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Love Thy Frenemy
From:
Maria Brito --  Contemporary Art Advisor Maria Brito -- Contemporary Art Advisor
New York , NY
Tuesday, November 17, 2020


Love Thy Frenemy
 

Have you thought about how much creative fuel your frenemies can give you? The competition, the thrill, the outpacing, and ultimately the breakthroughs in creativity and innovation in business and art. Given the benefits, if you haven't cultivated a frenemy, maybe it's time?

A 2018 research paper spearheaded by psychological scientist Gavin Kilduff of New York University found, after running two studies to examine the effects of rivalry on decision-making and risk-taking, that rivals have an increased appetite for taking chances. Being a risk-taker plays an especially important factor in creativity and innovation. Those who don't take chances never innovate or create anything surprising and exciting that we haven't seen before. And it turns out that many entrepreneurs and artists take more chances, invent new things, become more daring in business and in artmaking, if there's a rivalry involved.

Bacon vs. Freud

Let's look at a handful of frenemies that rocked the world by pushing each other creatively and otherwise. The late 1940s, the 1950s, and the 1960s were particularly hot in the creative landscape in the United Kingdom. It was around the mid-1940s when Lucian Freud, Sigmund's grandson, moved from Berlin to London trying to develop his career as an artist. In 1945 he was introduced to Francis Bacon, one of the most important and high-profile painters of the 20th century. Bacon was already well-known in England and other parts of Europe for his daring, luring, and intense paintings as well as his enormous personality and his love for copious amounts of alcohol.

The incipient friendship took shape as Freud started visiting Bacon's studio and many said that the two men were physically attracted to each other. Bacon was openly gay, but Freud was mostly in the company of women and no one can confirm or deny if they had an affair. What can be confirmed is that Freud saw Bacon as a huge inspiration and tons of charged energy flowed between them. Freud was transfixed by Bacon's darkness, mood, charm, and ease with the brushes. Bacon could finish a great painting in one day, while Freud took weeks or months to do the same.  Freud was younger, planned his work, made drawings. Bacon was direct-to-canvas, could work with rags, newspapers, and his bare hands, looking for accidents to let his creativity roll with madness. 

Later in 1947, Freud started making portraits of his lovers and friends, which with time became more emotional and ultimately became the trademarks of his career. His style started to loosen up, his brushstrokes were freer - the direct influence of Bacon's furious, visceral, unique style. In 1951, the two artists agreed that one would paint the portrait of the other. Freud did some early sketches, and Bacon called him to his studio to pose for him even though Bacon mostly painted from looking at photos. The resulting canvas was the first named portrait in Bacon's career, and the beginning of an important shift in his practice, where for the next 15 years he produced hundreds of portraits of friends and people close to him, finding inspiration in the same way Freud did. In 1952, Freud convinced Bacon to sit for him, and it took months until he finished a small portrait that was immediately bought by the Tate, and years later during Freud's retrospective, stolen from the walls of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 1988 and never recovered.

But in the mid-1950s, things started sour between the friends. Freud tried to intervene between Bacon and his lover because they had such violent fights, and Freud feared for Bacon's life. When Bacon decided to stay with his lover, Freud retreated, and Bacon stopped talking to him. Bacon also said he had loaned great sums of money to Freud that he gambled away. However, Freud continued mining the influence he had gotten from Bacon and his style became more ruthless: pushing boundaries, looking for extremes, exploring the psychological makeup of his subjects.

These two frenemies continued moving in the same artistic circles in London, although their friendship was never the same again and by the 1970s, they had completely fallen out. Bacon made another 14 portraits of Freud based on photographs but could never acknowledge that Freud had influenced his work, especially his portraits. He passed away in 1992 without making any attempts at reconciliation. Freud also became quite successful around the late 1960s and continued to be for the rest of his life. Until his death in 2011, he never gave up in finding the stolen portrait he painted of his dear frenemy.

The Beatles vs. The Stones

Overlapping around the same period with Bacon and Freud, four friends from Liverpool had come together in a band they called The Beatles in 1957. In London, childhood friends Mick Jagger and Keith Richards became musical partners in 1960, later adding two other musicians becoming The Rolling Stones in 1962. The fact that the former were from Liverpool and the latter from London immediately granted a higher status to the Stones, but the Beatles were so very confident in their skills that they weren't threatened at all and never regarded the Stones as equals. In the beginning, the Stones asked the Beatles to write a song for their debut album to help them get a foothold, and in 1963, John Lennon and Paul McCartney agreed to give them "I Wanna Be Your Man", the second single the Stones ever released.

