Art Works Blog

Thank Heaven for Artists!

While we're grateful for artists every month, we're particularly thankful in this month when we take time off from "real life" to count our blessings large and small. In today's post NEA staffers reflect on some artists to whom they'd like to give a big old THANK YOU! 

Don Ball

Thanks to the recently departed Gabriel García Márquez. I use him as an example when my kids get frustrated with spelling--“Hey, Gabriel García Márquez was a horrible speller and he grew up to be the finest writer of the 20th century.” That’s something. Also his stories, like “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” and “One of These Days,” made great reading material for the kids. Although it didn’t really put them to sleep. Especially when the tree outside the window was rustling like a pair of enormous wings.

And he’s a writer humble enough to suggest that his translator’s version of his book might be better than his own Spanish version. Having not read the Spanish versions, I’ll have to concur. Most writers would be happy with one masterpiece, or even one really good book, but García Márquez has two masterpieces: One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and two really good books: The Autumn of the Patriarch and The General in his Labyrinth. So there’s that. Lastly, they’re planning on putting his face on their money in Colombia--what better tribute could there be? 

Bonnie  Nichols

Many years ago, when I was in graduate school, I, of course, had to study intensively. While studying I often listened to two double albums: The  White Album and Cinderella. So I give thanks to Lennon and McCartney and to Prokofiev.

Adam Kampe

Raymond Carver. Where I'm Calling From is the book that made me become an English major. In it, there's a story called "A Small, Good Thing" which reveals how essential food is in times of tragedy. 

Nancy Daugherty

The artists that I would like to say thank you to are the fabulous character actors who populated the American movies during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Their performances elevated any film in which they took part and made the stars shine. Though there were hundreds of outstanding players, my hat's off to a few particular favorites, including Walter Connolly, Guy Kibbee, Eugene Pallette, Beulah Bondi, Butterfly McQueen, Eve Arden, Edward Everett Horton, Thomas Mitchell, Harry Davenport, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, William Demarest, Eddie Bracken, Eric Blore, and Helen Broderick.

Jason Schupbach

I would like to thank Bjork. When I was a wee lad growing up isolated from the worlds of artists, she burst onto the scene as this crazy fashion/music/media/visual/environmental art thing and rocked my world as to what an individual can achieve. Few artists can do all of what she did and still write a killer hook.

Carlos Arrien

Right now, having just listened to a piece in the new NEA Arts magazine about the Alzheimer's Poetry Project I am thankful to poet Gary Glazner for giving elderly folks suffering form memory loss moments of happiness. My mother had dementia in her last years so this is close to home. That's why I give a big thanks to Gary Glazner!

Katja von Schuttenbach

Douglas Rushkoff. For his 1994 book Media Virus. It was invaluable for me as a Radio & TV Broadcasting major at the time.   

Neil Chidester

My thank you would go to Philip Farkas. He almost single-handedly transformed the world of 20th-century symphony horn playing (and hugely contributed to brass playing on the whole). Not only was he an extraordinary musician as Principal Horn with the Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, and Cleveland Orchestra in the middle of the century, but his legacy largely is from his monumental contribution as a horn instructor (Indiana University) where name after name of famous horn players lists him as one of their most influential teachers. Personally, I only benefitted from being a student of his students, but I also enjoy his publications of The Art of French Horn Playing and others which have been staples for decades. One important note is that this career grew out of a decision to not play the tuba (because the streetcar driver wouldn’t allow it on the streetcar), and so he asked which one would be okay, and the streetcar driver responded, “one of them” when he pointed to a French horn.

Wendy Clark

Thanks to the late Felix Gonzalez Torres for his wonderfully varied artistic practice, and for opening the world's eyes to the personal suffering caused by AIDS. His work was generous, kind, and beautiful in its simplicity. Thank you Felix.

Carol Lanoux Lee

I’d thank William Gibson for his play A Cry of Players and the quote: “And if you have that--gift, to hold another’s mind like a kitten by its scruff, tickle and it purrs, squeeze and it cries, be vain.”

Which has probably launched hundreds of starry-eyed teenagers (as I once was) into a lifelong love affair with the theater.

vEnesssa Y Acham

I want to publicly thank Sir Sidney Poitier for being the source of colorful and inspired storytelling by my parents to our family. As a young actor in New York City during the 1950s, Poitier and friends spent time in Harlem. My parents were among those friends. They shared lunches at dinettes and luncheonettes. Poitier was from the Caribbean Islands and my parents were from there, too. My mother recalled one of her girlfriends dated Sidney. She also told us how Sidney debated about a role in the film A Blackboard Jungle and other performances. Poitier accepted the role in A Blackboard Jungle, which was his breakout performance. More roles, more acclaim. In 1963, Poitier received the Academy Award for Best Actor; he was the first actor of African descent to receive the award. The film was Lilies of the Field. Thank you, Sir Sidney Poitier for sharing your time.

