’s much harder and more meaningful to prove your love by treating her with the consideration and respect that she deserves. Initially, when Gilot saw how Picasso mistreated his former partners, she found some comfort in the hope that he would treat her better. She believed his claim that he loved her more and that she was more compatible with him than any other woman in his life. But after awhile, Gilot realized that she wasn’t the exception that confirmed the rule. She was just another link in his pattern of idealizing, devaluing and discarding women:
They all had different kinds of failures, for different reasons. Olga, for example, went down to defeat because she demanded too much. One might assume on that basis that if she hadn’t demanded too much and things that were basically stupid, she wouldn’t have failed. And yet Marie-Thérèse Walter demanded nothing, she was very sweet, and she failed too. Then came Dora Maar, who was anything but stupid, and artist who understood him to a far greater degree than the others. But she too failed, although, like the others she certainly loved and believed in him. So it was hard for me to believe in him completely. He had left each of them, although each of them was so wrapped up in her own situation that she thought she was the only woman who counted for him, and that her life and his were inextricably intertwined. . . There was no means, ever, of really coming close to him for long (340).
Understandably, once she confronts the sad reality that Picasso is no more capable of loving her than he was of caring about any other woman, Gilot becomes visibly depressed. Even when he sees the suffering he’s caused her, however, all Picasso thinks about is how he can use her sorrowful expression for his paintings. “I cried a good bit of the time,” Gilot recalls. “Pablo found it very stimulating. ‘Your face is wonderful today,’ he told me while he was drawing me. ‘It’s a very grave kind of face.’ I told him it wasn’t at all a grave face. It was a sad face” (337). Not only is Picasso impervious to Gilot’s pain, but also he criticizes her for having lost weight due to the hardships he imposed on her. He tells her, “You look like a broom. Do you think brooms appeal to anybody? They don’t to me” (337). While his cruelty towards the woman he supposedly loves is nothing short of astonishing, when it comes to his own suffering, with characteristic double standards, Picasso expects from her the utmost compassion and devotion.
By this point, however, Gilot can no longer offer him anything but discouragement and sadness. She sees the writing on the wall. She senses their mutual alienation. She also realizes that her usefulness to him has nearly expired, just as it did for all her precursors. Robert Hare and Paul Babiak document in Snakes in Suits that when psychopaths have used up their targets, they manifest an emotional emptiness that’s almost beyond description or comprehension. Their tone and behavior become mechanical. Their demeanor becomes cold and distant. Months or even years of shared experiences become effaced from their minds, as if they never existed.
Some women feel so emotionally invested in their psychopathic partners that they take refuge in denial. They cling to false hopes, refusing to acknowledge the palpable alienation. Gilot, however, courageously confronts it: “But our relationship continued to deteriorate to the point where the usual personal and emotional fulfillment a woman derives from a man’s love was no longer possible” (338). Unfortunately, it takes her two more years of suffering, from 1949 to 1951, to fully absorb this realization and leave him.
14. Deception and Gaslighting. Like most psychopaths, Picasso was a master of gaslighting. Even though, as mentioned, he repeatedly cheated on Gilot, he vehemently denied having affairs. He even called her “crazy” for suspecting him of infidelity. Martha Stout and Robert Hare both state that a psychopath can be so convincing in his dramatic denials that his victim begins to question her knowledge of the truth and even doubt her own sanity. The classic strategy of gaslighting plays itself out in the following scene between Gilot and Picasso: “When Pablo returned, I asked him if he waned to tell me about the change in his feelings toward me. I said we always had been very frank with each other and I felt we should continue on that basis. Deciding, doubtless, that too much talk on the subject would complicate things for him, he said, ‘You must be crazy. Nothing at all is going on.’ He sounded so convincing, I believed him, preferring to think that perhaps the journalists had been badly informed” (345). Yet once Picasso’s infidelities intensify and become more flagrant, Gilot can no longer accept his lies. She finally wakes up from the psychopathic spell: “I had been under his spell, but I was no longer. I had waked up and I was disenchanted” (348).
