5 Insane Theories That Change How You See Great Works Of Art
We wouldn't dream of diminishing the work of any of the great masters on this list, or insist you start enjoying it less. But even great artists are just fallible human beings, which is why we can't dismiss these theories about their famous work being the result of accidents, trickery, or outright fraud.
We want to emphasize the word "theories" here -- none of these have been proven, and probably never will be. Still, it's interesting to think that ...
Vincent Van Gogh Might Have Been Color-Blind
Even if you know nothing about art, you can probably spot a Vincent Van Gogh painting due to his extremely distinctive style of visible brush strokes, swirls, and unusual coloration. You've surely seen this one, for example:
Or eaten it.
Now, when we say "unusual coloration," we mean that sometimes shit just isn't the right color. For instance, here's another famous painting of his, of a vase of sunflowers:
"I originally wanted to include some ears of corn, but decided to cut it."
The center of his flowers are a very bright red -- real sunflowers tend to be a dark reddish-brown -- and the yellows are washed out by comparison. But hey, that's why he's a genius artist and we're just a bunch of dickheads. Those oddball choices are what separate true artists from the rest of us (and sometimes from their own ears). But here's the thing: Show that painting to someone who has a specific type of color-blindness -- the kind that keeps them from seeing red very well -- and they'll say, "Unusual coloration? Looks pretty realistic to me." That's because they're seeing this:
So, basically reverse Zack Snyder.
See, it has been long rumored that Van Gogh was color-blind, for this very reason. So designer Kazunori Asada ran all of the artist's paintings through a lighting filter to see how they would have looked to the artist if he was as color-blind as the theory goes. And what you find is that the odd color choices may have been accidents due to the poor bastard being unable to perceive them. He just didn't know the pigment he'd mixed up was that red.
Look, he's not saying the paintings are better this way, but they're definitely more muted and realistic. Here's another one -- first the original, as Van Gogh painted it:
Sharp black lines like a comic book, surrounding inexplicable green in the tree trunks. And now, here's what a color-blind Van Gogh would have seen:
Follow him on Instagram, @VinnieG.
Likewise, look at the unnatural greens in the middle of this one ...
The grass is always greener when you're color-blind.
... versus the one adjusted for color-blindness:
This is like cheap, off-brand LSD.
Again, we're not going to say that messing with the color scale in a Van Gogh "improves" it -- we're not a bunch of assholes. But it definitely looks more like the real world, meaning Van Gogh's surreal use of color may have been a result of him simply not being able to see his paintings the way everyone else did. He may literally have not known he was painting a wheat field bright orange ...
... Kraft microwaveable wheat right there ...
... instead of, you know, wheat color:
Note: If you are color-blind, this article will make no sense to you.
Andy Warhol's Success May Be Credited To Asperger's Syndrome
In the 1960s, eccentric artist Andy Warhol changed the landscape of visual art forever when he hung up 32 identical paintings of a soup can in a gallery, dropped his paintbrush like a comedian at the end of his set, and called it his masterpiece. Thus the genre of pop art was born. The phenomenon of using advertising imagery, celebrities, and comic book panels in gallery artwork became one of the most iconic and widespread art movements of the 20th century.
Now, if you were strolling through the gallery with an insensitive asshole, he might smirk at the rows of identical soup cans and say, "That shit looks like something some Asperger's kid made while he was locked in his room for the weekend. A kid who really likes soup." Well, asshole or not, some experts would agree.
On the back of each is a painting of a grilled cheese sandwich.
Decades after Warhol's death, several mental health professionals and scientists including Dr. Judith Gould and Prof. Michael Fitzgerald diagnosed the artist with being somewhere on the autism spectrum. Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by behaviors such as limited displays of emotion, concise speech mannerisms, and obsessions with fixed routines and hobbies -- all of which, according to those who knew him, described Warhol to a T.
His eccentricity wasn't just limited to drawing the same picture of a soup tin over and over again -- his friends have reported that he ate tomato soup every single day, and in his autobiography he admitted that he obsessively purchased the same brand of green cotton underpants over and over again. On top of all that, Warhol was notorious for his unusual way of relating to people -- once responding to a friend's suicide by saying only that he wished he'd been there in time to film it -- which is also the kind of social awkwardness that's common with autism spectrum disorders. At least, we hope that's the explanation, because otherwise it implies that Warhol was just kind of a dick.
"If you're holding a camera, it's just being an artist."
After his death, it was also discovered that Warhol had a massive hoarding problem (not just green underwear but other pointless trinkets, like cookie jars that he obsessively collected but never unpacked) and had spent his final years endlessly re-creating Da Vinci's painting The Last Supper over and over again, more than 60 times.
Given that Warhol always notoriously insisted that his artwork didn't mean a damn thing, it's likely that he was completely sincere -- he wasn't trying to make some complicated statement about art or the state of society; he was just an obsessive dude who really, really liked soup. A lot. But here's the ironic part: It might be that in the process of trying to create something meaningless, he actually created a striking portrait of a mind getting locked into the same pointless task, over and over again. So it did have meaning after all! Suck it, Warhol!
Goya's Black Paintings Might Have Been Forged
Francisco Goya was a Spanish painter of the 18th-century romantic era, who mostly painted portraits of pudgy rich folk and friends enjoying a merry picnic in the sun. Then, after suffering an illness in his old age, he went batshit insane, locked himself in his house, and started covering the walls with things like this:
"Look, it's this or feces; choice is yours."
Saturn Devouring His Son is the most famous of the so-called Black Paintings, a series of 14 murals that Goya decided to decorate his house with in his dying years, and the rest aren't much less disturbing.