Bill O’Brien

My thank you shout-out goes to Uta Hagen, especially for her book Respect for Acting, which inspired me in college to consider the pursuit of acting as an honorable, altruistic and unending commitment to “craft”, rather than a shallow and self-centered obsession with “career.”  

Paulette Beete

I’d like to say a double thank you—to May Sarton for her beautiful book Journal of a Solitude and to poet Danna Ephland for giving it to me. It was the first book I read that affirmed that the tensions I felt in my life as a woman artist were both real and valid. I now collect copies of the book to give to woman artist friends.

Eleanor Billington

I’d like to thank Jenny Holzer. She’s one of the first artists I was exposed to that combined text and projection; I’d never seen such compelling public art. She’s brilliant and brave and will always be one of my favorites.  (Sounds like I’m accepting an Arts Oscar or something! I’d like to thank Monet and the Chattanooga Art Museum, and my second grade art teacher who let us use crayons during “math.”)

Laska Hurley

I’d like to send a Sleepy Hollow Thank You shout out to Alex Kurtzman, Robeto Orchi, Philip Iscove, and Len Wiseman for bring Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow back to life and for making U.S. Revolutionary history sooooo interesting. 

Victoria Hutter

Mark Morris for creating heart-breakingly beautiful, compelling dances, for giving musicians equal billing and artistic consideration as the dancers, for being crazy, funny, and honest, and for wearing very colorful socks.

Sunil Iyengar

Is he an artist? I doubt he would have considered his role as such. Yet Christopher Hitchens’ powers of language retention would be admired in any actor; some of his improvised talks hold the excitement of good jazz; and many of his best writings--masking as ephemera--would repay re-reading by novelists. “The Hitch,” who died at 62 three years ago, styled himself partly after George Orwell, who once declared his own ambition “to make political writing into an art.”  Whether Hitchens succeeded at this better than anyone else of his time, I’m not fit to judge. But he alone could induce me to read the news with the same zest as I’d tackle the books section (to which he contributed regularly, by the way). Of that I’m certain.

Sidney Pepper Smith

Do you know the one songwriter whose work has been covered by the Beatles, the Stones and Bob Dylan, not to mention Otis Redding, Elvis Presley , Tina Turner, and Jerry Lee Lewis? Can you guess? I’ll give you a hint, after all that success he was in Ohio driving a bus for a social services agency. His name was Arthur Alexander, and as an African-American in Alabama in the ‘50s did not get the money or recognition he deserved, but left us with amazing music that was extremely influential. So thanks to Arthur Alexander.

Meg McGillivray

I think we all owe a huge thank you to Robert Wittman, founder of the FBI Art Crime team and now a museum security consultant.

Although he’s not an artist, he has dedicated his life to public service through the arts, and has ensured the integrity of cultures around the world. During his time at the FBI, he recovered more than $225 million in stolen artwork as an undercover agent, often sending priceless art and artifacts back to their home countries.

Artists absolutely deserve gratitude for their creativity and contribution to our ever-changing culture, but those contributions must be protected, and held to a higher cultural standard than simply commodities to be swapped underground. His initiative to get the team off the ground and conviction in their mission is unprecedented.

Maryrose Flanigan

I’d like to say thank you to the great poet and feminist Carolyn Kizer. I met her early, briefly in my career and she had an unexpectedly deep effect on me. She was in town for a reading. She’d donate the fee to an organization and I was the one to invite her. As I drove her around the construction in the DC streets she would fix her makeup and give cash to the guy that jumped up to spit-shine our windshield, while telling me about the best literary haunts in Washington (including the Tabard Inn). And as soon as we were out of the office she looked me up and down and said, “I bet you’re the one really running this joint.” She took one look at my husband and asked me if I’d robbed the cradle as soon as he was out of sight. She both made me smile and puffed me up (with the exception of the “robbing the cradle” observation—he’s one-and-a-half years older, thank you, although he looks younger). She gave me advice on being married when she saw my engagement ring. I still follow it. She wisecracked and didn’t pull punches.  She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. It was the not being afraid part. I was not used to such direct, clear-eyed observations. Where I come from, we beat around the bushes. It sounds like an obvious thing but if she had this major impression on me imagine her impact on a whole generation of woman poets. Read her work. It was her genuine manner and graciousness to a knock-kneed kid like me. A couple years later I talked to her after she had broken her ankle, and as I clucked in sympathy she cut me short, “Now I finally have time to read!” I probably only spent one-maybe two hours total with her in my life with her. I never had a chance to thank her and now, suddenly, she’s gone. Thank you.


Submitted by Brenda Feliciano (not verified) on

To those that shun the limelight but are a possitive influence in music and the arts. True heroes that love teaching and nurturing young people in the most caring and unselfish way. To those I'm forever grateful.

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