David C. Driskell was born in Eatonton, Georgia in 1931. Educated in the public schools of North Carolina, he received his undergraduate degree in art at Howard University in 1955 and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Catholic University of America in 1962, both in Washington, DC. He pursued post-graduate study in art history at The Netherlands Institute for the History of Art in the Hague and independently, he has studied African and African American cultures in Europe, Africa, and South America.
He has been the recipient of numerous fellowships, awards, and prizes including: three Rockefeller Foundation Fellowships, a Danforth Foundation Fellowship, and a Harmon Foundation Fellowship. A one year fellowship was awarded to Driskell in the form of a Faculty Research Grant from the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland in 1984. In 1995, Driskell was named Distinguished University Professor of Art at the University of Maryland, College Park, a title he now holds. He was the recipient of Distinguished Alumni Awards in Art from Howard University in 1981 and The Catholic University of America in 1996. Driskell has also received nine honorary doctoral degrees in art.
Driskell began his teaching career at Talladega College in 1955. He has taught at Howard and Fisk Universities and served as Visiting Professor of Art at Bowdoin College, The University of Michigan, Queens College, and Obafemi Awolowo University (previously the University of Ife) in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He joined the faculty of the Department of Art at the University of Maryland in 1977 and served as its Chairman from 1978-1983. Since 1983, he has maintained an active career as a practicing artist, teacher, curator, collector, administrator, and art consultant while continuing to teach at the University of Maryland.
Driskell is cited as one of the world's leading authorities on the subject of African American Art. He has contributed significantly to scholarship in the history of art on the role of the Black artist in American society, authored five exhibition books on the subject, co-authored four others and published more than forty catalogues for exhibitions he has curated. His articles and essays on the subject of African American art are extensive and have appeared in more than twenty major publications throughout the world.
Before coming to the University of Maryland in 1977, Driskell was Director of University Galleries and chairman of the Department of Art at Fisk University from 1966-1976. In 1976, he curated the Bicentennial Exhibition for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Two Centuries of Black American Art; 1750-1950. The exhibition was accompanied by a text with the same title published by Alfred Knoff, 1976. Other exhibitions and accompanying books include Hidden Heritage: Afro-American Art, 1800-1950; Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America, Abrams, 1987; Contemporary Visual Expressions, Smithsonian Press, 1987 and African American Visual Aesthetics: A Post Modernist View, 1995, Smithsonian Press.
Driskell has lectured in the United States at the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Dallas Museum of Art, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Brooklyn Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago, Harvard University, Howard University, the University of Michigan, Spelman College, Harvard University, Haverford College, the University of California at Berkeley, and many other colleges, universities and museums in North America, Europe, Africa, and South America.
He is no stranger to television having seven films to his credit on the subject of African American Art. He has appeared on NBC's The Today Show, CBS's In The News, PBS and on television in ten foreign countries. In 1977, Driskell was commissioned by CBS Television to write the script for an hour-long television program on African American art which he narrated before camera entitled Hidden Heritage. It won a CBS award and appeared three consecutive years on national television after its initial airing in 1977.
In 1989 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. CUE Films of London produced the documentary Hidden Heritage: The Roots of Black American Painting for British Television (Channel 4). It premiered at the Princess Anne Theater, at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in London on November 8, 1990 to the acclaim of an audience comprised of art enthusiasts from four continents.
Driskell has also fulfilled a number of commissions. The most recent creative project is the execution of 65 stained glass windows for newly renovated DeForest Chapel on the campus of Talladega College in Alabama. The windows were installed in the spring of 1996.
Since 1977, Driskell has served as cultural advisor to Camille and Bill Cosby and curator of the Cosby Collection of Fine Arts. In 1995, Driskell was called upon by President and Mrs. Clinton to select a work of art by an African American artist for permanent display in The White House. Henry O. Tanner's celebrated painting, Sand Dunes at Sunset: Atlantic City was unveiled and installed in a ceremony in The Garden Room on October 29, 1996. He serves on the boards of several nationally known art institutions and organizations such as the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, The American Federation of Arts, The Cosby Foundation Scholarship Advisory Committee, the Commissioners of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art, and the Amistad Research Center.
David Driskell and his wife, Thelma, maintain residences in Hyattsville, Maryland; Falmouth, Maine; and New York City.