15. The Psychopath’s Rage. As we’ve seen, psychopaths regard their partners as their personal property. While they reserve the right to juggle multiple relationships and find pleasure with others, they become downright furious when their devalued partners dare to move on with their lives as well. Picasso expresses his possessiveness quite bluntly when he tells Gilot: “I prefer to see a woman die, any day, than see her happy with someone else” (351). By the time Gilot decided to leave him, Picasso was already practically living with his new girlfriend, Jacqueline Roque, whom Gilot describes as slavishly submissive to him. But the fact that he had already replaced her did not in any way prevent Picasso from viewing Gilot as rightfully his: “‘You owe me so much,’ he said, ‘This is your way of thanking me, I suppose. Well, I’ve just got one thing to say. Anybody else will have all of my faults and none of my virtues. I hope your life is a fiasco, you ungrateful creature’” (366).
Picasso’s statement would ring true only if Gilot would have replaced a talented psychopath like him with a garden variety psychopath—your ordinary Loser—who lacked his ambition, accomplishments and abilities. But, in fact, she didn’t trade one kind of psychopath for another. She replaced Picasso with a real, functioning man who truly loved her. Psychopaths hate the sense that they have not succeeded in destroying their former partners. They don’t want “their” women to regain their strength and lead much happier lives without them.
Picasso admits as much when he tells Gilot, “Every time I change wives I should burn the last one. That way I’d be rid of them… You kill the woman and you wipe out the past she represents” (349). In fact, he partially accomplished this goal. He more or less succeeded in psychologically destroying all of his former partners: except, that is, for Françoise Gilot. No matter how hard he tried, he could not conquer her. He experienced her freedom as a betrayal. In his article on narcissistic controllers, Melton explains that psychopaths and narcissists don’t understand betrayal the way normal people do. They don’t regard it as a violation of mutual trust. After all, they don’t trust others and aren’t trustworthy themselves. Instead, they view betrayal as an assertion of independence by those who were formerly under their control:
For most people, betrayal usually means a deep violation of trust inflicted by someone with whom a close, personal relationship exists. But, to a Narcissistic Controller, betrayal simply means that someone stopped pandering to his every want and need. In other words, when someone breaks away from his control, he feels betrayed. Since Narcissists do not have the capacity to develop close, trusting personal relationships, there can be no deep violation of real trust. When a Narcissistic Controller feels betrayed, contempt dominates his facial and verbal expressions. The insolent, aloof sneer commonly accompanies expressions such as, “He didn’t know who he was dealing with!” Or, Doesn’t he know who I am?” His real complaint—if he had the ability to see it—should be, “Don’t you know who I think I am?” (“Romeo’s Bleeding: When Mr. Right Turns out to be Mr. Wrong,” obgyn.net).
To reassert dominance, Picasso attempts to undermine Gilot’s self-esteem, so that she’ll lack the confidence to leave him for good. He tells her that she’s nothing without him. He asks her, “You imagine people will be interested in you?” as if the very idea were preposterous (355). Fortunately, however, this time she doesn’t believe his insults. She chooses instead to believe in herself. She doesn’t see herself as only his shadow. Perhaps her own lucidity saves her. Most people made exceptions for Picasso’s bad behavior because he was, indeed, such an exceptional artist. Because Gilot saw who Picasso was as a human being—the emptiness within him—she moved on to a better life without him. Ultimately, Picasso didn’t rob her of real happiness with another man. He also didn’t succeed in making her bitter towards the rest of humanity, or even towards him, for that matter. Instead of hating her former lover and rejecting their past together, Gilot saw her years with Picasso as a painful learning experience that enabled her to mature. They gave her an inner strength that lasted for the rest of her life:
Pablo had told me, that first afternoon I visited him alone, in February 1944, that he felt our relationship would bring light into both our lives. My coming to him, he said, seemed like a window that was opening up and he wanted it to remain open. I did, too, as long as it let in the light. When it no longer did, I closed it, much against my own desire. From that moment on, he burned all the bridges that connected me to the past that I shared with him. But in doing so he forced me to discover myself and thus to survive. I shall never cease being grateful to him for that (367).
