Art can be pretty much anything. We just put an egg in a sock and whipped it at the mailman -- that's art now. We did art. Some art is meditative, some is bleak, some is inspiring. But sometimes even the most beautiful and uplifting works have such horrific backstories that they end up more depressing than the ones intentionally trying to bum you out. Like Eggsock Mailman. Or these things ...
Dora Maar was a passionate socialist and aspiring artist, and soon after meeting Picasso in the early 1930s, they became partners of both the professional and sexy variety. Their chance encounter changed both their lives, as Picasso painted her dozens of times over the next decade. One of his portraits of her, Dora Maar au Chat, later sold for $95 million at auction. How could he have ever resisted this face?
Maar pushed Picasso to paint the famous antifascist work Guernica, chronicled its creation, and even served as a model, having her hair glued to a early version of the painting. But maybe Picasso was so spectacular at depicting the horrors of senseless cruelty because he was often dishing it out himself. He once beat Maar until she fell unconscious, and he forced Maar to fight the mother of one of his children for his love. His years of abuse eventually produced a mental breakdown, with Maar undergoing experimental electroshock therapy. So you don't exactly need an art history degree to grasp the significance of Maar's nickname, the "Weeping Woman."
Still, Maar fared better than some of the others who were caught in Picasso's path. He once scarred a mistress by burning her face with a lighter. Another mistress hung herself. One estranged son was so dedicated to ending his own life that he succeeded even after an initial failed attempt of drinking bleach. Picasso himself declared that women are "either goddesses or doormats," meaning that had he been born later, he likely would have spent his days whining on Reddit about how the girls in his art class wouldn't go out with him.
You know exactly what a Thomas Kinkade painting looks like, even if you think you don't.
Between the astronomically high number of paintings he sold and a sweet tie-in deal with La-Z-Boy, Kinkade is undeniably the favorite artist of America's grandparents. He achieved unprecedented riches, but was in constant peril -- and we don't just mean from the constant threat of Faustian branding deals turning on him. Despite his saccharine image, Kinkade was a tormented artist who could never find relief.
Kinkade turned to art to escape the poverty he grew up in. Early in his career, he tricked investors by saying that his printmaking company was selling $5,000 worth of prints a month instead of $0, but against all logic, the fraud blossomed into a multi-million-dollar empire. His namesake LLC was traded on the NASDAQ as it sold everything from T-shirts to jigsaw puzzles, all with his brand on it. Even if you think his work sucks, there's no denying that he was a marketing genius, and as a born-again Christian, he aggressively targeted Evangelical America. And then came the substance abuse problem that slowly enveloped him.
Kinkade drank heavily, abused Valium, had a fondness for strip clubs, and cheated on his wife, who eventually left him. In 2010, at an event promoting Tim Tebow's charity, what was supposed to be an inspirational speech turned into a semi-coherent rant against the media and their coverage of his recent DUI, with Kinkade complaining that his reputation led to his charitable work being ignored but his every mistake being jumped on. This was far from the only conspiracy he saw against him.
Other incidents included the drunken heckling of Siegfried and Roy, publicly urinating on a Winnie the Pooh statue at a Disneyland hotel, grabbing a woman's breasts at a signing, and verbally abusing people within his commercial empire. Sixteen months after that charity event, he drank himself into a temporary coma and was warned that if he didn't turn his life around, he would be dead within months. Shockingly, within months he was dead, his corpse covered in blunt force injuries caused by frequent drunken falls. Kinkade's family and business scrambled to cover up the truth of his death, but the autopsy revealed a very sad story. So, uh, even if you consider yourself a critic, maybe go a little easy on his glowing cottages.
J.M.W. Turner's vivid sunsets are among the most famous landscapes ever painted. And if you ever stand in awe of some of his early 19th-century beauties, you can thank a horrific natural disaster on the other side of the world.
J. M. W. Turner
Indonesia's Mount Tambora blew its top in 1815, sending a plume of ash miles into the atmosphere which blocked out the sun, altered weather around the world, ruined spring break trips everywhere, and earned 1816 the title "The Year Without a Summer." Oh, and tens of thousands of Indonesians died almost instantly, and they were considered the lucky ones.
If you were a local who survived poisonous gases, debris flung for miles, and boiling ash clouds, your reward was to face starvation from agricultural failure, or maybe a tidal wave from the subsequent earthquakes. The devastation was so significant that aftershocks were still being reported four years later, and fatalities were estimated at over 100,000 people.
And the event was inadvertently immortalized by Turner's paintings. Up to three years after the eruption, the color ratio found in his sunset paintings was radically different thanks to all the junk that was circling the Earth (a phenomenon also seen in the work of other artists active during this time, as well as in the aftermath of other major volcanic eruptions throughout history). Modern scientists have dubbed 54 paintings "volcanic sunsets," and have found them helpful in studying natural disasters centuries after they occurred. So don't be afraid to grab a paintbrush if some serious stuff goes down in your lifetime. You're helping!
The Starry Night is one of the most recognizable, beloved, and parodied images in the world, but the circumstances around its creation are decidedly less cheery. You could probably guess this after he cut off his own ear and presented it to a woman, but Vincent van Gogh was in rough shape at that point.
Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh put the finishing touches on his masterpiece from his lonely room at the local asylum, where his brother and only real confidant had shipped him for the safety of both himself and everyone around him. There his mind slipped away, and he repeatedly attempted to kill himself by ingesting paint and paraffin. Work only seemed to bum him out further, with van Gogh dismissing Starry Night as a meaningless "failure" no one would ever care about.
His painting sessions were serenaded by the "shouts and terrible howls as of animals in a menagerie." Patients weren't allowed anything but soup and bread, since forks and knives were considered a safety risk. He didn't receive a single visitor, and it only got worse from there. He was dead at 37 by his own hand, less than a year after he completed this masterpiece. It's fun to stick the TARDIS or the Bat Signal in it though, right?
When a bronze statue of a little girl appeared on Wall Street to stare down the famous Charging Bull (a "bull market" implying a healthy, growing economy), New Yorkers and the media embraced the work as a symbol of female empowerment and representation in finance. And if Fearless Girl didn't work as a wake-up call to Wall Street, it would at least be amusing to see finance douchebags slam into it when they were too busy looking at their jewel-encrusted phones.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
The brainchild of financial firm SSGA, Fearless Girl was supposedly "a reminder to companies and investors that more gender-diverse boards are good for business." There were a couple of issues there, as standing in the path of the bull implies that she's sabotaging economic success. Also, the bull happens to be a grassroots act by guerrilla artists in honor of the ''strength and power of the American people" following Black Monday, the 1987 stock market crash that was among the worst in American history. The bull was snuck into Wall Street, only to have it crated up and hauled away by the authorities before popular opinion brought it back permanently.
Muddled messaging aside, when journalists looked into the company bankrolling Fearless Girl, they found less than 27% of its leadership to be female. The advertising team that came up with it was less than 20% women. So why would SSGA pay for the stunt? Well, it might have had something to do with either the SEC investigating SSGA's 2007 subprime mortgage scheme, their recent $64 million fraud settlement, or the class-action lawsuit they were facing over the mismanagement of retirement funds. So their corporate culture isn't "fearless" so much as its "desperate to maintain the exploitative status quo by distracting the public with cheap stunts." Was a bronze of the bald guy from Monopoly too difficult to cast?
For more, check out 7 Mind-Blowing Details You Missed In Great Works Of Art:
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