#3. Cassius Marcellus Coolidge
It's hard to picture anyone being more successful at being awful than Seth MacFarlane, but that's only because Cassius Marcellus Coolidge did not live long enough to see the Internet or the Fox Network. Observe, his magnum opus:
We'd stare at this for a solid 24 hours before watching an episode of The Cleveland Show.
You know those paintings of dogs playing poker you occasionally find at yard sales or in bars owned by Ted Danson? Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, the Norman Rockwell of kitsch, invented that shit and spun it into gold like a Japanese Rumpelstiltskin. It's not like he made just one of these; he was commissioned to make 16 goddamn paintings of dogs playing poker, and he made a good deal of money doing so.
So, you know the artist's work, even if you don't know the artist. But even though it's annoying that he made a bunch of money selling these silly paintings over and over again, that's still not the most irritating contribution he's made to the art world.
Although, come on, man. That one in the foreground is cheating. How cute is that?
As for how Coolidge was even able to receive the job in the first place, please consider that he had already struck it big with an even more irritating amusement. In 1874, Coolidge -- somehow -- managed to patent an invention so ridiculous that the only way we can describe it is the same way he did to the U.S. Patent Office. With this drawing:
Figure A is the face. C is the poster. B is ... the butt? Why label that?
This illustration accompanied Patent 149,724, which, according to Coolidge, is the process of standing behind "a small card, which will clearly show a large head and add thereto a body in any shape greatly reduced in size." So, in addition to dogs playing poker, C. M. Coolidge is also responsible for inventing "comic foregrounds": those annoying placards of musclemen and shapely women you occasionally find at circuses and beaches for you to stick your head through. He's responsible for this:
Which may be the saddest photograph we've ever seen.
C. M. Coolidge made a pretty decent living in this racket while painters like Monet, Van Gogh and Gauguin were living in abject poverty and/or eating paint to stay alive. Still, thanks to the power of the Internet, there may be a whole new audience for C. M. Coolidge's school of painting after all.
His legacy lives on.
#2. Thomas Nast
Simply put, Thomas Nast is one of the hardest people we've ever heard of. As a political cartoonist, he was able to do with a pencil what Rambo could with a .50 cal machine gun. During the American Civil War, Nast routinely tore the Confederacy more assholes than William Tecumseh Sherman. After the war, he single-handedly landed the most powerful party boss in New York history in prison -- where he died -- just by drawing pictures of him. Still, even though the artist has been dead for 110 years, there are plenty of Thomas Nast's cartoons that still work today.
Via Wikimedia Commons
If that dude were real, we'd spend his head right off of his goddamn body.
For starters, Thomas Nast is credited with the creation of Uncle Sam, the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey. Also, Lady Liberty has never looked more sexy -- or more badass -- than under his direction.
If the Statue of Liberty looked like this, Ghostbusters II would have been rated R.
If there's any name that casual readers might be familiar with on this list, Thomas Nast would be it, but they probably only know him as an influential political cartoonist. It might shock you to learn that there's one non-political character that Nast not only illustrated, but defined:
Opium Claus! Bringing yuletide joy and crippling addiction to the children of the world.
All Nast, all day. It's just a cartoon, like all of his other cartoons, except it completely defined the way everyone on the planet thinks of Santa Claus. Starting in 1862, Nast established Santa as a "Bavarian Father Christmas ... with gnome-like features and an infectious outgoing personality" over the course of 22 years and in more than 30 cartoons. He showed Santa with a telescope and "a record book," established the North Pole as his home -- much to the dismay of the Confederate South -- depicted him in "a red suit with white fur trim" for the first time and, not unlike his later Boss Tweed cartoons, decided to make a delightful fatass out of him.
"Note to self: People love looking at drawings of fat people." -- Thomas Nast
So, the next time some pedantic family member brings up how Santa was invented by Coca-Cola during Christmas, tell them to shut up for a second. Thomas Nast beat them by half a century.
#1. Dennis Hwang
We're going to make you fall in love with this guy in two words. You ready? (And no, those weren't the two words we meant.)
Anyway, you ready?
Tell us you haven't already imagined a porno version.
Yup. Dennis Hwang is "that guy" who designs them. He's been at it since 2000 and is quite proud of some of the new approaches he has taken: Among them, his numerous doodles for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and his doodles for all 32 teams of the 2010 World Cup. He's not even 40 yet, so odds are we're going to be seeing quite a lot of this guy throughout our lifetimes. In the meantime, please check out this video he made of how a doodle becomes a Google. He seems friendly enough.
He does about 50 Google doodles a year, and it's worth noting that those logos are going to be seen by hundreds of millions of people, all over the world. Almost no other artist in the history of time can claim that their work was reached by 100 million people while they were alive, and Hwang gets that kind of attention weekly. In the height of Shakespeare's popularity, you could walk into a bar or, like, just a pit full of poor people or whatever, and shout "Romeo and Juliet" and get blank stares. Meanwhile, you can stumble into any bar or restaurant in America yelling "Google Doodle" and people would line up to tell you their favorites. People all over the world can see a Google Doodle, and then use Google to Google "Google Doodle" and then see a link to Dennis Hwang's Wikipedia page. Now that is impressive.
For the record, the SOPA one was our favorite because he got paid for that.
And just a shocking amount of nonsense words in one sentence.
Jacopo della Quercia is finally on Twitter. You better start following him, or else he'll have to keep all the world's secrets to himself.
For more mysterious individuals who changed history, check out 7 Inventors You Didn't Know You Wanted to Punch In the Face and 6 Artists You Didn't Know Made Your Favorite Movie Moments.