What Astrology Can Tell Us about These 12 Famous Artists
Chart from William Peck, A Handbook and Atlas of Astronomy, 1891. Photo by Science Museum/SSPL/Getty Images.
While you may not know the details of your entire astrological chart, you are likely at least familiar with your “sun sign,” which is based on the period of time in which you were born. This sign is believed to have the most influence on an individual’s personality, dictating one’s way of being in the world. Whether or not you believe in astrology, it can offer interesting ways to think about human behavior.
Artists in particular can benefit from astrology’s close examination of the ways in which people respond to emotions, process information, and develop individual principles. For astrology and art nerds alike, we’ve rounded up 12 artists to examine how their sun signs might have impacted their life and art.
Yayoi Kusama, born March 22, 1929
Aries (March 21st–April 20th)
Aries are sometimes described as divas; their bold personalities can command a room and drive them to be the best in all of their endeavors. Yayoi Kusama, with her beloved “Infinity Rooms,” polka-dotted installations, and gardens of mirrored orbs, exudes the dynamic, playful energy of Aries.
It is believed that each sign absorbs the lessons learned by the previous sign, but since there is no sign that precedes Aries, they often navigate the world with blind optimism. Luckily, this is the exact kind of attitude Kusama tapped into when she decided to be an artist. At a young age, her family relentlessly tried to make her conform to the conventional roles of women in Japan—which did not include being an artist.
But, equipped with her youthful optimism, Kusama ignored her family’s expectations and moved to New York to realize her artistic pursuits. She recounted in a short documentary: “When I first arrived in New York, I went to the top of the Empire State building; seeing this big city, I promised myself that one day I would conquer New York and make my name in the world with my passion for art and mountains of creative energy stored inside myself.”
Keith Haring, born May 4, 1958
Taurus (April 21st–May 21st)
Tauruses love indulgence and comfort—be it food, sex, art, or money—so it’s unsurprising that Keith Haring, an artist and safe-sex advocate, was a Taurus. For years, Haring dispersed his artworks throughout New York City’s subway system by filling advertising boards with his iconic line drawings. For Haring, graffiti was a way to share beauty with the public. “The reason to keep doing it was you were immediately seeing the power of this thing to communicate and stop [the public] in their tracks,” he once said in an interview. However, the police had different feelings about Haring’s graffiti, and arrested him on multiple occasions. One of Taurus’s most defining traits is stubborness, so, in true Taurean fashion, these arrests had no impact on Haring’s drive to fill the world with art.
Tauruses are known for their loyalty, and before Haring died of AIDS-related complications in 1990, at the age of 31, he created the Keith Haring Foundation to preserve his legacy, art, and ideals. To this day, the foundation continues Haring’s philanthropic contributions to underprivileged children and organizations related to AIDS and HIV—two communities he faithfully contributed to throughout his lifetime.
Damien Hirst, born June 7, 1965
Gemini (May 22nd–June 21st)
Damien Hirst in his exhibition “SCHIZOPHRENOGENESIS” at Paul Stolper Gallery, London, 2014. Courtesy of Paul Stolper Gallery.
Each sign has its own way of being in the world; while Aries identify with the phrase “I am” and Tauruses identify with the phrase “I have,” Geminis are represented by the phrase “I think.” Fittingly, Conceptual artist Damien Hirst is a Gemini.
One of Hirst’s most famous works is a tiger shark frozen inside of a vitrine filled with formaldehyde, entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living I (1991). But this ready-made approach is just one of many Hirst has taken on throughout his career; as of late, he’s been painting canvases with blots of color.
Represented by a set of twins, Geminis are often (unfairly) labeled as being two-faced. While their ability to flip between personality traits may seem unusual, they need to be able to adapt quickly in order to juggle their overwhelming amount of interests. Thus, Hirst’s ability to leap between disparate ideas and media resonates with being a Gemini.
If you need more convincing to believe that Hirst is a true Gemini, take a gander through his Instagram. Geminis are ruled by Mercury, the planet of communication, and love to constantly share every feeling and thought they have with the world; Hirst does just that with his 455,000 followers.
Frida Kahlo, born July 6, 1907
Cancer (June 22nd–July 22nd)
Cancers are one of the most emotional signs, but you would never guess it upon meeting one. They compensate for their incredible tenderness by shielding themselves from the world with a hard outer shell. In the rare instance that they do open up to someone, Cancers are said to become extremely invested in that person. Frida Kahlo, who suffered a lifetime of pain due to Polio and a near-death accident, and worked at a time when few women of color were recognized artists, opened up to one thing throughout her life: painting.
