David Bruce: The Coolest People in Art — Caldecott Medal,Censorship and Free Speech, Children

Caldecott Medal

• Chris Van Allsburg started his professional artistic life as a sculptor, then began illustrating children’s books. He has won two Caldecott Medals, including one for The Polar Express, and he has illustrated a Caldecott Honor book: The Garden of Abdul Gasazi. When he branched out from sculpture to make his first picture book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, he used pencil because that was what he used to create sketches for his work in sculpture. Mr. Van Allsburg says, “At the time, there were not many books illustrated with pencil drawings (there still aren’t). When the book came out, many people complimented me on how creative and original they thought I was for having chosen to illustrate the book with charcoal pencil drawings. The truth was, I couldn’t have done it any other way.”

• Children’s picture book creator Ezra Jack Keats became famous when his book The Snowy Daywon a Caldecott Medal. He wore celebratory underwear while accepting the prize — his undershirt and underpants were decorated with Caldecott insignia and mottos.

Censorship and Free Speech

• One of the things that Jenny Holzer has wanted to do in her career is to take art to the people, and so she has worked with the written word and has worked to put her words in places where people can see them. One early project was her series of truisms, which have appeared on T-shirts and the JumboTRON at Candlestick Park in San Francisco and the Spectacolor board in Times Square, as well as many other public places. Many of her truisms provoke thought — for example, “SLIPPING INTO MADNESS IS GOOD FOR THE SAKE OF COMPARISON,” “FATHERS OFTEN USE TOO MUCH FORCE,” and “ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE.” One truism resulted in censorship. In 1982, Ms. Holzer had an exhibit in the lobby of New York’s Marine Midland Bank. One truism was “IT’S NOT GOOD TO OPERATE ON CREDIT.” When a bank employee noticed this truism, the exhibit was shut down.

• Lesbian cartoonist Jennifer Camper’s postcard “Answers” was once seized by the United States Postal Service, which deemed it in violation of laws banning the use of mails for “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, vile, or indecent things.” In the cartoon on the postcard, a man crudely propositions a lesbian. In response to the man’s invitation to engage in fornication, the woman says such things as these: “No, but do you have a sister at home?” “Sorry, sweetheart, but your tits are too small.” “Naw — my girlfriend would kill me.”

• In 1917, Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco visited the United States, taking with him over 100 watercolor paintings and drawings. However, customs officials examined his artwork and declared that much of it was immoral, lewd, and offensive. Of course, Mr. Orozco protested, pointing out the figures in the works of art were not even nude. Nevertheless, the customs officials confiscated over 60 of his watercolors and tore them up.

• José Vasconcelos hired many muralists to create art in buildings in Mexico City. However, some of the murals were controversial, and unfortunately, many Mexicans didn’t like them. In fact, a few Mexicans disliked some murals so much that they destroyed them. For a while, the muralists painted while armed with pistols to discourage would-be censors.

• To understand this joke, you have to know that Adolf Hitler was once an artist. The Dutch used to make fun of the Nazis by raising their arm and saying, “Heil Rembrandt.” Whenever a Nazi asked what they were doing, they would reply, “You have your painters; we have ours.”

Children

• Brian Brooks is the artist who gave the cult character Emily the Strange (who is sullen and thirteen years old) much of her style and personality. Emily the Strange, of course, appears on T-shirts and other merchandise. For example, one T-shirt shows Emily the Strange in a pose much like Uncle Sam’s recruiting pose, but Emily’s message is “I WANT YOU to leave me alone.” A cult character that Mr. Brooks created by himself is Oopsy Daisy, who attempts to stay out of trouble — but with little success. A best-selling Oopsy T-shirt shows the character and the words, “Oopsy, I said the F-word.” Even when he was a kid, Mr. Brooks knew what he wanted to do: create art and have people appreciate it. At age 12, he even had his own company, Brooks Publishing Limited. Unfortunately, it was a fictitious company because it had no business. At the time, the audience for his art consisted of three people: his mother and his two brothers. However, he worked hard at creating art, and by the time he finished high school, his file cabinet held over 2,000 of his drawings, organized in chronological order.

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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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