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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

10 Writers and Artists Who Wanted Their Work Destroyed

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Whether from a lack of confidence, concerns over sensitive contents, a change of direction, or simply a fit of pique, a number of artists and writers have either destroyed their own work or asked for it to be destroyed—leaving the public wondering what treasures might have been lost. Below is a list of 10 artists and writers who have attempted to destroy their own work, with varying success:

1. FRANZ KAFKA

Max Brod. Image credit: Getty Images

During his lifetime Kafka only published a handful of shorter works, which gained modest critical attention. Plagued by self-doubt, Kafka burned a huge amount of his own writing and, aware that his fragile health was failing, he asked his good friend Max Brod, who was to be his literary executor, to destroy any unfinished manuscripts on his death, unread.

Kafka died from tuberculosis at the age of 41 in 1924, and Brod, feeling that Kafka’s writings deserved to be shared, went against his wishes. Thanks to Brod, Kafka’s most important works were published, including The Trial in 1925, The Castle in 1926, and Amerika in 1927.

Brod escaped Nazi-controlled Prague in 1939 and settled in Israel, where he later gave about two-thirds of Kafka’s papers to Oxford’s Bodleian Library. The remaining papers passed to his secretary Esther Hoffe, and then on to her daughters, and have been subject to a long-running legal challenge by the National Library of Israel, which wanted to lay claim to Kafka’s papers for the nation. In 2015 a Tel Aviv court finally granted the National Library of Israel the right to Kafka’s remaining papers, unlocking a further treasure trove for Kafka scholars.

2. JOHN BALDESSARI

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Conceptual artist John Baldessari took the destruction of his work to the extreme and made that very act art in itself. In 1970 Baldessari decided that in order to move into a new phase of his artistic life he would destroy all his early paintings from the period 1953–66. Baldessari called this act The Cremation Project, and he enlisted some students from the University of California to assist him cutting up his canvasses and loading his work into the incinerator at a California crematorium. The process of destruction was filmed and photographed to become part of the art work. Once all the work had been destroyed, Baldessari collected the ashes and put them into an urn; he also had a plaque made with his name and the dates May 1953–March 1966, much like a grave marker.

3. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

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It was long thought that when Robert Louis Stevenson showed the first draft of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to his wife Fanny, her harsh criticism of the work drove him to burn it. Stevenson had been partly inspired to write his horror story by a vivid dream he had while dosed up on medical cocaine. At this point in his life, Stevenson was wildly in debt and living as an invalid after a hemorrhage. Despite his seeming frailty, he was so inspired that he feverishly composed the first draft over the course of just three days.

In recent years, a letter has come to light in which Fanny Stevenson reveals that she thinks the story is “a quire full of utter nonsense” and says she's going to burn it herself. Robert Louis Stevenson was not be thwarted, however, and rewrote the 30,000-word story by hand. It was published to great success just a few weeks later.

4. VLADIMIR NABOKOV

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Before his death in 1977, Vladimir Nabokov left the fragments of a novel entitled The Original of Laura to his wife Vera, with instructions that it should be destroyed after he passed away. Vera felt unable to carry out her husband’s wishes, perhaps paralyzed by the fear of destroying his art. On Vera’s death, the writer’s papers were passed on to his only son, Dmitri, who again felt unable to destroy or publish, and so for many years kept the fragmentary novel to himself.

Finally, in 2008, the now-aged Dmitri decided it was time to publish his father’s unseen work. He pieced together the novel from the many index cards Nabokov had sketched the story upon. Unfortunately, the long wait for the much-anticipated work was an anti-climax according to critics, who generally argued that perhaps the work should indeed have been destroyed as Nabokov had wished.

5. NIKOLAI GOGOL

The success of his comic novel Dead Souls (1842) helped establish Gogol as the father of Russian realism. The highly religious Gogol felt it was his destiny to write two more sequels to his most celebrated work, furthering his aim to communicate how to live a more righteous life. Unfortunately, it was at this point that his creativity began to decline and he labored for many years on parts two and three, only to find his work unsatisfactory. Gogol began to think his lack of progress was a sign that God did not approve of his work and he lost his purpose. Looking for spiritual guidance, he came under the power of a fanatical priest, Father Matvey Konstantinovsky, who convinced Gogol in 1852 that his work was not good enough and encouraged him to burn the manuscript of Dead Souls, part 2. Ten days later Gogol died aged just 42.

6. DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI

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When the pre-Raphaelite poet’s beloved wife Lizzie Siddal died from a drug overdose, Rossetti was distraught. As her coffin was being sealed to be taken away and buried at London's Highgate Cemetery, he secretly placed a notebook with all his most recent poetry into her casket. Six years later, after his initial grief had passed, Rossetti tried to remember the poems he had lost but was unable to recall them in sufficient detail. Frustrated, Rossetti hired some men to steal into Highgate Cemetery and exhume his wife’s casket in order to retrieve the precious poems. The macabre scheme was a success, and despite the manuscript being badly damaged, Rossetti went on to publish the lost poems to great acclaim.

7. CLAUDE MONET

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In 1908, right before he was due to exhibit a large number of new water garden paintings in Paris, impressionist master Claude Monet destroyed them all. The paintings had taken three years to create and the exhibition had already been advertised and curated, but when Monet reviewed his handiwork he felt it was wanting. Grabbing a knife and a paint brush, he attacked the canvases, ruining at least 15 large paintings.

This was not the only time Monet took such drastic action. A perfectionist by nature, as death approached Monet enlisted the help of his step-daughter Blanche and destroyed up to 60 canvases that he had stored in his studio, and which he did not want to represent his legacy.

8. GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS

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Gerard Manley Hopkins was one of the most innovative Victorian poets, but his greatest success came after his death. Unfortunately Hopkins’s earliest works were forever lost after the poet burned them in 1868 upon becoming a Jesuit, wishing to devote his energies to religion rather than art. For seven years he turned his back on writing, until in 1875 Hopkins was inspired by the shipwreck of the Deutschland, during which five nuns were drowned. As a result he composed one of his most (posthumously) famous poems, The Wreck of the Deutschland, and returned to writing.

9. AUBREY BEARDSLEY

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Aubrey Beardsley was a talented Art Nouveau illustrator who is perhaps best known for his illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome (1894). Beardsley’s innovative adaption of the style of art used in traditional Japanese woodcuts earned him many admirers, but he was equally criticized for his use of the grotesque and his links with the Decadent art movement. Plagued by tuberculosis, Beardsley was consumed by his work and went on to edit four editions of the quarterly arts journal The Yellow Book.

Unfortunately for Beardsley, after Oscar Wilde’s trial for indecency the public was gripped by a moral panic and, in part due to his association with Wilde, he was sacked from The Yellow Book. Beardsley moved to France for his health but succumbed to tuberculosis aged just 25. Before he died, Beardsley wrote to his publisher Leonard Smithers begging him to destroy his erotic drawings on his death. Fortunately Smithers ignored the request and Beardsley’s wonderful art survived.

10. FRANCIS BACON

Francis Bacon was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. His work was challenging, often playing with religious imagery and pushing the boundaries of acceptability. In 1944 Bacon destroyed many of his early surrealist works, believing that they did not express his worldview. This started a theme of destruction whereby Bacon was unafraid of destroying any work he did not feel matched up to his expectations. (In his later years he did express some regret at the loss of some of his work, which in retrospect he felt did have some merit.) Fortunately Bacon was a very prolific artist and although he ruined countless works, many more survived. When he died in 1992 it is said that over 100 ruined works of art were found in his studio.

 

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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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Art
The Simple Optical Illusion That Makes an Image Look Like It's Drawing Itself
iStock
iStock

Artist James Nolan Gandy invents robot arms that sketch intricate mathematical shapes with pen and paper. When viewed in real time, the effect is impressive. But it becomes even more so when the videos are sped up in a timelapse. If you look closely in the video below, the illustration appears to materialize faster than the robot can put the design to paper. Gizmodo recently explained how the illusion works to make it look like parts of the sketch are forming before the machine has time to draw them.

The optical illusion isn’t an example of tricky image editing: It’s the result of something called the wagon wheel effect. You can observe this in a car wheel accelerating down the highway or in propeller blades lifting up a helicopter. If an object makes enough rotations per second, it can appear to slow down, move backwards, or even stand still.

This is especially apparent on film. Every “moving image” we see on a screen is an illusion caused by the brain filling in the gaps between a sequence of still images. In the case of the timelapse video below, the camera captured the right amount of images, in the right order, to depict the pen as moving more slowly than it did in real life. But unlike the pen, the drawing formed throughout the video isn't subject to the wagon-wheel effect, so it still appears to move at full speed. This difference makes it look like the sketch is drawing itself, no pen required.

Gandy frequently shares behind-the-scenes videos of his mechanical art on his Instagram page. You can check out some of his non-timelapse clips like the one below to better understand how his machines work, then visit his website to browse and purchase the art made by his 'bots.

And if you think his stuff is impressive, make sure to explore some of the incredible art robots have made in the past.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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