Most of Kahlo’s major life events (surgery, marriage, and divorce, to name a few) were made into paintings with great intensity and nuance, which could relate to her being a Cancer. In her 1938 painting What the Water Gave Me, Kahlo painted her legs and feet submerged in a bathtub filled with gray water. Symbolic images of her life appear underwater, floating to the surface. Kahlo’s Cancerian traits shine through in this type of painting, where real experiences are balanced with insightful emotion.
Andy Warhol, born August 6, 1928
Leo (July 23rd–August 22nd)
Ruled by the sun, Leos embody vitality and never stop spinning forward. With vain tendencies, they may have aspirations for glamour, genius, or superstardom. Andy Warhol, one of the best-known artists of the 20th century, can be seen as the epitome of a Leo. After finishing school in Pittsburgh, Warhol abandoned his birth name (Andrew Warhola), landed on his iconic hairstyle, and moved to New York City.
Warhol became a fierce innovator who knew his worth; not only was he an artist, he also worked as a magazine publisher, filmmaker, and band manager. He founded Andy Warhol Enterprises in 1975, and would create a portrait of anyone—that is, anyone who would pay him $25,000. By day, he led the Pop art movement with his colorful takes on automation and American commerce, and by night, he was getting into any nightclub he wanted to. Warhol was obsessed with celebrity culture, and in the end, he became one himself.
Sol LeWitt, born September 9, 1928
Virgo (August 23rd–September 22nd)
Virgos are keen to problem-solve every aspect of their life, organize endlessly, and strive for constant perfection. Accordingly, Sol LeWitt—a Conceptual artist known for having his assistants create intricate, wall-sized drawings from a list of instructions—was a Virgo.
LeWitt wanted to make sense of everything around him—especially art. So, in his words, he decided “to recreate art, to start from square one.” By using simple visual elements like squares and lines, he created hundreds of artworks that investigated the limits of simple geometry. He became a master of Conceptualism when he started creating artworks with lists of detailed directions. Instead of an institution or collector acquiring a physical artwork, they would purchase a set of instructions on how to create the work.
Another example of LeWitt’s Virgo spirit comes through with his 1994 artwork Wall Drawing No. 766, which is a nod to the translucent washes of color in fresco paintings. The artist described it as “ isometric cubes of varying sizes each with color ink washes superimposed.”
Mark Rothko, born September 25, 1903
Libra (September 23rd–October 22nd)
Libra is the only sign that is represented by an inanimate object; symbolized by scales, this sign is all about balance. Mark Rothko’s encompassing Abstract Expressionist paintings, which sensitively consider the weight and impact of color, are perfect examples of how Libras think: They want to create perfect harmony in every aspect of their lives. In his vibrating compositions, Rothko struck up the perfect balance of monumentality and intimacy.
Because Libras are ruled by Venus, the planet of love and beauty, they surround themselves with exquisite visuals. As they edit and balance their lives, curation becomes second nature. These sensibilities may be seen in Rothko’s strict specifications for how his paintings should be shown—away from other artworks, hung together in a room, lit with low light.
Rothko established friendships with artists whom he highly respected, like Milton Avery and Adolph Gottlieb, and enjoyed having intense intellectual dialogues about art with them. These relationships were extremely meaningful to Rothko, who, in Libra fashion, valued the quality of objects and ideas equally.
Georgia O’Keeffe, born November 15, 1887
Scorpio (October 23rd–November 22nd)
When one thinks of Georgia O’Keeffe, a few connotations may come to mind: her sumptuous paintings of colorful flowers (which have been read as sensual), her abstracted visions of nature, and her reputation for leading a solitary life as an artist in the New Mexico desert. These various associations—which focus on mystery, eroticism, illumination, and ambition—are strongly linked to the personality traits of a Scorpio, an intense water sign associated with mysticism, physical passion, and spiritual awakening.
Scorpions are the mascot of Scorpios, and fittingly, this sign will often sting when least expected. In some instances, this type of behavior can get Scorpios into all types of trouble, but at other times, a little poison can help them feel in control of their direction. O’Keeffe may have been using this attitude to her advantage while she was finding her artistic voice; as a student, she grew tired of the academic training she was receiving, and quit painting for a period of time. “You were taught to paint like somebody else,” she said in an interview. “[It] made me not want to paint at all. You want to paint your own way!”
