The Art of talking about Art – 14: S for Star Wars

Art is about individualism. Where there is individualism, there will be stars. And where there are stars, you will find star wars.

Art is about individualism. Where there is individualism, there will be stars. And where there are stars, you will find star wars.

The flavour of the moment is Star Wars. So let’s stay with it and talk star wars. That said, the star wars we’ll get into here is a little different from the one bombarding screens and conversations all over the world; this one is about star painters who were at war with each other.

To be rivals, artists must have something in common – they need to be practitioners in the same space and moment and for the same prize. Keeping that in mind, let’s look at three of the greatest rivalries in the most colourful annals of Art.

Leonardo da Vinci v/s Michelangelo

Leonardo and Michelangelo weren’t the best of friends (and that’s putting it mildly) because they were so good at the very similar. Both were trained in Florence, and both were gifted in a way contemporaries considered ‘divine.’ Famously, it was when they were challenged to paint the same hall in competition with each other that their relationship went horribly wrong.

Leonardo Da Vinci (left) & Michelangelo (right)

The most famous example of their animosity begins with a story of how Michelangelo insulted Leonardo in the street by sneering at the older genius for never finishing his statue of a horse in Milan. Leonardo didn’t respond immediately. He waited for the opportune moment. Later, at a meeting about where to site Michelangelo’s David, Leonardo said that the nude statue needed its penis covering up, which can be interpreted as a symbolic castration of his rival.

Picasso v/s Matisse

Picasso – Self Portrait (left) & Matisse – Self Portrait (right)

Like the aforementioned titans of the Renaissance, Picasso and Matisse, too, were anything but cordial with each other. Sure, they respected the other’s talents, but they also eyed each other up in a tense, cynical way. The most bizarre example of their lifelong tensions came when Picasso introduced his new lover Francois Gilot to the elderly Matisse. And Matisse being Matisse, a sensual artist of colour, charmed young Gilot so much that Picasso became sexually jealous. Clearly, Picasso was threatened by Matisse as a man as well as an artist.

Gogh v/s Gauguin

Gogh (left) & Gauguin (right)

The last rivalry we’re going to touch upon is considered by those in the know to be among the saddest of all artistic conflicts in the world of Art. Fact of the matter is Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin shared a good friendship. So much so that the passionate, idealistic Van Gogh hoped to create an art colony in the south of France and got his hero Gauguin to come and join him in the project. With the passage of time, however, their friendship deteriorated, Van Gogh cut off his ear, and Gauguin fled, leaving Van Gogh to be institutionalised.

Art is messy and people get hurt. Sometimes it is fellow artists who get insulted or worse. And strangely enough, the greatest artists have the biggest fights. All this is what is makes art so interesting, conversation-worthy, and alive. As Gogh said, “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” Enough said.

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Update: We have compiled the entire series of blog posts on The Art of Talking About Art in one place. To read other editions of the series, click here.

Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.


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