Diane Arbus: A Biography Summary & Study Guide

Patricia Bosworth
This Study Guide consists of approximately 24 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Diane Arbus.
This section contains 457 words
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Diane Arbus: A Biography Summary & Study Guide Description

Diane Arbus: A Biography Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Diane Arbus: A Biography by Patricia Bosworth.

Diane Arbus was a tragic figure in the Shakespearean sense. Like Shakespeare's heroes, Diane suffered a fatal flaw—mental illness—and in the end was destroyed by it. Born to wealthy parents, Diane enjoyed a protected, cloistered childhood, attending a secularized Jewish elementary school and being attended by maids, cooks, and nannies. By the time she was in high school, however, Diane began a dual lifestyle, one of an intelligent and artistic girl of privilege, the other of a risk-taking adventurer, seeking excitement by observing and participating in "seedier" sides of New York life. Falling in love at fifteen, she married her first love, Allan Arbus, at age eighteen, and began a career partnering with him as a fashion photographer. Finding the work unfulfilling, Diane set off on her own, creating series of photographs with society's freaks and outcasts as subjects. To complete these studies, Diane often traveled to dangerous and strange setting, such as slum areas of New York, the subways at night, freak shows, and institutions. She photographed midgets, giants, transvestites, nudists, and retardants, as well as individual portraits of those involved in all of the sub-cultures of Central Park, a place growing increasingly dangerous in the 1960s. When some of her photographs were displayed at the Museum of Modern Art, her work shocked viewers of the time, but she continued undeterred.

Diane suffered depression most of her life, and this condition was exacerbated by the loss of her husband, the withdrawal of love and attention on the part of several lovers and/or mentors, bouts with hepatitis and financial difficulties, and, ultimately, lack of fulfillment from her work. She attempted to juggle motherhood as a single mom after Allan moved to California with his new wife while working in fashion because she needed the money, and pursuing her first love: portfolios of the aberrant. She became increasingly manic in social relationships, and her depressions increased in severity as well. The comparative success and happiness of her brother, Howard, as a poet, and her sister Renee and husband, as sculptors, moreover, seemed to diminish her own achievements. with this stress and disappointment weighing heavy, Diane committed suicide in July, 1971, at age forty-five.

While most of Diane's work was considered inappropriate and even disgusting, her legacy in photography grew after her death, both because of her techniques and because she moved the realm of acceptable subject matter to new limits. Most professionals recognize that the genius of Diane Arbus lay in her ability to capture psychological depths of her subjects, which others, though they try, are unable to do. Indeed, in her own words, Diane claimed that others might perhaps never see certain things if she did not photograph them.

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