I recently had to select five security questions in order to gain access to a website, one of which asked me to name the most famous person I’ve met. That got me thinking about the fact that artists often brush shoulders with prominent individuals from a variety of professions. Portrait painters meet more captains of industry, judges, politicians, and movie stars than most of us do, but it’s not uncommon for well-known people to attend gallery and museum openings, especially in cities such as New York, Santa Fe, Jackson, and Carmel. John Howard Sanden discusses several of his portraits of high-profile individuals in his new book, Face to Face With Greatness; Nelson Shanks invites movie stars to pose when he does a portrait demonstration; and Malcolm T. Liepke’s openings at Arcadia Fine Arts, in New York, always bring out celebrities from the worlds of fashion, theater, film, and television. The articles I’ve written on those artists have been republished in our Highlights series of magazines.
I’ve brushed shoulders with dozens of famous people while working in New York, most of whom have no recollection of meeting me. I followed Robert Redford into an office building, interrupted Paul Newman while he was using a restaurant telephone, snuck into Bette Midler’s book signing at Barnes & Noble, and let Mary Travers dig her fingernails into the back of my hand when she wanted to illustrate how hard it was to give up smoking. The famous people I considered for the security question, however, were all painters. I won’t tell you who I chose, but I considered Richard Schmid, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Motherwell, Françoise Gilot, David Hockney, and Andrew Wyeth. Hockney signed the right pocket of the shirt I wore to a fundraising event, and Henry Geldzahler (who was New York City’s Commissioner of Cultural Affairs) signed the left pocket.
I’m sure you understand why the famous painters outrank Redford, Newman, and Midler in my estimation. For me, their achievements are far more significant, and their impact on my life is certainly more important. Sorry, Mr. Redford.