I can only hope that those who read Françoise Gilot’s moving autobiography take away from it her message of survival, resilience and strength. Her account of her relationship with Picasso also illustrates that one can run across evil individuals in every wake of society and life. If you expect psychopaths to be the ugly monsters you see in thrillers rather than the cultivated, charming and seemingly sensitive artists, doctors, scientists, teachers or lawyers that they sometimes are, then keep on watching them in movies and reading about them in novels. But remember to also watch out for them in all their guises, talents and professions in real life, which is where you’re likely to encounter them.
The great Russian literary theorist, Mikhail Bakhtin, argued that culture can best be appreciated in terms of chronotopes, or slivers of time, that are synchronic (measuring events taking place at the same time throughout the world) rather than only diachronic (meaning events taking place one after the other). A Chronology of Culture (O Cronologie a Culturii, Editura Junimea, 2012), written by the Romanian intellectual historians Marian Gavrila and Minodora Perovici, does just that. This ambitious encyclopedic book shows the highlights of culture that occur more or less simultaneously, during each period of time starting with the beginnings of civilization around 45,000 B.C. to our day, around the world.
A Chronology of Culture is bound to please not only scholars, art historians and literary critics, but also anybody curious about cultural phenomena. In an age of the internet, blogging, ebooks and all kinds of online mass media deluge of information that risk engulfing culture, it’s wonderful to have a bird’s eye view of the best that has been preserved in human creativity–in art, literature and science–internationally, throughout human history.
The authors state on the back cover of O Cronologie a Culturii:
“A Chronology of Culture (O Cronologie a culturii) is dedicated to those readers who wish to access in the shortest amount of time the most information, offering them the tools, in an accessible format, to see a bird’s eye view of the synchronic evolution of human knowledge, internationally. In its nearly 10,000 entries, this work traces the history of creativity. It offers a synthesis of the evolution of human civilizations organized around key dates, presenting the masterpieces that have shaped our notion of “beauty” and defined our vision of the world. This wall of mirrors, which reflects the power of human imagination, presents a guide which, through its concise and dense comments and references, leads from the past to our present, opening the path to the future.” Marian Gavrila and Minodora Perovici
When you look at Rodney Smith‘s photographs you may think of René Magritte, the Belgian Surrealist artist known for his visual puns and, generally speaking, thought-provoking, “conceptual” images. Surrealist art, in general, combines the best of both worlds: a “realistic” representation of objects, which requires talent and technical skill, and a fantastic imagination that takes us past the threshold of the rational and the knowable, so we can explore the mysteries of the subconscious.
photo by Rodney Smith
Surrealism offers an escape from the real world yet also probes the depths of a perhaps truer and deeper reality: the reality of human desire; of our dreams and nightmares; of our hopes and fears; of our collective past and a visionary future we can barely imagine. Surrealism can also be playful: at least in the hands of an artist like Miró as well as in Magritte‘s linguistic imagination, whose paintings are filled with visual puns and paradoxes.
photo by Rodney Smith
Rodney Smith’s education and professional route is somewhat unusual for an artist. He earned a Master of Divinity in Theology in 1973 from Yale University, where he also studied photography with Walker Evans and developed a love for this field. Far from being stuck in the Ivory Tower, however, his highly successful photography has been commissioned by mainstream businesses such as American Express, I.B.M., Merril Lynch, the New York Stock Exchange and VISA (among many others).
