Philosopher Portraits: Famous Philosophers Painted in the Style of Influential Artists

Ludwig Wittgenstein/Piet Mondrian:

Ludwig Wittgenstein & Piet Mondrian

What do the Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian have in common? For philosopher and artist Renée Jorgensen Bolinger, the two have similar beliefs about the logic of space.

“Many of Mondrian’s pieces explore the relationships between adjacent spaces,” says Bolinger “and in particular the formative role of each on the boundaries and possibilities of the other. I based this painting [see above] off of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, in which he develops a theory of meaning grounded in the idea that propositions have meaning only insofar as they constrain the ways the world could be; a meaningful proposition is thus very like one of Mondrian’s color squares, forming a boundary and limiting the possible configurations of the adjacent spaces.”

A second-year PhD student in the philosophy program at the University of Southern California, Bolinger studied painting a Biola University before making philosophy her second major. “I actually came to philosophy quite late in my college career,” Bolinger says, “only adding the major in my junior year. I was fortunate to have two particularly excellent and philosophic art teachers, Jonathan Puls and Jonathan Anderson, who convinced me that my two passions were not mutually exclusive, and encouraged me to pursue both as I began my graduate education.”

Bolinger now works primarily on the philosophy of language, with side interests in logic, epistemology, mind and political philosophy. She continues to paint. We asked her how she reconciles her two passions, which seem to occupy opposite sides of the mind. “I do work in analytic philosophy,” she says, “but it’s only half true that philosophy and painting engage opposite sides of the mind. The sort of realist drawing and painting that I do is all about analyzing the relationships between the lines, shapes and color tones, and so still very left-brain. Nevertheless, it engages the mind in a different way than do the syllogisms of analytic philosophy. I find that the two types of mental exertion complement each other well, each serving as a productive break from the other.”

Bolinger has created a series of philosopher portraits, each one pairing a philosopher with an artist, or art style, in an intriguing way. In addition to Wittgenstein, she painted ten philosophers in her first series, many of them by request. They can all be seen on her Web site, where high quality prints can be ordered.

G.E.M. Anscombe/Jackson Pollock:

G.E.M. Anscombe & Jackson Pollock

Bolinger says she paired the British analytic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe with the American abstract painter Jackson Pollock for two reasons: “First, the loose style of Pollock’s action painting fits the argumentative (and organizational) style of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, which Anscombe helped to edit and was instrumental in publishing. Second, her primary field of work, in which she wrote a seminal text, is philosophy of action, which has obvious connections to the themes present in any of Pollock’s action paintings.”

Gottlob Frege/Vincent Van Gogh:

Gottlob Frege & Van Gogh

Bolinger paired the German logician, mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege with the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Van Gogh’s famous painting The Starry Night and Frege’s puzzle concerning identity statements such as “Hesperus is Phosphorus,” or “the evening star is identical to the morning star.”

Bertrand Russell/Art Deco:

Bertrand Russell & Art Deco

Bolinger painted the British logician and philosopher Bertrand Russell in the Art Deco style. “This pairing is a bit more about the gestalt, and a bit harder to articulate,” says Bolinger. “The simplification of form and reduction to angled planes that takes place in the background of this Art Deco piece are meant to cohere with Russell’s locial atomism (the reduction of complex logical propositions to their fundamental logical ‘atoms’).”

Kurt Gödel/Art Nouveau:

Kurt Godel & Art Nouveau

Bolinger paired the Austrian logician Kurt Gödel with Art Nouveau. “The Art Nouveau movement developed around the theme of mechanization and the repetition of forms,” says Bolinger, “and centrally involves a delicate balance between organic shapes — typically a figure that dominates the portrait — and schematized or abstracted patterns, often derived from organic shapes, but made uniform and repetitive (often seen in the flower motifs that ornament most Art Nouveau portraits). I paired this style with Kurt Gödel because his work was dedicated to defining computability in terms of recursive functions, and using the notion to prove the Completeness and Incompleteness theorems.”

To see more of Renée Jorgensen Bolinger’s philosopher portraits, click here to visit her site. And if you like them all, the PhilPortraits Calendar might be perfect for you.

via Leiter Reports

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