Thursday, August 09, 2007

ARTISTS IN LOVE, part eleven

James Montgomery Flagg had an ugly view of beauty.

"I have never had any slight interest in homely ladies," he said, "no matter how charming and intelligent they are reputed to be. They do not exist for me." And even if a woman satisfied his standards for beauty, she'd better not nag or be jealous about his many infidelities:
[I]f I ran the world...I'd have my FBI corral all the ugly people [along with] all nagging and jealous women,...and take them out to Death Valley and drop an atomic bomb on them.
He also believed that beauty, at least in women, diminished as they approached middle age:
Usually former models of mine whom I don't see for a quarter of a century have become distinctly middle aged.... in an almost invariably shocking way....I occasionally tell these dames they look like zombies. They naturally resent it and usually come back with "Well, you don't look so hot yourself!" But that has no sting whatever....
Flagg never ran out of of girlfriends to mistreat (will some kind female reader puhleeze write in and explain this?), but toward the end of his long career, Flagg fell head over heels in love for the first time.

In his autobiography Flagg described Ilse Hoffman, a young model and photographer, as "the most important thing in my life." Newly humbled, Flagg admitted, "I shall have to testify that there is such a thing as love at first sight. And I do mean love." The two had a passionate romance. He painted her as often as she would permit.

Ultimately, Flagg was too much of an emotional miser for a successful relationship:
After about three years there came a change in our relations-- a shadow hard to define... a contributing cause may have been ...a growing feeling on her part that she wanted to get married. I didn't....Gradually Ilse's attitude toward me began to change.
Ilse moved into an apartment of her own.
When I asked if she'd give me an extra key, she refused with obviously false excuses. I reminded her that she had a key to my place that made her welcome at any time, night or day. I told her I had no notion of using it, that I wanted her to make the gesture. Nothing doing. Then I knew.
Flagg became deeply despondent over losing the love of his life. "I walked and walked, uptown, not really knowing were I was going. I was hurt to death." One would hope that this painful experience caused Flagg to know moments of thoughtfulness. However, all evidence points to the contrary.

When Ilse found another man who was willing to commit to her, Flagg had a bitter and typically clueless reaction:
I was saturated with disgust for Ilse...I said to myself: 'I truly loved Ilse. No other woman has meant a thing to me-- from the moment I saw her.' Eventually she married this young man, who was some sort of stock market runner. Yes, she was a married woman. She'd got what she desired. A wedding ring.

Flagg never loved again. He had a sour and lonely old age. He said at the end of his life,
I can't stand the look of my present age. All my life I have been a worshipper of that beauty of the human form you see in some men and women....Is it any wonder that I don't like to look at the physical mess and mental dullness that has set in for me? As far back as I can remember, I have been in the limelight; now I'd rather be dead than be passed by, ignored.

Flagg's final self portrait is haunted by the painting of Ilse over his shoulder, and the life that might have been. The old man ruminated, "A roll in the bed with honey isn't love. And the tragic part of it is that you never learn this until you're past the age for it to happen to you again."

We sometimes like to believe that art sensitizes us and heightens our awareness of the beauty around us. But Flagg had a circle of compassion no wider than one of his pen nibs, and he paid the price for it.


Blogger andreas said...

as always, a very nice read!

ive never said "thank you" for all the time and work you spend on your blog writing.

Thank you!

it means alot to me to read those storys about other artists and their view of the world/love

8/11/2007 4:02 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

David, thank you for your insightful portrait of Mr. Flagg, and all of the other great posts you feature on your blog. I always look forward to new contributions from you, and I particularly like your Artists in Love series. Thanks for all of the hard work.

8/11/2007 6:00 PM  
Blogger Abraham said...

Thank you for your wonderful 'insight stories'! I always read them with so much interest!

8/11/2007 6:18 PM  
Blogger The Social Pathologist said...

Brilliant post.

8/11/2007 7:42 PM  
Blogger Stan Shaw said...

Wonderful post. These glimpses into the hearts of artists are inspiring, humanizing and moving. I have read "Roses and Buckshot", but where did you get the other quotes and info on Flagg?

8/11/2007 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Whit said...

I just wanted to join in the choir of praise... I really enjoy reading your insights, and you have a very interesting viewpoint. Your words give these images a power that would otherwise be invisible to me. I look forward to more posts! Perhaps you could recommend further reading to those who are interested... cheers

8/12/2007 4:33 AM  
Blogger Kenn said...

