David Bruce: The Coolest People in Art — Names, Nudity, One-Man Shows

Names

• Very early in her career, American painter Mary Cassatt wanted to get one of her paintings in the prestigious Salon exhibition in Paris. She felt that the judges selecting which paintings would be hung in the exhibition favored foreign artists, so she submitted a painting that was signed only with her first and middle names — “Mary Stevenson” — because she knew that her middle name sounded more foreign in France than “Cassatt.” The idea worked. The judges selected her painting to be hung in the exhibition.

• Chicago-born artist Judy Cohen ended up choosing to use a different name: Judy Chicago. She worked in California, and because she had a heavy Chicago accent, lots of her fellow artists called her Judy Chicago. In addition, lots of artists in Los Angeles used underground names in the telephone book listings, so Judy used “Judy Chicago.” Her name does have a major advantage. When she returns to Chicago and tells people her name, they exclaim, “What a great name!”

• In 1917, Marc Chagall created his “Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers.” It shows him painting a scene set in his Russian hometown. Why is the artist portrayed with seven fingers on his left hand? A Yiddish proverb states that something done with seven fingers is done well.

Nudity

• In 1534, Pope Paul III asked Michelangelo to paint the Last Judgmenton the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo worked on the painting for five and a half years, beginning in 1536. Finally, when on October 31, 1541, Pope Paul III saw the completed work of art without parts of it hidden by scaffolding, he was overcome by its artistic and spiritual vision and fell to his knees. The painting was not without controversy. While Michelangelo was working on the painting, papal court official Biaglio da Cesena objected to the nudity of the figures. Michelangelo showed his opinion of Biaglio’s views of art by putting him in the painting — Biaglio is shown in hell, with horns, and with his nudity covered by a serpent’s coils. Biaglio was not amused, but Pope Paul III was.

• Artists frequently work with nude models. Artists John “Jack” Baldwin (an Ohio University art professor) and his wife, Bunny, once took a vacation in Mexico, where they went to a clothing-optional beach. Bunny pointed out a particularly beautiful naked woman to Jack, who told her, “I am not here to work.

One-Man Shows

• Visual artist David Estey had as a teacher the painter Robert Hamilton at the Rhode Island School of Design. When Mr. Hamilton retired, he kept on painting even though his property in Maine had two buildings that were filled with his paintings. When Mr. Estey asked Mr. Hamilton why he was still painting, he replied that he painted to surprise himself: “If I don’t have a surprise each day, I’ve had a bad day.”

• American artist Arthur G. Dove was an early painter of abstractions at a time when this style was not understood. His first one-man show, which was titled The Ten Commandments, failed. The show upset some art students so badly that they made dolls of Mr. Dove and stuck pins into them.

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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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