One of the underlying contemporary beliefs in the West regarding the creative process in individuals concerns the unlimited potential for human achievement, through the will of the individual and the fictitious reality of opportunity for all: a democratic and leveling faith that is both liberating and daunting. This has evolved, during the past fifty years, into a philosophy that considers the artist to be an impartial, skilled professional. The beginning of this conviction might be marked by the dramatic, drunken death of Jackson Pollock in a car crash with his mistress, and it is exemplified by time-clock punching, it’s-all-about-work Andy Warhol, whose serialized production revolved around the life and times of his gorgeously seedy, decadently tragic Factory denizens.
Of course, the shift from the nineteenth-century cult of the genius–the belief that there are a chosen few fated from birth for greatness, along with the now-embarrassing romantic notion of the artist as semi-autistic, alternately lying on the studio floor paralyzed with depression and indecision, then struck by the bolt of ecstatic vision–to the twenty-first century belief in the artist as an enlightened cultural producer is not altogether a bad thing. The truth, we now understand, lies somewhere between these two models, the artist being neither wholly a self-defined visual technician nor a super-gifted destiny’s child.
The mathematically-based art of astrology has paralleled this historical revisionism, evolving from its earlier fatalism regarding human existence to a kind of humanistic view, which can be attributed to the influence of Carl Jung’s theories of synchronicity, archetypes, and the collective unconscious, which were themselves founded in the unscientific practices of the tarot and astrology. Astrology asserts that a thing or person born at a particular moment in time takes on the characteristics of that moment. Today’s humanistic version also asserts that this planetary blueprint can undergo additions and modifications–that someone born with the signature chart of a serial killer may live a happily peaceful life as a Kansas City clerk, with only undercurrents to the contrary. Thus, its popular appeal.
While it appears to many–believers and skeptics alike–that we are in a revival of astrological interest due to our new-age melting pot, astrology has seen better days. The Depression-era Hoover Dam is testament to this fact: The public monument of engineering extravagance and art-deco grandiosity includes a marble and stone star map, showing the trajectories and positions of the celestial bodies on the day of dedication, and Zodiacal wheels. Likewise, a radical thinker such as Jung, whose ideas were so clearly based upon the paranormal and occult, would have a difficult time existing in today’s academic circles.
Nevertheless, astrology is hinged on the now-universally accepted belief that everything is interconnected, down to the smallest atomic particle. So, I’d bet that you, even if you are a die-hard unbeliever, have secretly scanned astrological descriptions in your daily newspaper. This, therefore, is my version: the twelve signs of the Zodiac within the visual arts. (I would like to emphasize “visual,” for I do not intend to comment on creativity in general.)
Christine Siemens, a Capricorn, is an artist living in Los Angeles.
ARIES “I am”
March 20/21-April 19/20
As the first sign of the zodiac, explosive, impulsive Aries is a crusader, and given the proper arena, the Ram will battle with chivalrous bravery on the field of artistic competition. Arian artists are at their strategic best when they can corral an army of willing assistants and corporate donors to move a few tons of earth into fancy patterns or heave around some metal.
Fast and furious describes macho Aries’ aesthetic approach: a kind of rough-and-tumble flamboyance and childlike enthusiasm for discovery. And, if the rich patron does not show up to throw in the bucks and take care of all the mundane, trivial details–or recognition isn’t instant or is too easy–then Arians need for a larger-than-life, fast-forward, action-packed, turbo-speed adventure may lead them to seize their piece of the pie elsewhere.
MATTHEW BARNEY, ROSA BONHEUR, MAX ERNST, JUDY FISKIN, AGNES MARTIN, JEAN FRAGONARD, VINCENT VAN GOGH, FRANCISCO GOYA, JUAN GRIS, RAPHAEL, VICTOR VASARELY, LEONARDO DA VINCI
TAURUS “I have”
April 20/21-May 20/21
The Bull seems to be the most unlikely of all the signs to scurry off to the big city in pursuit of the big shimmering dream, for when the blood sugar drops Taurus will be none too pleased with frugal packages of ramen and rice cakes. And Taurus has little desire of the limelight, the intangible, or the unknown. Nevertheless, art history still is loaded with these placid, hedonistic traditionalists. One reason is that Taurus has the most highly tuned senses of the signs and its reality is molded into a deep physical intelligence that becomes impatient with the overly cerebral.
Taurus folk are, at heart, ardent romantics whose raison d’etre is simple: If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. They transmute their direct, earth natures into bodily-based rhythms, materially grounded work with a good amount of curbside appeal and archival permanence. Taurus is also the sign of the collector.
