No Cover Image

A Brief History of the Artist from God to Picasso

PAUL BAROLSKY
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 168
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v0tk
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Brief History of the Artist from God to Picasso
    Book Description:

    In A Brief History of the Artist from God to Picasso, Paul Barolsky explores the ways in which fiction shapes history and history informs fiction. It is a playful book about artistic obsession, about art history as both tragedy and farce, and about the heroic and the mock-heroic. The book demonstrates that the modern idea of the artist has deep roots in the image of the epic poet, from Homer to Ovid to Dante. Barolsky’s major claim is that the history of the artist is inseparable from historical fiction about the artist and that fiction is essential to the reality of the artist’s imagination.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05520-6
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. ONE THE ART OF GOD FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD TILL THE END OF TIME
    (pp. 1-8)

    As scholars, we usually strive to achieve complexity and profundity in our analyses, both of which require theoretical sophistication. I will aspire here to superficiality—as in the simple consideration of what one sees on the surface of a painted roof or enjoys in a tall tale. I contend that interpretation, which is usually overinterpretation, should be suggestive. “You cannot begin not to tell,” the great theorist Peter Whiffle once observed, “until you know more than you are willing to impart.” Most of us, however, seek to tell more than we really know. Against the grain of verbosity and reductiveness,...

  6. TWO HOMER, HEPHAISTOS, AND THE POETIC ORIGINS OF ART HISTORY
    (pp. 9-34)

    Throughout the history of literature in the West—from Homer to the present—authors have sung or written extensively about what are called the visual arts. Such arts can be defined in various ways. It can mean the arts of design, the interrelated spatial arts of which Vasari wrote in his monumental sixteenth-centuryLivesof the painters, sculptors, and architects—those individuals who gave shape to space, made objects that filled such space or created the illusion of space. Art can also be defined even more broadly as the class of artifacts or things made with skill, knowledge, or imagination....

  7. THREE OVID’S PROTEAN EPIC AND ARTISTIC PERSONAE
    (pp. 35-44)

    I know of no work of literature more wonderful thanMetamorphoses.Even those who have never read Ovid or have read but fragments of his poem are familiar with many of his stories: Apollo and Daphne, Echo and Narcissus, Pyramus and Thisbe, Icarus and Daedalus, Orpheus and Eurydice, Venus and Adonis. Ovid’s book is about the causes of things, about how birds, beasts, trees, flowers, and rocks came to be, about why things are the way they are. His poem is nothing less than a history of the world from its creation out of chaos through the writing ofMetamorphoses...

  8. FOUR DANTE AND THE MODERN CULT OF THE ARTIST
    (pp. 45-58)

    Well over a millennium after Ovid and less than a millennium ago, circa 1300, there began to emerge in Italy, specifically in Tuscany, a new consciousness of the artist—a development that eventually led to the publication in Florence 250 years later of Vasari’sLives.A monumental series of biographies of painters, sculptors, and architects from Cimabue to Michelangelo, organized to demonstrate the overall progress of art toward perfection, Vasari’s book is seen as the foundation of art history and the broader phenomenon that I wish to call the cult of the artist. The modern fame of the artist as...

  9. FIVE VASARI AND THE QUIXOTIC PAINTER
    (pp. 59-66)

    Let us now descend from the sublime heights of Dante’s paradise to the ridiculous—to the purgatory of art history, in which we encounter one of the most delightful of all artists. I speak of Paolo Uccello. We all know him. He’s the lovable fifteenth-century Florentine painted who pictured Sir John Hawkwood, “that ghostly chessman,” as Mary McCarthy called him, in the dark Gothic cathedral of Florence. He is also the designer of three equally famous paintings of the Battle of San Romano, chivalric romances in which brightly colored toy soldiers or equestrian puppets deploy their richly patterned lances in,...

