Artist, curator, historian, and collector David C. Driskell has died. He was 88. The news came in an email from the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, from which he was an alumnus. In it, Driskell’s achievements were described, in the words of Keith Morrison, “as grand as Mount Everest.”
“Summarizing his life in this moment, in words that seem too small, too mundane is like trying to squeeze Mt. Everest into a snow globe,” Morrison writes, in the foreword to Julie McGee’s David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar. “The thing about Mt. Everest at a distance is that for most of us it exists in the imaginary. And David, in his life and in his practice, is also something of a legend. Until you met him, you could only imagine him. You’d hear stories — you’d see the pictures — but you, yourself, aren’t ever close enough to touch.”
Driskell’s academic career began with studies art at Howard University, and then on to The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. where he received his MFA. From there he attended Skowhegan, and later began teaching at Talladega College, and then Fisk University.
Driskell’s time at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he held the title of Distinguished University Professor of Art (and Emeritus), however, was where he had one of his lasting achievements, having named in his honor The David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora.
Also named in his honor is the David C. Driskell Prize established in 2005 by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia — the first national award to honor and celebrate contributions to the field of African American art and art history. Last year’s winner of the prize was Houston artist Jamal Cyrus.
During the course of his career, Driskell received thirteen honorary Doctorates. He is recognized as a founder of African American Art History, and Driskell “claimed a space for art produced by Black Artists to be discussed, revered, viewed with the same level of importance and impact as art produced by others,” the email states.
“I make art to free myself, to give a new dimension to life, and hopefully to other peoples’ lives through this personal act of freedom I put on canvas,” Driskell once wrote.