The Greatest Art Motivated By Rivalries



Whether they’re fine art arguments or the feuds we see on reality shows, rivalries often lead to great art. Don’t believe us? Here are just five examples, from industrial design to architecture.

The Looney Tunes

If you love the Looney Tunes, which have been argued as among the greatest artistic achievements of the twentieth century, you have Eddie Selzer to thank. Because he was a great producer? A great writer? A comic genius? No! Because nobody on the Warner Bros. lot could stand him!

Selzer, to give you an idea of how much fun he was, once asked what laughter had to do with cartoons. That charming personality gave everyone a burning desire to contradict him and one-up him. So when he, say, demanded that Slyvester stay the heck away from Tweety? They were inseparable. A blanket ban on all skunks? Meet Pepe Le Pew.

The net result of this disobedience? Several Oscars and some of the most beloved films of all time. Not bad for being profoundly disliked.

Lamborghini and Ferrari

Italian sports cars are feats of engineering and design, but the rivalry between Lamborghini and Ferrari has some surprisingly modest roots. Lamborghini, back in the day, was famed not for its cars but for its farm equipment. Ferruccio Lamborghini, a man who knew something about engines, sent a polite request to Enzo Ferrari, head of the sports car marque: Could he perhaps do something about the clutch?

Ferrari infamously told Lamborghini that he was too dumb to understand the glory of his cars, and that was all it took; Lamborghini went into the sports car business. The two companies have been trying to top each other in performance, body work, and style ever since.

Brunelleschi and Ghiberti

Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti were two of the most famed sculptors of the Renaissance, but they also weren’t fans of each other. It started at the Florence Cathedral, in a close fight over who got to sculpt the bronze doors in 1401. But it wasn’t until 1418 that it was settled.

Brunelleschi constructed a model of the dome that was elegant, clever, and brilliant… but Ghiberti was the local hero, so he was hired to “assist” Brunelleschi. Brunelleschi expected as much, but also knew Ghiberti was no architect.

So Brunelleschi suddenly “fell sick,” leaving Ghiberti to try and figure out his model. Ghiberti promptly blew it, and when a miraculously cured Brunelleschi returned, he trashed both what his rival had built and his reputation, and finished off the dome. It was the largest dome in the world at the time, and it’s still the largest masonry dome.

And did we mention it was the only dome with no frame? Spite is a powerful motivator!

Matisse and Picasso

You don’t generally associate two beloved modern painters who changed the course of art with a full on intellectual brawl, but for both their lives, that was Picasso and Matisse in a nutshell. Most of their brawling was in the form of paintings: They’d try to one-up each other painting the same subject, sometimes even using the same title. The results are some of the best paintings in modernism.

Pollock and DeKooning

This is probably one of the oddest rivalries in that it was driven not by these two painters… but by the critics who championed them. Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg wound up supporting Pollock and DeKooning respectively, as much out of dislike for each other as love for the art. The rivalry largely defined post-modern fine art and the art that came afterward, and it’s a rivalry we’re better for.

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