David I've been reading this blog for a few months now and it is always brilliant. Thanks for taking the time!

8/12/2007 11:16 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Wow, there seems to be a lot of James Montgomery Flagg fans out there. Thanks to all for your kind comments.

Andreas and Stephen, I can't claim there is any work involved in this. These are pictures I've loved and stories I've found meaningful along the way. Since I already invested the time for my own pleasure, the effort is what economists call a "sunk cost." I'm just pleased to find other people out there who enjoy this stuff too.

Stan, when I read Flagg's autobiography Roses and Buckshot, I thought "this guy is a real jerk." Later, Susan Meyer did a major monograph on Flagg with dozens of great pictures. She went out of her way to be sympathetic to Flagg, but it was obvious that he was even a bigger jerk than I thought.

Social, Whit, and the others-- I surely do appreciate the feedback. Thanks for letting me know.

8/12/2007 12:16 PM  
Blogger leif said...

Hey David;

Woo! Flagg's life would be great fodder for one of those old 1950's morality comic stories... it would be entitled "A Jerk in the House of Love" and drawn by Lou Fine!

Great story - thanks for sharing it. That someone with such great talent and good fortune - but also such poor character - should have their life come to such an unenviable conclusion only seems to confirm that there is a higher power at work (and I'm no believer).

8/12/2007 4:27 PM  
Anonymous Macross821 said...

Inevitably, you reap what you sow. While Flagg had the good fortune to ride on his talent at a convenient period of history, the seeds to his latter life were pretty much written quite early, so you can't really say he was just given an unfortunate hand late in his life.

8/12/2007 5:46 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Wow! Wonderful paintings! Thanks for sharing.

8/13/2007 2:41 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Leif, sometimes there was a lot of truth in those 1950s love comics.

I think you're right, Lou Fine could do the job quite nicely.

8/13/2007 10:41 AM  
Anonymous stiftet said...

Dear David, thank you for your work. I learn something every time I read your posts. I am an draftsman (scandinavian, sorry my bad spelling) myself and really enjoying your post about the the drawing professionals from the time before photoshop and computors. Greetings

8/13/2007 11:08 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Welcome, Stiftet, and don't worry about the spelling, I recently handled a biotechnology patent arbitration in Scandinavia, and I promise you my spelling was far worse. Everyone was very kind to me on my journeys through Sweden, Denmark and Norway. It is a pleasure to have you visiting.

8/13/2007 3:17 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Interesting reading as usual David.

8/14/2007 2:31 PM  
Blogger Phattro said...

Amazing work and insightful writing you have on display here. I was recommended to this blog by a friend just yesterday. I ended up spend hours on it. It reminds me that I still have much to learn. Thank you for sharing all this.

8/19/2007 3:43 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Welcome, phattro-- and thanks for the kind words. I hope you will participate vigorously and share your knowledge with the rest of us.

8/19/2007 11:09 PM  
Blogger Sparky Firepants said...

As an illustrator, I've always been inspired by JMF's work. Knowing the love(s) of an artist gives you a deeper understanding of their work. Anything that creates passion in an artist ends up in their works, as subtle, disguised or obvious as it may be.

Thank you for creating this blog! Fascinating to read.

8/28/2007 12:14 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

i had never heard of flagg before .. and stumbled upon your blog ... this is the first time i have ever commented on a blog ...

they are few and far between re quality and of interest ...

not just the flagg post ... i checked out a few others ... nice blog - i have bookmarked for revisits ...

GINA ...
mine ? ... one of a few ...

8/28/2007 2:17 PM  
Blogger Love cannot be forced said...

That was very interesting. I can relate to how both of them feel. I've been there before myself. Thank you for this wonderful post!

8/28/2007 3:41 PM  
Blogger Tekno-ology Blog said...

Art can be amazing...

But this guy seemed a tad..

Well, let's say it. He was horny.

8/28/2007 6:05 PM  
Blogger tragicomica said...

Probably, the reason why he had many girlfriends is that women always think they will be 'the one' who will change the guy into a prince, just by giving them love. Unfortunatelly, it isn't always like that.
Nice blog. I'll be visiting.

8/28/2007 8:02 PM  
Blogger Caroline Denaro said...

I stumbled across your blog what a wonderful place!!!! Your passion is inspiring! kudos!

8/28/2007 8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating, maddening, but tragic story. Thanks for it.

