Just because the art is beautiful doesn't mean the artist was a saint . . .Scoundrels, Cads, and Other Great Artists examines the lives of nine great artists who were less than exemplary human beings in their lives outside of their art. It explores the question, “Why do we like magnificent art from artists who were awful human beings?” For example, the great Baroque painter, Caravaggio, who developed the chiaroscuro style of painting, was in constant trouble with the law, even having killed a man in a duel. Frederick Remington, the great painter of the American West, was an incredible racist and bigot. His evocative paintings of Native Americans on the trail on horseback give no hint of Remington’s enmity toward them and other ethnic groups in America. Jackson Pollock? His irascibility and petulance were compounded by a lifelong battle with alcoholism, ultimately leading to a fatal automobile accident. Whistler and Courbet were philanderers and libertines. Scoundrels introduces people to great art by showing the more salacious side of the personal lives of great artists over time. This book not only tells the stories of a dozen artists, but explores how to look at art and the separation between art and artist. This lively narrative is enhanced by over 100 full-color reproductions of great paintings and details from them.
Jeffrey K. Smith holds a chaired professorship at the University of Otago in New Zealand. He serves as Dean of the College of Education at the University. Prior to Otago, he was Professor and Chair of the Educational Psychology Department at Rutgers University, where he had been a faculty member for twenty-nine years. His AB is from Princeton University and his PhD is from the University of Chicago. From 1988 through 2005, he also founded and served as Head of the Office of Research and Evaluation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He studies issues in the psychology of aesthetics, learning in cultural institutions, and educational assessment.
As an educator and aesthetics psychologist who spent 17 years as head of the Office of Research and Evaluation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smith (now at Univ. of Otago, New Zealand) has had ample experience observing the ways in which people respond to works of art and the artists who created them. Although not appropriate for the advanced study of art history, Smith's book is the perfect vehicle to inspire undergraduates to become engaged with the works of the nine artists Smith addresses. All the artists were chosen because of their unusual and, often, disappointing and outrageous behavior; the author included Artemisia Gentileschi among the nine because of the extreme difficulties she encountered with many of those in her life. The book is well organized. Each chapter includes a section titled “Closer Look,” in which the author explores one work by the artist in detail; boxes offering descriptions of art terms and styles; detailed biographical information; and a conclusion about what the artist contributed to the history of art. This thoroughly engaging and often humorous book offers significant knowledge about these artists' works, the interrelation of their challenging personalities and their art, and contextual information about the times in which they worked. Highly recommended.
Scoundrels, Cads, and Other Great Artists is a joy to read, and I could even see it as a television show. Jeffrey Smith has brought these artists alive—sometimes across centuries—making their art sparkle while their personal lives astound. The trangressions described in Scoundrels speak directly to issues in arts and entertainment (and beyond) today. And, as a bonus, I've found a new heroine in the amazing Artemisia Gentileschi.
Scoundrels, Cads, and Other Great Artists is a cold gin and tonic on a hot afternoon! Jeff Smith takes you on a roller coaster ride of the lows of the personal behavior of nine artists juxtaposed with the highs of the incredible art they created. Equal parts sardonic, insightful, witty, and touching, Scoundrels will leave you a better person from where you started.
As a scholar of creativity who is passionate about art, I am often frustrated by mythologized portraits of creative artists my students encounter as they explore creativity. I was pleased to see there’s not a boring, cardboard-cutout profile in this entire book! Jeff Smith tells the stories of these highly creative people in captivating prose that makes the stories come alive. More to the point, he also shares plentiful insights into the psychology of art and the creative process while entertaining us. I will never view art or artists the same way again!
11/23/20: Princeton Alumni Weekly published book feature, “Jeffrey Smith ’72 Depicts Famous Artists’ Unscrupulous Lives.”