keith haring mural

Creative Minds: Artistic Connections that Shaped Art History

Creativity and creative minds are an enigma we all want to understand. We’re taught as school-age children that creativity is the gold standard for education. But all too often, we lose that inclination as we age. We conform to societal norms and shake off the wonky edges to make ourselves fit into easily understood boxes. But, then there are the lucky few that never lose their creative minds. And as we look throughout history, it’s no surprise that these minds have a tendency to pair together and create a community of independent thinkers. Or as Apple put it in their famed commercial, “The Crazy Ones”. So, let’s take a look at some of the most creative minds, their lives, and the connections they sparked.

Here’s to the crazy ones.

A Community Environment

Andy Warhol, Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring

This trio was part of Warhol’s factory. Basquiat was a famed street artist and poet turned artworld darling. Keith Haring is known for his brightly colored figural cartoon paintings and murals. And Warhol created an environment and community in which these voices thrived. The father of pop art, Warhol is known for his screenprints of celebrities, soup cans and his factory. Warhol’s studio (the factory) was a meeting ground for the who’s who of artists during the ’60’s. It was there that the three met and lived out a fleeting but impassioned friendship.

Georgia O’Keefe and Yayoi Kusama

When Kusama was just 19 years-old she wrote a letter to Georgia O’Keefe asking advice from the painter. Kusama was making her way to the United States from Japan to pursue her art career and reached out to the most famous female artist in history. This pairing of creative minds is unlikely given the differences in their styles and ages. But one letter in search of direction sparked a lifelong friendship.

Creative minds and differences

Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin

Van Gogh and Gauguin had a tumultuous friendship. They are proof that creative minds can lead to extreme differences. The famed ear slicing incident was a result of a fight between Van Gogh and Gauguin. There are multiple theories, but my favorite is from German scholars that believe it was Gauguin and not Van Gogh that cut off the ear. It’s said that Gauguin (a prominent fencer) sliced Van Gogh’s ear during a fight with his fencing saber. And then Van Gogh took the blame in order to protect him. Can y’all imagine what the text thread would be like between these two?

Gauguin: Sry bout your ear bro!

Van Gogh: No worries. Gave it to a girl working at the brothel. All good.

Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus

Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus were fathers of Jazz. Their skills are undeniable. But in Mingus’ case, those skills were coupled with an undeniably volatile personality. Charles Mingus’ temper is famous and his ego even more so. In an interview, Fran Lebowitz detailed her friend Charles as egotistical and unimpressed with his contemporaries. Except one, Duke Ellington. Ellington was Mingus’ idol and main influence. But it turns out Ellington and Mingus’ musical collaborations didn’t last long. Only a few weeks after Mingus joined Ellington’s band, Mingus had an altercation with a valve-trombonist that led to his dismissal.

Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway

Gertrude Stein was Hemingway’s mentor and friend. Hemingway even named Stein the godmother of his son, John Hadley Nicanor. After a time, the two would have a falling out after Stein described Hemingway as yellow in the autobiography of her partner, Alice B. Toklas.

Mission driven friendships

Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas

Mary Cassatt was a woman on a mission. She used her status and money with one goal in mind, to dictate which artists she believed the world should see. An advisor to major collectors, Cassatt encouraged purchases of her friends’ work. Her friendship with Degas started in 1877 after a studio visit with Degas. Degas had admired Cassatt’s work from afar, and then after the visit, he brought her into the impressionists fold. The two would go on to have one of the most famous artistic friendships in history. Degas described their friendship as, “Someone who feels as I do.”

John Lennon and Yoko Ono

People know her as “The woman who broke up the Beatles”. But Yoko Ono gets a bad rap by the general public. A renowned performance artist, Ono’s work is showcased throughout museums globally. Her influence on Lennon was profound. The two met at one of Ono’s art openings in London in 1966. And then married just three years later. After the Beatles split in 1970, Lennon and Ono would go on to make a series of projects together. Their last album and collaboration, Double Fantasy, came out just three weeks prior to Lennon’s assassination.

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio

This duo has collaborated to create iconic movies like Gangs of New York, The Departed, Aviator and more. Although the academy took their time to celebrate this iconic duo, they’ll go down as two of the best in film history.

Peggy Guggenheim and Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock is one of the most famous artists ever. And that fame is a direct result of his friendship with Peggy Guggenheim. Pollock is the artist behind the drip paintings and that car crash. Peggy Guggenheim is the niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim, as in The Guggenheim Museum in NYC. In 1943, Peggy Guggenheim commissioned Pollock to create a mural. The resulting painting is famous for its creativity and the myth behind it. It’s said that Pollock created his drip masterpiece in a single night. The night before Peggy Guggenheim was to visit his studio. Guggenheim and Pollock would go on to develop a life-long friendship that gifted us with objects and insights into the artist’s psyche. Perhaps the most famous of the stories is the night of the unveiling party at Peggy Guggenheim’s. In keeping with his reputation, Pollock bragged about showing up intoxicated and then urinating in her fireplace.

What are friends for?


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