Creative people are drawn to each other, as notorious for falling in love as they are for driving each other insane,” writes novelist Catherine Lacey in her latest book, The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex, and Artistic Influence. “Seen a certain way, the history of art and literature is a history of all this love.” Throughout the book, out this month from Bloomsbury, Lacey maps many romantic entanglements, collaborations, and friendships between some of the most famous writers and artists of the twentieth century. Accompanied by Forsyth Harmon’s vivid watercolors of each writer and artist, the book spans many disciplines, with anecdotes about the legendary salons of Gertrude Stein, the modern-dance luminaries Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, and denizens of the jazz world of Ella Fitzgerald.
Lacey excavated these connections by reading artist biographies, obituaries, articles, and letters. While many of the liaisons discussed in the book are well known—like the fraught affair between Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas and the rocky marriage between Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald—Lacey also constellates seemingly disparate sets of artists whose lives happened to intersect: how, for instance, Pablo Picasso once met and drew on the hands of the heiress and writer Caroline Blackwood (above left), who later fell in love with the poet Robert Lowell (center), who then divorced the writer and critic Elizabeth Hardwick (right), who once profiled the singer Billie Holiday, who in turn had an affair with the filmmaker Orson Welles, and so on. The book is a reminder that art is not created in a vacuum, but arises out of the chemistry, envy, and camaraderie among those who love and create it.