David Bruce: The Coolest People in Art — Critics


• Polyclitus, an ancient Greek sculptor, once created two statues. One statue he kept private; the other he displayed to visitors. Often, a visitor would criticize the statue in some way, saying that the eyes were too far apart or that a thigh was too long. Whenever someone criticized the statue, Polyclitus would “fix” whatever the visitor had criticized. When both statues were completed, he exhibited both statues. The statue he had worked on in private was pronounced a masterpiece; the one that had been “fixed” by taking into account the criticisms of visitors was laughed at. Polyclitus was asked, “How can one statue be so good and the other statue be so bad?” He replied, “Because Idid this one, andyoudid that one.”

• Two Chicago artists, Anders Nilsen and Cheryl Weaver, lived together before her death from cancer. She took wonderful photographs, but she did not want to show her photographs in public. According to Mr. Nilsen, “She didn’t want to be there and have to hear people talk about what they thought.” Therefore, Mr. Nilsen spent a lot of time unsuccessfully attempting to convince her to show her photographs in public. Actually, it’s a good thing he did spend his time doing this. He chuckles and says, “The more I tried, the more she would resist. But then if I didn’t try, we’d fight because she didn’t think that I thought she was a good artist.”

• When he was 11 years old, actor Brian Blessed met Pablo Picasso when his father took him to Sheffield to visit the World Peace Congress. Young Brian told Picasso, “You’re not Picasso — you sound more like Carmen Miranda. Prove it — draw me something.” Picasso drew his famous peace dove, but young Brian told him, “That’s not a dove!” — and then Brian gave it back to him. Picasso said, “It’s the first time I have a true critic.” In 2008, the then 71-year-old Brian said, “The drawing is now in the Sheffield City Hall and worth £11.5 million.”

• A visitor to the home of painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler made comments on several of Whistler’s paintings, finding fault with each one. Looking at Whistler’s latest painting, the visitor said that it was “not good.” Whistler responded, “You shouldn’t say it is not good. You should say you do not like it, and then, you know, you are perfectly safe. Now come and have something you do like — have some whiskey.”

• Early in his career, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, like other Impressionists, sometimes traded his paintings for things that he needed. Mr. Renoir once agreed to paint a portrait of the wife of a cobbler in exchange for a pair of shoes. He remembered, “Every time I thought the picture was finished and saw myself wearing the shoes, along came the aunt, the daughter, and even the old servant, to criticize.”

• When Pablo Picasso invented Cubism, most people did not know how to interpret it. Some Americans once looked at a nude by Picasso in an exhibit and thought it was a fire escape! As editor of a magazine, Guillaume Apollinaire published some Cubist drawings by Picasso. Unfortunately, the public was so outraged by the drawings that Mr. Apollinaire was forced to resign.

• Sister Parish, an American interior decorator and socialite, lived for style and fashion. As an interior decorator, she would go through her bosses’ possessions, tossing anything she deemed unworthy — including her bosses’ sentimental keepsakes. She once told a far-from-innocent bystander (who was guilty of a gross lack of style), “If you don’t do something about your hair, you will be ruined.

• Artist/writer Edward Gorey was a man of wit and intelligence. Edmund Wilson once criticized Mr. Gorey’s prose, so Mr. Gorey dedicated his next book to the eminent critic. The book consisted of illustrations only — it had no prose at all.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved



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