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Father’s Day Doesn’t Have to Be Torture

June 6, 2012

Tortured Artists Father's DaySo Dad’s not much of a reader, you say? Well, before you run out to get him yet another set of golf balls (and pray that he doesn’t notice you got him the same thing last year), why not introduce the old man to a fascinating yet easy-to-read celebration of pain and suffering?

Tortured Artists features brisk but illuminating profiles of celebrated figures from literature, music, drama, and visual art, examining the role that anguish and adversity has played in the world’s best-known creative accomplishments.

The best part? If dad gets bored with one story, he can skip to the next. Let’s face it—the man has no idea who Amy Winehouse is, but Brando and Irving Berlin are right up his alley, and if he’s  not careful, he may find himself learning about the personal demons that tortured Picasso, Dante, Plath, and Herzog. Of course, if Dad really has no interest in reading anything longer than a prescription bottle,  he can jump right to the end of the book and skim through the “Tortured Artists Timeline”—our brief and deliberately random history of pain, suffering, and artistic triumphs—which covers everything from cave paintings to Piss Christ in only a few brief pages.

Father’s Day is June 17 this year, so show Dad you care with the gift of creativity and mental anguish. Order your copy of Tortured Artists on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite indie bookstore.

Is Pop Music Getting Sadder?

May 31, 2012

Kanye West CryingA new study released by the American Psychological Association is challenging conventional wisdom on the unremitting suckiness of pop music.

The study, which was published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, claims that Top 40 hits have been getting sadder—and  more complex—for the last half-decade. The study’s authors researched the tonality of more than 1,000 Billboard chart-toppers from 1965 to 2009, ultimately concluding that pop recordings have become more “sad-sounding” over time, as characterized by slower tempos and the increased use of minor key.

“Popular music with mixed emotional cues has always existed,” the authors noted, “but [in today’s music industry] artistic integrity and commercial success are no longer contradictory.”

Although the journal does not mention how much crack cocaine the study’s authors had ingested over the course of their research, their conclusion that pop music has grown “smarter” and “more complicated” suggests that they have not actually listened to a pop song in at least twenty years. Or perhaps they watched that SNL skit in which the cast members bawled to Adele’s “Someone Like You” and jumped to the conclusion that heartfelt weepers are all the rage. Either way, their claims come across as wildly untenable.

Far be it from me to contradict a critical analysis that holds up to the almighty Scientific Method, but isn’t today’s pop music insufferable enough without the psychological community stirring the pot with studies about how it’s getting more complex? For argument’s sake, let’s look at 2009—the most recent year in the study. Were the researchers really impressed by the “mixed emotional cues” of such deep-thinking chart-toppers as Kelly Clarkson, Jason Mraz, Beyonce, and the Fray? Or did the fact that Billboard chose Kanye West and Taylor Swift as the best artists of that year send a strong signal to the psychological community that complex music has finally gained mass appeal?

Of course, there’s always Lady Gaga, who dominated the charts in 2009. From what I’ve been told, she does actually sing songs, some of which apparently do not make you want to rip off your own ears with a pair of salad tongs. But in the end, isn’t she known more for her edible evening wear and amusing Twitter antics?

Scientists, for all their harping over objective methodology, are really a rabble-rousing bunch. Every other year, a study comes out claiming to disprove the big bang or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Respectable people are, of course, free to disagree on specifics, but the steadily deteriorating quality of pop music is not really debatable. It has been a widely accepted model of musicology since the baby boomers left Haight-Ashbury and got jobs. Every generation since has come to understand that the music it grew up with is wholly superior to the current crop of radio-ready offerings. Admittedly, this mode of thinking may be fraught with subjective underpinnings, but for most of us, it works just fine. Let us not be swayed by the dissenting murmurs of a few radical researchers. That would just be sad.

Read more about this misguided study in Pacific Standard magazine.

Humpday With Quasimodo

May 27, 2012

The Hunchback VariationsTheater lovers, I hope you can come out to 59E59 Theaters next week for my pre-show Q&A with the radio psychologist Joy Browne from WOR. The theater was kind enough to ask me to talk about Tortured Artists before a performance of Theater Oobleck’s The Hunchback Variations.

I’m very excited to be celebrating the misery of great artists at this terrific off-Broadway theater. I’ve seen many shows there, and I love the work they do.

The Hunchback Variations dramatizes a hilarious and melancholy panel discussion between Quasimodo, hunchback of Notre Dame, and Ludwig van Beethoven, composer, on their attempt to create a mysterious sound effect called for in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.

Chekhov, Beethoven, and a lovelorn hunchback—it doesn’t get any more tortured than that.

More info here—

Tortured Artists, Q&A
Sunday, June 3, at 1PM
59E59 Theaters, Theater B
59 East 59th Street, New York City
Free for 59E59 Members | Discounted Memberships Available for Non-Members 

For more info, visit

This event is FREE for current 59E59 Members. Log in to your account to book your seats today! Or phone the 59E59 Member E:Line (212) 753-5959 ext. 104.

