David Bruce: Art Anecdotes

• In 1974, Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the comic strip Peanuts, was the Grand Marshall of the Rose Parade. His Peanuts comic strip of that time contains an in-joke: Linus walks into a room in which Lucy is watching the Rose Parade and asks, “Has the Grand Marshall gone by yet?” Lucy replies, “Yeah, you missed him … but he wasn’t anyone you ever heard of.” In one early cartoon, Charlie Brown worries that no one cares about him, and then he says, “I’ll bet that Doctor Spock cares about me.” Shortly afterward, Mr. Schulz received a letter from Doctor Benjamin Spock, author of a famous child-care book. The letter stated, “You can tell Charlie Brown that I care about him very much.” By the way, Mr. Schulz once said, “Cartooning is a fairlysort of proposition. You have to be fairly intelligent—if you were really intelligent, you’d be doing something else. You have to draw fairly well—if you drew really well, you’d be a painter. You have to write fairly well—if you wrote really well, you’d be writing books. It’s great for a fairly person like me.”

• Some people with creative and interesting jobs are willing to take the time to write replies to letters sent by young fans. In 2009, Graham Dury, a long-time cartoonist for the British comic “Viz,” sent a very nice letter to a young and talented artistic fan named Charlie [no, not Charles Schultz]:“Charlie, Thanks very much for sending me some of your cartoons. I showed them to everyone in the office and we all thought they were great. And you obviously have fun drawing them. When I was young, I met a lot of people who told me that drawing cartoons was a waste of time. If you meet any of these people, don’t listen to them! You’ve got a great talent and you should keep it up. I’ve sent you a pen holder and some nibs so as you can have a go at drawing some in ink — we usually draw them in pencil first then go over them. But be careful, as the nibs are sharp. Oh, and I’ve put you a Roger Mellie doll in as well because we can’t sell them. Best wishes and keep drawing. Graham Dury.”

• The television show Melrose Place, which was set in a Los Angeles, California, apartment complex,featured much work by up-and-coming artists. Conceptual artist Mel Chin once said, “Everyone criticizes television, but nobody tries to intervene to give it the meaning it lacks.” Therefore, Mr. Chin founded the GALA Committee to try to give television some culture. Mr. Chin approached MelrosePlace set decorator Deborah Siegel with the idea of placing avant-garde works of art in the show’s episodes, and she immediately agreed. The GALA Committee and Ms. Siegel collected works of art from around the country and worked them into the show, giving viewers a dose of culture. Some of the art was subversive. For example, Courtney Thorne-Smith’s character was featured in a couple of episodes struggling with an unplanned pregnancy. She snuggled in a quilt in those episodes: The quilt was decorated with the molecular structure of the abortion drug RU-486.

• The Taliban is against much art. In 1996, the Taliban rose to power in Afghanistan and immediately forbade paintings that depicted animals or humans. An Afghan physician named Muhammad Yousef Asefi, who was also an artist, wished to preserve this kind of art. Therefore, he used watercolor to paint over animals and humans, thereby disguising them. Dr. Asefi said about the Taliban, “They were determined to destroy the culture of Afghanistan. Gradually, step by step, they would have come around to destroying my paintings.” After the Taliban fell from power in Afghanistan in 2001,Dr. Asefi then used a wet sponge to remove the watercolor and restore the paintings to their original condition. Dr. Asefi said about the removal of the watercolor, “Taking it off is easy.” However, he added, “Putting it on was very difficult.” Dr. Asefi preserved much art for future generations to see.

• William Chase and James Abbott McNeillWhistler once painted each other’s portrait. Apparently, Mr. Whistler did not like Mr. Chase’s portrait of him. Mr. Whistler complained, “That you could have done this thing to me, when I made youthe dandy of the boulevards!” The two artists once headed out into the English countryside to paint, but when they arrived at the train station, Mr. Whistler’s blank canvases were missing. A police officer asked him, “Were they valuable?” Mr. Whistler replied, “Not yet!” By the way, John Singer Sargent once painted a portrait of Mr. Chase on a used canvas on which he had previously started to paint a portrait of another man. Over the years, the face of the other man began to show on the painting—it was upside down on Mr. Chase’s crotch. Such things can happen when an artist reuses an old canvas. (The canvas has since been retouched.)

• Do modern angels wear jeans and use mobile phones? How about statues of modern angels? In the city of Hertogenbosch (aka Den Bosch) in the south of the Netherlands is the Roman Catholic St. John’s Cathedral. Dozens of statues are in the medieval cathedral, and some of the statues are recently created. Sculptor Ton Mooy sculpted 25 new angels for the cathedral, and among them he sculpted one modern angel. The artist wanted to create a jet-pack-wearing angel, but that design was rejected, so he created an angel wearing jeans and using a mobile phone. The artist points out, “The phone has just one button. It dials directly to God.” (It’s also interesting to note that the cathedral also has a large stained-glass window depicting Hell—the window depicts 9-11.)

• Walking through the Louvre, Paul Valéry and artist Edgar Degas saw a large painting of large oak trees by Henri Rousseau. Mr. Valéry admired the painting, and he marveled at how the artist had painted so many individual leaves. He said, “It is superb, but how tedious, painting all those leaves. What a dreadful bore that must have been.” Mr. Degas responded, “Be still. Had it not been tedious, there would have been no enjoyment in it.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved