Gambling has always been a very interesting motif for painters, writers, filmmakers, and poets – that is to say, artists in general – just like is interesting for sports fans. Such avid interest should not surprise the reader as gambling has always been a “forbidden fruit”, a source of, on the one hand, a lot of fun and happiness for those with a winning hand, and, on the other, a lot of misery for those not knowing when to fold. This article outlines some of the most interesting classic and contemporary artworks (a series of paintings, a song, and a movie) related to gambling.

Painting and gambling

Let me start with Paul Cézanne‘s series of paintings called “The Card Players”. This series of paintings dating from the late 1890s portray peasants playing cards. All card players are male, mostly wearing hats that were popular at the time, drinking hard liquor and smoking. Their faces are serious, and the room they play in, usually a tavern, full of smoke and, although we cannot see that on the paintings, probably musty, damp and stale. This series of paintings inspired a well-known painting “Dogs Playing Poker” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge.

Music and gambling

Gambling is also a very common motif found in music and poetry. What might come to mind of a majority of readers of this article is Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”. While we are staying in America, I want to go a little further back to the 1950s and write a couple of words about Johnny Cash’s/Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”. The cult song speaks of two strangers meeting one another on a train. They happen to be two gamblers, and the older, more experienced one, teaches the younger (the singer) about gambling and life over a bottle of whiskey and a cigarette. The secret to a happy life is contained in the chorus:

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,

Know when to walk away and know when to run.

You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.

There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

The older and wiser man puts down the glass and the cigarette, “brakes even”, but the younger gambler remembers his wise last words as “an ace that he could keep”.

Movies and gambling

From 1890s France to 1950s America and the modern-day USA, we come to a 2014 movie called The Gambler, directed by Rupert Wyatt and starring Mark Wahlberg as the lead character. It is a remake of 1974 movie of the same name directed by James Toback. The plot follows the life of Jim Bennett, a literature professor with a severe gambling problem. He inherits a lot of money from his grandfather but loses it all in a casino. He ends up owing a lot of money to wrong people who threaten to kill him if he does not pay the money back, and his situation gets more complicated after he falls in love with one of his students. Whether he is going to overcome his problems is the question I leave to the reader of this article.