David Bruce: The Coolest People in Art — Prejudice, Problem-Solving

Prejudice

• Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo once stayed at a hotel in Detroit, but they discovered that no Jews were permitted there. Mr. Rivera shouted, “But Frida and I have Jewish blood! We are going to have to leave!” In fact, they did have Jewish blood. His paternal grandfather had married a Mexican of Portuguese-Jewish descent, and Frida’s mother was a Jewish Hungarian immigrant. Because Diego and Frida were international celebrities, the hotel immediately changed its policy.

• Early in his life, African-American artist Palmer Hayden wanted some experience working with an established artist, so he placed this ad in a newspaper: “Young artist would like a job as an assistant to commercial artist.” A commercial artist did want to interview him, but when Mr. Hayden showed up for the job interview, the commercial artist said, “Oh, I didn’t know you were colored.” End of interview. Despite such treatment, Mr. Hayden kept on creating art.

• For a long time, Edgar Degas thought that women did not know what style was, but when he saw Mary Cassatt’s 1886 painting titled Girl Arranging Her Hair, he changed his mind. In fact, he traded one of his own paintings for her painting, and he kept Girl Arranging Her Hairuntil he died.

Problem-Solving

• Pakistani Nigar Nazar uses cartoons to spread a female-positive message. One of her characters is a perky, 20-something female named Gogi, who wears polka-dotted clothing. Among the many places in which her work appears is buses, for which she designs public murals. Ms. Nazar points out that females have opportunities for education and much freedom in Pakistani cities: “Girls are doing very well in Pakistan, I must say. I mean, there are women in just about every field you can imagine. They are diplomats, they are vice chancellors, they are in the police, they are in the air force, they are pilots.” Unfortunately,in rural areas those opportunities are lacking. This has led to a problem. Ms. Nazar explains, “We have this staring problem. Especially from the rural areas, when [the men] come from the rural areas into the city, they just find it odd that women should be freely moving around and all that. So they get in the habit of staring, and it’s very annoying.” Therefore, to combat the problem, she designed a mural on that topic. However, she understood that some people, including clergy, very conservative men, and mullahs, might object to the mural, so she read the Quran and found a passage that — translated from the Arabic to Urdu (Pakistan’s official language) — she put on the mural. In English, this is the passage: “Oh, ye believers, tell these men to lower their gaze, for we know what is in their hearts.” She says, “The clergy loved it. The mullahs loved it. … It was the talk of the town.”

• Costume designer Edith Head and actress Bette Davis worked together in many films, with good results. Still, mishaps occurred. Fortunately, with some problem-solving the mishaps sometimes resulted in improvements to the costumes. For the film All About Eve, Ms. Head designed a dress with a square neckline, but when the dress was finished (the night before the scene was to be shot, due to a tight deadline) and Ms. Davis put it on before filming a scene, the neckline was too big for her. To fix the dress would take time, and that meant that filming the scene had to be delayed. However, Ms. Head told Ms. Davis that she would tell the director, Joe Mankiewicz, what had happened. But Ms. Davis called Ms. Head back before she left the dressing room. Ms. Davis had pulled the neckline of the dress off her shoulders. She asked Ms. Head, “Don’t you like it better like this, anyway?” Ms. Head says, “It looked wonderful, and I could have hugged her. In fact, I think I did.” Ms. Davis’ off-the-shoulder dress is a well-loved movie costume.

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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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