  10. SIX LEONARDO, VASARI, AND THE HISTORICAL IMAGINATION
    (pp. 67-78)

    Although Vasari’sLivesof the artists is the foundational text in the formation of modern art history and has consequently inspired a huge body of criticism and scholarship, the investigation of his fecund work remains partial, some might even say superficial. Aspects of his book have been carefully examined, such as his use of sources, his theory of art, and his criticism, but surprisingly little attention has been paid by students of Renaissance culture–by historians, art historians, and scholars of literature alike–to his historical imagination.

    As deeply poetical as it is historically shrewd, Vasari’s imagination abounds in his...

  11. SEVEN VASARI AND THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MICHELANGELO
    (pp. 79-92)

    In the history of the autobiography of the artist, Michelangelo occupies a central but still shadowy place. This is so because although he did not write an autobiography as such, he did respond to Vasari’s biography of him by influencing the biography written a few years later by Condivi to set the record straight. Commentators generally agree that Michelangelo’s voice can be heard through Condivi; in other words, Condivi’s biography of Michelangelo, though in some measure still difficult to gauge, is a reflection of Michelangelo’s life story and in this respect is autobiographical. An important piece of evidence supporting this...

  12. EIGHT BALZAC AND THE FABLE OF FAILURE IN MODERN ART
    (pp. 93-102)

    Although Michelangelo began his life in art so brilliantly with his marbleFaunand the stunning forgery of an ancient Cupid, among other works, he ended badly—at least that is what he thought. For in old age he rejected the errors of his art, which he condemned as a form of idolatry. Glorified by Vasari for the perfection of his art, Michelangelo was nevertheless in his own mind a failure. His work was not adequate to his spiritual aspirations; it could not bring peace to his soul. We are deeply moved by the pathos and spiritual quest of his...

  13. NINE MYTHS AND MYSTERIES OF MODERN ART
    (pp. 103-120)

    Ever since Homer, nearly three millennia ago, told the tale of the shield made by Hephaistos for Achilles, writers and artists have been telling stories or writing fables about art. Sometimes such fables are passed on as matters of fact, as when Picasso, who was born at 11:15 p.m. on October 25, 1881, according to birth records, would later tell the charming tale of his nativity at midnight. This seemingly casual alteration of the facts, a mere rounding off of numbers, is not so innocent and not without poetic significance, since, according to legend, midnight was the hour of Christ’s...

  14. TEN TOWARD A MOCK-HEROIC HISTORY OF THE ARTIST
    (pp. 121-128)

    At the very beginnings of our story, the artist is a figure of grandeur or magnificence. In the Hellenic tradition, Hephaistos is the great artist whose work transcends anything made by any mortal contemporary with Homer or earlier. In the Hebraic world, God the Creator is a glorious figure who creates a masterpiece when he fashions Adam. In both cases, however, the divine artist can also be seen as ridiculous or mockheroic. Hephaistos, as we saw, is deformed and clumsy; he is ludicrous, a source of the laughter of the gods. And although he eventually achieves perfection, as Boccaccio jokes,...

  15. ELEVEN THE METAMORPHOSES OF PICASSO
    (pp. 129-134)

    I have chosen to conclude my brief but highly selective history of the artist with Picasso because he typifies in so many ways the basic themes of the history of art we have stressed from the beginning of our story through the dramatic rise of high Modernism. Picasso concludes my meditation precisely because of his self-consciousness, his sense of his own place in the history of art–as if he labored with the thought of becoming the summit of art history in the way that Michelangelo was the climax of Vasari’s history of art. Whereas Michelangelo embodied the perfection of...

  16. CODA
    (pp. 135-138)

    This book has been a kind of experiment, an essay in which I have attempted to suggest or flesh out just some of the basic patterns in the history of the artist in the Western tradition. There are of course many others. There are different narratives of the artist to which my own is related, stories that have yet to be told. There are quite obviously many things this essay is not, and I am reasonably confident that these lacunae will be filled by future writers.

    I have practiced restraint by limiting the book to a length which I belive...

  17. BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE
    (pp. 139-142)
  18. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 143-144)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 145-147)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 148-148)