David Bruce: The Coolest People in Art — Education, Fame

Education

• As a young art student at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Louise Bourgeois studied under painter Fernand Légar. In one class, Mr. Légar took a wood shaving and pinned it under a shelf for the students to draw. Ms. Bourgeois says, “I was very interested in the spiral of the shaving, the form it took and its trembling quality.” As soon as Mr. Légar saw her drawing, he took her, “You are not a painter. You are a sculptor.” He was right. Ms. Bourgeois became a renowned sculptor.

• When architect Frank Lloyd Wright first started offering fellowships at his own studio, called Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin, students arrived even before doors were hung at the entrances of their rooms. One student, William Wesley Peters, wanted to sleep behind a door, so he went to Mr. Wright’s house, found a guest room, took its door, and started carrying it away. However, Mr. Wright’s wife, Olgivanna, discovered what he was doing and stopped him.

• When James McNeill Whistler was at West Point, he was a much better artist than he was a horseback rider. Once he was riding in a line with some other cadets, when they all came to a stop. The other cadets stayed in the saddle, but Mr. Whistler pitched forward in front of his horse. His riding instructor, who was well accustomed to Mr. Whistler’s failings as a rider, told him, “Mr. Whistler, I am pleased to see you for once at the head of your class.”

• Sculptor David Smith attended Ohio University for a while, but he wasn’t happy there: “I was required to use a little brush, a little pencil, to work on a little area, which put me in the position of knitting — not exactly my forte.” Therefore, Mr. Smith transferred to Notre Dame, but not for long. Before transferring, he had forgotten to check to make sure that Notre Dame actually offered courses in art.

• A sculptor once had a child in kindergarten. For an entire year, the sculptor came into the kindergarten class — at the request of the teacher — once a week and “loved” clay. He didn’t teach the children, but simply came in and “loved” clay. Just by watching the sculptor, the children also learned to “love” clay and became very creative with it.

• Landscape artist Joseph Turner (1775-1851) once was walking in the country with the Rev. Trimmer, when he saw a black cow standing against the sun. After looking at it carefully, he remarked that the cow’s color was really purple, not black, as it was normally painted.

• Aliki Brandenberg, author/illustrator of such children’s books as Mummies Made in Egyptand How a Book is Made, used to practice drawing her toes. Why? It was too hard to practice drawing her fingers, because she was using them.

Fame

• One problem with writing literature is that it doesn’t pay well. Therefore, William Burroughs, author of Naked Lunchand Junkie, started making paintings when he was old and Beat poet Allen Ginsburg started making money from his photography when he was old. Mr. Burroughs used to make shotgun paintings: He would put paint cans in front of blank canvases and then shoot the paint cans. The resulting splatters of paint created the works of art, which were taken seriously in the art world. Mr. Ginsburg even had a coffee table book of his photographs published. Mr. Ginsburg was no fool: He knew what was going on. He said, “If you’re famous, you can get away with anything! William Burroughs spent the last ten years painting, and makes a lot more money out of his painting than he does out of his previous writing. If you establish yourself in one field, it’s possible that people then take you seriously in another. Maybe too seriously. I know lots of great photographers who are a lot better than me, who don’t have a big, pretty coffee table book like I have. I’m lucky.”

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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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