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David C. Driskell

An Artist and Scholar

One of the world's leading authorities on the subject of African American art, Professor David C. Driskell was a highly regarded artist and scholar.

Born in 1931 in Eatonton, Georgia, David C. Driskell grew up in North Carolina and completed the art program at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine in 1953. He received an undergraduate degree in art from Howard University in 1955 and an M.F.A. from The Catholic University of America in 1962. He then explored postgraduate study in art history at The Netherlands Institute for the History of Art in The Hague. Trained as a painter and art historian, Driskell worked primarily in collage and mixed media and printmaking.
Driskell began his teaching career at Talladega College in 1955. He taught at Howard and Fisk Universities and served as visiting professor of art at several universities, including Bowdoin College, the University of Michigan, Queens College and Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He joined the faculty of the department of art at the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1977 and served as its chairperson from 1978–1983. In 1995, he was named distinguished university professor of art and taught until his retirement in 1998. In 2001, the University of Maryland established the David C. Driskell Center to honor Driskell as an artist, art historian, collector, curator and scholar. The center honors Driskell by preserving the rich heritage of African American visual art and culture.
The recipient of numerous fellowships, awards and prizes, including three Rockefeller Foundation Fellowships and a Harmon Foundation Fellowship, Driskell also received 13 honorary doctoral degrees in art. While teaching at the University of Maryland, Driskell maintained an active career as a practicing artist, teacher, curator, collector, art administrator and art consultant. He lectured across the globe and his works are included in major collections of art museums throughout the world. Driskell authored five exhibition books on the subject of African American art, co-authored four others and published more than 40 catalogues from exhibitions he curated.

Image of Pine Trees by David C. Driskell
Pine Trees by David C. Driskell

In 1976, Driskell curated the groundbreaking exhibition “Two Centuries of Black American Art: 1750–1950,” which has been a foundation for the field of African American art history. In 2000, Driskell was honored by President Bill Clinton as one of 12 recipients of the National Humanities Medal. In 2005, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, established the David C. Driskell Prize, the first national award to honor and celebrate contributions to the field of African American art and art history. In 2007, Driskell was elected as a national academician by the National Academy. In 2016, Driskell received the Lifetime Legacy Award from the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and in 2018, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Driskell’s biography, "David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar", was written by Julie L. McGee, an Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Art History; and Director, Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center, Department of Art History, University of Delaware, published in 2006 by Pomegranate Publications, Inc. 

Driskell passed away April 1, 2020, in Hyattsville, Maryland, from complications of COVID-19. He was 88. Read his In Memoriam here.