The Art of Rivalry Book Summary - The Art of Rivalry Book explained in key points
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The Art of Rivalry summary

Sebastian Smee

Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art

4.2 (93 ratings)
15 mins
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    The Art of Rivalry
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    Many famous artists have engaged in friendly rivalries, despite far more malicious fights among their supporters.

    Have you ever heard the term frenemies? It refers to people who are close, but who are constantly at each other’s throats. Since the general public love to hear about heated competition between creative geniuses, the relationships between artists often seem to turn out this way. But despite what people want to see or read about, artists themselves aren’t always so malicious.

    Just take the rivalry between Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. People were absolutely thrilled at the idea of these two painters hating each other.

    In fact, Picasso’s supporters would spread graffiti across Paris with government-style warnings regarding the health dangers posed by Matisse’s art. They even shot rubber-headed arrows at a portrait of Matisse’s daughter, Marguerite, that Matisse had given Picasso.

    You can imagine how disappointed these fans were when they discovered that the two artists would often pay each other studio visits or walk together in the Tuileries Gardens.

    Or take Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, who were pitted against one another by the rival critics Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg. While this critic-provoked animosity added tension to their creative processes, the men were still great admirers of each other’s work and shared tremendous mutual respect.

    That being said, Pollock, who was a bit of a wild card, would show his respect for de Kooning in an unusual way; he would bait the other artist into a fight, or shout abuse at him during exhibition openings. On other occasions, he would simply praise his fellow painter’s work in the press.

    But regardless of how they show it, the personal development of artists depends on the respect of their peers. After all, by influencing those in his field, an artist can become more widely recognized and thus broaden his success.

    For instance, Picasso was inspired by Matisse’s deconstruction of form, known as deformation. This technique worked by changing the normal proportions of a figure to create a more visceral impact.

    The technique became widely recognizable within Matisse’s work, eventually causing Picasso to open his mind and reconsider his entire approach to painting. As a result, Picasso developed Cubism, a style that revolutionized painting and for which he would forever be recognized.

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    What is The Art of Rivalry about?

    The Art of Rivalry (2016) details the remarkable accomplishments of some of history’s greatest artists and the personal relationships with their peers that propelled them to creative success. These blinks explain how rivalry between artists drives innovation and how relationships have been central to the growth of the arts in general.

    Best quote from The Art of Rivalry

    At times, Picasso was looking more intently at Matisse; at other times, it was the other way around.

    —Sebastian Smee
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    Who should read The Art of Rivalry?

    • Students of art and art history
    • Artists of all types
    • Entrepreneurs hoping to understand how competition can drive innovation

    About the Author

    Sebastian Smee writes for the Boston Globe as an art critic and is a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. He has contributed articles to the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, among other publications, and is the author of Freud (2015).

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