Acclaimed artist and professor David Driskell returned to Howard University to help the Department of Art celebrate its 90th anniversary as part of the James A. Porter Distinguished Lecture Series on Art and History.
“Howard University’s programs in the arts are programs of excellence,” Driskell said. “I’m happy to have been a part of it.”
The Gallery of Art filled with alumni, colleagues, students and art enthusiasts to hear Driskell discuss his career and work building upon the foundation created by Porter.
The lecture series, named in honor of Porter, a Howard graduate and former chair of the art department, was established to continue the legacy laid by Porter and his studies of African American art history. Tritobia Hayes Benjamin, Ph.D., associate dean of the Division of Fine Arts, moderated the talk.
“As a graduate of this program that he was so instrumental in, it’s great to be able to hear him speak,” said Natalie Jackson, who received a degree in art history in 2007.
Driskell “unofficially” came to Howard University in the fall of 1949, not having been accepted or even completing an application. “I was sitting in on classes without being enrolled,” Driskell said. “I went to the registrar with my transcript and told them I wanted to go to college.”
Although he would have to wait until the following semester to become a student officially, that didn’t stop Driskell from continuing to sit in on classes.
Having declared a major in history, Driskell decided to enroll in one of Porter’s art classes. “I was in class one day, and Porter was looking at my drawings and asked what my major was,” Driskell recalled. “When I told him history,” he said, ‘You need to be over here.'”
Over the years, Driskell taught at many universities, most notably, Howard and Fisk universities and the University of Maryland. At the University of Maryland, Driskell served as the chairman from 1978 to 1983. In 1995 he was named Distinguished University Professor of Art, a title he now holds as Emeritus.
During his time at the universities, Driskell established and expanded programs in African American art history. “The universities had African art history programs, but no one had anything relating to African American art history,” Driskell said. “That’s a very big part of art.”
As a professor at Howard, Driskell was highly respected. He taught many popular classes to well-known alumni like Stokely Carmichael and colleagues who would sit in on his classes.
After the death of Dean Warner Lawson in 1971, Driskell was offered the position of dean, but turned it down. “If I had taken on an administrative position like that, I wouldn’t have been able to continue writing and painting,” Driskell said. “I didn’t want the responsibility.”
Driskell had nothing but good things to say about the Department of Art. He also briefly touched on an important topic in the department, academic renewal. He stated that he was very disappointed to hear that the master’s program in art history had been cut, but that the curriculum was strong and that hopefully the issue can be revisited.
“This program is something to be proud of,” he said. “I hope things can be worked out.”
“Driskell has an amazing legacy in the art world,” Jackson said. “It’s wonderful to have him here.”