Sunday, May 24, 2009

PETER MAX


"Mistah Kurtz, he dead"


Like Andy Warhol and LeRoy Neiman, Peter Max was a talented, hard working illustrator before he became a pop culture phenomenon. He studied for years with the great teacher Frank Reilly at the Art Students League in New York and learned the skills of a serious artist.

In 1963, Max was selected to paint a jazz record cover. The young and ambitious artist worked hard to finish the project on time, but his art director was less than enthused. Max begged for a one day extension and started over with a totally different approach.

He dug deeper, stayed up most of the night, and produced the following cover which won a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators for the best advertising art of 1963:




One look at this lovely picture tells you that Max was an artist who had what it takes. Note how the highest contrast and the sharpest focused lines are right on that piano keyboard where he wants to direct your attention. Beautiful.

A few years later, Max hit the jackpot with his "Cosmic" art style, which became wildly successful in the 1960s. His trademark psychedelic look soon adorned everything from perfume bottles to airplanes. Max sold millions of posters and limited edition prints and became immensely wealthy.







Max enjoyed the celebrity lifestyle. His personal chauffer drove him around Manhattan in Max's custom designed Rolls Royce. He painted Ringo Starr's piano and performed exhibition painting on the white house lawn. He was featured on the cover of Life Magazine.



Max now had complete artistic freedom. No more deadlines, no more unreasonable client demands, no more unappreciative art directors. He could just look within his heart and paint whatever he found there. His fan base would buy anything with his signature on it. He began making his signature bigger and bigger.



The funny thing is, as his signature got bigger, his talent got smaller:





The artist who started out as a sharp minded and keen eyed competitor became artistically flabby. Here is his painting entitled "I love the World," depicting an angel embracing the planet.



Without the benefit of anyone to challenge or reject his work, Max sank deeper and deeper into a morass of narcissism. Here are some official facts about Max from his web site:
He loves to hear amazing facts about the universe

Peter's early childhood impressions had a profound influence on his psyche, weaving the fabric that was to become the tapestry of his full creative expression.

This new style developed as a spontaneous creative urge, following Max's meeting with Swami Satchidananda, an Indian Yoga master who taught him meditation and the spiritual teachings of the East.

In the 1970s, Max gave up his commercial pursuits and went into retreat to begin painting in earnest....

[I]n October, 1989, Max unveiled his "40 Gorbys," a colorful homage to Mikhail Gorbachev. Prophetically, a few weeks later, communism fell in Eastern Europe....

Max could be forgiven for his nutty philosophy, but when he gained the freedom to say or do anything, his art clearly suffered.


Where oh where is that art director who once told Max to go back and try again?



Artists and critics chafe at any restriction on the artist's freedom. In fact, it seems that illustration is held in lower regard than "fine" art mainly because the illustrator's vision is subject to restrictions from some client or art director. There is some truth to that criticism, but Peter Max demonstrates how the lack of restrictions can be just as hazardous to the quality of art.

In my view, Peter Max, along with Andy Warhol and Leroy Neiman, are good examples of artists whose work was spoiled and made rotten by excessive freedom. Today's fine art scene offers many additional examples of artists whose self-indulgent work has little relevance or value outside their own cloistered circle. When the world provides resistance to an artist (whether in the form of a deadline, or a client's specifications, or poverty, or totalitarian censorship) it can have a beneficial effect on the art. As the old proverb says, "the wind in a man's face makes him wise."

Artistic freedom can help or hurt art. But if great art can be produced in a prison cell or a concentration camp, it's silly for the fine art community to suggest that it can't also be produced within the constraints of a commercial art studio.

104 Comments:

Blogger Matthew Adams said...

hmm, I kinda like the last picture in the post. Maybe it's just the way you cropped it.

It is funny that people who make millions of dollars from art, or spend millions on it, can look with scorn on "commercial artists".

5/25/2009 9:27 PM  
Blogger Hattermad said...

You nailed it there. A lot of people may decry your opinion on this, but there is undeniable truth in it. I may not like it when an AD or Client comes back and says "Change this..." "Can we do this..." but it is necessary and can lead to some interesting ends.

I have never personally like Max's work, not appealing to my eye, but now I may have to search out this early stuff, very interesting.

5/25/2009 10:10 PM  
Anonymous whit brachna said...

in this specific context your post makes a lot of sense.... however, there are a lot of cases where art direction leads to a complete and utter decline in the quality of the work produced.

Many times art direction leads towards the "focus tested" and therefore idiotic taste of the mass population. For example: "we want the badass main character to be more... badass! where's the scar over his eye and the millions of packs on his clothing?!" or "can we get some more glowy crystals in that sci fi/fantasy universe? it doesn't look contrived and over-saturated and silly enough..." There are exceptions of course, but I think you and others with interesting and well thought out taste in artwork are sadly the minority...

I'm coming from more of the video games side of things as far as client work goes... maybe other fields of illustration would be less masturbatory. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it really comes down to the quality of the art director. It's so very difficult to find the art director who can find the right balance of feedback and taste.

i've noticed that many art directors also tend to choose the worst thumbnail.. or the one that gets thrown in there at the last minute. I've conciously decided to just not include thumbnails that I know to be crap simply because so many art directors will choose it. call me jaded.

I love your posts, take care!

5/25/2009 11:20 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Matthew.

Hattermad, I don't think there is an easy answer here. ADs or clients sometimes do more harm than good. The artist Frank Frazetta might be a good example. He was famously criticized by ADs for his "old fashioned" style, but fortunately stuck to his guns. On the other hand, some of his very best work was done when a publisher imposed a deadline and Frazetta was forced to get off his butt and work all night to meet that deadline. His work was also improved when authors came up with themes-- barbarians, etc.-- that gave him subjects to work with. It just seems that those who argue that artistic freedom is an unalloyed good have a superficial notion of freedom.

5/25/2009 11:23 PM  
Blogger Beetle said...

Your article is so very true of successful artists inclined to complacency.
'Some' leading British artists of the 90's, with total freedom, supported by multimillionaire benefaction, have produced a decade of artistic embarrasment.
There may be a parallel in TV sitcoms. In the UK episodes of Dad's Army (first broadcast 68-77) are still repeatedly shown at peak times on the mainstream BBC channels.
Did the heavy constraints on content at the time such programmes were made produce better shows than the loose rules of today?
Very thought provoking article.

5/26/2009 8:36 AM  
Blogger wbrachna said...

hey... this is whit again..

sorry for the off-topic and unneccessarily negative post! you can feel free to delete it as it doesn't really add to the discussion. I guess i was feeling a little burned out and took this post as an opportunity to blow off some steam.. I would delete it myself but I didn't have a login at the time.

take care,
whit

5/26/2009 11:42 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Whit, I actually liked your comments and thought they were right on the money. There are lots of stories about exasperating ADs or tasteless sponsors, and your example of the scar over the character's eye happens all too often. That is an occupational hazard, and I admire the artists who have stood up against that pressure and fought for what they believe in. My message is that there are dangers on the other side of the spectrum as well; artists who are free to gaze at their navels often produce inferior art. Today the fine arts community seems to obsess about the dangers from a lack of freedom and ignore the dangers of too much freedom that erode the quality of their work.

