One Question with Daniel E. Sutherland, author of “Whistler: A Life for Art’s Sake”

Whistler: A Life for Art’s Sake

Daniel E. Sutherland received his Ph.D. in history from Wayne State University in 1976. He taught at Wayne State University, Mercy College of Detroit, the University of Alabama, and McNeese State before coming to the University of Arkansas. His principal area of research is nineteenth-century America. He has written eight books including “Whistler: A Life for Art’s Sake” and edited five others. He has published over fifty book chapters and articles in both popular magazines and scholarly journals. He has received over forty honors, awards, and research grants. Five of his books have been selected by the History Book Club.

Neoteric Art: What was the most interesting fact you learned about James McNeill Whistler while researching and writing your book, “Whistler: A Life for Art’s Sake”?

Daniel E. Sutherland: It depends on what you consider to be “a fact.” The one totally unknown bit I discovered was that Whistler contracted gonorrhea as a cadet at West Point, age eighteen. That may seem trivial in its own right, but it says something about his reckless nature. More importantly, though, I came to understand that, despite JW’s reputation for conceit and hubris, and his image as a flamboyant, superficial raconteur, he was deeply insecure. It was this insecurity, a consequence of his mania for perfection in both life and art, that drove him, and it explains many of the apparent contradictions in his personality and actions. It also explains the evolution of his art, as he strove constantly to find more dramatic ways of expressing beauty on canvas, paper, and copper.

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