I know, I know, being an artist already means you should be at least a bit controversial, right?
To quote Oscar Wilde: “I live constantly in the fear of not being misunderstood.”
So, yeah most artists do love to make a fuss and be controversial. But some of them are actually decent, even average people when they’re not performing or applying their skills to art.
And I assure you what we’re talking about here is not your everyday “garden variety” type of artist that wants to draw attention by being a bit non-conformist.
In the following lines, you will read about 5 controversial artists (or their followers) that took controversy to such a degree it borders on craziness. And it sure did cause public bewilderment and outrage in their time.
1. Ballet MMA
Mixed Martial Arts would probably go well in hand with ballet, seeing as how ballet requires a high degree of bodily coordination and flexibility which would be a great asset when you’re slugging it out in the ring.
However, in 1913 at Stravinsky’s premier of “The Rite of Spring”, it wasn’t the performers that started fighting. It was everyone else in the audience.
One group was very against the production (possibly because its central theme is human sacrifice), while another was defending it. When those in the first started hurling vegetables and fists, the others responded in kind and a free-for-all melee that would have made Odin proud ensued.
With 40 people being subdued by guards and kicked out in the end, that’s one hell of a controversial Ballet play.
2. Friar Mojo
Brilliant Renaissance painter, Carmelite friar, womanizer and sex addict. How does that sound for a greeting card?
Seriously. Fra Filippo Lippi is the most epic person ever to have asked a nun “Who’s your father?” and “Who’s your daddy?” possibly during the same day but in wholly different contexts.
The first question as he counselled her spiritually, and reminded her that he is there for her.
The second one, right before he seduced her, engaged in sexual relations and ultimately kidnap or convince her to flee the monastery she was in so that they could live together.
That’s exactly what happened when he was sent to the Santa Margherita nun convent in Prato for a work of art. And the nun in question was called Lucrezia Buti.
Needless to say, people all over Italy were a bit enraged by his behavior, especially since this episode is just the culminating sample from Fra Filippo Lipi’s sexual adventures.
3. Thug Life Caravaggio
Apparently the Renaissance and Italy were a pretty intense place if you were a painter and also had a fair amount of lust, violence and other such impulses in your life.
Because Caravaggio was also into doing the naughty with both women and men. And many of them. But that’s not all he was into.
Then there was his love of violence demonstrated by his starting duels out of the blue, jumping at people with knife and sword without declaring a formal duel (one such occasion resulted in a man dying from Carravagio’s stab to his private parts).
The cherry on the cake though is that he was part of a gang. Yes, a gang. Like the modern-day versions that your favorite hood artist is rapping about.
And if you thought modern day gang mottoes were cool, they ain’t got nothin’ on Caravaggio’s. Theirs was: “without hope, without fear” (nec spe, nec metu). Which basically translates into: “We’re batshit crazy and we have nothing to lose! Now make your move!”
Unfortunately (or fortunately? it’s hard to decide…), this kind of lifestyle brought Caravaggio to his very own severe wounding by a rival whom he had once beaten, which resulted in Caravaggio’s permanent maiming and facial disfigurement.
Classic gang war tragedy.
4. Wild Child Bum Rimbaud
By his full name Jean Nicholas Arthur Rimbaud, he was a French prodigy child that astounded the world by writing poems at in primary school. He was so influential that surrealism would probably not have appeared without him. Or in any case it would not have been the same.
And he was also very prolific, writing the bulk of his works between the age of 17 and 20.
That is, during the time when his life revolved around being a roaming bum on the streets of Paris with no place to live, until he started to have a passionate relationship with another great French poet, the older than him Paul Verlaine.
Don’t worry. It was strictly material. As Rimbaud had no hesitation of robbing from Verlaine and ridiculing his works.
Probably why he earned the French epithet “l’enfent terrible” or “the unruly child”, applied to one who is unorthodox and offensive, yet a genius.
5. Lord Byron, The Limping Devil
The Georgian Era in British history (roughly 1714 – 1830) is renowned, among other things, for its Romantic poets.
Lord Byron lived right at the end of it and is considered by some to be the greatest.
But his character was just as interesting as his poetry. And his persona was clothed in a healthy dose of controversy like any respectable artist.
Because of his sexual behavior, Byron was considered a fiend and demon by many who interacted with him. He also called himself the “limping devil” on account of a foot deformity he had from birth.
You see, he was bisexual (a shocking thing at the time), obsessive, prone to sudden rages and alternatively charming beyond compare, smart and sensitive.
Among the most intriguing aspects of his personal life are his own admission that he became sexual active at a very early age (“so early, that few would believe me — if I were to state the period”).
It would appear that the age in question, by one account, was 9 years old. And his sexual partner was a low-born servant older than him called May Gray.
It gets spicier from here. Including a Lady that once spurned him only to then become so attached to him that she started losing weight and wasting away after he left her because he got bored (Lady Caroline Lamb).
Then accusations of incest and a daughter born by his half-sister Augusta Leigh.
Then being spurned and finally married to Anne Isabella Milbanke, who happened to be the cousin of Lady Caroline.
Ending in a divorce from Milbanke due to claims of sodomy, cheating on her with actresses, prostitutes and various boys and domestic violence.
The short and poignant description given of him by Lady Caroline? “Mad, bad and dangerous to know”.