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Edgar Allan Poe and Jean-Michel Basquiat Comparison


Art has accompanied people throughout the entire human history. It has changed many shapes, grew and developed in many ways, and gave birth to multiple forms, streams, and genres. However, there is something that unites all forms of art from all historical periods – the creative thought hidden behind artworks and a passionate desire to express complex and deeply intimate feelings and emotions experienced by the artists. The purpose of this research paper is to explore the lives and artistic works of two outstanding creators – Edgar Allan Poe and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Both of these artists were born and worked in the United States but lived in different periods of history.

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Also, they dedicated their lives and talents to two different forms of art as Poe was a poet and a writer while Basquiat was a painter. Regardless of this drastic difference, the artistic journeys, life paths, and works of the two men of art can be compared to find out more details and learn about the experiences that helped shape the artists. Even though Poe and Basquiat belonged to different historical times and worked in different fields of art, their lives shared some common aspects such as addictions to intoxicating substances, financial struggles, and personal and psychological problems; at the same time, the artworks of the two artists shared depth, emotional content, but differed in the underlying vision and artistic purposes.

Similarities between Lives and Experiences of Poe and Basquiat

Living in completely dissimilar societies, Poe and Basquiat still shared some similar aspects, events, and experiences. Exploring the lives of Poe and Basquiat in a more general manner, it is possible to notice that both of them died early and due to tragic accidents involving the consumption of intoxicating substances such as drugs and alcohol (“Edgar Allan Poe,” n.d.; “Jean-Michel Basquiat,” 2017). Another similarity between the lives of the two artists was the fact that they were born in the United States of America and eventually became well-known in their respective fields. Poe was involved in the publishing of a magazine which helped him popularize his works and ideas. Basquiat became relevant and noticeable enough to make a professional connection with one of the most famous artists of the time – Andy Warhol (“Jean-Michel Basquiat biography,” n.d.). Finally, regardless of the recognition, both artists faced significant financial struggles that limited their artistic capacity. In terms of personal and family lives, both artists were affected by serious family dramas that eventually caused their separation from the people who raised them.

Differences between Lives and Experiences of Poe and Basquiat

One of the main differences between the lives and experiences of the two artists was in their relationships with families and the support for their passion for art. To be more precise, Basquiat’s mother was highly appreciative and supportive of his art ever since his childhood (“Jean-Michel Basquiat biography,” n.d.). In contrast, Poe’s foster father had a specific vision for his son’s career development and pushed him to go into business (“Edgar Allan Poe,” n.d.). Consequently, as Poe dropped out of university and decided to pursue writing and poetry, the conflict between him and his family intensified (Symons, 2014).

When it comes to Basquiat’s education, it was poorer than that of Poe because as a teenager, Basquiat dropped out of high school (“Jean-Michel Basquiat,” 2017). Also, facing serious financial problems and attempting to make ends meet the two artists chose different ways of earning money. Basquiat’s choice fell on selling postcards and t-shirts with the prints of his artworks. Poe’s solution to the scarcity of money was gambling which eventually led to the complete impoverishment of the writer (Quinn, n.d.; “Biography,” n.d.). Moreover, Basquiat’s hard work and connections helped him become a well-known and celebrated artist of the time selling his work for tens of thousands of dollars. Poe’s story was very different as his financial instability never ended and throughout his entire life, the author continued to suffer in poverty.

Similarities between Artworks of Poe and Basquiat

First of all, discussing the works of Poe and Basquiat, it is important to note that both artists were known for their unique and unconventional styles that stood at the onset of new movements in their respective fields of art. Specifically, Poe was one of the first poets and writers who actively emphasized horror themes. The author produced multiple dark and scary stories showing the inevitability of faith, the mortality of humans, and the tragic loss of loved ones. In addition to the exploration of unconventional approaches, Poe also focused on perfecting his works using developing theories of a writing helping authors create phrases, characters, descriptions, and storylines that would have a maximum impact on the readers thus making the works remarkably powerful (“Biography,” n.d.).

The artworks of Jean-Michel Basquiat stood out due to their unique style that combined numerously simplified and symbolic images of characters, events, and phenomena with complex color schemes and interesting artistic solutions. His growth and development as an artist, as well as the popularization of his works, happened at the same time as the onset of a new movement in the visual art known as neo-expressionism (“Jean-Michel Basquiat,” 2017). In his artworks, Basquiat explored a variety of themes including socio-economic issues, political problems, the meaning of religion, pop culture, and the place of average people in the world. Also, the color black played quite an important role in the works of Poe and Basquiat; however, its use was rather different.

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Differences between Artworks of Poe and Basquiat

As it was mentioned previously, Poe’s style is highly recognizable due to a strong focus on a narrow range of themes such as death and a tragic loss of loved ones presented with the help of dire and dark sceneries. In contrast, the themes explored by Basquiat were very diverse and included all kinds of subjects and issues without having a specific focus. Using the color black often in their works, Poe and Basquiat employed it for very different purposes. Particularly, Poe’s black was associated with death, sorrow, and fear; Basquiat’s black was added to his paintings for contrast and was used to portray ethnic diversity since it was frequently and heavily used to depict people’s bodies and faces. Also, it is important to notice that even though Poe and Basquiat both faced multiple challenges throughout their personal and professional journeys in life, the works of Basquiat did not portray as much tragedy as those of Poe.

Messages in Artworks of Poe and Basquiat

Regardless of the similarly tragic and challenging lives of Poe and Basquiat, it is still possible to notice that the overall styles of the two men of art reflected their experiences in life. Specifically, Poe struggled with failed relationships and the loss of his wife, battled depression, gave in to addictions, and suffered from poverty; as a result, his view of life and destiny showed in his works became heavily impacted by his emotional state (Symons, 2014). Standing for perfection in literature and poetry, for the excellence of techniques, and the creation of flawless images and stories, Poe combined the themes that he deemed essential with his thorough approach to writing.

The messages he tried to communicate included the fragility of life, the inevitability of death and suffering, and the power of love. Apart from the reflections of his personal experiences, Poe’s works also served as the author’s shelter to which he escaped from his sad reality (Symons, 2014). In contrast with Poe’s messages, the ones presented by Basquiat were heavily affected by the movements of art that were popular in his time. Particularly, pop art and neo-expressionism made the painter’s messages more casual and pragmatic. Basquiat’s messages communicated the author’s surroundings such as clubs, underground, homelessness, and consumerism (“Important art by Jean-Michel Basquiat,” 2017). Also, the themes related to a death can be found in his works that commonly featured skulls. Such motifs were used as symbols typical for African art and carried a message of the degeneration of the human body.


Edgar Allan Poe and Jean-Michel Basquiat both had very complex lives filled with challenges and losses. The experiences of the two men of art reflected on their works in different manners. While Poe transferred his depressive thoughts and sorrow into his poems and stories depicting tragic events and horrific scenarios, Basquiat used his works to show the uniqueness of his vision via the unconventional imagery, symbolism, and complex color schemes. Poe’s writing techniques were thoroughly thought through and aimed at the creation of flawless masterpieces; and Basquiat embraced flaws and emphasized them.


Biography. (n.d.). Web.

Edgar Allan Poe. (n.d.). 

Important art by Jean-Michel Basquiat. (2017). 

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Jean-Michel Basquiat. (2017). Web.Jean-Michel Basquiat biography. (n.d.). 

Symons, J. (2014). The life and works of Edgar Allen Poe. Cornwall, UK: House of Stratus.

Quinn, A. H. (n.d.). Edgar Allan Poe: A critical biography. 

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