Over time, after getting a lot of influence from The Beatles, the Stones found their own way and their own style, but John Lennon was brutal against them and took any opportunity to bash Jagger. In a December 1970 interview, Lennon sat down with Rolling Stone co-founder and editor Jann Wenner and said: "Every fuckin, thing we did, Mick does exactly the same — he imitates us. And I would like one of you fuckin' underground people to point it out, you know Satanic Majesties is Pepper, "We Love You," it's the most fuckin' bullshit, that's "All You Need Is Love." 50 years have gotten by since the dissolution of The Beatles, and when in April of this year, Paul McCartney was interviewed on the phone in the Howard Stern Show he said, "The Stones are a fantastic group. I go see them every time they're out. They're a great, great band… but The Beatles were better". About five days later, Jagger was interviewed in Zane Lowe's Apple Music show, and here's how he answered McCartney: "We started doing stadium gigs in the 70s… still doing them now… one band is unbelievably luckily still playing in stadiums, and then the other band doesn't exist." What we all have to be grateful for is for their existence and their music and how much they feuded so that they produced their best songs while trying to topple the other.

Rubinstein vs. Arden vs. Revson vs. Lauder

Meanwhile in the United States, some of the most infamous but highly creative rivalries in business date back to the same period of time, when in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the cosmetics and beauty industry as we know it was still in its infancy, and New York witnessed the establishment of Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden, Revlon, and Estee Lauder. Each one of these companies was owned and operated by their namesakes, whose egos and appetite for rivalry saw no parallel, to the point they kept trying to outperform each other until the day they died.

Arden and Rubinstein were pioneers of the industry, the former opening in 1910, the latter in 1915, both focused on salon services and skincare products. Charles Revson opened Revlon in 1932, starting exclusively with nail polish which Revson rebaptized as "enamel". Lauder came later and after many years of door-to-door sales and demonstrations, officially launched as an incorporated business in 1946 with only four products: Cleansing Oil, Skin Lotion, Super Rich All-Purpose Creme, and Creme Pack.

War Paint, a book by Lindy Woodhead that chronicles the feuds between Arden and Rubinstein, dishes on how much these two divas loathed each other. Creatively, at least, their hatred fueled some innovative moves: If Rubinstein commissioned Salvador Dalí to design a compact, Arden would order a mural from Georgia O'Keeffe for one of her fitness studios. On top of the spite they felt for each other, they couldn't stand Revson either. Arden called him "that man" and just to dig her, Revson brought out a men's fragrance called "That Man". Rubinstein dismissively referred to him as ''the nail man,'' until 1962, when the nail man brought out a face cream, "Eterna 27," to compete with Rubinstein's products. The feud creatively paid off as these rivals saw a need to diversify and outperform the other with their products and marketing strategies, each running vastly successful companies.

In the late 1960s, both Arden and Rubinstein had died in their 90s and extremely wealthy. Revson and Lauder were left alone to continue their vendetta, and in the process innovate and push the industry forward.  In Fire and Ice, Charles Revson's biography written by Andrew Tobias, the author recounts how obsessed Revson was with outpacing Lauder, whom he had met a couple of times. He wanted to appeal to an upper-class market, but he had no idea how and was blowing his marketing budget on two-page full color spreads with glam women, like supermodel bombshell Dorian Leigh photographed in a suggestive pose wearing a red cape, a silver sequined-dress and her Revlon red nails and lips. Meanwhile, Lauder was crafting paired-down, black-and-white one-page ads and had secured the face of classic-looking Karen Graham as an exclusive model for years to come. Revson, who hated black and white, saw no option but to hire Lauren Hutton as his exclusive model for the B&W ads of his ULTIMA II line. Lauder launched Aramis, a cologne for men, then Revson brought out Braggi with the identical brown box and tortoise paper. Later she released a perfume called Estée, and he came out with one called Charlie. The rivalry lasted until 1975 when Revson died. After his passing, even Lauder admitted that some of the thrill was gone.

If left unchecked, rivalries can be detrimental for one's mental and physical health, but properly channeled, they increase motivation and performance as well as all the creative ideas that spur out of highly competitive brains. If you do have a frenemy, I suggest you follow these steps: 1) write about that person and how he/she makes you feel; 2) list their accomplishments and find a positive and motivating spark in all of that; 3) get rolling on your own creative endeavors and keep checking that list when you need a boost in your creativity.

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