photo by Rodney Smith
To call Rodney Smith’s Surrealism “eclectic,” as I do in the title of this introduction, may seem somewhat redundant. After all, Surrealist art is usually eclectic. Yet Rodney Smith adds so much Romantic flavor to many of his images–as well as playing with optical illusions, surprises and visual puns–that “eclectic” is the best term I found to describe his art.
photo by Rodney Smith
In fact, this is a term Rodney Smith uses to describe himself. Although art isn’t exactly autobiographical, I think that, in this case, there’s no better introduction to Rodney Smith’s quirky and eclectic Surrealist photography–which is filled with personality–than reading the witty and revealing description the artist provides about himself and his art on his website:
Daniel Gerhartz: The Beauty of Representational Art
by Claudia Moscovici, author of “Romanticism and Postromanticism” (2007) and co-founder of the postromantic art movement
The American painter Daniel Gerhartz is a contemporary master of representational art. Drawn to painting since adolescence, he studied at the prestigious American Academy of Art in Chicago. Gerhartz states that he learned a lot about painting techniques by studying the works of John Singer Sargent, Alphonse Mucha, Nicolai Fechin and Joaquin Sorolla. Gerhartz also goes on to say on his website, http://danielgerhartz.com, that he is particularly inspired by modern Russian art of Nicolai Fechin, Isaac Levitan and Ilya Repin because “their paintings are completely loose yet deliberate and faithful, not at all flashy.”
by Daniel Gerhartz
Although Gerhartz paints a variety of subjects, most of his works focus on the female figure, in diverse settings, ranging from the realistic and contemporary to idyllic pastoral and romantic. Going far beyond realistic representation or the celebration of feminine beauty, his paintings evoke emotion and represent important aspects of the human condition (such as love, loss, nostalgia, and mourning).
by Daniel Gerhartz
Although often inspired by contemporary life, Daniel Gerhartz’s art clearly continues, for our times, the legacy of the Romantic and Symbolist movements, in two main ways: 1) a technique that emphasizes verisimilitude as well as, quite often, 2) the depiction of idealized figures and settings. In what follows, I’d like to explore why this continuation of the Romantic and Realist traditions are important currents in ART TODAY. They not only add diversity to the wide range of artistic movements we can enjoy, but also preserve valuable artistic techniques that shouldn’t be dispensed with.
by Daniel Gerhartz
The aesthetic revolution that occurred during the twentieth-century is unprecedented in the history of Western art. Even the invention of one-point perspective and the soft shading that gives the illusion of depth (chiaroscuro) during the Renaissance didn’t change aesthetic standards as radically as the creation of non-representational, or what has also been called “conceptual” art. Since Marcel Duchamp we have come to believe that a latrine, if placed in a museum, is a work of art. Since Andy Warhol we have come to accept that brillo boxes and other ordinary household objects, if placed in a museum, are objets d’art. And since Jackson Pollock and the New York School of abstract expressionism we have come to realize that what may appear to be randomly spilled paint, globs and other kinds of smudges are not only artistic, but also considered by many to be the deepest expressions of human talent, thought and feeling.
Once art took a conceptual turn, it also became philosophical. As Arthur Danto argues in representational art what constituted “art” was more or less obvious. The only question that was always difficult to determine was: is it good art? By way of contrast, Danto explains, conceptual art compels viewers to think about the very nature of art. The postmodern answer to this question is not only philosophical–namely, that art is a concept because it cannot be identified visually, just by looking at it–but also sociological. Art is, as Danto himself declares, whatever the viewing public and especially the community that has the power to consecrate it–by exhibiting it in galleries and museums, buying it, writing books about it, critiquing and reviewing it, etc– says it is.
A priori, art can be anything. A brillo box, a toilet seat. But it isn’t everything for the simple reason that not everything is consecrated as art. What may seem, by older standards, to be art—such as contemporary Impressionist-style paintings–may not be considered art (but only cheap imitation) by the public or critics, while, conversely, what doesn’t seem to be art—a brillo box—can be perceived as the highest manifestation of artistic genius.
