Making A Difference With Art

Stanley Hurd
CBS News Sunday Morning likes to think of itself as the arts and leisure section of weekend television. Correspondent Martha Teichner takes a look at the various artists profiled in the last 25 years.

We could drop names – Rembrandt, Rauschenberg and Renoir, to pick three painters whose names start with "R," all have been on CBS News Sunday Morning.

The problem is, which names to drop?

In 25 years, there have been hundreds of artist profiled, not just painters, but sculptors, photographers, architects, even one crop artist (Stan Herd).

The very best explanation for what they all have in common comes from one of the least famous painters Sunday Morning had talked to, Ralph Fasanella.

"The truth is what you're really after in everything you do," says Fasanella. "When it comes right, it is right. People will pick it up. It rings for them. It hits a note for them. That's truth-fullness."

Pick a category under sculptors, whether talking about the work of Jonathan Barofsky or Richard Serra, the category is large.

The fun of going back through all those years of stories is listening to what people had to say.

Morley Safer's description of sculptor Alexander Calder's mobiles is my favorite line from any story Sunday Morning's ever done on an artist.

"Like so much celestial laundry, they twirl and play and dance to the slightest breath, indoors and outdoors … the performance never ends -- installing a Calder is a tango unto itself," says Safer.

Recognizing the modern masters was a little challenging for CBS News Sunday Morning's co-founder Charles Kuralt.

"I can't tell a modern master from a flash in the pan," he once said.

Kuralt may have been thinking of Andy Warhol.

Speaking of art taking itself seriously, or not, one has to listen to Wayne Thiebaud, whose paintings of pastry sell for millions.

"It's quite a beautiful thing," says Thiebaud. "A piece of lemon meringue pie."

An artist can have a sense of humor, such as Edward Gorey.

"When in doubt, just draw a cat's head," says Gorey.

Jamie Wyeth really gets into his subject matter.

"I'm alone in the studio and, all of a sudden, I'm thinking I'm an asparagus," he says.

Keith Carter leaves a message on his voicemail that says: "At the moment, I'm in hot pursuit of art, beauty and truth, so leave your name and number and we'll call you back.

Carter considers photography to be art, but not all photographers do. Lord Snowdon, a very famous one, for example, doesn't.

"It's only gotten highfalutin in recent years," says Snowdon. "I disapprove of it totally. I mean, I think all the nonsense of calling it one of the fine arts is hooey."

What about architecture?

I happen to agree with Philip Johnson.

"To me, you see, architecture is a very simple matter," he says. "It's an art."

Except, I'm not so sure about the very simple part, after doing a story on what it took to keep Frank Lloyd Wright's sagging "Fallingwater" from falling in the water. There's nothing simple about Frank Gehry's buildings or the planetarium James Stewart Polshek built in New York City.

Are motorcycles art? The Guggenheim museum has a show called "The Art of the Motorcycle."

The New York Times called the quilts of Gee's Bend, Alabama, "Some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced."

If something is beautiful, does it automatically qualify as art? Would fashion designer Ralph Rucci's clothes or the objects Daniel Brush makes out of gold be considered art?

"Why do I work with this? I work with it, because I don't understand it," says Brush.

For 25 years, artists have been telling CBS News Sunday Morning why they make art.

For Picasso, at the end, it was a matter of life or death, we learned from his biographer, John Richardson.

"I think those last works are a desperate, desperate attempt to keep death at bay," says Richardson. "They're a desperate bid for immortality."

Photographer David Douglas Duncan figures he took 40,000 pictures of Picasso over the course of their nearly 20-year friendship.

"A lot of guys were better photographers, but I was there. That makes a difference," Duncan says.

And we were there for 25 years -- hoping we've made a difference.

Originally aired Jan. 25, 2004