The restoration of the beautiful soul construct in the lives and works of six visual artists: Wassily Kandinsky, Käthe Kollwitz, Jacob Lawrence, Mark Rothko, Vincent van Gogh, and Remedios Varo
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The Nobel Prize, arguably the most prestigious acknowledgement of ethical achievement, was established by Alfred Nobel to honor those who have performed “to the greatest benefit of mankind” (Nobel, 2018). Despite the many categories for which Nobel laureates are recognized, there is no category that specifically recognizes the visual artist. In addition, many other direct and indirect measures of individual ethical achievement, such as Gallup’s annual most admired man and woman poll, rarely mention artists. This lack raises an important question: Do contributions to the visual arts fall outside the realm of ethics, thus rendering visual artists ineligible to stand as models of the ethical life? This dissertation aims to cultivate an understanding of the visual artist as a type of ethical exemplar known as the “restored beautiful soul,” a theoretical construct proposed here for the first time in the Masi Model of the Artist as Restored Beautiful Soul (MMARBS). This construct combines the kalos kagathos ideal of the “beautiful soul,” which originated in ancient Greece as the fusion of the beautiful and the good and was revived by Enlightenment philosophers, with a restorative additional element of the communal. Using this new theoretical construct, this investigation analyzes the lives, practices, and influences of six prominent late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century visual artists: Wassily Kandinsky, Käthe Kollwitz, Jacob Lawrence, Mark Rothko, Vincent van Gogh, and Remedios Varo. This investigation is not simply a theoretical foray into the construct of the ethical artist, however; it is also a practical contribution to the field of arts education. Currently, arts schools and art programs at institutions of higher learning offer little guidance to help aspiring young artists ground their lives and work in a comprehensive system of personal and professional ethics. To remedy this deficiency, arts educators can incorporate the case examples from this investigation into their own curricula, and, more important still, apply the MMARBS construct to other historical and contemporary artists. Thus, using this new construct, arts educators can develop one-of-a-kind curricula tailored to the needs of specific students, providing those students with role models to demonstrate what it means to maintain a sense of integrity with respect to one’s work, one’s viewers, and one’s community over a career spanning a lifetime.