Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Artist in Fiction: Artists have Stories, Told and Untold, Real and Imaginary

Magpie of the Gallows-Pieter Bruegel
Road with Two Cypresses-Vincent van Gogh
Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace-Frida Kahlo
Novelists, of course, love a good story and they have often found great stories in the lives of artists.  It seems that writers prefer artists over, for example politicians or businessmen.  Is this because they identify more with artists or because they find better stories in these artistic people? 

Certainly, plenty of artists have had colorful lives and have embraced the essence of the times in which they lived.  Therefore, writers and filmmakers can use them to illuminate a time and place. However, I think the more compelling reason that storytellers are drawn to artists is because they themselves have been entranced by the artists' works. 

They experienced a Van Gogh painting of an almost other-worldly landscape, one so much like what they have known, but with the odd skewed quality that actually seems to have more clarity and which reminded them of the magic in life.

Or they looked at Frida Kahlo's self-portraits and saw both the beauty and the horror of living.  And in seeing these paintings or seeing "Incredulity of Saint Thomas" by Caravaggio or "Magpie of the Gallows" by Bruegel they were drawn in to the artist's world by the details and suggestions.  Even in Mary Cassatt's portraits of her sickly sister or the self-portraits of Rembrandt they could see the stories the artists were telling and not quite telling.

Lydia working at a tapestry frame-Mary Cassatt
Incredulity of St. Thomas-Caravaggio
They perceived both the projected subjects, but also the hidden stories of the artists themselves. Consequently, they wanted to know and to reveal the details of these hidden stories. In some cases they had to create the missing story-pieces needed to complete the puzzles of unknown lives.  In doing so, they have created  fun, intriguing stories to read or watch. 

We have assembled, at our main library desk, these novels and films from a variety of artists through time and from many parts of the world.  You can experience the world of Piranesi in 18th century Rome, Vermeer in 17th century Holland, Audubon in 19th century Louisiana, or Pan Yuliang in 20th century Shanghai, among many others.

Self-portrait with Beret and Turned up Collar-Rembrandt
In addition to this biographical fiction, we have also gathered some purely fictionalized stories involving artists, students, historians, forgers, curators, models, and museum guards.  These show how art affects not just it's creator, but all the people who interact with it, sometimes in astonishing ways as in the Madonnas of Leningrad.

Pick one or more and enter into these imagined artist's worlds.  You might find that you identify with the difficulties and aspirations of the characters and come to appreciate their art in a way you wouldn't have without knowing their stories.

For those of you who are not able to come in to our library, you can take a look at our list of works, which are grouped by type and then alphabetically by title:

Novels  (Biographical)
The Agony and the Ecstasy, a Novel of Michelangelo / Irving Stone [Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1475-1564]
Artemisia : a Novel / Alexandra Lapierre [Gentileschi, Artemisia, 1593-1652]
The Artist's Wife : a Novel / Max Phillips [Gropius, Walter, 1883-1969; Klimt, Gustav, 1862-1918; Kokoschka, Oskar, 1886-1980; Mahler, Alma, 1879-1964; Mahler, Gustav, 1860-1911]
As Above, so Below : a Novel of Peter Bruegel / Rudy Rucker [Bruegel, Pieter, ca. 1525-1569]
Audubon's Watch : a Novel / John Gregory Brown [Audubon, John James, 1785-1851]
Burnt Umber : a Novel / by Sheldon Greene [Marc, Franz, 1880-1916]
Clara and Mr. Tiffany / Susan Vreeland [Driscoll, Clara, 1861-1944; Tiffany, Louis Comfort, 1848-1933]
Depths of Glory : a Biographical Novel of Camille Pissarro / by Irving Stone [Pissarro, Camille, 1830-1903]
The Forest Lover / Susan Vreeland [Carr, Emily, 1871-1945]
Girl in Hyacinth Blue / Susan Vreeland [Vermeer, Johannes, 1632-1675]
Girl with a Pearl Earring / Tracy Chevalier [Vermeer, Johannes, 1632-1675]
In the Casa Azul : a Novel of Revolution and Betrayal / Meaghan Delahunt [Kahlo, Frida]
Incantation of Frida K. / Kate Braverman [Kahlo, Frida; Rivera, Diego, 1886-1957]
La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl / David Huddle [La Tour, Georges du Mesnil de, 1593-1652]
Light / Eva Figes [Monet, Claude, 1840-1926]
The Lost Diaries of Frans Hals : a Novel / Michael Kernan [Hals, Frans, 1584-1666]
Lust for life, a Novel of Vincent van Gogh / Irving Stone [Gogh, Vincent van, 1853-1890]
Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper : a Novel / by Harriet Scott Chessman [Cassatt, Mary, 1844-1926]
Michelangelo, the Florentine; a Novel by Sidney Alexander [Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1475-1564]
The Painted Room : a Tale of Mantua / Inger Christensen [Mantegna, Andrea, 1431-1506]
The Painter from Shanghai / Jennifer Cody Epstein [Pan, Yuliang, 1895-1977]
Painting in a Man's World / Diane Broeckhoven ... et al. [Bracquemond, Marie, 1841-1916; Cassatt, Mary, 1844-1926; Gonzalès, Eva, 1849-1883; Morisot, Berthe, 1841-1895]
The Passion of Artemisia / Susan Vreeland [Gentileschi, Artemisia, 1593-1652]
Piranesi's Dream : a Novel / by Gerhard Köpf [Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, 1720-1778]
Portrait of an Unknown Woman / Vanora Bennett [Holbein, Hans, 1497-1543]
Rembrandt, a Novel / Gladys Schmitt [Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1606-1669]
The Venetian : a Novel / by David Weiss [Titian, ca. 1488-1576]
Vincent; a Novel Based on the Life of Van Gogh / Joost Poldermans  [Gogh, Vincent van, 1853-1890]
The Years with Laura Díaz / Carlos Fuentes [Kahlo, Frida; Rivera, Diego, 1886-1957]

