David Bruce: The Funniest People in Art — Problem-Solving, Revenge, Sculpture


• Watanabe Kazan, a samurai and a painter, was once placed under house arrest and ordered not to paint. Because he needed the income that he derived from painting, he continued to paint, but added earlier dates to his paintings to fool the authorities.


• Al Capp, creator of Li’l Abner, once hosted a party for a group of South American cartoonists. Unfortunately, he discovered that none of them could speak English. This meant that the only English-speaking people were himself, his brother, a few members of the State Department who wanted to foster greater understanding between North and South Americans, and fellow cartoonist Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo. Mr. Capp got tired of his party, so he and his brother ducked out, leaving Mr. Kelly to host the non-English-speaking South American cartoonists. Mr. Kelly responded with a creative act of revenge. He found an interpreter, and he told one of the South American cartoonists that Mr. Capp had told him that it was his dearest wish that the cartoonist be given his baby grand piano. When Mr. Capp arrived back home, he discovered his baby grand being lowered from his living-room window to the street below so it could be moved to a ship and taken to South America.

• Hugh Troy was once summoned along with some other artists to the estate of a wealthy society lady who was holding an auction — attendance by invitation only (in other words, only rich people are welcome) — to raise money for a charity to benefit something or other. When the artists arrived, she told them, “I am giving you just two minutes of my time. You are each to paint a picture for the auction.” When Mr. Troy asked if the artists were allowed to attend the party after their work was done, the society lady said, “No.” Then the society lady ordered a servant to take the artists to a place with art materials they could use to paint pictures for the charity auction. However, Mr. Troy was annoyed at the woman, so instead of painting a picture he painted these signs: “Picnic Parties Welcome,” “Welcome to the Carnival!” and “Free Rides! Bring the Kiddies!” Then he displayed the signs all around the entrance to the woman’s estate, and left.

• In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Grant Wood received a commission from the American Legion to create a stained-glass window. Unfortunately, the Daughters of the American Revolution made a big stink when they discovered that the glass had been made in Germany, the United States’ enemy in the then-recent World War I. (By the way, Mr. Wood had served in the U.S. Army.) The DAR wrote indignant letters and made indignant speeches. Mr. Wood got revenge later when he painted a portrait of three sour-faced women — he titled it “Daughters of the American Revolution.”


• Maya Lin designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., as the result of an assignment by Professor Andrus Burr of Yale University. He gave everyone in his class the guidelines of the contest to design the Memorial — it had to include the names of all the Americans killed or missing in action during the Vietnam War, and it had to be in harmony with the landscape and monuments of the Mall. Of all the students in the class, Ms. Lin was the only one to submit her design to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Her design consisted of two walls that sank into the ground and then rose again. The names of the Vietnam dead and MIAs were engraved on the two walls. In addition, the walls were made of highly polished black marble to give a reflection of the Mall and of the people looking at the walls. Although Ms. Lin’s design was the unanimous winner of the contest, when she had submitted her design to Professor Burr, he felt that it was “too strong” and gave it a B. However, Professor Burr encouraged Ms. Lin to submit her design to the VVMF, and he made two important suggestions concerning her design, both of which she accepted. He suggested that the two walls come together and form an angle, and he suggested that the names on the wall be arranged by date of death rather than by alphabetical order — a stroke of genius that Ms. Lin says kept the wall from looking “like a telephone book engraved in granite.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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