Beetle, thanks-- you're right, old television shows can be a prime example of this phenomenon.

5/26/2009 12:54 PM  
Blogger Marc Hudgins said...

I think this is a fairly common problem when you don't have anyone left to be an honest critic of your work coupled with huge success. I think it's easy to fall into the trap that says "my past work was hailed as genius, therefore, whatever I do must also be genius".

You can see it in Chuck Jones later desecration of WB characters and in George Lucas' later work (medium doesn't matter -once you can be your own boss, the potential for bad decisions increases).

5/26/2009 4:22 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

In my view, Peter Max, along with Andy Warhol and Leroy Neiman, are good examples of artists whose work was spoiled and made rotten by excessive freedom.This will amaze you, David...I agree. All three were good illustrators to start with. Neiman was the first to crumble, followed rapidly by Max. Warhol was still making breakthrough art until Valerie Solanas shot him. After that his attitude grew brittle and it showed in the work.

Fortunately for most of us, relative obscurity has kept the purity of our work intact.

5/26/2009 4:23 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

This is a great post and I think it rings very true and not just in illustration.

I think in film this is now called, The Lucas Effect. Or should be. ;)

5/26/2009 6:26 PM  
Blogger Gringo said...

Fantastic artical... very true in some cases, but as Whit Brachna said, they also can be the reverse.

5/26/2009 9:09 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Marc and Brian, I have to agree with you that George Lucas takes the all time trophy.

Rob, do you think it is a coincidence that these three artists got worse as they strayed further from the field of illustration and became gallery artists selling fake lithographs? There are a lot of problems with commercial art, but the toughness of that market can sometimes serve as a disinfectant for a lot of what currently ails the fine art world.

5/26/2009 11:32 PM  
Blogger ARMAND CABRERA said...

Great Post.
I've always noticed a lack of craft by so called professional artists in the gallery side of things who were never illustrators; this lack of basic skill sets would never be tolerated in illustration or productiona art at the same level of success.

Having said that though it seems Max, Neiman and Warhol are the exception for illustrators turned artist. When you look at many of the illustrators of the forties, fifties and later who went into fine art they tend to be at the top of the field. Lovell Hulings, Steinke, Terpning, Wolfe, Blackshear...there is quite a long list. Maybe it is the character of the individual more than their success that allows the lessening of personal standards.

5/27/2009 7:56 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

David -- I was with you up until the final sentence. I think (obviously, since I'm reading your blog) that client demands can engender great art; but to claim that the constraints of working in a concentration camp are categorically similar to those of working in an illustration studio is preposterous.

Working in an illustration studio probably doesn't generate quite the same depth of emotional pain as being confined to a concentration camp. Some would have it that the pain of life is the soul of great art, without the experience and the expression of which, the rest is surface.

I don't necessarily agree with that, but I am sure that the two experiences, and the constraints they place on art-making are qualitatively completely different.

5/27/2009 1:14 PM  
Blogger emikk said...

Maybe it's that artists start out with something inside of them and it takes a length of time for it to spill out. After that is all expelled they either have to reinvent themselves or not. I, also, may be full of shit with this screwy theory.

5/27/2009 1:33 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Gringo-- thanks, I agree.

Armand, I admire a number of the artists on your list. I gather that they are economically successful, although I don't know if they have reached the status where they no longer need to worry about pleasing a commercial audience or meeting deadlines.

Eric-- as someone who put himself through school working in commercial art studios, I did not mean to equate the experience with being an inmate in a concentration camp (although some of my friends in the fine art community think that commerical art is so wicked, it is comparable to running a concentration camp). I apologize if I gave the wrong impression. I intended to say that if starving inmates with little free time, poor lighting, virtually no tools (some drew with shoe polish; some drew with blood), working under constant fear of discovery could produce strong work, then it is silly to say that someone sitting at a drawing board in a commercial art studio can't produce strong work because his client doesn't allow him "full artistic freedom." It seems to me that people who adopt that position are applying a simple minded defintion of freedom. I lean toward Sartre's definition: "freedom is what you do with what's been done to you."

5/27/2009 1:47 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob Howard, if you are out there somewhere, how could you possibly fail to comment on Max's claim that he developed his new style spontaneously when Swami Satchidananda, an Indian Yoga master, taught him the spiritual revelations of the East?

I was looking forward to your reaction. If you tell me you are mellowing, I will be bitterly disappointed.

5/27/2009 2:19 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Sorry, I knew that was how it was gonna come out. Of course you're not equating concentration camps with illustration studios.

However, the point I was trying to make was that the constraints are entirely different. An illustrator is given instructions or guidelines as to what to produce -- subject matter, style, the gamut. And he works within those constraints, or his work doesn't get published. The concentration camp inmate is, in essence, not allowed to produce anything. If he makes the sacrifice against all odds to create something, he's constrained artistically by his own talents, impulses and working conditions, not by the final say-so of a client. It's the difference between working to satisfy a constraint, and working despite said constraint.

A slightly closer, though still not really valid analogy would be between concentration-camp artists and the work that illustrators produce in their off-hours. There are limitations on time and energy. And there are expectations about what and how a known illustrator should produce, but he need not fulfill them.

5/27/2009 2:32 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Eric, I think that some of the constraints are similar; for example, both the inmate and the commercial artist might yearn to make a statement with oil paint but be frustrated because the inmate has only shoe polish to paint with and the commercial artist has a 24 hour deadline for a black and white spot illustration. They both might want to work large and bold, but the inmate might be forced to work small to escape detection, while the commercial artist might be forced to work small because his client has only a small advertisement. In theory, a fine artist painting only to suit his or her own taste would not have to adapt to these kinds of constraints.

However, I take your point that an inmate and a commercial artist may have completely different motives for working, and that the inmate may feel impassioned to make a "sacrifice against all odds" to convey their own personal message, while the commercial artist is simply selling somebody's dishwashing detergent. It's a very interesting question-- far more interesting than the subject of the current post-- whether depth of feeling and purity of heart makes art better. This blog has explored that question a little bit in previous posts about Rodin (who created great art about love but was kind of a jerk as a lover) and elsewhere. At a minimum, I would say there is no absolute connection, that a commercial artist can create an excellent picture of dishwashing detergent while an inmate can create a lousy picture of man's inhumanity to man.

