Secret Lives of the Great Artists by Elizabeth Lunday

Elizabeth Amore

Complete with factoids including zodiac signs and their possible implications, this quirky collection of profiles makes for a fun, no-nonsense take on individuals who are often considered to be 'serious' artists.

Secret Lives of the Great Artists

Publisher: Quirk
ISBN: 9781594742576
Author: Elizabeth Lunday
Price: $16.95
Length: 288
Formats: Paperback
US publication date: 2008-10

Elizabeth Lunday’s The Secret Lives of Great Artists spans from Rembrandt’s time all the way to the “Factory” days of Andy Warhol. This quirky collection of artist profiles makes for a fun, no-nonsense take on individuals who we may have considered as serious artists. Even more, most of the visual arts masters covered in the book seem to have led normal lives before undertaking grandiose dreams and travels. From modest childhoods to run-of-the-mill marriages, their backgrounds seem quite dull compared to their celebrated outlet: art!

The title of the book, though, disagrees with the reality of modern-day painters such as Warhol and O’Keefe. Their lives were not secret at all. The media of their time had become savvy to the tumultuous lives of these figures. It was no surprise that the artists received a lot of coverage in papers, radio and television. After all it was Warhol who eerily said in the late ‘60s, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” What he didn’t know was that the future is now.

For being a paperback about artists, this volume lacks images of the significant artworks discussed. Individuals who may be art novices will find it difficult to recall some of the pieces mentioned. The opportunity of engaging this type of audience, if the book intended to, is lost on this oversight. For someone like me who does remember what these visual artworks look like, it still would be nice to refer back when the text discusses what the artists were doing or thinking of at the time of the creation. It would be interesting to be able to look at the masterpiece’s details for clues or hidden undertones.

Still, the illustrator did a nice job of re-creating the artists engaged in bad behavior or in compromising situations. For instance, the cover has Frida Kahlo and her Communist lover Leon Trotsky in an embrace. Their frivolity, in small part, helped paved the way for future tabloid stars.

The one page overview at the beginning of each artists’ chapter is highly enjoyable, giving a capsule-like description of their lives. Listed on that sheet were their major masterpiece, zodiac sign, active years, and more factoids.

Long have zodiac signs been thought to explain people’s behaviors in love, life and health. For instance, van Gogh was an Aries. Aries are thought to be childish, adventurous, pioneering, and impulsive. This sure explains a lot about van Gogh’s tumultuous love life and his bitter end.

Regardless of how the stars aligned on certain birth dates, it appears it was the norm for these artists to have had several lovers, failed marriages, bisexual tendencies and so on. If alive today, I do believe that they would be amidst tabloid pages. It seems like artists today have taken their role as that of responsible citizens and want to be taken seriously. Not to say that the modern figures in this book did not want credit, they just seem to have been fighting more demons and struggling among other professions for recognition. Back then, saying “I want to be an artist” prompted the response “So, you want to throw your life away?” Nowadays, it is more accepted and celebrated not only by peers, but among business professionals and other sectors.

Lunday’s book does a good job of highlighting artists simply known by their surname. Still, missing are abstract revolutionaries such as Mark Rothko and Lee Krasner. For instance, Lee is mentioned only in passing as Jackson Pollack’s muse and comrade. The always-rocky love affair with Jackson alone should have granted Lee a section of her own. Reading more about Rothko and his troubled marriage due to impotence would have been entertaining.

Rothko’s rowdy clique would have also been good to include. His peers, Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman, often met and discussed art with people like Mondrian. They began to consider themselves part of the chic, European avant-garde. Also around this time, surrealists like Joan Miró took New York by storm.

Along the same period, there was Dadaist Man Ray. How about his tabloid-esque life? This book would have been more complete with the telling of Ray’s affair with Lee Miller -- his photography assistant and lover. I’m sure there would also be some juicy details on his crazy days with friend Dali, too. Even with all this lacking, The Secret Lives of Great Artists is definitely a good read for just about anyone, even the more experienced art connoisseurs.






'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.