Art Works Blog

Gracias, Grazie, Merci

Washington, DC

This is my inspiration board at work. I'm thankful that I work some place where I get to celebrate art and artists every day.

To celebrate this season of gratitude, I asked my NEA colleagues which artist they would thank--living or not--and why. Who would you thank? Leave a comment and let us know.

Liz Stark

I would love the opportunity to thank Jane Austen. She not only left a legacy in a brilliant collection of novels, juvenilia, and letters that I spent college and grad school studying and analyzing, but she also supplied many afternoons of happy reading and laughing and enjoying the witty ways she brings characters to life and makes you love all of them, even the Mr. Collinses and Mary Musgroves.

Jackie Harmon

I would thank Benny Andrews, a wonderful artist and supervisor of the NEA?s Visual Arts program from June 1982 to July 1984.

Pepper Smith

Thanks to Miguel de Cervantes.

Thanks to an obscure 16th-century writer with bad luck: he was shot three times at the Battle of Lepanto, lost the use of his left arm, was captured by Algerian pirates and enslaved for five years, and was jailed twice for questionable practices as a tax collector. In fact Cervantes claims to have started writing Don Quixote in prison.

All my life the book has made me happy. It follows no rules and goes wherever it wants. The comic novel, which the author claims to have been translated from Cide Hammete Bengali's Arabic, is interspersed with romantic and dull tales. Cervantes gets names and facts wrong from previous chapters---Sancho Panza's wife is called by five different names. Don Quixote and Sancho run into characters who have read about them in the first half and even one who wrote an unauthorized version of their lives. Don Quixote is both The Knight of the Sorrowful Face (Sancho give him the title after Quixote lost several teeth after being pelted with rocks) who believes the barber's basin on his head is the magical Helmet of Mambrino and attacks a puppet show with insane passion believing the marionettes are flesh and blood Saracens. Quixote is also The Knight of the Lions who takes an hour-long nap in the Cave of Montesinos and emerges to tell delighted listeners (except for Sancho) a long story of an amazing three-day adventure with mythical figures, aware he is pretending. Four hundred years old, Don Quixote is still as modern as anything else I've read.

When I was a boy I loved the over-the-top slapstick scenes that make the Three Stooges seem like Quakers; Don Quioxte has more bones broken than Evel Knievel. As an adult, however, reading about our heroes being pummeled is no longer fun as much as a reminder all Cervantes went through. The bitterness doesn't disappear, it's the sting in the humor. Cervantes used his experience as the basis for several unsuccessful works. (Today Cervantes might just have written a first-person account of survival, My Years as a Terrorist Slave). Wanting to be something of dubious existence---like a knight errant or poet---can lead to sublime moments, but you also get beat up a lot. When something crazy thoughtful like Don Quixote helps me laugh, I?m very thankful.


Laska Hurley

It's a tie between Lady Murasaki Shikibu and Livy. The former for observing a culture and the latter for admiring a civilization.

Jamie Bennett

Simon McBurney, the artistic director of the theater company Complicite. His piece---Mnemonic---at the Lincoln Center Festival maybe 10 years ago made me totally rethink my understanding of memory, performance, and art.

Katja von Schuttenbach

Jutta Hipp---the German-American jazz pianist, painter, photographer, doll maker, and poet who also painted whimsical motives on oyster shells, sewed her own dresses, and was known among friends for her gourmet cooking. Strangely enough she came into my life via her New York Times obituary in April 2003, which was sent to me electronically via a Google tracker on the word "jazz." I was immediately intrigued by the life story of this obscure multi-talented artist who in the early 1950s was the most famous jazz pianist in Germany and went on to become, shortly after immigrating to the United States in 1955, the first white female instrumentalist ever signed by the famed Blue Note Records label. In 2006 I submitted my master?s thesis in Jazz History & Research on Hipp and five years later the research continues as intensely as ever.

I owe thanks to Jutta Hipp for the exciting journey she put me on two years after her passing: turning my life upside down along the way and, at times, inside out as well. Posthumously, she bestowed the precious gifts of affection and loyalty upon me through several of her long-time acquaintances on both sides of the Atlantic who became cherished friends. I met her family and  got to know artists whose paths I otherwise would not have crossed. She forced me to confront and try to gain and understanding of the emotional trauma and subsequent economical and sociological implications that WWII survivors like herself---and  my own parents---had to cope with, in addition to being forced into lives and careers other than had hoped for and often in places they?d never imagined to even visit.

I also gained a great appreciation for obscure artists who live to create---not to reap financial rewards proportionate to their talents. Hipp worked a mundane but steady job in a clothing factory in Queens, New York, for almost 40 years because it left her with enough time and energy to spend her evenings and weekends doing what she loved most: creating works of art.  She was a shy, stubborn person, a bonafide loner, but she was thrilled when others visibly enjoyed the fruits of her artistic endeavors. It has been a great source of satisfaction for me to locate and document her surviving, scattered about body of work including recordings, paintings, and handmade craftwork. I hope to introduce my findings to wider audiences in my forthcoming book---a book I never thought I could write. Thank you, Jutta Hipp!

Don Ball

Thanks be to Charles Mingus, who composed some of the most beautiful American music outside of Duke Ellington, who got drunk and crazed down in Mexico and turned it into the brilliant Tijuana Moods, who had his psychiatrist write the liner notes to one of his albums, who wrote a demented autobiography Beneath the Underdog, who madly played bass with reckless abandon and genius technique, who once worked under the name Baron Von Mingus, who wrote a score for a John Cassavetes movie that was barely used, who was married to Sue Mingus by Allen Ginsberg, who turned Dannie Richmond from a saxophonist into one of jazz's greatest drummers, who once punched his trombonist Jimmy Knepper in the mouth nearly ruining his career (amazingly, Knepper worked with Mingus again after that), who initiated a "conversation" between his bass and Eric Dolphy's bass clarinet that remains one of the greatest duets ever recorded, who wrote the song "Fables of Faubus" about the segregationist Arkansas governor, who once was evicted from his apartment for nonpayment of rent, who wrote more than 300 scores and recorded more than 100 albums, who wasted away from Lou Gehrig's disease in the late '70s.

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