David Bruce: The Coolest People in Art — Birth, Books

Birth

• On 25 October 1881, Pablo Picasso was born, but the midwife who assisted at his birth thought that he was stillborn. Fortunately, Pablo’s uncle, a doctor named Salvador, blew some cigar smoke in the face of the still infant, who suddenly began to move, demonstrating that he was very much alive.

• Artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, although he did not always acknowledge that fact. Once a visitor told him that he was also born in Lowell. Mr. Whistler replied, “I do not choose to be born at Lowell.”

Books

• Critic Roger Ebert loves movies, and he loves books. When he is at leisure, he sometimes looks through his copy of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,where he discovers things such as the meaning of “Giotto’s O,” which is this: The Pope wanted to employ very good Italian artists, and so he sent a man to collect samples of their work so that he could look at them. When the man reached Giotto, Giotto simply painted a perfect O and gave it to the man. The Pope looked at the perfect O and commissioned Giotto to paint for him. Among the many other books that Mr. Ebert treasures is a facsimile of Shakespeare’s First Folio, which his wife, Chaz, gave him. However, Mr. Ebert says that he will never read it because of its spelling and typography. When he reads Shakespeare, he reads the Riverside Shakespeare that he read in college because it was edited by one of his professors: G. Blakemore Evans. Once, Mr. Ebert tried to read a Folio volume; however, he discovered that he couldn’t despite the advantages it possessed: “I tried reading a Folio volume once. Just the right page size, one (not two) columns to the page, elegant typography. I just couldn’t. I felt like I was cheating on G. Blakemore.”

• How long does it take to write a book? According to children’s author Rafe Martin, his book Will’s Mammothtook either three years or 30 seconds to write. Growing up in New York City, Rafe and his young friends used to climb a boulder called Elephant Rock. When he was on top of the boulder, he imagined that the rock came alive and he was riding on an elephant. For the book, however, he turned the elephant into a woolly mammoth. He worked on the book for three years, making it a long story, but after three years of writing, he had a 30-second inspiration that the book didn’t need words; instead, pictures could tell the story in a wordless book. And so Will’s Mammothhas many pictures that tell the story. By the way, Rafe once took his children to see Elephant Rock, but by then it had been bulldozed away!

• Tomie dePaola has written and illustrated a number of children’s books featuring Strega Nona, who has magical powers. Seeming inconsistencies appear in the books, which have been created over a number of years, with sometimes years passing in between books. For example, near Strega Nona’s house in various books appears a tree: Sometimes it’s a bare tree, sometimes it’s a cypress, and sometimes it’s a stylized design. In addition, a small goat shed may or may not appear near her house. Mr. dePaola is not bothered by such seeming inconsistencies, claiming, “It’s part of Strega Nona’s magic.”

• The books of Edward Gorey are macabre. After his book The Beastly Babywas published — a work that author Alexander Theroux calls “one of the most calmly irreverent and horrific pieces I have ever read” — mothers who had purchased the book used to read it, be horrified, rip it into pieces, and mail it to Mr. Gorey. The famed illustrator/author, whose books seldom have a happy ending, was once asked why he hated children. He replied, “I don’t know any children.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN ART

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