JOHN JAMES AUDUBON, GEORGES BRAQUE, DEBORAH BUTTERFIELD, EUGENE DELACROIX, ALBRECHT DÜRER, KEITH HARING, JASPER JOHNS, WILLEM DE KOONING, JAMES TURRELL, CY TWOMBLY, ODILON REDON, BRIDGET RILEY, FRANK STELLA
GEMINI “I think”
May 21/22-June 20/21
Nonlinear and disparate, the innately androgynous Twins are roving journalistic wordsmiths and sly satirists whose intellect resides in the quick-firing nervous system of informational connectivity and the flux of polarities. Specialization is not their bailiwick. They prefer to live within airy quicksilver heights of mental activity, disliking boring routine or frightening introspection of their interior selves, which may lead to encounters with the messy theater of emotions and the psyche, which they quickly deflect with a well-aimed quip or clever mimicry.
Most visual artists who are Gemini natives find a way to bridge the gap between their limited appreciation of the visual and tactile with an art practice that is most often conceptual, language and/or system based, and provides a flexible container capable of processing their total mental sphere.
LAURIE ANDERSON, JOHN BALDESSARI, CHRISTO, GUSTAV COURBET, M.C. ESCHER, PAUL GAUGUIN, DONALD JUDD, FRANZ KLINE, ALEXIS SMITH, DIEGO VELÁZQUEZ
CANCER “I feel”
June 21/22-July 21/22
Water is most intrinsically creative, filled to the brim with fathomless churning oceans of emotional energy that, if not allowed to drain regularly, will lead to self-destruction in the Pisces, cruel power plays in the Scorpio, and pathological martyrdom and self-protection in the Cancer. The Crab is ruled by the fast-orbiting moon, and this sign is buffeted with the cosmic fallout of unremitting lunar shifts that leads them to take cover in long periods of private cloistering and domesticity, which in turn nurtures their imaginary autopilot.
Cancers’ nerves are often frayed, and they are calmed by intimately absorbing activities that are intuitively expressive and do not necessitate any reasonable explanation. Cancers are not attention-seekers in the conventional sense; as artists, they steer clear of hefty displays of bravado, focusing their attention instead on familiar subjects close at hand. Their creative output is hampered by instability and rejection.
MARC CHAGALL, JUDY CHICAGO, CHUCK CLOSE, EDGAR DEGAS, JEAN DUBUFFET, DAVID HOCKNEY, FRIDA KAHLO, KÄTHE KOLLWITZ, CHRIS FINLEY, REMBRANDT VAN RIJN, PETER PAUL RUBENS, ANDREW WYETH
LEO “I will”
July 22/23-August 22/23
This sign has been compared with the medieval legend of Parsifal, a hero’s journey forever looking for the enchanted castle (read: individuation) that vanishes after he or she fails to answer the question: What does this all mean? Leos see the world in the vacillating stark contrasts of perfect greatness or tepid deficiency. The latter they will try to redeem at all costs. Like the other fire signs, there is a tendency to mythologize life in the Leo, and then contextualize it into orbiting signs and symbols that define the quest for identity and meaning of the self.
Leo artists tend toward deconstructing semiotics within advertising imagery, slogans, words, and all manner of propagandist persuasion. Unlike Cancer’s small-scale, down-home dedication, Leo craves a colossal centerstage extravaganza, coöpting whoever and whatever else is around into their drama of fairytale proportions, making sure that only their name is in lights.
JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, MARCEL DUCHAMP, JENNY HOLZER, EDWARD HOPPER, HENRY MOORE, JIM SHAW, ANDY WARHOL
VIRGO “I analyze”
August 23/23-September 22/23
Filled with silent hope, but the mind is in control: For Virgo, the sterile, Christian overhaul of some of the Zodiac’s symbols has dealt it a cruel blow and forever denigrated and maligned these honorable natives. The present image associated with this sign is the Virgin–which has created an erroneous view of Virgos as frigid neat freaks. Older, more apt images were of fertility or harvest, like the Sumerian corn goddess. Virgo is the sixth sign of the Zodiac, where personal desire is sacrificed for service, and where the gathering and bundling of information for useful purpose supercedes the individual ego. The Virgo’s deals and dreams are buried under the fretful worry of laying down enough supplies for the upcoming cold winter, and wondering why others are irresponsibly out there still having fun.
Virgos are found within the visual arts most often working behind the scenes as technicians, curators, cataloguers, and collectors, and in related occupations, such as designers and craftspeople. As characteristic of an earth sign, they are deeply aware on a sensory level (necessary for primary creative production) and are highly discriminating and open to the untraveled. But they most often forfeit their abilities and secret desires in the line of duty and in their practical pessimism regarding the self-absorption and impractical scheduling of the artist. Virgos may in turn demonize and inhibit these behaviors in themselves and others. Think of the academic neoclassicist Ingres, who, in fierce opposition to Delacroix’s Romanticism, developed a cool formal meticulousness, and his mentor, Jacques Louis David.
CARL ANDRE, JEAN ARP, R. CRUMB, JACQUES LOUIS DAVID, JEAN AUGUSTE INGRES, JIM ISERMANN, GRANDMA MOSES, MAN RAY, BEN SHAHN
LIBRA “I balance”
September 23/23-October 22/23
Libra is ruled by Venus, planet of love, harmony, and the arts, and these natives are naturally disposed to artistic endeavors of all kinds, due to their tremendous need to communicate ideas, their desire for context within a social sphere, and their inclination for romantic love and partnership. If there were one period in art that exemplifies Libran energy, it would be the Rococo, and perhaps Watteau’s theatrically-inspired paintings get top marks. His fetes galantes–charming, frothy, airy scenes that depict elaborately costumed couples of leisure in fanciful outdoor settings–demonstrate his and his fellow Libran’s obsession with “all that is beautiful!” with equal parts sentiment and practicality. Librans have been nicknamed the sign of the interior designer (and the lover), but certainly their ability to provide distractions from dreary, mundane sufferings of daily life with harmony and beauty is not a virtue to be scoffed at.
This seventh sign in the element of air marks the delineation of the individualistic inclinations of the first six signs. The latter six begin the move toward the public sphere. Libra, then, is that force that brings forth civilizations, a move from the survivalist to entertainment, pleasure, and persuasion. Librans are limited creatively by their procrastination and temperamental periods, fueled by the pain and frustration of making decisions in inequitable situations. Fairness and seeing both sides of an issue are hallmark traits of this sign.
FRANCOIS BOUCHER, CARAVAGGIO, THEODORE GÉRICAULT, ALBERTO GIACOMETTI, TIM HAWKINSON, JEAN FRANCOIS MILLET, LOUISE NEVELSON, MERET OPPENHEIM, FAITH RINGGOLD, MARK ROTHKO
SCORPIO “I desire”
October 23/24-November 21/22
Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven: Scorpios are power-driven, sex-crazed substance-abusers, violent, vindictive, cunning, vain, slothful, paranoid, jealous, and manipulative. And this is only the short list. Scorpio has more adjectives applied to it than any other sign, and not very many of them are particularly positive. (And, well, all of them pretty much have a basis in truth). Scorpio has two images associated with it: the better-known Scorpion and the lesser-known Eagle. It is said that the Scorpion embodies the shadow personality (it’s the sign of the religious fanatic), while the Eagle, a more highly-evolved Scorpio, gains wings along with generosity and compassion–and the ability to transform and create society, rather than destroy it.
The ability and need to transform and understand the watery mysteries of existence make those born under this sign gravitate to self-expression. Their facility to probe, uncover, and expose, as well as their tremendous pride and relentless drive make them unstoppable forces as creative entities. Fear them.
LYNDA BENGLIS, JEAN BAPTISTE CHARDIN, WILLIAM HOGARTH, MIKE KELLEY, ROY LICHTENSTEIN, RENÉ MAGRITTE, ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE, CLAUDE MONET, GEORGIA O’KEEFFE, PABLO PICASSO, ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG, AUGUSTE RODIN, PAUL SIGNAC, JULIAN SCHNABEL, RICHARD SERRA, JAN VERMEER
SAGITTARIUs “I see”
November 22/23-December 20/21
The fiery archer has got to be the happiest and luckiest of all the signs, and it is amazing that any of these restless, routine-hating, talkative partyers would ever have the inclination to turn their energies to the solitary, meditative life of the artist. Generally, Sagittarians more often are located in the fast-moving world of ideas, where their far-roaming intellects may turn to writing, research, and superb multitasking.
Those born under this sign fear success and have difficulty adjusting to the limitations of reality. Their fantasies of potential genius (this makes them great actors) often undermine their discipline. Besides common aesthetic slights imputed upon them (badly dressed and poorly groomed), they are, like Aquarians, intuitively able to anticipate trends, which, along with their gregarious knack at making contacts and their natural linguistic abilities, can be enough at times to produce a revolution in art.
