What does it mean to be cool? For us, people popped into our minds before words.
We saw The King’s signature leg pop and hip roll.
We heard Dolly Parton serenading us with Jolene.
We felt BB King’s string bending and vibrato.
“To be cool is to breach the frontier of tradition or consciousness: to be cool is to be someone who boldly goes where angles and fools fear to tread,” - Joel Dinerstein
Six years ago, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery hosted the American Cool exhibition, showcasing 100 figures deemed emblematic to American culture for their original artistic visions and signature style (or swagger). These figures were the embodiment of cultural rebellion or transgression for a given generation - renown to this day for their iconic power, instant recognition; and a recognized cultural legacy.
It was, as you can imagine, an epic showcase of powerhouses who had left their eternal mark across film, music, sports, print, politics, art, design and more. These were the few who set the standard for all on what it was to be cool.
Inspired by this show, we challenged ourselves to revisit the question - what is American cool? - and reimagine it with our own collection of images that celebrate the cultural influencers who have defined us.
Not wanting to tackle this topic in an echo chamber, we sought insight from friends, family, followers, and photographers to help us define our “cool” and decide who fits that profile.
No small feat, we carefully selected images featuring the figures who embody American Cool for us. Although some were featured in the original Smithsonian show, others were inspired by our experiences and your feedback.
Follow us at @HeartofGoldFineArt as we feature the icons in this collection.