The Funniest People in Art

These are the first 10 anecdotes from my book The Funniest People in Art: 250 Anecdotes, available at online booksellers such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBookstore, Kobo, etc.:

Activism

  • In 2006, South Dakota instituted almost a total ban on abortions. Bill Napoli, a South Dakota State Senator, supported this ban, saying that women should not be allowed to have abortions even if they get pregnant for “simple rape.” (He did say that he would make an exception for a religious virgin who gets pregnant from a brutalizing rape.) Cartoonist Stephanie McMillan saw Mr. Napoli’s words as expressing a belief that women shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions for themselves, so she created a cartoon in which a woman character telephones Mr. Napoli when she is asked to make a decision about which salad dressing to use — the character asks Mr. Napoli, “Roasted pepper vinaigrette or honey mustard?” The cartoon included Mr. Napoli’s work and home telephone numbers, which many other women used to call him. One woman asked him whether her bra and panties should match; another woman asked him whether she should use tampons or pads.[1]
  • Fashion maven Sunny Chapman used to go to abortion clinics to protest — as a member of Satanists 4 Life — along with fellow activists Karen Elliott and Monika LaVey. At their demon-strations they wore devil horns and devil costumes and held signs saying such things as “DON’T ABORT YOUR FETUS — IT COULD BE THE ANTI-CHRIST” and “PRO-LIFE IS PRO-SATAN.” This usually made ordinary pro-life protesters uncomfortable enough to leave the immediate vicinity.[2]
  • New York City’s Guerrilla Girls use posters to protest art exhibits dominated by male artists. One poster asked, “When Racism & Sexism Are No Longer Fashionable, What Will Your Art Collection Be Worth?” True artists, the Guerilla Girls dress up in gorilla masks to gain publicity for their cause.[3]
  • Absolut Vodka once asked lesbian cartoonist Kris Kovick to draw a cartoon to be used in its ads. She drew a cartoon for “Absolut Hurl,” which depicted a woman vomiting while holding a vodka bottle. Not surprisingly, Absolut Vodka decided not to use the cartoon in its ads.[4]

Advertising

  • In many ways, Theodor Geisel, who is better known as Dr. Seuss, was a lucky man. In the 1920s, he created a cartoon for the humor magazine Judge. The cartoon showed a knight in armor lying in bed while a ferocious dragon hovered above him. The caption of the cartoon has the knight referring to a then-common insecticide called Flit: “Darn it all, another Dragon. And just after I’d sprayed the entire castle with Flit!” This cartoon resulted in a contract for Mr. Geisel to create advertisements for Flit because Grace Cleaves saw the cartoon at a hairdresser’s shop, liked it, and convinced her husband, a Flit advertising executive, to hire Mr. Geisel. How lucky was Mr. Geisel? When creating the cartoon, he could have used two insecticides: Flit or Fly Tox. He flipped a coin to decide which to use, and Flit won. In addition, Mrs. Cleaves’ regular hairdresser’s shop did not have Judge. Because her regular hairdresser’s shop was busy, she went to another hairdresser’s shop, where she saw the issue of Judge that contained Mr. Geisel’s cartoon.[5]
  • In 1934, artist Salvador Dali designed a window that featured nude mannequins for New York department store Bonwit Teller. Of course, the professional window dressers preferred mannequins wearing the clothing that the store sold, so when Mr. Dali left they put clothing on the mannequins. When Mr. Dali returned and saw the alterations to his window display, he made a major display of temperament, including throwing a bathtub used in the display through a plate-glass store window so that the bathtub made an unscheduled stop on the Fifth Avenue sidewalk. Shortly afterward, Mr. Dali made an unscheduled stop in jail. According to world-famous window dresser Simon Doonan, this situation was win-win for everybody. Mr. Dali further increased his reputation as an eccentric art genius and the store received lots of fabulous free publicity.[6]
  • Surrealist artist Salvador Dali was outrageous. He once greeted reporters while waving a loaf of bread — which was eight feet long — over his head. He also once wore a tuxedo to a public event — a close look at the tuxedo revealed numerous artificial flies pinned to it. Another time, he arrived in a Rolls-Royce for the opening of an exhibition — the car was filled with cauliflower. In 1936, he began to give a talk while dressed in an airtight underwater diving suit. Unfortunately, this stunt nearly resulted in his death. He wasn’t able to breathe, and it took his audience some time to figure out what was wrong and get his diving helmet off. What kind of art did such a man create? An old Cadillac forms part of a work of art called Rainy Taxi — put a coin in a slot and rain falls inside the Cadillac.[7]
  • R. Crumb’s “Keep on Truckin’” drawing became omnipresent during the late 1960s and early 1970s. As so often happens, business later tried to co-opt what was once considered avant garde and controversial. Toyota wished to pay Mr. Crumb lots of money so it could use the drawing and its characters in advertisements for its vehicles. However, Mr. Crumb was unwilling to let Toyota use that particular drawing, suggesting instead that it use a drawing of a headless woman being stuffed into the trunk of a Toyota. Unfortunately, Toyota disliked that idea.[8]
  • A marble cutter once took advantage of an unusual opportunity for an advertisement. On his deceased wife’s grave monument, he carved, “Here lies Jane Smith, wife of Thomas Smith, marble cutter. This monument was erected by her husband as a tribute to her memory and a specimen of his work. Monuments of the same style 350 dollars.”[9]
  • Dr. Seuss always said that he couldn’t draw, and therefore his drawings were always filled with “exaggerated mistakes.” While working as a commercial artist creating drawings for advertisements, he drew a goat that an ad representative thought was a duck. Dr. Seuss then drew a duck — the ad representative thought it was a goat.[10]

[1] Source: Mikhaela B. Reid, “Can’t Make a Decision, Ladies? Call Bill Napoli.” 13 April 2006 <http://www.inthesetimes.com/site/main/article/2595/&gt;. The cartoon can be seen at <http://minimumsecurity.net/toons2006/6034.htm&gt;.

[2] Source: Simon Doonan, Wacky Chicks, p. 43.

[3] Source: Marc Aronson, Art Attack: A Short Cultural History of the Avant-Garde, pp. 154, 158.

[4] Source: Roz Warren, editor, Dyke Strippers: Lesbian Cartoonists A to Z, p. 135.

[5] Source: Carin T. Ford, Dr. Seuss: Best-Loved Author, pp. 7-8.

[6] Source: Simon Doonan, Confessions of a Window Dresser, p. 191.

[7] Source: Henry and Melissa Billings, Eccentrics: 21 Stories of Unusual and Remarkable People, pp. 98-100.

[8] Roger Ebert, “‘Crumb’: How Comic Kept On Truckin’.” 28 May 1995 <http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19950528/PEOPLE/55010325&gt;.

[9] Source: Nancy McPhee, The Second Book of Insults, p. 118.

[10] Source: Maryann N. Weidt, Oh, the Places He Went: A Story About Dr. Seuss, p. 48.

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