It’s difficult to separate the intimate details of an artist’s life from an understanding of his work. That Jackson Pollock was an alcoholic and likely bipolar adds a layer of meaning to the violent revelations of his paintings. Picasso was a lifelong womanizer, and it isn’t difficult to see his contorted forms—often modeled after his lovers—as women bent to his will. But for men, individual biography is secondary to their primary identity as artists. They’re understood as artists first, philanderers and alcoholics second.
But what about women? Does the female artistic identity enjoy the same priority over the sordid details of a private life? Can a woman mine the depths of her own emotional existence, draw from her own flaws and pain, and still transcend her biography? Or is she destined to be confined to a narrow, even pejorative, interpretation?
As artist Lauren Levato says, “We’re all afraid of becoming Sylvia Plath.”