5/27/2009 2:57 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

There are a lot of problems with commercial art, but the toughness of that market can sometimes serve as a disinfectant for a lot of what currently ails the fine art world.
Applying the Protestant Work Ethic to something as ephemeral as Art is using the wrong yardstick. Just because something is difficult doesn't make it better. What was not mentioned was Maxwell's Plum...that is the city was going through a dazzling change in lifestyle at that time. We had come out of the constipated 50's and early 60's where everyone was buttoned up. When I returned from the military (yes, us squares used to do such weird things as actually volunteer) I immediately took my crew cut and brushes to New York and was dazzled by the new reality (or lack thereof). What also dazzled me was how much money I was making...along with most of the other illustrators. man, it was boom town and F rankly that put the zap on many heads, including mine. I used to get great revues in Horn and other reviews for my kid's book illustrations. Then the effects of living in a wide open society began to show. Inappropriate influences crept in and I was roundly denounced for getting too "psychedelic" with my illustrations (I swear, I never dropped any acid, David).

Looking back on it I can see see that it was like Flip Wilson famously said..."the debbil made me do it." In this case, the debbil was in the all-pervading lifestyle. I visited Warhol's factory a couple of time and man, talk about the pressure of keeping up the lifestyle. Rembrandt would have cracked and started doing silk-screened posters.

Yeah, I suppose that it had something to do with the money just as the temperature of the house has to do with how much fuel is being burned, but that wasn't what was at the heart of it. The power to tell some comely tourist to strip, put on a dog collar and act as an end table to be photographed (actually happened) has to be narcotic. To have the entire world bend to your will is something none of us know how we'd handle.

Warhol seemed to handle it okay, but he had the advantage of being very quiet so no one knew what he was thinking. All that I know about Peter Max is from the early studio he had with Tom Daly (when he did that great album cover) and seeing him drive by in his Rolls Royce which was decorated with one of his repeat patterns (I actually had a set of Peter Max bedsheets...what a groupie!)

What Armand and you get hung up on are the manual skills...who can really draw and paint well. Man, those are the ground level basics and the only reason so many hold them in awe is because they haven't mastered them. Let's get this straight...drawing and painting realistically are craft and almost a science. I can teach anyone to paint as realistically as any of the atelier trained people at ARC. It's a mechanical skill that anyone with ten fingers and two eyes can learn. The real artistry is in the conception, and that's what those three guys could do. Remember, if you base any artistic judgement on mastery of manual skills, you are in effect saying that photographers and digital artists cannot be real artists because they don't have the hand skills...just the brains.

Grinding hard work is no criterion of artistic work. If that were so ARC (Artists Renewal Center) would be the epicenter of the art world -- they call it ARC because the word CRAP (Contemporary Realist Artist Project) was already taken.

Hard work is what farmhands do. Artists might work hard, but that's not what guarantees quality. That's based in attitude and, as we saw in the cases of those three fine illustrators decline, the milieu weighing upon them.Walking that tightrope is beyond the comprehension of all assembled. Even after being there during those times, I still cannot make much sense of it...sensory overload.

5/27/2009 8:00 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Rob Howard, if you are out there somewhere, how could you possibly fail to comment on Max's claim that he developed his new style spontaneously when Swami Satchidananda, an Indian Yoga master, taught him the spiritual revelations of the East?

I was looking forward to your reaction. If you tell me you are mellowing, I will be bitterly disappointed.
Yeah, I suppose Swami Suchabanana could have had an effect on him. Remember how the Maharishi was a big influence (du jour) on the Beatles and Cat Stevens got wrapped up in Islam. Hell, Hieronymus Bosch became an Adamite and that sect was frankly weird (pert of their thing was lots of sex but avoiding orgasm...kinda gives you an insight into his work, eh).

We scarcely think it worth mentioning when some artists go off the deep end and worship a political figure...well, scarcely worth mentioning as long as the figures are Lenin and Marx.

Artists are like anyone else, they get wrapped up into lots of different things. There are actually some of us who are pretty canny investors. That doesn't mean that we worship Mammon or paint landscapes with the Treasury Building in it. So whatever floated Max's boat is private enough to not merit comment.

5/27/2009 8:14 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob, I will always respect you for having the courage to admit that you once owned Peter Max sheets, even as I reserve the right to use that fact against you in future debates.

I agree with you that it is the concept, not the mechanical skill, that is important. I regularly criticize technicians such as Bama, Boris, Rowena and Olivia for that very reason. When I talk about the hard work of art, I mean the extra level of effort that made Max go back and start over with that album cover; I mean the internal bullshit detector that lets you know when you should be doing better, and won't let you get away with less; I mean looking hard and refining your taste and judgment. That's real work. And that's what Max, Neiman and Warhol stopped doing. You write, "The real artistry is in the conception, and that's what those three guys could do." At one time, yes. Then all three became (in my opinion) artistic slobs.

Having agreed with you on the importance of concept, I will nevertheless offer up a word in defense of what you dismiss as mere "mechanical skill." I think that the power of making likenesses, even if it is just a matter of hand/eye coordination and the patient acquisition of a skill, is a kind of magic. People respond to those likenesses in a totemistic way. It is not sufficient by itself but once acquired in the fingers and the blood, the power of likeness can be a tool for shamanism. (Don't tell me you've never used it as a seduction technique.) I think you're being a little too hard on it.

Lastly, the great thing about Swami Suchabanana is that Max cites him as the source of his artistic style. If you can teach anyone the mechanical skills and Swami Suchabanana can teach them the inspiration, the two of you could turn out well rounded artists.

5/28/2009 12:01 AM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

I think that in the great artists craft and concept start to get mixed a little.

An example of this might be chinese calligraphy, which goes beyond mechanical skill (at least the hong kong fighting movies would have you believe).

5/28/2009 2:01 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Interesting post. It raised the question for me about illustrators who have moved into the fine or otherwise art market. I agree with the notion that a commercial or cooperative environment can temper and improve work. Some respondents have raised this idea in terms of movies. In this regard, it made me think of the brilliant editor, Walter Murch, and any number of cinematographers. Perhaps commercialism is at work in an altogether different way with Max's work. There is genius in the way that market forces can subvert subversive ideas by adopting and packaging grass root concepts and images. This is possibly the case with the hippy movement and psychedelia or, say, with Che Guevara's face.

Perhaps Fiends for Fine Art champion work when it becomes commercially expedient to reinforce a distinction. When artists try for irony and produce work that pales in concept and execution against the the work of gag artists, in pops artists like David Shrigley. When artists were futile in their response to a more politicized world galleries and collectors sniffed about for images by the likes of Banksy. In order to sell pop, maybe they sold pap in Warhol and Lichtenstein and Max. As exhibited at the London Hayward in 2004, it was bizarre how dated Lichtenstein's work looked against the original comic panels he ripped off and which were included in the show in order to give context. It often seems that many need to witness work through the prism of fine art simply in order to see it.

As a quick aside, it is surely important above all how any professional, artist or otherwise, self-directs and uses the freedoms that are gained. In a forgotten corner of the National Gallery in London hangs a small tonal sketch of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza by Daumier that quietly makes everything else in the room look redundant. That said, his forays into salon art were hardly a resounding success.

Thank you indeed for taking it to the Max and for your superb work on this blog.

5/28/2009 2:31 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

People respond to those likenesses in a totemistic way. It is not sufficient by itself but once acquired in the fingers and the blood, the power of likeness can be a tool for shamanism. (Don't tell me you've never used it as a seduction technique.) There's no doubt that the magic trick looks, well...magical when viewed from the audience. And please, don't get me wrong, there is a very special feeling that takes over when I'm at the easel of drawing board...it's the best job on earth and the fact that I get paid to do it is amazing.

My point was that learning to paint and draw with precision and accuracy are skills that most people can master. What they produce with those skills is quite another matter and mere accuracy is not consonant with a likeness.

What is difficult to teach is control of edges, and this goes into visual taste. Most of the bad realism we see today suffers from two major flaws; unrelenting hard edges overall and chalky colors. Those all-over hard edges, while defining areas with precision also serve to flatten the space in a picture. Vallejo and Olivia are prime examples of that treatment. Chalky colors are a result of not knowing much about one's materials (if the average plumber knew as little about his materials and tools as the average artist, we'd all be drowning in sewage. In the art world, we are.

Getting a likeness involves something more than accuracy and precision. Once the illustration market began drying up, like so many others, I went to the Illustrator's Burial Grounds. One is Western art, the other is portraiture. I chose the latter. It's a pleasant and lucrative way to earn a living but it has none of the creative challenges of having an art director and a client outline what it is that they need, presenting sketches and then modifying them to (and this is very important)...solve the problem. Rather than being an impediment (and it always was for the less creative bullpen artists) having to be effective, communicate the message and at the same time make a piece that has artistic merit and is satisfying requires some real skill and intelligence. Few things make you more intelligent than when you leave your artistic ego at the door and listen to what the problem is that needs solving. Remember, that's a good description of the process used by Michelangelo to solve the problems in the Sistine chapel...he had a demanding client, there was lots of different input to sort through, he had to study the client's product manuals (the Bibles) and be familiar enough with the service the client offered to be able to make a convincing and persuasive presentation in his behalf...and all without any descriptive copy or headlines. Nice trick, Mikey!

As for likeness, I adhere to Sargent's approach of making my sitters look like it is a good hair day...not outright lying, but not "warts and all" as Holbein was instructed to do. If you compare Sargent's paintings with photographs of the sitters you'll see that he seldom hit a dead-on likeness. As one client said, a trip to Tite Street was to "take your face in your hands."(you should understand that those sitters sat for numerous portraits by different artists, keeping the ones they liked and sending the others to friends and relatives).

Instead, Sargent used the sitter as a springboard for artistic exploration, consulting with them on the costume and jewelry they will wear. Seeing that most portraits are basically paintings of cloth and objects, with a very small portion given over to skin and hair, Sargent knew to put his attention there...and that's where you get the chance to show off (I just finished one of a sitter in a plaid, silk taffeta gown. What a challenge).

As rewarding as portraiture can be, it still does not compare with the excitement of illustrator during the halcyon days of the 60's and 70's. Those were vivid times, and the over-indulgences you claim for those three illustrators were part and parcel of that vividness.

5/28/2009 5:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...i like the later stuff. it has a social relevance, a timing that the illustration lacks, even though the early work is rendered in a "classic" style, which normally, i would prefer.
Max embraced the phenomenon of modernism that makes warhols silk screens work. it is the combination of skill, confidence, self-indulgence, pop influence and freedom. max reached a level of popularity and prosperity to be able to paint his whims, unloosed from even his own critique. really, it is rare air. i love when a visual artist attains such notoriety and affect, regardless if it suits my personal aesthetics. if someone slipped me a little max i would surely hang it on my wall (i would sleep on the sheets too). art is vanity. art is power. max applied both eloquently. a rolls-royce in manhattan?, a knitting factory?...ahhh the Life,
cheers,
Derrick H.

5/28/2009 8:26 AM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

When David began by mentioning Peter Max, I was all set to hate what I saw, but I scrolled down and was confronted with that piano painting, and was forced to realize that Max had talent and skill after all. Then, I was all primed to find quality in the subsequent images, and I was surprised again -- this time by how bad they were. It's funny how quality and mediocrity are both strong enough to defy expectation.

Some folks mentioned George Lucas. He's a good example of the fact that between the tyranny of narrow clients and the chaos of unbridled success lies a middle road: self-imposed criticism. The crucial difference between Lucas'77 and Lucas'97 wasn't that his younger self was hemmed in by studio mandates and budget constraints, but that his younger self sought and valued the input of his peers. Murch, Coppola, Kaufman, Brackett, Kasdan and other smart voices were able to help young Lucas stay on track, not because they called the shots, but because he was willing to listen. I think the solution for the Peter Maxes of the world is not to yoke themselves to clients' demands, but to seek input from their peers and the public: people far enough outside the fannish circle to be critical, but who lack power to insist on the poor choices Whit described above.

Someone mentioned the ARC. I was perusing their list of current artists, and among a crowd of academically correct but boring images I found a standout, one piece that was forcefully and memorably composed. I looked up the artist and discovered that he's a former comic book artist who now paints for galleries. I mention this as a counterpoint to the idea that commercial work can earn us academic skills that we may marry to creative vision in our gallery art. In some cases, commercial work instead earns us creative vision that we may marry to academic training in our gallery art.

5/28/2009 9:27 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jesse, this has been such a delightful, erudite exchange so far, I hesitate to risk spoiling the mood by inquiring about your reference to ARC. (There are some among us--who shall go nameless-- for whom the mere mention of ARC triggers conniption fits.) Nevertheless, I will take the chance because I am very curious about the identity of your stand out "former comic book artist." Can you point him out to us?

5/28/2009 10:02 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Matthew, I don't think people are allowed to say calligraphy is nothing more than mechanical skill and yet claim that Franz Kine, Adolph Gottlieb and Robert Motherwell are artists.

Chris, well said. I agree that a lot of this boils down to how we use what freedom we have. First, of course, you've got to recognize the scope of your freedom.

Rob, I think "solving a problem" is a better way of describing what we were previously referring to as "work ethic." I agree that solving a problem is a very important part of art, although that still leaves a whole lot of territory in the category of "what kind of problem do you undertake to solve?" I think that capturing a plaid, silk taffeta gown is a worthy challenge. I also think that depicting the existential void is a worthy challenge. My gripe with the kind of art I criticize in this post (especially with the fine art) is that the problems it attempts to solve, to the extent it attempts to solve any, are all too often unworthy.

