Living History: Modern Influential Artists


Life is short in the grand scheme of things and it’s important to have a legacy. The only true immortality is what people create because it can be eternal. Art is what is left of society when everyone is gone. Sometimes, an artist can leave a major influence on society while they’re still alive. With that in mind, here’s a look at some artists who have left a strong influence on society, but are still alive. Modern influential living artists, some who are obvious living legends and others whose work has affected our lives in smaller, more subtle ways.

Lisa Frank

If you saw any school supplies in North America in the 80s, 90s, 2000s, or later; chances are, you’ve briefly thought your eyes were melting, but then realized it was one of those pictures that seemed to be found on every conceivable stationary product from backpacks to cosmetics, noted for their use of rainbows, animals, and levels of color saturation that shouldn’t and don’t occur in nature. What you may not know is that this style was the brainchild of an influential artist, Lisa Frank. Lisa Frank is an artist who specializes in office supply products and stickers. If you saw backpacks, pencils, stickers, makeup, folders, pens, pencils, binders, boxes of lunch and pencils, envelopes, clipboards, erasers, book covers, calculators, notebooks and notepads, makeup, or towels made for children. You’ve seen Lisa Frank’s work.


Though it may seem relatively simplistic, being described as “The children’s equivalent of black velvet paintings”; Lisa Frank is actually a very strong and detailed artist. Lisa Frank and her employees have a wide range of talents, with hand drawing, digital art, and chemical engineering. That last one may seem like an oddity. Lisa Frank’s team actually went to the effort of developing several proprietary ink formulas to create inks whose colors are brighter and more reflective. While many artists mix paints to get particular colors, Lisa Frank’s team invented the paints from scratch. Lisa Frank’s work is actually found worldwide, in North America, Europe, East Asia, and Australia. It can even be seen in delightfully strange Japanese music videos. Several of her products can be found in the PONPONPON video:

Stan Lee

Stan Lee is an American comic book creator and visionary. Most people familiar with him can tell you that he worked on the Spider-Man, Hulk, X-men, Fantastic 4, Iron Man, and Marvel’s Thor; in addition to working on a plethora of other franchises, such as Captain America. By my estimate, all of the franchises Stan Lee has worked on have a rough economic impact of 300 billion dollars. However, Stan Lee has done more than a massive plethora of art; he’s actually had a varied career. While he was in the US Army in World War II, he worked on many training films and manuals which were shown to almost all armed forces in the US Army. Chances are if you meet a WWII veteran, they saw some of Stan Lee’s work. In the 60’s, he morphed Spider-Man into a series which criticized the issues in U.S. elections, analyzed the Vietnam War, and showed the role of student activism. Stan Lee also made works which criticized racism and drug addiction. Stan Lee’s most famous act was an act of defiance against the Comics Code Authority, the US’s defacto censorship board for comics, which he did in a commissioned piece of Spider-Man where Peter Parker’s friend got addicted to drugs. Stan Lee still pushes boundaries both social and artistic, though younger audiences may know him best for his cameos in the Marvel movies.


Scott Adams

Scott Adams is the guy man writes and draws Dilbert, one of the most widely distributed strip-cartoons in existence. It appears in more than 2000 newspapers, in 57 countries and 19 languages. Scott Adams has also worked on a number of other things. He also worked on the Dilbert TV show, co-owns a restaurant company, worked on an episode of Babylon 5, and won a NCTE George Orwell Award. Scott Adams may also be the most subversive person in the modern business community. In one incident at Logitech, he cooperated with the CEO, infiltrated the company by posing as a consultant, and tricked them into using a mission statement that was “so impossibly complicated that it has no real content whatsoever”. He also coined the term “Confusopoly“, which is where an industry actively works to make price-models as confusing as possible rather than competing on price, such as the state is in insurance, financial services, and most utilities. He also coined “The Dilbert Principal”, the idea that idiots are systematically moved from productive jobs to middle management, in order to limit the damage they do to the company. Due to being affected by it, Scott Adams has brought Spasmodic Dysphonia, a neuromuscular disease to the attention of many. He has also published some work outside of Dilbert, such as Plop, the Hairless Elbonian, God’s Debris, The Religion War, The Dilbert Future, thriving on stupidity in the 21st century, and The Joy Of Work.


Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki is among the most influential animators of all time. He is one of the very few anime creators to receive an Academy Award. His work could best be described as “Art films accessible to children”. His most famous film, Spirited Away, was one of the most popular films of all time. Princess Mononoke is another one of Miyazaki’s works, managing to be thematically intense without seeming like a propaganda film, which is extremely hard. The Wind Rises is Miyazaki’s most emotionally intense film, telling the story of an airplane designer in the Japanese imperialist era preceding and during World War II. Miyazaki has been known to be a supporter of human rights and a criticizer of censorship; after he refused to travel to the U.S. due to the bombings of Iraq. His studio, Studio Ghibli, is one of the few anime studios to refuse to allow international dubbing and distribution companies to edit the films, including one incident where an executive mailed a Japanese sword to executives at Miramax, with a two-word note: “No Cuts”, regarding Princess Mononoke.


Susan Kare

Even if you’ve never heard of her, I guarantee that you have encountered Susan Kare’s work. Susan Kare is a computer iconographer, and possibly the first. Susan Kare was hired by Apple to work on the original Mac. In that time, she created several fonts for the machine, making it one of the first machines to support multiple fonts. One of these fonts, Chicago, was used in all versions of Mac OS prior to OS X, and was the font used in several generations of the iPod. Susan Kare invented the “Happy Mac” icon that was used as the boot picture on all macs, prior to its modern face replacement, which she influenced. Other contributions of hers include the command icons used on Apple Keyboards “⌥” and “⌘”, where Microsoft uses the Windows Logo; and the first trashcan icon, which every desktop OS has copied since.

Most of Susan Kare’s work has been emulated in many ways. For example, she co-designed the original interface for copy-paste used on the first Mac, including the interface and icons; which was copied by a bunch of distributors. She created all of the brush icons in the original MacPaint, which includes the pouring bucket for “fill”, and the spray-paint icon. Both of these were copied rampantly in the industry, as were her cut, copy, and paste icons.

Outside of the Apple world, Susan Kare developed the card-deck for Windows, which was in place up until Vista, “resulting in the joke she didn’t want to be associated with Windows Vista”. Kare created the first icons used in GNOME File Manager, which is used in many versions of Linux. She also contributed icons to Facebook and IBM. Kare is actually the first digital portrait creator, and in just 32X32 pixels, created an accurate rendition of Steve Jobs at the time.

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