You're designing Mount Rushmore II, a monument to US artists

Hypothetical situation: An anonymous donor will pay to have a Mount Rushmore-esque monument that, instead of presidents, will celebrate the greatness of US artists. He/she/it has put you in charge of selecting the 4 figures who will be carved in stone for our descendants or alien archeologists to discover millenia hence.

Your mandate: choose 4 great American artists (literary, visual, film, whatever) who represent a diverse selection of American artistic greatness.

The criteria: You must select 4 people. Chosen artists must be dead. They must be US artists, meaning they were primarily active after the US was formed and native to or intimately bound up in US artistic movements. The group of 4 must be somewhat diverse, meaning that you can’t pick 4 novelists or painters or directors. Sexual or ethnic diversity is encouraged, but not required.

So which artists do you choose to be carved into stone? (Non US dopers can play, too – either design a US monument or one for their home nation.)

It might be nice to choose artists who (a) were distinctively American, and (b) represent a wide variety of fields.

So to start with, I nominate:

Mark Twain

Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe would have to be shoe-ins. The other two should probably be visual artists. Unfortunately, I’m an unwashed ignoramus when it comes to that category.

My choices, in chronological order by birth:

Emily Dickinson (1830), one of the two biggest uniquely American poetic voices (along with Whitman).

Mark Twain (1835), who wrote the great American novel (Huckleberry Finn,) several other great American novels and short pieces, and helped bring American vernacular into the literary spotlight.

Duke Ellington (1899), who may not have invented jazz, the great American musical form, but was perhaps its greatest polisher and composer.

Andy Warhol (1928), who was a pretty good artist but who also demonstrated that art, celebrity and money are all variations on the same theme, which is about as American as you can get, frankly. Plus, his hair carved into a mountainside would be a sculptor’s nightmare. How fun is that?

Painful to leave off: William Faulkner, Edgar Allan Poe, and D.W. Griffith, the last of whom invented much film grammar yet is not fit for monumental immortality based on Birth of a Nation.

Mark Twain – the only truly obvious choice, I think – the name that occurred to me before I was halfway through the OP.

Louis Armstrong – a performer rather than a composer, but the most dominant performer in the most American of art forms, jazz. Not only a popular artist, but a truly innovative one as well.

Georgia O’Keeffe – a brilliant painter whose work (esp. the stuff done out in the desert] could have come from no other country.

The fourth, I think, should come from movies. I want to say Fred Astaire – because I worship the man – but I don’t think that’s right. Bogie, maybe? Let me meditate on this for a while.

P.T.Barnum Might be an idea, if showman is a sort of artist.

I think Mark Twain will be the only unanimous choice; he was my first thought, too.

Otherwise, I’d say we need to look at the following fields:

  • Definitely we need a jazz musician; jazz is the most important musical innovation to come out of the United States, and probably the most important musical innovation of the last hundred-odd years. Ellington and Armstrong would both be strong contenders for this role. I’m not savvy enough about jazz to make a good choice, though.
  • Similarly, we need a Hollywood icon, as cinema is the most American of artforms. Humphrey Bogart would be my choice, given my humongous crush on the man, but Katherine Hepburn might be a better choice.
  • The fourth choice I’m not so sure about. I’d actually shy away from static visual arts and from poets, as these are not such popular forms in the US, and I’m not convinced that the US has produced a surplus of superlatives in these fields. A rock star might be appropriate–Madonna or Elvis, maybe. If cinema isn’t the quintessential American artform, then television is: Dick Clark or William Shatner would work.


There needs to be a writer, an artist (visual, static art), a tv/movie personality, and a music personaltiy. My choices.

Writer: Mark Twain

Television/Movies: Mel Blanc

Artist: Andy Warhol

Music: Elvis

The only real reach is Mel Blanc, but I (along with a ton of other people) grew up watching Bugs, Daffy and their cohorts in humor. I think he deserves a spot just as much as any other person in Televison.

Mel Blanc’s an interesting choice, but if you’re going to go that route, I’d suggest one of three choices: Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, or Kermit the Frog. These are the famous figures.

(Walt Disney, come to think of it, would be a pretty great choice too).


Yupper. I’ll make Bugs Bunny my fourth nominee.

Rule clarification: The subject must be a real person. Some other anonymous donor can do the Rushmore of American Fictional Characters. I’ll be happy to participate in a selection thread for that one!

Walt Disney is a really tempting choice. Of the four I chose (Dickinson, Twain, Ellington and Warhol) I’d most likely drop Dickinson. But throwing Disney on really tilts the monument towards 20th century artists, which is something I was trying to avoid. Hmm.

Bogart’s another great choice for a Hollywood icon. Also a tempting swap out for Dickinson, with the same caveats about 20th century bias.

Other comments: Twain is probably a gimme, which only pains me because it leads me to drop Poe and Faulkner. You could argue for Poe, which would put two prosemongers on the list, but I think Faulkner’s gotta be an also ran even though I think he’s pretty frickin’ great.

I agree with Left Hand of Dorkness that a jazz musician is required. Ellington and Louis Armstrong are probably a toss up. Elvis and Sinatra had occurred to me, but I think jazz wins out over jazz vocals and rock in the music category.

I don’t think a visual artist is necessary, but I think Warhol is so quintessentially American and so iconic that he should be on the monument, even before O’Keefe, who I’d considered.

Other names I considered: Frank Lloyd Wright, Houdini, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Herman Melville, Thoreau, Isadora Duncan, Florenz Ziegfeld and Charles Ives. I’ve probably overlooked some other contenders.

Whaddya mean, **Bugs Bunny[/b[ is a fictional character? :confused:

This is a tough choice. I’d have to go with:

Mark Twain

Alfred Hitchcock

Louis Armstrong

Andy Warhol

Simply because they are all easily recognizable and do symbolize artistic advancements and/or movements that have had a significant impact.

Other options who might not be so readily recognized include

Frank Lloyd Wright, Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keefe, Billy Holiday, Duke Ellington, John Steinbeck, Arlo Guthrie, George M. Cohan.

There are 2 that I would like to see that haven’t been suggested yet:

Henry David Thoreau and Ansel Adams

No Bugs, eh? Ah well.

I wouldn’t worry too much about heavily weighting it toward twentieth-century artists: there WERE more artists in the twentieth century. Not only because a highly-industrialized society has more time for creating art, but also because there are simply a lot more people today than there were two hundred years ago. I’d guess that of the people alive from 1776 to 2004, more than 75% of them were alive in the twentieth century. I worry a little about being slanted too much away from the last half of the century, in fact, but I think we’re a little too close to it to make good judgments. Is Madonna going to remain iconic? Michael Jackson? George Lucas? I dunno.

Of your additional choices, I like Houdini the most: if I understand correctly, he was an unbelievably big celebrity during the early part of last century and was one of the first people who had a cult of celebrity around him.

A mountain with Mark Twain, Harry Houdini, Duke Ellington, and Katherine Hepburn would probably be my choice.


Two more comments:

photopat, Hitchcock’s profile on the mountain would be absolutely sublime. Very, very tempting :).

Secondly, as a close runner-up, a recognizable person, and a representative of the latter half of the twentieth century and a major area of American art, you couldn’t go wrong with Johnny Cash.


For film/television, I submit Charlie Chaplin.

Also, Hitchcock was British.

And of course, Chaplin was American, either. Don’t mind me…

Hey! Yeah, you Brits design your own damn mountain!