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La joie de vivre: the top 10 list

The notion of joy in life has inspired philosophers, artists, and other thinkers since antiquity.

According to the nineteenth century French historian Jules Michelet la joie de vivre is a harmonious state, a peaceful existence within nature. In English, “the joy of living” is associated with all those things that make life worthwhile. Here are the best of those joyous depictions:

Joie de Vivre (Antipolis), Pablo Picasso, 1946.

In the year the Cubist Pablo Picasso painted this work, there was not much joy in postwar Europe. The artist himself was holed up in a tiny house on the French Riviera, but his time spent in the nearby museum-turned-studio Chateau Grimaldi spurred his creativity, resulting in a proliferation of works, including his “Joie de Vivre (Antipolis).”

Because his own reality was rather dreary, Picasso used his art to recall the mythical past, painting his lover Francoise Gilot in a dance with the fauns and satyrs, the half-horse, half-men of ancient Greek mythology.

Bonheur de Vivre, Henri Matisse, 1906.

Considered a cornerstone of early modernism, Henri Matisse’s “Bonheur de Vivre” celebrates life the Fauvist way: through brilliant color. The shifting scale of the nude subjects’ pastoral scene begs a closer look and reveals a radical experiment, in which the figures are painted as viewed by each other.

The painting was shocking to the art community for its style and to the general public for its content. Each figure is enjoying its life: nude, in nature, and wildly sensually. In 1908, Matisse said this depiction of hedonistic joy represented his dream for “an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter” – a sentiment that was mocked by Picasso for its bourgeois attitude.

Joie de Vivre, Max Ernst, 1936.

Evoking the Northern Renaissance heritage of detailed foliage imagery, deep shadows, and woodcut-like forms, Max Ernst’s 1936 painting “Joie de Vivre” is titled ironically. A tangle of supersized vegetation dwarfs a statue and a fantastical animal, forming an eerie jungle rather than the expected pleasant and harmonious depiction of nature .

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La Joie de Vivre, Paul Delvaux, 1937.

One of the most provocative Surrealists of his time, who was even ousted by his Belgian contemporaries for painting too dreamily, Paul Delvaux creates a spirit in this work that in not particularly joyful. His uncanny scene is rooted in real images, though the relationship between figures is not easily defined, but obviously complex. The painting evokes a more psychological reflection on life’s joys.

Rythme, Joie de vivre, Robert Delaunay, 1930.

He may not have a household name, but Robert Delaunay is a star of modern art. His work celebrates both form and color, highlighting his dual influences from Cubism and Fauvism. His works were such a singular achievement that they were given their own art historical style, Orphism, and admired by many, including Paul Klee, August Macke, and Franz Marc of Der Blaue Reiter. His vibrant abstract works like this “Rythme, Joie de Vivre” from 1930 show a mix of cool and warm colors in a dynamic geometric arrangement.

Au Temps d’Harmonie (La Joie de Vivre – Dimanche au Bord de la Mer), Paul Signac, 1895-96.

This idyllic image by one of the founders of Pointillism (another is Georges Seurat) is an unironic depiction of scenes of the good life by the sea. Signac describes the work in a 1893 letter to fellow Neo-Impressionist Henri-Edmound Cross:

“Great news! On your advice, I’m going to try a large canvas!… In the foreground, a group at rest… man, woman, child… under a large pine an old man tells stories to the young kids… on a hillside… the harvest: the machines smoke, work, lessen the drudgery: and around the haystacks… a farandole of harvesters… in the center, a young couple: free love!”

Joie de Vivre, Mark di Suervo, 1998.

Mark di Suervo’s New York City sculpture from 1998 proves that the original concept of the joy of living still inspires in the contemporary era. The 70-foot-tall work is made of two interlocking, red L-beams, which both reach up to the sky and down to the ground. In 2011, the sculpture was famously adopted by the Occupy Wall Street movement as a symbol of the proletariat protests in the plaza where it stands.

Joie de Vivre, Kees van Dongen, 1922.