The theater is offering NEW 59E59 Memberships at 50 percent off for this event.

See details here:

Books will be on sale courtesy of Mobile Libris.

How Cavemen Artists Got Their Rocks Off

May 20, 2012
Bedrock Gals

Wilma and Betty undoubtedly served as prehistoric muses for many a caveman artist (illustration courtesy of Qiqo)

Join the club, Cro-Magnons. New research suggests that prehistoric artists were as obsessed with the female form as artists are today.

Rock engravings and traces of painting discovered in France show what appear to be representations of female genitalia, according to findings published by the National Academy of Sciences. The finds are estimated to date back some 37,000 years, making them among the world’s oldest known works of art.

The discovery was made in 2007 and announced last week by Randall White, an anthropology professor at New York University. The works were uncovered at an archeological site in southern France known as Abri Castanet, which is one of the oldest sites in Eurasia that contain evidence of symbolism among Homo sapiens. In an interview with Discovery News, White said that the artwork “is associated with members of some of the first modern human populations to leave Africa, dispersing into Eurasia and replacing the preceding Neanderthals.”

Prehistoric Carving of a Vulva

Rock My World: Researches say this prehistoric engraving represents a vulva.

Of course, the notion that artists can become preoccupied with female body parts is old news to anyone familiar with—oh, I don’t know—Picasso, Schiele, Degas, Wesselmann, Dali, Moreau, de Kooning, O’Keefe, the guy who carved the Venus of Willendorf, and any number of manga fanboys. Nevertheless, the new finds mark the oldest known example of prehistoric artwork in which the dominant motif represents abstract female sex organs, although White concedes that “other interpretations are possible.”

So was Picasso’s genius the result of an exceptional creative fixation, or is being a sex-obsessed tortured artist so easy a caveman could do it?

Either way, you can read the full story at Discovery News.

There Will Be Amy Winehouse’s Blood

May 15, 2012
Ladylike, Amy Winehouse Blood Painting

Ladylike, a painting created with Amy Winehouse’s blood, sold for $56K this weekend

Pink Floyd equated “bleeding hearts and artists” more than thirty years ago, and apparently they were on to something.

A painting created partially with the blood of Amy Winehouse sold for far less than expected this weekend, disproving the long-held myth that you can’t put a price on bodily fluids. (Okay, that’s not really a myth.)

The artwork, entitled “Ladylike,” was painted by Pete Doherty, the hipster-hatted front man of the Libertines, who shared a close friendship with the late soul singer. Doherty, who dubbed his technique “arterial splatter,” used samples of his own blood in the painting as well.

According to the Guardian, “Ladylike” went up for sale on Friday and was expected to fetch upwards of $128,000. However, the piece sold for only $56,000 to an unnamed buyer—one who is presumed to be either a devoted art connoisseur on the hunt for a good deal or a crazed Winehouse fan in search of a DNA sample.

Critics contended that Doherty showed poor form by hawking the painting only ten months after Winehouse’s death, and many of those same critics happily pointed to the work’s paltry selling price as a score for good taste. But let’s not jump the gun, folks—someone still paid $56K for Amy Winehouse’s blood. This is not our finest moment.

Proceeds from the sale will reportedly be donated to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, though the exact percentage is not specified.

Read the full Guardian story here.

Killing Puppies for Art

May 8, 2012
Pissed Off Puppy

Fuzzy Logic: A German artist wanted to kill puppies as a protest for the killing of sled dogs.

Artists might have the right to be tortured, but they don’t have the right to torture small animals in the name of art—or so ruled a German administrative court last week in a rare display of what can only be called common sense.

The court intervened to stop a Berlin performance artist from strangling two puppies on stage for his latest piece, “Death and Metamorphosis.” The artist, who has not been named in the dispute, intended the show as a protest against the killing of sled dogs in Alaska. (Murdering dogs to protest the murdering of dogs? Show of hands for anyone who is stumped by this guy’s logic.) Despite the court’s insistence that harming animals during a live performance is—go figure—illegal, the artist in question argued that the German constitution “unconditionally guarantees artistic freedom.”

According to the Guardian, which reported the story last week, the legal report on the intended stage slayings coincided with a similarly bizarre art project in which two students at Berlin’s University of the Arts planned to decapitate a sheep on camera.

So what it is with German artists wanting to kill animals in the name of artistic expression? Guys, you were just getting on our good side after all that World War II crap. Don’t start.

Check out the Guardian story here.

Feeling Mom’s Pain

May 3, 2012
Tortured Artist Joan Crawford

Don’t fuck with Mom, fellas.

Mother’s Day is May 13th this year, and what better way to show Mom just how much you understand her torment than with a copy of Tortured Artists? After all, she put up with your crap all these years, didn’t she?

Of course, mom doesn’t have to be Joan Crawford to be a tortured artist herself. Many famous artists throughout history have—shall we say—struggled with the demands of motherhood.

Francis Bean Cobain, if you’re listening…

Tortured Artists is available wherever books are sold.