As noted, what makes twentieth- and twenty-first century art conceptual is the fact that what makes it be “art” can no longer be seen with the eye. We can’t see the aesthetic difference between the brillo boxes we discard and Warhol’s brillo boxes. Yet one is called trash and the other pop art. Clearly, it’s not the physical qualities of the object, but rather the assumptions of a community that determine what is (good) art. I cannot dispute this argument—made in different ways by Pierre Bourdieu and Arthur Danto–because, given everything I observe is being called art, I see it as the most compelling explanation of the term “art” as it’s being used today. Having conceded the artistic nature and value of nonrepresentational art, however, postromantic aesthetics argues that just because nonrepresentational art is valued doesn’t mean that contemporary representational art should be dismissed.
To explain the conceptual revolution that occurred in art at the end of the nineteenth-century and the beginning of the twentieth century, some art historians claim that photography eliminated the need for representational art, or the kind of art that tries to imitate “nature” by depicting faithfully what the eye can see. We can add in parentheses, as E. H. Gombrich observes in The Story of Art, that the notion of the representation of what the eye can see has changed throughout the history of art. Needless to say, it too is shaped by social assumptions. Nonetheless, the difference between a kind of art that aims at faithful visual imitation of the three-dimensional qualities of physical objects and one that doesn’t remains relatively easy to discern.
For instance, even without reading the descriptive title of the painting, it’s clear to tell by just looking at Renoir’s Girl Bathing (1892) that it features a nude girl bathing. Without its explanatory (or deceptive) title, however, it would be impossible to know what Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 1 (1911) is supposed to represent The last thing that might occur to those who look at it–if it were not for the title–is that it shows a nude.
The invention of photography had a lot to do with the move away from visual representation. To say that photography eliminated the need for representational art, however, is an overstatement. Undoubtedly, the invention of the camera encouraged artists to experiment with other means of representation in the same way that the invention of machines displaced hand-made crafts. The camera probably did for painting what the industrial revolution did for artisanship. But that doesn’t mean that artisanship–or hand-made beautiful objects–are no longer valuable. For what the human imagination, sensibility, eye and hand can create will always be somewhat different from what can be made with the aid of machines. The texture, sense of color and vision that are captured by painters are not identical to those that photography can produce, even though photography can bring us closer to visual reality and even though photography can be artistic.
Verisimilitude, or the true-to-life physical representation of objects, already existed in classical Greek, Hellenistic and Roman art, all of which rendered the beauty, movement and sinuosity of the human body especially palpable in their breath-taking sculptures. In classical Greek and Hellenistic art in particular, the human body conveyed (what was perceived as) the essence of beauty: the glorification of divine powers and aesthetic ideals were embodied in the human form. While Greek paintings and especially sculptures showed knowledge of human anatomy, movement and foreshortening, it’s Renaissance artists who discovered the two other key components of verisimilitude in painting: one point-perspective and shading, which give the illusion of three-dimensionality to two-dimensional painted forms. Gombrich and other art historians credit the architect Filipo Brunelleschi with the invention of one-point perspective as it was enthusiastically adopted by Italian Renaissance painters. Perspective entailed the application of geometrical principles to convey in painting the relative size of objects in terms of their distance from one another and from the viewer. (The Story of Art, 228-9).
The most famous Renaissance artist, Leonardo da Vinci, added another dimension to making the objects represented in art seem almost real. His most famous painting Mona Lisa is said to deceive the viewers into believing that the woman’s eyes move, returning and even following their gaze with her eyes. Likewise, many have speculated about the meaning of Mona Lisa’s ambiguous smile, whose lips have a mobility that renders her at once impenetrable and expressive. Leonardo was able to achieve these complex visual and psychological effects through the technique called sfumato, or the smoky blurring the contours of the object depicted—especially the corners of Mona Lisa’s eyes and mouth—to leave their outline and expression more open to interpretation.
