The Art of John T. Scott

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The LEH opened its remarkable John T. Scott art collection to the public on September 20, 2007 at a special reception for Scott’s family.

John Scott was one of those rare artistic spirits who let the “sidewalks of New Orleans” speak to his soul and imagination. Through his singular art, he has left us a visual and artistic legacy that will inspire us for generations. That is why the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities has embarked on its mission to make the LEH Humanities Center a focal point for Scott’s art, for no other artist has captured the cultural spirit and complexities of New Orleans and its people as eloquently.

On September 1, 2007, Scott – known for his African-Caribbean-New Orleans inspired kinetic sculpture – died in Houston after two double lung transplants and his long struggle with pulmonary fibrosis. He was 67.

In a tribute to Scott on New Orleans public radio, local artist and art activist Jacqueline Bishop described Scott as an original who “needed New Orleans as much as New Orleans needed him. He was part of the ecosystem. If you didn’t know John Scott, go to Woldenberg Park to see his sculpture or to De Saix Circle in Gentilly to see Spirit House [both in New Orleans] or venture to 18th and Vine in Kansas City, Missouri. He’ll be there. He is everywhere in us.”

In 1992, Scott received the prestigious “Genius Grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for his creativity as one of the nation’s most innovate artists. In 2005, the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) recognized his contribution to American art in a major retrospective, Circle Dance: The Art of John T. Scott. A month after the show closed, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, forcing Scott and hundreds of thousands to flee to Houston and other cities around the nation.

Throughout his long career as an artist, Scott drew upon the city’s rich African-Caribbean culture and musical heritage in creating his vibrant kinetic sculptures that often explored themes such as the “diddley bow” from West African mythology or rhythms and movements inspired by early 19th century African slave dances in the city’s famed Congo Square.

In the catalog that accompanied his 2005 retrospective at NOMA, Scott used the words “jazz thinking” in describing his mindset while creating his art: “[I]f you listen to a really good jazz group three things are always evident. . . Jazz musicians are always in the ‘now’ while you’re hearing it, but these guys are incredibly aware of where they have been and have an unbelievable anticipation of where they are going. . . To me that’s jazz thinking. It’s improvisational thinking in the sense that I don’t have to contrive some system of connecting two things that don’t seem related because I understand the relationship.”

Scott studied art at Michigan State University and Xavier University of New Orleans, where he later taught art for over 40 years. During the summer 1983, he received a grant to study in New York under the internationally acclaimed sculptor George Rickey. Since 1965 John Scott has exhibited throughout the United States and internationally. He received an honorary Doctor of Humanities from Michigan State University in 1995 and a Doctor of Humanities from Tulane University in 1997.

In describing the constant influence the culture, music and streets of New Orleans had on his work, Scott often said, “New Orleans is the only city that I’ve been in that if you listen the sidewalks will speak to you.”

To visit the LEH collection at The Humanities Center at Turners Hall, call Brian Boyles at 504-620-2632.

View his work below: