6 Artists You Didn't Know You Were a Fan Of
All artists hope that they will make a lasting impression on the world; something that carries their name for hundreds of years so that, long after the artist is dead, the name lives on.
Except these guys. These guys were just farting around on the side when they accidentally created something that would impact the world for decades and decades to come. They impacted the art scene forever, and changed things in our world, infecting pop culture in astounding ways. And you have no idea who any of them are.
OK, well, yes, obviously you know who Ben Franklin is, but you probably don't think of him as an artist. Well, unless you count his whoring, drinking and mad skateboarding skills.
"Excuse me while I kiss the sky."
However, long before he invented the hoagie, Ben Franklin experimented with something that soon became as much a part of the democratic process as the super PAC or the middle finger. We speak of his 1747 editorial "Non Votis," or "The Waggoner and Hercules," which appeared in his pamphlet Plain Truth. The publication was a precursor to the zine -- which, incidentally, Ben Franklin is credited with inventing.
Best in Show: Philly Zine Fest 1747.
According to his autobiography, "The Pamphlet had a sudden & surprising Effect," not unlike an 18th century equivalent to Cracked.com. Franklin revisited this phenomenon on May 9, 1754 in his Pennsylvania Gazette with his editorial "Join, or Die." Just like "Non Votis," Franklin made his message as idiot-proof as possible: It was just a drawing.
Ben's poor understanding of reptile anatomy would cause thousands of tragic snake mutilations.
Not only did Franklin's experiment in zine-making permanently establish him as a hero to Philadelphia's punk rock scene, but his illustrated editorials simultaneously invented political cartooning in the United States. His depiction of the segmented snake -- which could be reunited to survive -- was widely reproduced up to the American Revolution decades later and served as a precursor to the Gadsden flag the Tea Party whacks off to every day. It essentially did for political cartooning what Machiavelli's The Prince did for political science, and it remains popular with political cartoonists to this day. Not too bad for a guy whose prior art experience likely consisted of doodles of naked women on cocktail napkins, is it?
Platt Rogers Spencer
Penmanship may not seem like much now that most handwriting is outsourced to robots, but in the 19th century, that shit was treated like the first and second rules of Fight Club.
Such was the case when Platt Rogers Spencer developed Spencerian script in 1840. Despite enjoying the impressive reputation of a drunk, Spencer created a school of handwriting that set the standard for all business correspondence in the U.S. until the advent of the typewriter. Back then, you didn't just learn how to write; you learned how to write like Spencer. If you ever had to write something worth a damn from 1850 to 1925, odds are you wrote it using Spencerian script -- the Arial, Times New Roman and SpongeFont SquareType of its era.
"He called me an asshole in a letter, but I feel strangely flattered."
But why should you care how some fancy-fingered boozehound used to sign his name at the police station? Because Spencer's artful handwriting was used by virtually every business from the Gold Rush until The Gold Rush, and after the turn of the century, some of these businesses decided to keep their company name the way it always appeared in their paperwork. Among them:
So, if you were ever tantalized by Coca-Cola's creative logo, aka one of the most celebrated logos of all time, that's Platt Rogers Spencer's surprisingly steady hand at work. All of you folks who are super into fonts now have a lovely little anecdote for your next crazy font party.
Sir John Tenniel
Sir John Tenniel was a Victorian cartoonist and illustrator whose contribution to pop culture was as immense and expansive as the breadth of his mustache.
He's turning around! DUCK!
Tenniel started out as the primary political cartoonist for Punch, a humor and satire magazine perhaps best described as Cracked's 19th century equivalent. Tenniel illustrated more than 2,000 cartoons for Punch over the course of 50 years, cracking wise about every subject in Victorian England from the Irish question to Jack the Ripper.
Still, there have been plenty of successful cartoonists and hundreds of pamphlets and magazines, so why are we supposed to care about some mustachioed guy we've never heard of? Because in 1864, Tenniel was approached to illustrate Alice's Adventures in Wonderland after Lewis Carroll's first stab at illustrating ended, well ... piss poorly.
Carroll may have been writing about mercury poisoning from personal experience.
John Tenniel and Lewis Carroll hated working with each other, but their unfriendly collaboration resulted in some of the most iconic illustrations in history. They're certainly responsible for how Wonderland looks and feels in all of our imaginations.
Gosh, who could forget that famous scene where they had their crazy board meeting?
Or what about the wacky antics of Smiley Treehead?
OK, so we just looked at the pictures. Reading wasn't really our thing back then.
While Carroll never appreciated Tenniel's "Leave me the fuck alone!" approach to artwork, his detailed style set a new standard for children's illustrating that was carried on by Dr. Seuss, Edward Gorey and Maurice Sendak. Even more impressively, virtually every subsequent depiction of Alice was so deeply rooted in Tenniel's style that in many cases artists just said "Screw it" and threw Tenniel's illustrations into their product, as was the case with American McGee's Alice, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and even freaking Batman: The Animated Series.
Gotham's primary export is mental illness.
All future illustrators and creators were incapable of seeing any vision that wasn't Tenniel's, so they didn't even try changing it.
It's not just that Tenniel's work influenced other illustrators; it shaped the way that we will forever think of Alice in Wonderland. For example, we all know that Alice is a cute little blonde girl, right? That's how she's depicted in the book, as well as in everything she's been in since. Well, there's one person who actually thought Alice was a brunette ... Lewis freaking Carroll, which is why he drew her with dark hair in all of his illustrations:
And according to these, she may have actually been a boy with long hair.
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.
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.
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.
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.