Be a Work of Art: 250 Anecdotes and Stories

Living works of art tend to take joy in living. So how can we be a living work of art? Some ways include living a life of wit and intelligence, practicing an art, doing good deeds, paying attention to your soul as well as your body, staying angry at the things that should anger us, and being aware of the fabulous realities that surround us despite the presence of evil in the world. Here are some bumper-sticker condensations of ancient and modern wisdom: Resist Psychic Death, Do It Yourself, Resist Mindless Consumption, Don’t Fear the Reaper, Maintain Maximum Cool, Do Good Now (and Maybe be a Hero), Love and Live Life, and Reality is Fabulous. Of course, more good advice is this: Dress Like a Work of Art. 

Acting and Actors

Some people can’t distinguish the actor from the actor’s role. A grocer from Lichfield once carried a letter to the famous actor David Garrick from his brother. However, the grocer never delivered the letter. After seeing Mr. Garrick perform on stage the comic role of Abel Drugger in The Alchemist by Ben Jonson, the grocer said that he didn’t want anything to do with such a shabby creature as he had seen on stage.[1]

Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905) was proud of his performances as the lead of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Once he asked his dresser, Walter Collinson, to say in which play he was at his best, and he was pleased when Mr. Collinson answered, “Macbeth.” Sir Henry said, “It is generally conceded to be Hamlet,” but Mr. Collinson insisted, “Oh, no, Sir. Macbeth. You sweat twice as much in that.”[2]

In 1642, the Puritans closed the theaters in England. By the time they reopened 18 years later, the boy actors who had played the roles of women had grown up and no apprentices had been available to learn to take their places. When theater-friendly King Charles II wanted to see a play, he was forced to wait until the man playing the Queen had finished shaving.[3]

Sam Mendes was very young — 23 years old — when he directed Judi Dench in three plays. During a conversation, they talked about some plays that Ms. Dench had starred in during the mid-1970s. Ms. Dench asked Mr. Mendes if he seen the plays, and he replied, “Well, no. I was 10 years old.” Ms. Dench screamed, then pretended to choke him.[4]

Early in his career, actor David Niven received a bad review for his performance in the movie Dodsworth. He had the review framed and hung it in his bathroom: “In this picture we are privileged to see Mr. Samuel Goldwyn’s latest ‘discovery.’ All we can say about this actor is that he is tall, dark and not the slightest bit handsome.”[5]

Actress Ellen Terry once dumped the contents of her heavily filled pocketbook onto a table as she searched for a note she wanted to give to Harry Fiske. Mr. Fiske surveyed the contents of the purse, then asked, “No slingshot?” Ms. Terry replied, “No slingshot.”[6]

An actor in Nude with A Violin asked the playwright, Noël Coward, about the motivation of his character. Mr. Coward replied, “My dear boy, forget about the motivation. Just say the lines and don’t trip over the furniture.”[7]


 In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street protest against corporate greed took off and Occupy protests spread around the United States. One remarkable photo that came out of the protests is that of a woman and three dogs standing in the deserted tundra of Alaska. The woman is holding a hand-lettered cardboard sign that has this message: “Occupy the Tundra.” The woman is Diane McEachern, a resident of Bethel, Alaska, a town of 6,400 people and one main street. Ms. McEachern, an assistant professor in the rural human service program at the Kuskokwim campus of the University of Alaska, posted the photograph on the Occupy Wall Street Facebook page with this caption: “I am a woman. The dogs are rescues. The tundra is outside of Bethel, Alaska. The day is chill. The sentiment is solid. Find your spot. Occupy it. Even if it is only your own mind.” The photo went viral. Ms. McEachern said about the protests, “When I saw that it was growing and there was Occupying Portland and Occupying New Hampshire, I thought, for goodness’ sake, what can I occupy? How can I get on this? And I thought, well, what’s my context? What’s important to me?” People in Bethel are hurting. In 2011, they were paying $6.87 a gallon for gasoline, and stove oil prices were also expensive. In addition, with the economic downturn, cuts were being made in social services to rural villages. Ms. McEachern said, “And right now, they’re proposing here the largest gold mine in human history, the Pebble Mine, that’s going to do catastrophic damage to the environment and the native community, in the premier wild salmon habitat in the world. So I’m not well-versed on the larger economic system, but I can relate to the idea of corporate wealth being lopsidedly in the hands of so few, when so many are struggling.” Ms. McEachern said she was surprised that the photo went viral: “I didn’t think anything was going to explode like this. I didn’t really quite get a clue until I opened my Facebook one morning, and there’s over 200 friend requests. I’ve got to tell you, I’m likeable, but not that likeable.” Of course, not everyone liked the photo, and some people posted negative comments. She said, “For those who ask about the [permanent fund dividend] that all Alaskans receive [based on oil revenues], I got mine and donated it to Greenpeace on behalf of Glenn Beck. To the suggestion I set myself on fire, [I wrote,] ‘I AM on fire!’”[8]

