ART Transition: Black Arts Advocate, David C. Driskell’s Legacy

From ART | library deco:

David Clyde Driskell was born in Eatonton, Georgia, the son of George Washington Driskell, a minister, and Mary Cloud Driskell, a homemaker. When he was five years old, he moved with his family to western North Carolina.

Driskell attended Howard University, Washington, D.C., graduating with a bachelor’s degree in art, in 1955; he also completed the summer program at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, in 1953.  After teaching for several years at Talladega College, in Alabama, he went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree from Catholic University, in 1962. 

He was an associate professor of art at Howard University from 1963 to 1964. In 1964 he held a fellowship at the Netherlands Institute for Art History, in the Hague. He joined the faculty of Fisk University, Nashville, in 1966, as professor of art and chairman of the department. After ten years at Fisk, he moved to the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1976. He chaired the department there from 1978 to 1983 and, in 1995, was named Distinguished University Professor of Art.

In 1976 Driskell mounted Two Centuries of Black American Art for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which was the highest-profile exhibition of its kind at a major US museum, and according to ARTnews, “staked a claim for the profound and indelible contributions of black and African American art makers since the earliest days of the country”. He additionally curated many shows of work by black artists, including Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and Elizabeth Catlett.

Driskell held nine honorary doctoral degrees. In 2000, he was honored by President Bill Clinton as one of 12 recipients of the National Humanities Medal. David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar by Julie L. McGee, a book detailing Driskell’s life and work, was published in 2006.

Driskell’s art is represented by the DC Moore Gallery. His first exhibition at the gallery was held in October 2006.

The David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, College Park was named in tribute to him and honors his legacy. Driskell died in Washington, D.C., on April 1, 2020 due to complications from COVID-19.

Read & Download Oral history interview with David Driskell, 2009 March 18-April 7, Courtesy of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art

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