Artist Biographies: Interpreting Artists and their Art

Irving Stone’s biographies are truly bio-histories of great people and the era they lived in. His two epic books, ‘Lust for Life’ and ‘Agony & Ecstasy’ on Van Gogh and Michelangelo respectively are well researched and documented personal histories of the artists as well as their art.

Individual life of both Van Gogh and Michelangelo were rich, diverse and both of them lived in different era, pursued different art but were passionately obsessed with their art. It must have been rather difficult to weave life of these two greatest artists in words and recreate their whole life and the era they lived in text.

Irving Stone did extensive research and used all the correspondence of the artists themselves to mirror their life and work without any distortion. It took Irving Stone several years to conduct research on their lives. He spent many years in Italy and was a sculptor himself. The book ‘Agony and Ecstasy’ on Michelangelo reveals that the writer is well aware of the nuances of art himself. Even the very description of marbles that Michelangelo chose for his renowned works is described immaculately.

Michelangelo’s sincere attempt to dissect the dead to create an image of life in stone is described in a simple and realistic manner. The description of the creation of Sistine Chapel ceiling is engrossing.  The art and artist’s confrontation with the conventions of the Time is inspiring. Each character in artist’s life, the era he lived in and ideas he was influenced by is portrayed truthfully.

Same is true about Van Gogh’s life. One can see pain, agony, creative passion of the artist vividly.  It becomes apparent that the life canvas of the artist himself is extraordinary. His passion drove him to the extreme and enticed him to experiment till his expression was perfect. Van Gogh was a true humanist who painted colours of Nature as well as black and white shades of human life and poverty of the planet.

Biographers have to trudge ground very cautiously. They can neither overstate nor understate. Either way the purpose will not be served. They must have art of story teller with a perspective of a historian. Above all their written work must have that cinematic magic. Readers must be able to visualize agony, creative passion, eccentricity and ecstasy (after creating works) of the artist.

Art and artists need good interpreters because their life and work give an extra dimension to the whole meaning of human creativity, expression and the life itself. Biographers like Irving Stone are great historians of art and culture. If every artist had a biographer, one could probably gauge the dissimilarities and similarities of human thinking.

While biographers tend not to be coloured and biased, subjectivity is something that can never be ruled out. If not consciously, unconsciously biographers are drawn towards the charisma of their subject. It is this charisma of a famous person who is loved or hated, admired or detested, suspected or trusted that makes a biographer be drawn to him or her.

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