The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution says this: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Many people consider X-rays that show their private parts during Homeland Security screenings at airports to be a violation of their civil rights. One way to silently protest this loss of our precious freedom is to wear 4th Amendment underwear. This underwear has the 4th Amendment printed in metallic ink on undershirts and underwear. The metallic ink is supposed to make the 4th Amendment show up on airport scanners. What about children? Should strangers be allowed to look at children’s private parts at airports? Children can wear 4th Amendment underwear that says this: “’READ THE 4TH AMENDMENT, PERVERTS.” The people who invented this idea say this: “We found metallic type that could, in theory, show up on TSA scanners that would display the 4th Amendment. The clothes are designed as a silent protest against the new reality of being searched to the point where we’re basically naked. We don’t intend for this to be anything more than a thought-provoking way to fuel the debate about safety vs. civil liberties. If we sell a few items, great. But the main intention is to open more dialogue. It’s more of a conceptual piece than anything else.”[9]

In 2010, General Electric reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion. Last year, you reported personal income of how much? Who paid more in American federal income tax? Chances are, you did. Why? Because in 2010 General Electric paid no American federal corporate income tax, according to a 24 March 2011 New York Times article by David Kocieniewski. (Neither did Bank of America, which got a $336 billion bailout in 2009 and paid no American federal corporate income tax in 2010. These facts upset lots of patriotic Americans who pay their fair share of taxes, and some began writing or rubber-stamping messages on $1 bills. One message says, “This is $1 more than GE has paid in taxes.” Another says, “This is $1 more than the Bandits of America (BOA) paid in taxes.” One way to show that you love your country is to pay your fair share of taxes.[10]


[1] Source: Edward Wagenknecht, Merely Players, p. 4.

[2] Source: Ralph Berry, compiler and editor, The Methuen Book of Shakespeare Anecdotes, p. 81.

[3] Source: John W. Crawford, Early Shakespearean Actresses, pp. 21-22.

[4] Source: John Miller, Judi Dench: With a Crack in Her Voice, p. 235.

[5] Source: Diana Rigg, compiler, No Turn Unstoned, p. 38.

[6] Source: Barbara Marinacci, Leading Ladies: A Gallery of Famous Actresses, p. 192.

[7] Source: Dick Richards, compiler, The Wit of Noël Coward, p. 15.

[8] Source: “‘Occupy the Tundra’: One woman’s lonely vigil in bush Alaska.” Los Angeles Times Blogs. 15 October 2011 <>.

[9] Source: “4TH AMENDMENT UNDERCLOTHES: For When Unwarranted Searches Go Too Far.” <;. < >. <;. Accessed 13 September 2011. For more information, contact 4TH AMENDMENT WEAR, PO BOX 6122, BOULDER CO 80306 or go to <>.

[10] Source: Patrick Barkham, “Angry US taxpayers stamp on companies paying no corporate tax.” Guardian (UK). 11 September 2011 <>. Also: DAVID KOCIENIEWSKI, “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” New York Times. 24 MARCH 2011 <>.



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