Films (Biographical)
Andrei Rublev : the Passion According to Andrei
Basquiat [Basquiat, Jean Michel]
Camille Claudel [Claudel, Camille; Rodin, Auguste, 1840-1917]
Caravaggio [Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da, 1573-1610]
Crumb [Crumb, R.]
Dream of light : Quince Tree of the Sun [López-García, Antonio, 1936- ]
Edvard Munch [Munch, Edvard, 1863-1944]
Frida [Kahlo, Frida]
Girl with a Pearl Earring [Vermeer, Johannes, 1632-1675]
I shot Andy Warhol [Warhol, Andy, 1928-1987]
Love is the devil [Bacon, Francis, 1909-1992]
Lust for life [Gogh, Vincent van, 1853-1890]
Surviving Picasso [Picasso, Pablo, 1881-1973]

Novels (Fictional artists)
Art & lies : a Piece for Three Voices and a Bawd / Jeanette Winterson
An Artist of the Floating World / Kazuo Ishiguro
The Birth of Venus : a Novel / Sarah Dunant
The Body Artist / Don DeLillo
Cat's Eye / Margaret Atwood
The Cheese Monkeys : a Novel in Two Semesters / by Chip Kidd
Conversations with a Clown / Michael Welzenbach
The Flanders Panel / Arturo Pérez-Reverte
The Horse's Mouth : a Novel / by Joyce Cary
Islands in the Stream / Ernest Hemingway
The Lady and the Unicorn / Tracy Chevalier
The Learners : the Book after "The Cheese Monkeys" / by Chip Kidd
Madonnas of Leningrad / Debra Dean
The Moon and Sixpence / W. Somerset Maugham
My Name is Red / Orhan Pamuk
Niche : a Novel / by Séguier and Plessis
Of Human Bondage / W. Somerset Maugham
On Beauty : a Novel / by Zadie Smith
Orchard : a Novel / Larry Watson
A Painter of Our Time / John Berger
Quattrocento : a Novel / James McKean
The Third Eye / by Mike Rogers
365 Views of Mt. Fuji : Algorithms of the Floating World / Todd Shimoda
The Time Traveler's Wife : a Novel / by Audrey Niffenegger
What's Bred in the Bone / Robertson Davies
When the Sons of Heaven Meet the Daughters of the Earth : a Novel / by Fernanda Eberstadt
A Window Across the River  / Brian Morton
A World to Come / Dara Horn

Films (Fictional artists)
Blood of a poet
Me and you and everyone we know
The Moderns
Moulin Rouge

Eva Hyvarinen, Visual Resource Assistant
Minneapolis College of Art and Design

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