Philosopher Portraits

The artist Renee Bolinger pairs famous philosophers with famous artists based on the compatibility of their ideas. 

I’ve made an effort to pair each philosopher with a like-minded artist, often from a similar time period. Philosophers were selected based on requests, hence the somewhat eclectic nature of the group. Each of the paintings in the series is an 11"x14" oil on canvas.

Prints, mugs, and various other forms of each piece are available at my storefront. If you like them all, the Philosopher Portraits Calendars might be perfect for you. Large-scale posters of some of the pieces are available here.

Self-Construction Simone De Beauvoir. Paired with Frida Kahlo for their shared interest in self-portrayal and the social construction of femininity.

Meh. Albert Camus, paired with Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

Formulaic, v.1 Ruth Barcan Marcus. In the style of Roy Lichtenstein, an artist whose work is similarly focused on the analysis of a particular formula.

Frozen Delights Jeremy Bentham. Paired with Wayne Thiebaud, largely for Bentham’s emphasis on hedonist utilitarianism, but partly also for his famous desires concerning the preservation of his body upon death.

Ecce Homo Friedrich Nietzsche. Paired with Paul Klee, for their similar emphasis on delight in primitive forms.

Man with a Book Immanuel Kant. Paired with Pablo Picasso, since both focused a great deal of their work on the obstacles to direct perception of the external world.

On the Nature of Things Aristotle. Paired with DaVinci’s sketchbook style, for their similarly exacting studies of nature.

Cave Drawings Plato. Paired with the Lascaux cave drawings, as a reflection of Plato’s famous allegory. In progress

The closeness of the Democratic outcome offers concrete electoral proof of the power of Sanders’s anti-establishment appeal. Between Sanders and Clinton, tie goes to the underdog. If you have any question about this, ask yourself: Which campaign was celebrating Monday night, and which was trying to figure out what went wrong?
—  Ruth Marcus, in WaPo
Woman, Fighter, Philosopher

I first met the renowned Yale professor Ruth Barcan Marcus in the ladies’ room at the Marlboro Music Festival during the summer of 1977. As a music major in Yale College I had taken only a few philosophy courses, and none with Marcus. But word of the arrival in 1973 of the formidable philosopher had reached even the musty practice rooms in the bowels of Harkness Hall; and I had seen her several times, from a safe distance, on campus. Perhaps because this initial encounter occurred on musical rather than philosophical terrain, I managed to ask the woman adjusting her collar in the mirror next to me whether she was Ruth Marcus, “the famous logician.” She laughed and said yes, and then asked what I planned to do with my Yale degree. I told her I wanted to go to graduate school in philosophy, but feared that a major in music, rather than philosophy, would be an obstacle. She replied, “I don’t see why that should stop you.”

Those words were to be my first lesson from Professor Marcus, whodied in February at the age of 90. They were emblematic of the whole of her intellectual and professional life. Yes she was brilliant, and famous, and powerful; yes her writings changed the course of philosophical history; and yes she demolished her philosophical opponents when she thought they deserved it. But what made Marcus more than a great philosopher were her unflinching honesty, her unfailing integrity and a will of steel. I first thought to describe her as the most courageous person I’ve ever known; but really she wasn’t courageous. Courage requires fear, and Marcus was fearless. She said what she thought and did what she thought was right, no matter the consequences.

Her fight for right began early. At the tender age of 17, Marcus told her mother one afternoon that she was going out to meet friends. In fact she was headed to an anti-Nazi demonstration at Madison Square Garden. She was found out when a neighbor saw in The New York World-Telegram a photo of “Ruthie” kicking a policeman in the shins because he wouldn’t let her join the protesters. In 1939, of course, many Americans were ignoring or even denying the existence of Nazi atrocities. This teenager considered the evidence for herself and determined to get involved. Later in life she received death threats after speaking publicly against the Vietnam War, and she refused to sit in her customary place onstage for the 2001 Yale commencement, at which George W. Bush received an honorary degree.

Most important, though, Marcus scaled the heights of a field utterly dominated by men, at a time when sexism was rife in academia and the “old boys’ network” was still in its prime. She would tell of having to fend off the unwelcome advances of a male professor (thankfully not a philosopher!) with a coat hanger, of being barred from all undergraduate classrooms at Yale while studying there for her Ph.D., and of being forced to publish her landmark papers under her married name — just a few of the indignities she would endure. In her 2010 Dewey Lecture to the American Philosophical Association, Marcus recalled, “Yale had a philosophy club open to undergraduate and graduate students. I was elected president but then received a letter from the chair of the department suggesting that I decline. The reasons given were that Yale was predominantly and historically a male institution and that my election may have been a courtesy. Also, the club’s executive committee met at Mory’s, which was closed to women. I did not respond to the letter and did not decline. It was, to me, obviously unreasonable.”

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