It's also unclear how Andy Serkis was alive back then.
Nobody knew what Goya had been up to until after he died and his grandson stumbled upon the carnival of horrors that he'd turned the inside of his house into.
At least, that's always been the story.
In recent years, art historian Juan Jose Junquera began intensive research into the Black Paintings and began to notice some peculiarities with the story. For one, the mentally unstable Goya did still have a few friends and visitors during the time that the paintings were apparently made, but there's no evidence that any of them ever observed, "Gee, Frank, that sure is an interesting picture of a man whose eyes reflect a horror and insanity hitherto not experienced by any mortal as he tearfully devours a raw human baby! Pass the beans?" In fact, inventories of the contents of the house taken after Goya's death make no mention whatsoever of the Black Paintings, which are the kind of thing that most estate appraisers would probably notice during a property evaluation.
Presuming they weren't immediately transported to the void.
Junquera thinks the Black Paintings may have been forgeries, part of a conspiracy by Goya's descendants to milk more money out of the sale of the estate. Juliet Wilson-Bareau, an expert on Goya's work who has previously called out other suspected Goya forgeries, was quick to add that if Junquera's theory is true, the likeliest creator of the murals is Goya's son, Javier, who knew how to paint but was never able to make any money off his own work. It's easy to imagine him taking a bunch of the unmarketable paintings he'd created (presumably for the cover of his metal album) and throwing them in with his famous father's work. "Oh, look, everybody! We found a bunch more super valuable Goya masterpieces just lying around! Who wants to start the bidding?"
Despite all the clues, the Prado Museum's curator has insisted the paintings will not be sold or relocated even if they are proven to be fakes, because of their place in Spanish cultural heritage. The most dignified way yet anyone has ever plugged their ears with their fingers and said, "La, la, la, la, la, I can't hear you!"
Michelangelo's Mary And Jesus May Have Been Lovers
Michelangelo's Pieta is probably the most famous portrayal of Jesus after the crucifixion, a statue of his body lying limp in the arms of his mother, the Virgin Mary. The pose has been copied by dozens of other artists, but it has some peculiarities -- for example, why does Mary look younger than her own son?
"Hey, my eyes are up here."
For hundreds of years, the conventional logic has been that Michelangelo was just using artistic license to highlight the "virgin" aspect, but according to a theory put forth by art historian Cinzia Chiari in a recent Science Channel documentary, we might be making all the wrong assumptions. The Mary in the statue might be Mary Magdalene, Christ's disciple, and the artist may be making a cheeky allusion to her being Jesus' lover.
Sure, the whole thing stinks of Dan Brown, and the name of the documentary is Bible Conspiracies, which sounds like it's cut from the same tradition that gives us History Channel "documentaries" about how Stonehenge was built by fish people from Alpha Centauri. But there are enough clues to make it an intriguing theory.
Such as Michelangelo's known love of Bible fanfic.
For one thing, a recently discovered terracotta model for the final marble statue reveals that Michelangelo originally intended to include Cupid in the scene, bow and arrow and all (though his head snapped off at some point over the centuries; you can decide for yourself whether or not that's symbolic of something). The inclusion of the Greek god of romantic love in a depiction of Jesus' mother mourning her dead son is pretty bizarre -- but if Michelangelo intended it to be Mary Magdalene, then his inclusion is almost too on-the-nose.
Rembrandt And Vermeer May Have Traced Their Masterpieces
The Renaissance truly hit its stride with the development of the ultra-realistic styles of 17th-century Flemish and Dutch masters, none more celebrated than Johannes Vermeer, Jan Van Eyck, and Rembrandt, whose works were created with an incredible amount of almost photographic detail, even if they still provide a little peek into the uncanny valley.
"Here's a du-rag, because fuck off if you think I'm drawing all that hair."
But British painter David Hockney has a controversial theory about how these artists were able to replicate such lifelike attention to detail -- that is, they traced them, and we've been made for chumps for centuries.
As Hockney points out, Renaissance artists would have been fully aware of the existence of the invention that would become the predecessor of the modern camera, the camera obscura, a simple device that allowed one to project an image from real life onto an adjacent surface. Hockney's contention is that some of the Renaissance masters may have made use of this device to basically trace their lifelike masterpieces onto the canvas, by Occam's razor if nothing else.
People were really good at staying still in those days.
Of course, art historians and curators are pretty pissed off at the suggestion that some of history's greatest artists may have cheated, but Hockney is quick to respond that he doesn't think it lessens their achievements. That's where researcher Tim Jenison comes in -- Jenison, who had no experience in painting, solicited the unlikely help of magicians/bullshit-debunkers Penn and Teller to see if he could create a Renaissance masterpiece with nothing but a camera obscura for guidance. Jenison and Penn and Teller set up a real-life room to match as closely as possible the scene depicted in Vermeer's painting The Music Lesson and set up a camera obscura. Then, Jenison -- who had to teach himself how to hold a paintbrush for the project -- set to work replicating the scene using the projection as a guide. The result cuts through the heart of art aficionados everywhere:
Jenison imitation (left); Vermeer masterpiece (right).
The result isn't proof, obviously. It's just that realistic painting techniques happened to emerge right around the same time as an invention that would have made it way easier to do realistic paintings. If they didn't use the shortcut, we should admire them even more for resisting the urge.
See? We're not saying everything in your life is a lie, just that it might be.
For more ridiculous theories that actually sound pretty plausible, check out 5 Insane (but Convincing) Theories About Dead Celebrities and 4 Mind-Blowing Theories About Famous Lines in the Bible.
Are you on reddit? Check it: We are too! Click on over to our best of Cracked subreddit.