We’re fascinated by artists who die young. Something about the unnaturalness of an early death gives us a kind of morbid thrill. We hail their genius, attracted by the mystery of the unknown (and unknowable). Maybe we’re envious—at least, the parts of us that seek fame and approval. For the dead, everything is fixed and frozen; there’s no more work and no more pressure to perform. Pore as we will over their output, what they’ve left behind in the world will never change.
Francesca Woodman was an artist who died young. She committed suicide, jumping from a window when she was twenty-two. I was thinking of waiting to tell you that, of trying to withhold the information until later in this essay, but the effort seemed futile: if you’re in art school, or read the New York Times, or have looked at the Guggenheim’s Web site lately, or even if you get the Skint, a daily New York events e-mail, you already know.
The Skint mention is particularly curious. Somehow, in a newsletter composed of brief, one-line descriptions of featured events, Woodman’s suicide merited inclusion: “Thru 6/13: 120 works of photographer francesca woodman (nsfw), who committed suicide at age 22 in 1981, go on display at the Guggenheim.” The implication seems to be that her suicide either makes her more interesting or more worthy of an exhibition.