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Are artists crazy? Are creators more likely to be mad, or madder, than the rest of us? Does mental distress deepen artistic vision? Correlate to genius? Is the drive to fashion a personal pictorial or plastic universe pathological? Bettina Gockel's hefty Tübingen Habilitationsschrift, “The Pathologizing of the Artist: Artist Legends in Modernity,” documents the significant amount of mental energy expended exploring these and related questions from the mid-nineteenth century into the 1920s. Matthew Biro's The Dada Cyborg argues that the Dadaists’ montages, assemblages, and raucous agitational activities in the public sphere of World War I-era Berlin indicate modernity's disruption of stable subject positions and suggest instead hybrid, “cyborgian” identities. These included challenges to normative notions of sanity, but also to those of gender, ethnicity, race, and national and political allegiance. James van Dyke's study of the Weimar- and Nazi-era career of painter Franz Radziwill, a World War I veteran and self-taught reactionary modernist realist, provides a detailed case study of an artist whom one might, in retrospect, suspect of a degree of grandiosity and careerism bordering on the pathological, but who was driven by a complex of motivations as political as they were personal.

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1 The “anthropological turn” is particularly evident in the German concept of Bildwissenschaft, as especially advanced by Hans Belting of the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, and Horst Bredekamp of the Humboldt University in Berlin, where the art history seminar has incorporated that term into its name. The goal is to create an all-inclusive “science of images” that extends its purview beyond artworks and relates to Anglo-American “visual-culture” studies, but with less restriction to the contemporary world and primary theoretical debt to cultural studies, in favor of a broader chronological scope (as in Belting's Likeness and Presence: The History of the Image before the Era of Art, Chicago, 1994) and attention especially to anthropology and the natural sciences as cognate fields.

2 Jones, Amelia, Seeing Differently: A History and Theory of Identification in the Visual Arts (London and New York, 2012), 24. Jones draws on the critique of Buckhardt, and of Stephen Greenblatt, in Martin, John Jeffries, Myths of Renaissance Individualism (New York, 2004).

3 Westheim was an influential art critic in Weimar Germany and a Jew who fled Nazi Germany, first to Paris and then to Mexico, where he became a leading writer on Mexican art, as in The Art of Ancient Mexico (Garden City, NY, 1965; first published in Spanish in 1950), in which he employed Wölfflinian categories.

4 Wagner, Ann Middleton, A House Divided: American Art since 1955 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2012), 50.

5 In his monograph on Dürer, his only on an artist, Wölfflin wrote, “It's popular to think of Dürer as the most German of German artists . . . The Romantics developed this conception. It is false.” Heinrich Wölfflin, Albrecht Dürer (Munich, 1908; first published 1905), v. Erwin Panofsky published a classic iconographic monograph on Dürer in 1943.

6 Erwin Panofsky, “Iconography and Iconology: An Introduction to the Study of Renaissance Art”, in Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts (Garden City, NY, 1955), 30. The first version of this essay included the word “unconsciously” before “qualified”. Panofsky, “Introductory”, in Panofsky, Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance (Oxford, 1939), 7.

7 Meyer Schapiro, “‘Muscipula Diaboli, The Symbolism of the Mérode Altarpiece” (1945), in Schapiro, Late Antique, Early Christian, and Medieval Art (New York, 1979), 10.

8 This legacy continues today, encouraged by the general reverence and fascination accorded Van Gogh as an individual and cultural figure, and the record prices for his works, leading to the suspicion that other artists might at times feign madness to enhance their careers. A summer 2012 review of the long-institutionalized, eighty-three-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, tied in as it was with massive advertising and commissions from Luis Vuitton, noted that some have questioned her insanity, seeing her “self-proclaimed psychosis” as “little more than savvy self-mythologizing.” Holland Cotter, “Vivid Hallucinations from a Fragile Life”, New York Times, 12 July 2012.

9 Bergius, Hanne, Montage und Metamechanik: Dada Berlin – Artistik von Polaritäten (Berlin, 2000). Translated into English by Pichon, Brigitte as “Dada Triumphs!” Dada Berlin, 1917–1923, Artistry of Polarities, Montages – Mechananics – Manifestations, vol. 5 of Crisis and the The Arts, The History of Dada, ed. Foster, Stephen (Farmington Hills, MI, 2003).

10 See chapters 2–3 of my Objects as History in Twentieth-Century German Art: Beckmann to Beuys (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 2010).

11 “Die Auswüchse der Dadamesse: Ein Prozeβ wegen Beleidigung der Reichswehr – Der ‘Oberdada’ vor Gericht,” Berliner Tagblatt, 21 April 1921.

12 See Bergius, Hanne, “Dada Berlin and Its Aesthetic of Effect: Playing the Press”, in Watts, Harriet, ed., Dada and the Press, vol. 9 of Crisis and the Arts: The History of Dada, ed. Foster, Stephen C. (Farmington Hills, MI, 2004), 67152.

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Modern Intellectual History
  • ISSN: 1479-2443
  • EISSN: 1479-2451
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-intellectual-history
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