5/28/2009 11:07 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Like others, I was surprised by how good that Max illustration from 1963 was. That nice piano man illustration teeters on the edge of quality. You can definitely see how, if the keys weren't whitened and the smeared gray didn't link the piano and the figure, the piece wouldn't work. As it is, there really isn't much there. I have an illustration house catalog that contains a picture he did from a bit earlier that was just dreadful and had a kind of unfinish. A blank background, flat figures, poorly researched, seemingly. It just looked lazy. And with that in mind, frankly, I think max may have just gotten lucky on the piano picture. His cosmic cartooning , like quite a lot of picasso, seems to be laziness in search of a style to accomodate it. But, y'know, it was fun for hippy kids like me. It was fun for young hippy mothers. It was cartoons, graphic design, fashion, decor. It wasn't Fechin. Neiman was trying for Fechin. Warhol was going for Dada. It was as frivolous and as free as people wanted to be.

Anecdote time: My father worked as a lawyer for Max around 1967, years before I was a gleam. His description of his time there, a few months I gather, was that the place was filled up with the cliches of 60s life, stoners, hippy chicks, drop outs, yes men, hangers on, and various mystics, con artists, and weirdos. It was not a studio conducive to deep aesthetic consideration. Which is good,when nobody is asking for deep art. Just cosmic cartoons, man!

The effect this job-scene had on my father was not a good one, reportedly, as he stopped carrying his law papers around New York in a briefcase and started carrying them around in a guitar case!

Anyway, I still have the spoils of my late Dad's time in the thick of things. Prints and books and stickers and all manner of fun, silly, cosmic cartoon detritus.

And yes, I admit I grew up sleeping on Peter Max bedsheets. Deep blue with lots and lots and lots of stars!

kev

5/28/2009 11:49 PM  
Blogger james said...

Great post!

I had a really frustrating art director for years who I hated. He would send me back to rework my illustrations with stupid ideas. The temptation was to do a half assed job out of bitterness. Show him how stupid the ideas really looked.

The harder decision was to work harder and with humility to turn stupid direction into great work. It was so frustrating and humiliating to hear "See, now that looks much better!" from a smug, ego driven director. But better that than to produce rubbish for the sake of pride or vanity.

Always get inspired here - thanks.

5/29/2009 2:34 AM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

David -- I hesitate to fan any smoldering controversies, but since you asked, the artist is Aron Wiesenfeld. Here's the image that attracted my interest, here's his homepage, and here's a sample from his former career.

His ARC image stood out to me because the figure's whispy proportions, the soft key light, and the generous negative space come together to create a distinctly spooky mood. The exhibition's other drawings, while excellent, seem standard by comparison: models in strong light, models in soft light, models reclining, models looking thoughtful... the usual exercises. Wiesenfeld's piece generates questions (Is that mud on her arms, or blood? What prompted her sour look?), and the "Panthers" shirt grants it a modernity which the other pieces apparently wish to avoid.

Don't get me wrong -- I deeply appreciate the ARC's lovely gallery of images and their crusade for objective standards. But I would like to see more work along the lines of Weisenfeld's: imagery which is both timeless and current, and which presents a distinctive vision.

I finally got the Heart of Darkness reference -- clever.

5/29/2009 3:07 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Jesse, thanks for the links. He has an individual approach and seems to be pursuing art rather than galleries.

5/29/2009 8:45 AM  
Anonymous Andy S. said...

Sorry to sidetrack the Peter Max discussion, but I had a question about Rob’s claim above that anyone with ten fingers can learn to paint accurately. I hear it said now and again, but wonder if the “anyone” in question must be a child who hasn’t yet formed his bad habits. What if you’re a 33 year old corporate drone who over the last few years has been drawing on weekends (when there was time)? Do the readers of this blog think Rob’s is a realistic statement? Rob, how does one do it?

Also, a question for Rob about “hard edges.” What do you think of Mucha? His work, at least the stuff he’s celebrated for, seems to me to be all outlines, but I also think it’s quite beautiful. What do you make of it?

5/29/2009 1:54 PM  
Anonymous TM said...

I can teach anyone to paint as realistically as any of the atelier trained people at ARC.Interesting. Can you do it without being contemptuous and dismissive?

5/29/2009 2:46 PM  
Blogger Kagan M. said...

Yes, not to pick on Rob, but he does always seem to bring it back to teaching anyone to draw, and even in specific amounts of time. I can't agree with that, I don't think there's ever a point where you can say, 'Boom! You've learned.'
I look forward to improving, learning and experimenting in art for the rest of my life - I'd hate to learn all there is to learn about the mechanics of drawing in 8 months...

5/29/2009 9:00 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

Andy -- I believe adult beginners can master drawing (and eventually painting) with the right training and a few years of devoted practice. Check out this "before and after" gallery of self portraits by students of Betty Edwards. Many of these folks are clearly adult beginners, and if they can make this much progress in five days, imagine what their work could look like after five years. (Edwards is the author of the excellent "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" -- the best book I've found concerning the elements draftsmanship. You'll have to look further for books dealing with higher-level issues like painting and theory, but the Edwards book is the best place to start laying a foundation.)

Painter Harley Brown also tells of meeting an wonderful artist whom he assumed had been a natural artist from birth. He was surprised to learn that she had only been drawing for a few years. She had enrolled in art school at the age of thirty-five, and she practiced drawing 12 hours a day for two years. Few can afford that kind of commitment, but it does show that professional skill is within reach for adults. I would guess that several hours' practice per week could lead to solid skills within a couple of years and mastery within a decade, but even moderate practice will improve your skills noticeably with the right books in hand. (Brown authored the indispensable "Harley Brown's Eternal Truths for Every Artist," which is out of print but available through InterLibrary loan.)

Another example of rapid progress through training is the book "Alex Toth: Edge of Genius vol. 1," which collects Toth's early comic stories in consecutive order from a formative five year period. Admittedly, Toth showed talent from an early age, but as this collection demonstrates, the work he was doing at age twenty was unremarkable, and comparable with that of other young artists. Through several years of hard work and study, including the Famous Artists Course and the input of some top editors and newspaper cartoonists, he was able to rise to the top, progressing well beyond other artists who were formerly his equals. This book is a wonderful record of his progress.

Other great resources include Jack Hamm's books, Andrew Loomis's books (free PDFs available online if you hunt around), Harold Speed's two books, Cateura/Leffel's "Oil Painting Secrets From A Master," "Hawthorne On Painting," John F. Carlson's book, and Robert Henri's "The Art Spirit." Even if your interest in painting is casual, these books should speed your progress immensely.

5/30/2009 12:03 AM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

The examples in that before and after gallery are not all that convincing...

5/30/2009 12:38 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

hmmm, it's a tough choice... an unschooled bad drawing or a more schooled bad drawing. i must admit, the unschooled 'left-side' drawings have more charm, whereas the schooled 'right-side' drawings look almost worse, because they are TRYING HARDER to look better and falling way short.

ironically you're more likely to have a successful illustration career today if your work looks more like the 'left-side' drawings.
that naive 'i draw like a 12 year-old' style is all the rage.