O’Keeffe’s absence from the medium did not last long; within a few years of leaving school, she discovered her own style of painting and pushed forward without abandon.
Marina Abramović, born November 30, 1946
Sagittarius (November 23rd–December 22nd)
When Marina Abramović explains the difference between performance art and theater, she commonly uses this example: In theater, the blood and knife are fake, whereas in performance art, they’re real. Her intense searching for realness, knowledge, and authenticity is in keeping with Sagittarius-type behavior.
In 2010, Abramović performed The Artist is Present during her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art; every day, Abramović would sit at a table and stare into the eyes of an audience member sitting across from her. Her gaze, unmoving and hard, looked as if she was searching for the answers to the afterlife in the participants’ eyes—a stare that perhaps only a Sagittarius could pull off.
Sagittariuses glow with curiosity because they’re constantly on a quest for knowledge. Frequent travelers, this fire sign loves exploring the world to gain experiences that they can then recall to friends with their excellent storytelling skills. And when it comes to lovers, their partner must be willing to throw caution to the wind as they join Sagittarius on wild adventures. Unsurprisingly, Abramović spent years of her life travelling the world with her former long-time partner and collaborator Ulay—who happens to have the same birthday as her.
Eva Hesse, born January 11, 1936
Capricorn (December 23rd–January 20th)
Capricorns are often labeled as workaholics; they’re always working towards a goal, and nothing will thwart them from making accomplishments. This quality greatly impacted the life and art practice of the Capricorn Eva Hesse in both positive and negative ways.
Once Hesse discovered her artistic talents, there was no turning back. At first, she worked in the medium of painting, but later on, she created sculptures from toxic materials like resin, fiberglass, and synthetic plastics. Many believe her use of these materials, without preventative measures to protect her health, contributed to her early death at the age of 34. Regardless of whether or not this is true, Hesse’s fearless use of unusual materials highlights her determination to access whatever means necessary to make her work.
Since Capricorns tend to look towards the future, it’s easy for them to get caught up in anxiety about the years ahead, rather than the present moment. Because of these tendencies, it’s important for Capricorns to practice letting go of their work efforts every now and then to focus on themselves and their loved ones. As Hesse wrote in one of her diaries: “I might just have to believe in me more before working will mean something.”
Yoko Ono, born February 18, 1933
Aquarius (January 21st–February 19th)
Surprisingly, Aquarius is not a water sign, but an air sign (despite being represented by the water bearer, who gives life and spiritual nutrition to the world). Along with Libra and Gemini, these breezy characters are said to be able to grasp abstract ideas with ease. Like many Aquarians, Yoko Ono, a multidisciplinary artist commonly known for her performance work Cut Piece (1964), is known for having radical opinions, challenging authority, and developing her own unique style.
From her peace activism efforts to her feminist songwriting and unique forms of protest, Ono has branded herself with themes of individual freedom and equality. In the late 1960s, she and her longtime partner John Lennon (who was a Libra) came up with the idea of “bagism,” a form of satirical resistance in which people wear bags over their bodies to eliminate the potential for discrimination. Instead of being judged for their physical appearance, bagists are only acknowledged for their “message.”
And in 1972, the pair released a song called “We’re All Water,” which has lyrics, written by Ono, including “we’re all water from different rivers” and “we’ll all evaporate together.” The song prompts that when we die, and our bodies decay, all differences between us vanish—which speaks to the big ideas Aquarians truly believe in.
Anish Kapoor, born March 12, 1954
Pisces (February 20th–March 20th)
Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, 2004-06. Photo by Thomas Hawk, via Flickr.
Every sign learns the lessons of those that come before it. So Pisces, the last sign in the zodiac, have learned all of the lessons there are to know; but since they’re last, they’re also closest to the beginning. This unique placement makes Pisces both the wisest and most childish of all the celestial creatures. This combination of the compassion of a child and the reflective spirit of an aged adult seems fitting for Anish Kapoor, who creates artworks that ride the line between playfulness and existential concerns.
Best known for Cloud Gate (2004–06), a large, reflective public sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park that’s also known as “The Bean,” Kapoor creates artworks that are visually enticing, yet steeped in heady themes like immateriality and duality. Pisces are represented by two fish swimming in opposite directions, a nod to their interests in both imagination and reality. In his work, Kapoor has reflected on the importance of considering dualities. As he once stated: “The experience of opposites allows for the expression of wholeness.”