Life seems so pointless at times. That's why I feel the only thing .. the only thing that's really real and true... is ART.

Nice blog!

8/28/2007 10:40 PM  
Blogger FiKaLo said...

found you in the Blogs of Note.

Wow, a powerful and very sad story. Really sad...

8/29/2007 3:35 AM  
Blogger -dmc- said...

Thank you for the complex depiction of such an ugly, ugly man. Why does it seem that some of the most talented people are some of the most vile humans alive (e.g. Ezra Pound, Ayn Rand, Truman Capote)?
I have added this blog among my favories.

Thanks for the great work,

8/30/2007 11:20 AM  
Blogger Candace said...

Wow! How interesting! These beautiful paintings of beautiful women came from such a superficial man...I have always liked to think that artists portraying beautiful women are painting portraits of their inner radiance as well...obviously not the case here!

8/30/2007 8:21 PM  
Blogger Diane Putnam said...

Very interesting post for my late-night reading! I would say Mr. Flagg had classic Naricisstic Personality Disorder. Evidence? No empathy, obsessed with appearances and perfection, an exploiter of women, unable to commit, self-involved, contemptuous of others, and ending up bewildered, bitter and alone. When a narcissist falls in love, it is entirely and only for his own benefit, therefore the idea of becoming 1/2 of a reciprocal couple is incomprehensible to him. He is shocked when the object of his passion expects something from him, because he cannot conceive of any needs but his own.

As for the reason he attracted so many women (as did Picasso, with the same personality type): many women are thrilled by the challenge of making someone love them above all others. Many women love a project, hence the "chasing the bad boy" syndrome. Flagg's girlfriend was strong and smart. She figured the guy out.

So - that's my midnight diagnosis. Thanks for the fun!

8/31/2007 3:21 AM  
Blogger PeakMinutes said...

Well said.

8/31/2007 6:48 PM  
Blogger Deborah said...

This was good. A good read. I swear I felt tears sting behind my eyes as I read the quote about honey and love. Ouch. I can't help but feel bad for him, and I hate that I feel bad for him. As far as I can tell, that kind of heartbreak was going to happen to him sooner or later.
As for the women always fawning over him, I don't think I really get it.
I guess females kind of go through this thing where they feel invincible and can deal with any man whenever and however they want. The true test of this invincibility is by going around with someone who's got a reputation and I suppose Flagg fit the bill.
It could also be that hidden desire to have a hedonistic artist genuinely fall for you, even though you know that he has a history of breaking hearts. Ilse was the only one who pulled that off, but she wanted more than just his love-she wanted it on paper which was something he couldn't give her.

9/04/2007 12:14 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Diane and Deborah, for your insights into an issue that has confounded men since the world was new.

As you will see if you check out the other relationships in the "Artists in Love" series, Flagg did not have a monopoly on tragic, self-destructive behavior.

9/04/2007 3:26 PM  
Blogger THINKER said...

awesome post

9/05/2007 12:26 AM  
Blogger Douglas Cootey said...

I tend to agree with an old review I read that claimed Flagg was the poor man's Gibson. I much prefer Gibson's work. There seems to be more dynamic life to the characters. And seemingly more respect for women, though you may know stories about Gibson that I don't that would toss that opinion in the bin. :) Still, Flagg was a competent illustrator and I feel he made the transition to color in the 20th century better than Gibson did. Fascinating blog. Thanks for posting.

The Splintered Mind - Overcoming Neurological Disabilities With Lots Of Humor And Attitude

9/11/2007 3:30 AM  
OpenID jelliottcoleman said...

Thank you for wonderful insight into the life of James Montgomery Flagg. What a shame that talent rarely ever equals humility. Still, we have his art and at the end of the day maybe that what matters most.

3/26/2008 10:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice depicition of a disguised misogynist. By the way Ilse Hoffmann (two n's) committed suicide and so was as unhappy and troubled as Flagg

11/03/2009 5:45 PM  
Blogger Teresa Nielsen Hayden said...

How do guys like that get girlfriends? (1.) Because it's a routine that can be learned. (2.) Because all their effort is focused on getting the girlfriend, rather than on having a relationship with her.

It helps if they concentrate on younger women, who haven't learned yet that men who say "You're the only woman I've ever really loved," and have nothing good to say about any of the women in their previous relationships, are a bad idea.

7/21/2011 5:49 PM  

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