5/30/2009 6:51 AM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

Those beginners may not be ready to set the world on fire, but now they're making use of the negative space around the heads, the heads and features have depth and nuanced, relatively accurate shading and highlights, the features are more specific and well-observed, they're succeeding at 3/4 views, et cetera. That's like a new reader progressing from "See Spot run" to Ramona Quimby novels in five days. They need further practice, but they've already picked up numerous fundamental techniques.

It's easy to be spoiled by professional art, especially around here with giants like Coll and Drucker on display, but I've taught art professionally, and IMO these students' progress is clear.

5/30/2009 9:11 AM  
Blogger einbildungskraft said...

Ich liebe dein Schreiberei. We remember him (Max) with fondness, he embodies that phase in our lives, you have told the story not of his life but of his work which is a great perspective. Also I like Kev Ferrara's writing. Ron H talks so 'knowingly' but it seems you have a good friendship with him and thus can talk on different levels to which the outsider...can not (easily) follow. Gruss to emikk, who by the way, has talent to spare in illustration.

Beth

5/30/2009 11:43 AM  
Anonymous Kim Matthews said...

I'm a commercial artist, a fine artist (sculptor), and a yogini. Peter Max was my childhood hero back in the early '70s. I lost touch with his work for years until all the press for the Statue of Liberty stuff. I sadly have to agree; the later work is dreadful. Thank goodness Milton Glaser didn't take a similar turn!

5/30/2009 1:08 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>I can teach anyone to paint as realistically as any of the atelier trained people at ARC.Interesting. Can you do it without being contemptuous and dismissive?<<<

I am not alone in being able train artists in the rudiments. My students describe me as the soul of gentle patience and forebearance, but for some I will make an exception. Respect is like money...it's earned (unless you grew up on some sort of social welfare, where respect was conferred for breathing, eating and excreting). Perhaps you live in a place where any meeting of my fellow citizens looks and sounds (and smells) like a casting session for Peter Breughel looking for good stolid peasant types. The manners and taste have been preserved from their peasant forebears intact.

Can you direct me to a website of your work that will cause me to treat you with the respect you think that you deserve? Failing that, what is it that you feel should not be greeted with the contempt one reserves for the ordinary and mediocre. As those who have seen me in operation know full well, if you are a person of exceptional ability or intelligence, I will be the first one to trumpet your virtues far and wide. If, however, you’re just another mall texter…don’t expect to be treated with the respect your fantasize as being your right.

5/30/2009 2:06 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/30/2009 2:06 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>I look forward to improving, learning and experimenting in art for the rest of my life - I'd hate to learn all there is to learn about the mechanics of drawing in 8 months...<<<

So would I and, indeed I have never said that it ends with the rudiments of being able to accurately depict what is placed before you. That accuracy can be without any semsblance os sensitivity. All I am speaking to is the basic toolkit, nothing more.

Peter Max, Sadie Hawkins Day and I all share the same year of birth...that's a long time. I can say, in all humility (because nothing is so humbling at that piece currently on the easel) that as I continue to practice this profession, more layers are revealed...and they reveal layers I had never suspected to exist.

So don't worry. You won't learn so much that the joy of discovery will disappear (although there have been times when it was less exciting than others. I try to recapture the depth of joy that I had as am amateur and, frankly am still amazed that I get paid to pursue my hobby. Amazing!

5/30/2009 2:14 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>> Ron H talks so 'knowingly' but it seems you have a good friendship with him and thus can talk on different levels to which the outsider...<<<

Only in the fact that we occupied the same time and space as illustrators in New York. I would see his Rolls drive by and I did own a set of bedsheets he had designed. I remember them and those times with great fondness. Then again, I remember yesterday with great fondness...and it was raining.

Life is good and having lived in vivid times is even better. Sadly, we do not occupy such times now.

5/30/2009 2:22 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Rob, I think your portraiture is exquisite, and your oil technique is fantastic, but if you deem youself worthy of discussing dramatic illustration's foundation principles, that which is beyond mere technique and formulae, this picture of yours would refute anything you said...

http://i83.photobucket.com/albums/j296/studioprod/dragons_working.jpg

Howard Pyle's and Harvey Dunn's lecture notes are available in pdf form online. You might want to consult those excellent texts as you progress.

I also recommend Jim Gurney's excellent blog on illustration, Gourney Journey.

kev

5/30/2009 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Andy S. said...

Jesse, thanks for the suggestions. I do own an old copy of Right Side of the Brain, but always wondered whether it was legit and admittedly haven't worked through her system. I think my drawings are somewhat more advanced than the beginner drawings you pointed to, but I have found lately that I'm stuck and am looking for something to take me to the next level; perhaps her book, or one of the other ones you recommended, can help. In any case, the anecdotes you offered are great encouragement.

To Rob, I hope my initial question didn't come off as flippant; it was meant earnestly. Though I don't intend at this stage in my life to pursue a career in illustration, I would love to be able to draw what I intend to draw, rather than just plunge in and hope it turns out ok.

David -- sorry to hijack the conversation!

5/30/2009 5:09 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>but if you deem youself worthy of discussing dramatic illustration's foundation principles, that which is beyond mere technique and formulae, this picture of yours would refute anything you said...
<<<

I'm please that you like the portraits, Kev, but a bit distessed that you don't like the dragons composition. Since that picture was taken I've added a couple of figures doing the Monty Python "run away" routine.

It got it's start in a goofy way in that I had offered an online assignment to illustrate a passage from Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur. Everyone got off to a good start but sort of wheezed out when it came time to finish. My assistant, Kurt, had done a very dynamic composition with lots of slamming, crushing and snarling.

I saw it as a fight between the white dragon and the red dragon, with the young Merlin cheering them on (secure in the knowledge that nothing would harm him). I chose to make one a saurian and another a reptilian...lots of rubble, soldiers and some atmospherics on the castle in the background.

Frankly, I didn't plan to go this far but it took on a life of it's own. Also, this is one of the few time that I am not being commissioned to do something, so I'm getting my ya-yas on it.

It's done in gouache (a rewarding medium that is very difficult to master) with a bit of a soft acrylic gouache, hydrocarbon resin airbrush paints and Prismacolor. After using gouache, oils are a walk in the park.

I've had some offers on it but I don't want to think about them. Instead I'll just work at my own pace. Lately, I've been goofing on the details like the chain mail. When you understand that the figures are between an inch and a half and two inches tall, that puts the brushwork into the microscopic realm (I do work with a magnifying lens).

As much as I rail about those renderers at ARC, you'd think this was anathema to me, but it's very, very different in the intent. This stuff is put in because it's needed, not that I have to show off to the ghosts of dead artists.

I'll take some good pics when it's done. Perhaps you'll like it better then.

