Archive for the Amedeo Modigliani Category

Because this site by design is concerned with the lofty idea of chronicling systemic artistic failure–following developments in arts policy, art world economics, the social condition of art, and the like–it may sometimes seem disconnected from the struggles of real artists on the ground. But of course, the reason I look at and write about these forces is because I am truly concerned about their effect on artists.

What I mean to say is, in the midst of my rants and deep investigations of this country’s unjust treatment of the arts I do realize we should remember the struggling artists who have come and gone and are still yet to fail. We should remember them and try to keep others from following in their miserable footsteps.

So, to remember the struggles of artists I’m introducing a new regular feature on CAFA, Favorite Failed Artist Stories.

And here’s the first story, Amedeo Modigliani:

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884–1920) was an Italian artist who, following the long-standing tradition, moved to Paris in 1906 to work as a painter. He worked furiously when he arrived in that town, making myriad images first influenced by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, then, in 1907, by Paul Cezanne. Eventually he developed his own unique style, one that cannot really be grouped with other avant garde artists of the time.

Not only was Modigliani’s style unique, but his behavior also stood out among his peers of the time, even considering the Bohemian standards they upheld. He carried on frequent affairs, drank heavily, and used absinthe and hashish. While drunk at social gatherings, he would sometimes strip himself naked. In time, his childhood tendency toward illness was exacerbated by poverty, overwork, and self-abuse. His health declined. On January 24, 1920, Modigliani died of tubercular meningitis. He was 35. The following evening, his common-law wife, Jeanne Hébuterne, leapt to her death from a fifth-story window. She was eight months’ pregnant with their second child,

And here’s the kicker of the story:

During the 1920s, in the wake of Modigliani’s early death and spurred on by comments by the critic Andre Salmon, who credited hashish and absinthe as the progenitors of Modigliani’s unique style, many hopeful young artists tried to emulate this “success” by embarking on a path of Modiglianian substance abuse and bohemian excess. This was encouraged by Salmon’s claim that whereas Modigliani was a rather pedestrian artist when sober, “…from the day he abandoned himself to certain forms of debauchery, an unexpected light came upon him, transforming his art.”

This rallying cry—toward debauchery and excess—has grown to become the modern hallmark of the romantic soul longing to be a tragic, doomed artist. For this—the great seed source of failed artists everywhere—we can thank Modigliani and his posthumous propagandist Salmon!