Artist as Other Artist
Saul Bellow’s son, a writer too, once explained how over the years he had incorporated aspects of his late father’s being into himself: “ways of thinking, particular expressions, a certain way of looking at the world.” Now that he was dead, he wrote, “my father, though absent, is deeply, unpredictably, stubbornly present in me.”1 Poetic painters feel the same way about earlier masters whose work they have studied so intently that the other artist’s characteristics, brushstrokes, subject matter and ways of thinking are deeply embedded in themselves. This means that Giorgio Vasari’s account of how the soul of one Renaissance artist was kept alive in the next is not a mere literary flourish (as generally explained) but a very accurate description of how one artist feels about another. This deep sense of identification with their earlier peers can be seen in art from many periods and many countries.
When Matisse and Picasso discussed the issue in old age, they both agreed that it was important to keep earlier artists “alive in their minds.”2 Indeed Picasso, on being shown some Paleolithic cave art, wondered whether he might not even have been that cave-painter, “the same little man” reborn time and again as a great artist until he became Picasso. Awareness of this theme and of its importance to poets will help you recognize such references in the most unlikely places. Indeed the ways in which artists weave this meaning are varied, with some of the more common ones demonstrated below. Become familiar with them because the more often you see them (as with any theme here), the more often and easily you will recognize them elsewhere.
1. Adam Bellow, “Missing My Father”, New York Times, June 10th 2005, p. A21
2. Françoise Gilot, Matisse and Picasso: A Friendship in Art (New York: Doubleday) 1990, p.90
All Articles (Alphabetical by Artist, then Title)
See how even in the fifteenth century the artist's craft and intellect were one and how, once again, forms matter
Find out how, even when young, Michelangelo represented himself making his own sculpture
Always look for what is odd. It's often there where you'll find a breakthrough in meaning
Here is a very obvious example of one artist's identification with another
When you discover what is underneath Picasso's early Blue Period paintings, the meaning changes...drastically.
How we know that the young Picasso knew his destiny
How a seated harlequin is so much more than a seated harlequin
Picasso must have learnt early on that great artists often adopt the persona of earlier great artists....
New revelations, as always, about one of the world's most famous portraits
Even simple sketches can be pregnant with meaning
How realism and the use of models fools the eyes. Art, one must remember, is never 'real' and never 'photographic'.
It can be difficult to explain why Rembrandt portrayed himself as a beggar. Here's what I think...
See how one great master resides in another, or sometimes two.
Scholars have long wondered why Rembrandt would represent himself in expensive and extravagant clothing from a century earlier even though they know that the etched self-portrait is based on an engraving of the fifteenth-century painter Jan Gossaert, known as Mabuse.
If you like Renoir but can't see Raphael, you won't see Renoir's Raphael
A quick insight into how artists' own sight combines insight with out-sight
See how Rubens turned a variation on a Leonardo composition into a scene of creative struggle in his own mind
Learn how one artist copies another and makes it his own
In the epistle of an apostle, the letters matter; as they also do in the self-portrait of a prophet, even if self-proclaimed.
Even the most natural-looking portraits can be something other than they seem
Baudelaire's linking of Painting with cosmetics in the nineteenth century was not a novel idea, as long believed, but one with a very long history indeed
See how one artist identifies with another even if they are rivals
A simple demonstration of how one craftsman stands for another
This painting of a sculptor sculpting has always confused viewers because he looks like he's drawing. Is he?
Sometimes one of the secrets of art is so obvious, no-one sees it
Artists often identify with other artists, using them as an alter ego. Here is an exceptionally clever one.
EPPH's proposal, that artists identify with their sitters, is perhaps more persuasive when the sitter is another artist
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