WILLIAM BLAKE, CAMILLE CLAUDEL, HELEN FRANKENTHALER, SISTER CORITA KENT, PAUL KLEE, BRUCE NAUMAN, DIEGO RIVERA, EDWARD RUSCHA, NIKI DE SAINT PHALLE, GEORGES SEURAT, HENRI DE TOULOUSE-LAUTREC, WILLIAM WEGMAN
CAPRICORN “I use”
December 21/22-January 19/20
If the previous sign’s population resides in the manic, then Capricorn hits the opposite extreme, as the most melancholic and depressed of all. It is no wonder, when you consider that their planetary ruler is cold, wintery Saturn, the patriarch of the Zodiac who makes sure that everyone learns their lessons and pays full price. The Capricorn myth is the sun god who chooses to incarnate into this hard world of suffering.
Gloomy, yes. But despite the heavy restrictions and rigidity of this sign, Capricorn’s desperate need to escape impels them toward isolated acts of expression, as does their need to move and manifest the physical in structural ways. Form, as an earth sign, is paramount, as is pragmatic endurance and getting every job done, no matter what the cost, inertia cut with aneurysm-inducing amounts of stimulants. While Capricorns are incredibly pathetic at being the life of the party and making the social rounds, their chilly, withholding, and enigmatic personalities can create interesting art and generate new possibilities.
LEE BONTECOU, LOUISE BOURGEOIS, PAUL CÉZANNE, JOSEPH CORNELL, BARBARA HEPWORTH, EVA HESSE, ROBERT LONGO, HENRI MATISSE, BERTHE MORISOT, JOHN SINGER SARGENT, CINDY SHERMAN, ROBERT SMITHSON, ALFRED STIEGLITZ, JENNIFER STEINKAMP, YVES TANGUY
AQUARIUS “I know”
January 20/21-February 19/20
As the last of the air signs on the star wheel, Aquarians are also the most complex. Humanitarianism is a trait of this sign, yet Aquarians seem to love humanity but hate people. Indeed, they love ideas, but do not particularly relish emotions and are queasy at anything seamy or unpleasant. While liberally eccentric, advocates of change, and rebellious toward authority, they themselves often are fixed in their habits and viewpoints. These conundrums make for great art.
Stylistically light years ahead of the times, Aquarians are the most unpredictable of all, valuing novel gadgetry and can-do ingenuity over practical solutions. They want a revolution, and they want it now! Their impatience is legendary, and their free-wheeling and impulsive wiring make for the stuff of-isms. Their secret weapon has always been their little-publicized work ethic.
ANSEL ADAMS, ANN HAMILTON, MAX BECKMANN, MARTIN KERSELS, BARBARA KRUGER, ROBERT MOTHERWELL, ALICE NEEL, BARNETT NEWMAN, CLAUS OLDENBURG, YOKO ONO, JACKSON POLLOCK, NORMAN ROCKWELL, ADRIAN SAXE, JEFFREY VALLANCE, BILL VIOLA
PISCES “I believe”
February 18/19-March 19/20
Blank, shape-shifting Pisces is the twelfth and final sign of the Zodiac. As such, Pisces have absorbed all the lessons of existence and choose to inhabit the murky subconscious. Nicknamed the mystical dustbin of the Zodiac for their pursuit of humanity’s disdained and discarded wreckage, they are less a type of person, than a rendition of human nature.
Pisces is everyone and no one, their boundaries blurred with empathetic identification and an egoless urge to disintegrate and disappear. Like Scorpios’ dual creatures of higher and lower consciousness, Pisces symbol is two fish: one swimming downstream toward abject derelict despair, the other upstream toward a less than ordinary charting of unknown waters. Either way, the burden of merging with all of humanity’s suffering must be dealt with. Emancipated from the laws of time and space, and possessing a deep wisdom of the futility of human desire, Pisces focuses on the greater work. This multiplaned dreamlike sight, when catalyzed by belief, is soul to the brilliant artistic visionary.
ELEANOR ANTIN, DIANE ARBUS, HONORÉ DAUMIER, HANS HOFFMAN, WINSLOW HOMER, LARI PITTMAN, MONIQUE PRIETO, PIERRE-AUGUSTE RENOIR, GIOVANNI TIEPOLO, GEORGES DE LA TOUR, DAVID WILSON
This brief tour, like all readings of sun signs, is intended as a thematic portrait painted with large brushstrokes and does not account for other key influences within a chart.