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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Most Successful Artist of All Time

If you were asked to name the most successful American artist of all time, who would it be. Forget about defining "success", he would undoubtedly lead by most every definition. Play a little guessing game here with me (no fair scrolling down to peek). He was born in 1901 in Chicago. His father was a not-very-successful Canadian-born building contractor. His mother sometimes went out and worked with her husband's employees. In 1906 they gave up the family business to try farming. It was there our young artist did his first paid work, a drawing in crayon of their doctor's horse for which he earned 5 cents. By 1910, they were forced to sell the farm and move to Kansas City where our budding young artist managed a newspaper route while studying at the Kansas City Art Institute. He was 14.   
In high school, he contributed cartoon drawings to the school newspaper before enlisting in the war effort as an ambulance driver, eventually being station in Paris and soaking up a bit of the French art scene. Back home after the war, he was determined to make a career in commercial art. In time, he found himself working for a small Kansas City film company where he pioneered many ground breaking animation techniques. In the early 1920's, he founded his own company. By 1923 the company was broke and our artist and would-be entrepreneur was on a train to California. There he founded a similar, somewhat more successful enterprise. Today that company is worth upwards to 100 billion dollars.  

The original theater release
poster from 1940
Well, if you haven't guessed by now, our artist-turned-film-maker-turned-entrepreneur was Walter Elias Disney. Though he never did much in the way of drawing after his friend, Mickey, made it big in 1928, his imagination, creative genius, leadership, and sheer will-power drove a team of artist, painters, musicians, cinematographers, actors, writers, and (his own word) "imagineers" to create an entertainment powerhouse with animated fingers in just about every leisure-time pursuit imaginable. His feature films represent a line of classics stretching from the ground-breaking Snow White to the latest Winnie the Pooh and Captain America (a cartoon character but not a cartoon). My own all-time favorite--the original Fantasia. While an artistic masterpiece it was a big-time loser at the box-office. It took some 35 years to show a profit, becoming successful only after Disney's death in 1966. Today, though the film is more than 70 years old, it continues to be an artistic high-water mark, marrying the best of painting, music, and film-making into a wondrously exciting work of art that stands alone in its genre.

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