5/30/2009 7:13 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Also, a question for Rob about “hard edges.” What do you think of Mucha? His work, at least the stuff he’s celebrated for, seems to me to be all outlines, but I also think it’s quite beautiful. What do you make of it?<<<

Good point, Andy. If you examine Mucha's work (I adore him) you'll see great variation in the outlines and a great sensitivity to the variation in the tone being held by them. They are far from being coloring-book outlines and, I must add, that they are difficult to handle as well as Mucha does. Other masters of outline were Rockwell, Cornwell, most of the immediate Pyle set, all of whom varied those edges with delicacy.

The hard edges to which I refer are those edges that look like they were frisketed...for those who don't know what a frisket is, think of a stencil that's glued down and then removed once the paint has been applied. Imagine that you were rendering smooth passages right up to the edges of the frisket and then removed it. What you have is an unrelenting edge that looks cut out and pasted. That is a sure way to flatten all the space in a picture.

We must remember, all space is an illustion. We are working on a flat surface. Keeping it flat looking takes little skill and even less knowledge (this refers to realist work, not modern hard edge and color field painting).

5/30/2009 7:28 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

Andy -- Glad to hear you're beyond that beginner stage. I still own my copy of DotRSotB, and I should re-read it more often. The lessons are sound for artists of any level. Of particular note are her discussions of getting around our symbol systems -- techniques to help us draw what we see, instead of drawing the simpler symbols our minds assign to objects. (See chapters 5 through 8 especially.)

Her descriptions of right-brain and left-brain thought are also on the money. I happen to draw with both my right and left hands, and I find that different insights tend to occur to me depending on which hand I use. My left-handed drawing is a more intuitive, less analytical exercise. I can tap that mode when drawing right-handed, but it's harder.

Kev -- I've seen James Gurney's samples of Pyle's notes at his blog; are there more available online? Thanks for the tip about Dunn's lecture notes.

5/30/2009 8:18 PM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

My dad, bless his dear old soul, use to torment me with his copy of Drawing on the right side of the brain, and even as a young kiddie (though if you ask others, they might suggest it was because I was a kiddie) I had large questions about it. I understood her discussions of getting around our symbol systems, but I was always asking myself if these symbol systems were all that bad. But I might be coming at that from an angle that she wasn't interested in. If you wish to learn how to draw what you see, then I suspect you could do a lot worse than her book.

Rob, you've claimed that you can teach anyone how to draw in a short time, do you have any before and after examples (not to prove your claim so much as to help us to understand more about what you mean)?

5/30/2009 10:33 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

I typed in the Pyle notes (and edited out the conversational bits, for good or ill) last year and they were pdf'd by a friend on conceptart.org and archived here: http://www.box.net/shared/eccglstgkk

The Dunn notes are here: http://www.robolus.com/h.dunn-eveningclassroom.pdff

Rob, I would not normally crit somebody like that. It was distasteful to do. But it was prompted by your "earn my respect" comment earlier. You are such a talented fellow, and such a great contributor to this blog and the art community as a whole. I just wish you didn't have such a goddamn big chip on your shoulder.

I really would recommend reading the Dunn notes. In it he points out that a composition must be somehow right from the start. It cannot be fixed up. A good image can not be "constructed" either, moving cutouts around, adding this or that and hoping for the tumblers to fall... it must be imagined whole with urge and force. It is in the crucible of the synthetic imagination, and only by that faculty, charged with real emotion, that worthwhile images appear to the dramatic artist.

Specifically, it is a truism that stable triangles can never be the foundation of an exciting picture. The core shape of the leftmost dragon in alliance with the wall, and most of the legs of your men are stable triangles, which is a large factor in their stiffness, and thus falseness, given the extraordinary scenario in which they appear. The right dragon's jaw rests on a greenish stable triangle as well. The turret of the tower in the distance is a stable triangle, etc. Stability can not be the core shape theme of an epic dramatic image. This is insurmountable mismatch between the essence and the substance of your picture.

Furthermore the red dragon's forward gesture misses the left dragon's gesture, so they do not "communicate" dramatically. The head of the glowing figure just below the red dragon's neck is in a tangent relationship with the wall behind him that is causing a tension that distracts. His arm gestures are melodramatic as well. Another tangent is the swordtip that touches the shoulder of the lowermost soldier. Another tangent is the edge of the wall that touches the unhelmeted hair of the leftmost soldier.

This is just by way of saying, don't try to deny somebody's opinion based upon whether your respect their work or not, when you ask for respect, tacitly, for opinions you give on matters for which you cannot demonstrate first rate expertise. We're all just talking here in the cafe as equals. As friends.

kev

5/30/2009 10:33 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

Kev -- Thanks much for the links.

I agree that there are various problems with the dragon piece, but I'll disagree with a couple of your crits:

I'd consider a "stable" triangle to be one with two or three equal sides, and I'm not seeing that in the greenish triangle, or the legs of Merlin or the helmeted soldiers. The turret is a stable triangle, but given the shape of turrets, that's usually something you just have to live with, compensating in other ways.

"Melodramatic" is a crit I'd reserve for behaviors that aren't justified by the events, but in this case, Merlin's upraised arms seem consistent with the intense drama of the scene.

I'd also disagree with the claim that a good composition can't be achieved by moving cutouts around (if I understand you correctly). That's essentially what good photojournalists do: adjusting their P.O.V. until the shapes before them orient properly into a powerful composition. Imagining powerful compositions whole cloth is the privilege of the artist, but since photographers can excel even without that privilege, I wouldn't deem it crucial to strong compositions.

5/30/2009 11:40 PM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

I would have to agree with jesse on this one too. Collage artists (do they exist?) will no doubt place their little cutouts on the blank space and move them about till they get the composition they desire. Admittedly they might start with a composition in mind, but it will change (hopefully for the better) as they work.

Good designers will also change the composition of the individual parts as they work nowadays, even if they start with a strong composition in mind.

5/31/2009 12:15 AM  
Anonymous TM said...

Can you direct me to a website of your work that will cause me to treat you with the respect you think that you deserve?No. I am a beginner and expect no respect. I'm talking about the artists on ARC who you are so quick to callously dismiss.

Failing that, what is it that you feel should not be greeted with the contempt one reserves for the ordinary and mediocre.Devotion.

5/31/2009 1:32 AM  
Blogger slinberg said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/31/2009 1:45 AM  
Blogger slinberg said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/31/2009 1:46 AM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Jesse, you are treating shapes as if they stop at the borders of objects. Regardless, shapes that are mostly stable, or are perceptually graphically stable, are stable shapes.

I had no idea that girl in a skirt was Merlin. ;) If some magical spell was added around the hands, the pose makes some sense and isn't melodramatic by itself, (like the knights that stand around in static arrangements addressing each other rather than the incredible spectacle before them). But if that Merlin character is a major player in the drama, then we have, essentially, a three way drama, which can't work as drama. Is Merlin against both dragons? If so, then the dragons need to be a unit. But if Merlin is to be our hero, he has his back turned to us, and he's so small... we do not identify with him. And that is the main issue with the picture, there is no one with whom we identify as a character. We have no psychic entry point.