Kees van Dongen depicts life at its fullest during the happening scenes of a social gathering. Using Fauvist color to denote sensual details – the green of a woman’s eyes and cleavage, the blush of a couple getting close – the Dutch-French painter was no stranger to the controversy his paintings caused. He along with Henri Matisse and others, exhibited at the provocative 1905 Salon d’Automne, which was a counter-exhibit to the official Paris Salon.

Joie de Vivre, Jacques Lipchitz, 1927.

A Cubist sculptor who ran in the same circle as Pablo Picasso, Jacques Lipchitz created his “Joie de Vivre” as a pivotal point in his artistic career. The bronze work from 1927 is looser, more curvaceous that the typical tight angles of Cubism and marks a changing style in its exploration of joy through more organic forms.

Oleanders, Vincent van Gogh, 1888.

Vincent van Gogh’s “Oleanders” is little more than a brightly colored floral still life at first glace. But a surprise is hidden in plain sight. On the table the artist has painted Émile Zola’s novel La joie de vivre (1883). The novel is ironically titled as its bleak story revolves around a child who has lost her parents. For van Gogh, oleander flowers with their hearty nature and plentiful blooms were the physical juxtaposition of Zola’s idea of life – a joyless entity driven by undeserved fate.

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The Top Four Songs About Modern Art

Clockwise: Paul McCartney; Arabia Mountain Album Cover-Black Lips; Jay Z; Shirley Temple, The Youngest, Most Sacred Monster of the Cinema in Her Time-Salvador Dali, 1939; Vincent van Gogh; Salvador Dali; Black Lips; Pablo Picasso; Starry Night-Vincent Van Gogh, 1889; Don McLean.

Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and Salvador Dali are some of the greatest artists of the past century who have inspired some the greatest musicians of our time. Here are four songs that combine the best of both music and art worlds:

Shawn Carter Strikes Again:
Jay Z-Picasso Baby

The track starts out with Jay saying that all he wants is a Picasso in his castle. He then goes on to name drop like no other: he wants a Mark Rothko, a billion Jeff Koon balloons, to be surrounded by Andy Warhols, and to live at the MOMA. Hey, it’s Jay Z, he can have whatever he wants.

The most awesome part of this creation is his performance piece that got turned into a ten-minute art film. Jay Z raps the song to people in a New York gallery and even sneaks in a dance with Marina Abramovic.

Unhappy Marriages & Asylums:
Don McLean-Vincent (van Gogh)

McLean wrote this song during a rocky period in his life, while pushing through an unhappy marriage. The melancholy of Starry Night (painted by Vincent van Gogh after checking himself into an asylum) struck a chord with the singer, who proceeded to write the lyrics for the song on the only thing he had handy at the time, a paper bag, while looking at a print of the painting.

To step into mind-blowing territory for a second, van Gogh was an inspiration not only to McLean but to the rapper Tupac Shakur. Shakur has been quoted saying that he was moved by McLean’s “Vincent” and that he aspired to make songs just as touching.

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Raising A Drink To Picasso:
Paul McCartney & Wings-Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)

The idea for this song came when Dustin Hoffman challenged Paul McCartney to write a song about the article “Pablo Picasso’s Last Days and Final Journey” in the April 23, 1973 issue of Time Magazine. 

The title and lyrics of the song come from the reported last words of Pablo Picasso, “drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink anymore,” that were uttered to his guests before he went to bed and died in his sleep.

The album version of this song (unfortunately not the live version we have here), jumps around in terms of tempo and mood, but this fragmentation was an attempt by McCartney to evoke Picasso’s cubist paintings.

Tripping Out In A Salvador Dali Museum:
Black Lips-Modern Art

This song was conceived after Black Lips guitarist, Cole Alexander, went to a Salvador Dali Museum while tripping on ketamine. He said being high “canceled out the surrealism and [he] felt really normal” around Dali’s eccentric works.

The music video is far from normal but you should watch it anyway. It involves roosters floating through hazy red air and skulls wrapped in American flags, all electrified by punk music. It’s very psychedelic and makes you feel odd, but isn’t that how a surrealist painting should make you feel?

There are many other songs out there about art, what are some of your favorites? What artist-singer collaboration would you love to see? Let us know in the comments!

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