The study and representation of human anatomy and of nature, foreshortening, capturing human movement and expression, one-point perspective and the creation of soft shadows which give the illusion of three-dimensionality to painted forms — all these techniques which took centuries to develop–have the magical effect of making objects represented by art come to life before our eyes. This kind of naturalistic art is not necessarily “realistic” in the sense of capturing human life as it actually is. For instance, some of the paintings of the surrealists were realistic in their anatomically accurate and three-dimensional representation of the human body, but fantastic in their rendition of reality.
Romanticism and Postromanticism by Claudia Moscovici
In its preference for visual resemblance (as opposed to realism or plausibility), my own art and aesthetics movement, POSTROMANTICISM, which I co-founded with the sculptor Leonardo Pereznieto in 2002, argues that the artistic techniques that give a sense of three-dimensionality and life-like quality to art are difficult skills that require both patience and technical talent and that are worth preserving and appreciating in art today. There’s no reason to discard the masterful qualities that made art artistic for five hundred years. Nor do such techniques have only a purely historical value. In an artistic world that prides itself upon pluralism, openness and variety, artists who desire to continue the legacy of realistic representation should be able to coexist with those that have rejected it.
by Daniel Gerhartz
The postromantic movement–and representational art in general, of which the work of Daniel Gerhartz is a prime example–represents not a rival, but an alternative to modern and postmodern conceptual art. For in a world of such diverse tastes and sensibilities, there’s certainly room for both.
Ekaterina Belinskaya’s international success offers a pretty good argument that innate talent can sometimes be more important than experience. At the young age of 24, this Moscow-based artist is already one of the foremost fashion and artistic photographers in the world. In 2012, Belinskaya won the Best Photographer Award 2011 (first place in Advertising Photography Awards).
photo by Ekaterina Belinskaya
Originally trained as an ecologist, she was nevertheless drawn to the arts, particularly photography. Legendary photographers such as Tim Walker and Helmut Newton have inspired her, but her style is her own. Each image she creates begins to tell a story, often staged as a fairy tale, that the viewers continue in their own imaginations. As is the case with most fairy tales, there’s both beauty and danger in her photos.
photo by Ekaterina Belinskaya
Belinskaya’s images usually feature strickingly beautiful women, in period costumes often reminiscent of the Gothic era, yet so tastefully staged and designed that they suggest a timeless elegance. As is apparent in theRaven series, the symbols of danger create the tension and the drama in the image. The beautiful woman is not depicted, however, in a stereotypical fashion as a victim that needs to be saved by a courageous prince. She’s a complex and dual creature: feminine, beautiful and strong, yet containing within herself the danger and lure of the bird of prey beside her.
photo by Ekaterina Belinskaya
The Raven series alludes to Edgar Allan Poe’s famous narrative poem by the same name, which was first published in 1845. More intricate and complex than a fairy tale–as is, in fact, Ekaterina Belinskaya’s photography itself–this symbolist poem traces a man’s gradual fall into madness as he converses with a raven about the loss of his lover, Leonore. Rather than consoling him, the bird of prey incites his despondency in various ways, including by repeating the word “Nevermore,” to reinforce the idea that he’s separated forever from the woman he loves.
photo by Ekaterina Belinskaya
While Belinskaya’s (poe)tic photography is even more open-ended in possible interpretations than Poe’s poem, it evokes similar feelings: the darkness of danger embodied by the bird of prey and the stark, somber surroundings; an atmosphere that combines great beauty and implicit menace, which is subtle and rich enough that it can’t be stereotyped as “Gothic” or any other genre, for that matter.
Each of Belinskaya’s series of images tantalizes not only the senses but also the imagination. I believe that, like the artists who inspired her, this young photographer will be a legend in her field. You can view more of Ekaterina Belinskaya’s art on her website, below: