David Driskell
National Visionary

Born June 7, 1931 in Eatonton, Georgia

Artist, educator, art historian, curator

David C. Driskell, internationally acclaimed art connoisseur, curator, scholar, artist, and professor, is one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject of African American art. Born in Eatonton, Georgia in 1931, Driskell has contributed significantly to the scholarship of art history and the role of the Black artist in American society. He has authored five exhibition books on the subject, co-authored four books and published more than forty catalogues on exhibitions he has curated. As an accomplished artist, he has been exhibited throughout the United States, in Europe, and in Africa. His primary media is painting and collage, although he has also worked in printmaking, drawing, and sculpture.

Driskell received his undergraduate degree in art from Howard University in 1955 and a Masters of Fine Arts degree from the Catholic University of America in 1962, both in Washington, DC. His interest in art history led to post-graduate study at The Netherlands Institute for the History of Art in the Hague, and further study of the Black Diaspora in Europe, Africa, and South America.

Driskell is the recipient of numerous distinguished fellowships, awards, and prizes, including three Rockefeller Foundation Fellowships, a Danforth Foundation Fellowship, and a Harmon Foundation Fellowship. He was the recipient of Distinguished Alumni Awards in Art from Howard University in 1981 and The Catholic University of America in 1996.

Much of Driskell’s career has been dedicated to promoting greater recognition of the rich history and contributions of African American artists. The Arts Council of Great Britain funded a one-hour documentary film which highlights the contributions Driskell has made to the interpretation of African American art history. The documentary premiered in London to the acclaim of art enthusiasts from four continents. In 2000, President Clinton awarded him a National Humanities Medal, recognizing his efforts to expand, support, and contribute to this country’s understanding of the humanities.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
Passionate about the preservation of African American art, Driskell has played a key role in assisting many institutions and individuals to assemble collections that celebrate the unique history of the African Diaspora. Of particular note is his work with historically black colleges and with the Cosby Collection of African American Art. His personal collection is tremendous, representing over 40 years of collecting art, archival materials, photographs, and films.

Driskell’s teaching career spans nearly 50 years, beginning at Talladega College in 1955. He later taught at Howard University and Fisk University and served as Visiting Professor of Art at Bowdoin College, The University of Michigan, Queens College, and Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. In 1995, Driskell was named Distinguished University Professor of Art at the University of Maryland, College Park. He retired from teaching in December, 1998.

In 2001, the University of Maryland established the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the African Diaspora, honoring Driskell for his many contributions to the field.

The Center provides future generations with the opportunity to study Africa and the African Diaspora from multidisciplinary perspectives.

David Driskell and his wife, Thelma, have two daughters, and reside in Hyattsville, Maryland. He continues to maintain an active career as a practicing artist, curator, collector, and consultant.



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