David Bruce: The Funniest People in Art — Education, Exhibitions


• At the University of Washington in Seattle, Jacob Lawrence was an excellent teacher in addition to being a world-class (and African-American) artist. One day, an art student brought a bad painting for Mr. Lawrence to look at and told him that the painting was exactly the kind he wished to paint — it was painted in his “style.” Mr. Lawrence looked at the painting, then told the student, “Don’t bluff. If you paint, do it well or not at all.”

• When James McNeill Whistler was at West Point, he took a drawing class with Robert W. Weir. In one class, Mr. Whistler drew a young girl. Mr. Weir picked up a pencil and was about to make corrections to the drawing, but Mr. Whistler cried, “Don’t, sir, don’t! You’ll spoil it!” Mr. Weir understood Mr. Whistler’s feelings and did not correct the drawing.

• Children’s book author/illustrator Vera B. Williams has fun with children when she gives presentations in school. Sometimes, she draws an oval on a chalkboard and asks the children if it is a boy or a girl. Some children answer “a boy,” while others answer “a girl,” then Ms. Williams tells them, “Don’t be silly. It’s a potato.”

• People who read the satiric magazine MAD pick up useful information. A Danish fan of MAD once visited New York City. He was able to identify the strange insects in his hotel room because in MAD he had read about and seen illustrations of cockroaches.

• Choreographer Léonide Massine once saw Pablo Picasso carefully study a painting that was conventional, so he asked him why he was studying that particular painting. Mr. Picasso replied, “I am studying it carefully in order to learn how not to paint.”


• Hugh Troy once attended a crowded exhibition of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, but he felt that the numerous viewers at the museum were more interested in the lurid details of the painter’s life — such as cutting off his ear so he could give it to a prostitute — than in the paintings themselves. Therefore, Mr. Troy used his talents as an artist to fashion a severed ear (using dried beef) and to construct a box with the inscription “This is the ear that Van Gogh cut off and sent to his mistress Dec. 24, 1888.” Placing the ear in the box, Mr. Troy smuggled it into the museum, then unobtrusively placed it in the exhibit. Almost immediately, everyone crowded around the “ear” and ignored the paintings. This allowed Mr. Troy to get close to the paintings and enjoy them.

• As a radical who broke new ground in art, Mary Cassatt rejected some things that many artists accept. After she was informed that she had won a $300 Walter Lippincott Prize for work shown in the 1904 exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, she turned down the prize, writing, “Of course it is very gratifying to know that a picture of mine was selected for a special honor. I, however, who belong to the founders of the Independent Exhibition, must stick to my principles, our principles, which were, no jury, no medals, no awards.”

• One of artist Louise Nevelson’s early exhibitions was of a group of sculptures she titled Circus. The exhibition received rave critical reviews, but none of the works of art she had exhibited sold. Ms. Nevelson was so angry that she dismantled the sculptures and burned them. She also burned approximately 200 of her paintings. Because of this explosion of anger, very few of her works of art from before 1943 exist today.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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