Photojournalists have reality in front of them to capture. Any design at all will be factual and sometimes the more the photojournalist "composes" the picture, the less journalistic it becomes. The purpose of journalism is the presentation of unfiltered fact. The designing of journalism tends to be problematic, as human beings and journalistic institutions invariably arrange fact according to story shapes suggested by prejudice, ideology, advocacy, bias, habit, or the like. Or they are simply "making it look nice" which is a decorative effort at odds with the presentation of the harsh realities of the world. (Or should be if the media had a shred of integrity.)

Pyle and Dunn taught that artists must previsualize, live in their scene as if it were real, in order to arrive at the reality of their image. Moving cut-outs around is just surface design, although certainly making a pleasing arrangment is important to pleasing the eye of the viewer. But a meaningful image will always have a pleasing design, as well as a sensible heart, so going for meaning straightaway is a much clearer and effective way to approach the problem. The crucible of the imagination is the birthplace of all the most memorable images you know, I would all but guarantee.

Sorry for hijack, David.

Carry on,
kev

5/31/2009 12:17 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

Kev,

Defining "stable shapes" as "shapes that are mostly stable, or are perceptually graphically stable" doesn't clarify much, since you're using the words to be defined in the definition. Would you agree that stable shapes have equal sides?

I'm not sure how one could miss that the central figure is Merlin, or that he is cheering, given Rob's prior post: "an online assignment to illustrate a passage from Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur. ... I saw it as a fight between the white dragon and the red dragon, with the young Merlin cheering them on." That his back is turned to us shouldn't prevent our identification with him. Look at Wyeth's Christina's World, or numerous Frazettas. His dimunition is offset by the fact that he is brightly lit and occupies a juncture of several major lines near the central conflict.

Photojournalists can beautifully compose fleeting, spontaneous images without manufacturing any elements beyond their camera frame. Some of the most memorable images I know came about this way. Recall the disturbing shot of a naked Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm attack. The image is beautifully composed: the girl's head is brought forward by the dark soldier behind her, she occupies a sweet spot determined by the Golden Ratio, she's centered within an unequal triangle created by three figures in white, the road's edges contain our attention without forcing it, a dark soldier at the right balances that side of the frame while a mark on the road returns our eye to the girl, et cetera, et cetera. Doubtless none of this was staged; here and elsewhere, photographer Nick Ut simply knew how to adjust his P.O.V. for maximum effect.

Artists must previsualize when nature doesn't offer such ready-made imagery, but even after the scene's elements are imagined, they must be arranged in a balanced, effective way. Arranging cutouts can achieve this admirably.

5/31/2009 2:55 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Jesse,

I would say there's many different kinds of stable shapes, not just those that have equal sides or have a lower border that lies parallel to the lower border of the frame. And in addition there are all the various elements that may be perceptually stable in vivo, but unstable in vitro. (This could get into a book length discussion, so I'll leave the topic.)

I think I've well demonstrated that one could miss that the figure is Merlin. Either the picture explains itself or not, as per Pyle's maxim about "going to every newsstand to explain your pictures." Supporting documents aren't a part of the art. And, really, the idea of Merlin standing on a balcony, cheering on a dragon? I need to be made to believe that, without doubt. A small figure with his back turned isn't going to do it. Can't even see the beard and the costume does not say, "wizard." And "X" marks the spot only attracts attention to an element, it cannot hold it.

Christina's World? The girl on the ground dragging herself toward the farmhouse, twisted torso, single large lone main figure, lots of detail, single hairs on her head shown in detail... don't tell me you don't know her intimately by her pose, anatomy, clothing, gesture, details, etc.

Look at the back on Frazetta's Fire Demon. It is a fascinating landscape in and of itself, full of rage and fire.

Which is to say, yes there are exceptions to the dramatic axiom "thou shalt not turn thy back on the audience", but Christina's World and Fire Demon, just to take two examples, fill the whole picture with the fascinating information contained in the backs of their figures. The axiom is there to make sure the artist remembers to give us the character of the main character... sufficient character for us to believe his existence and thus the scenario.

Yes photos can be beautiful, even by accident, as surfaces tend to be beautiful. I know the photo you are talking about and surely it was not composed, except insofar as the subject ended up within the camera frame. You really have to be a tad gonzo to think it was composed according the Golden Ratio. Who gives a hoot about the Golden Ratio during a Napalm raid, for one thing. But more importantly, to actively try to impose a decorative arrangement on Existential Horror is exactly what I was decrying previously... a complete disconnect between aesthetics and moral purpose.

Good discussion...

kev

5/31/2009 5:11 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Rob, you've claimed that you can teach anyone how to draw in a short time, do you have any before and after examples (not to prove your claim so much as to help us to understand more about what you mean)?<<<

No. I undertook teaching, not as a recorded Olympic event, or even a business venture that needed a portfolio. It was an eleemosynary act on my part...quite unheard of in the careerist's world.

5/31/2009 7:59 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>I just wish you didn't have such a goddamn big chip on your shoulder.<<<

Goodness, that's no chip. It's a flyswatter...the perfect tool for voyaging through an era of mediocrity in art.

As I said, this is a project that, like Topsy, just growed and growed. I find it relaxing to do something without supervision of an AD or editor although that whip at the back might just help produce better work.

It was interesting reading those theories on composition. I confess that I hadn't heard anyone speak of them since art school.

5/31/2009 8:08 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>And, really, the idea of Merlin standing on a balcony, cheering on a dragon? I need to be made to believe that, without doubt. A small figure with his back turned isn't going to do it. Can't even see the beard and the costume does not say, "wizard." And "X" marks the spot only attracts attention to an element, it cannot hold it.
<<<

When I wrote about the young Merlin, perhaps I should have been more specific. As this is done to accompany a story. here's the synopsis...The king recognized Merlin as a real threat because he was born with special powers. As Merlin grows older he realizes that the king's attempts at killing him have failed because, as Mister Rogers says..."he's special." At this point he's not even a teen...probably between 10 and 12 (according to the story). The king has been working on a new castle (in the background) and tearing up the old one for parts. In digging it up, the workmen bring to light (literally) two dragons who have been sleeping. They emerge and fight to the death. In this picture, the red dragon momentarily turns away from the white dragon to snarl at Merlin who is not afraid. He's got ringside seats to the medieval equivalent of the Ali-Frasier fight and, like most kids, is cheering his head off. The soldiers were trapped and are trying to tiptoe away. I have added two more soldiers with one on the left concentrating on the white dragon and one of the far right running like hell. With all the rubble strewn about, I did exactly what Dunn said... imagined what it would be like trying to negotiate slippery talus without attracting the notice of the big guys. For that I would adopt as steady a stance as I could on the slippery and unstable surface (more of that has been indicated since the example you saw.

As for those triangles and vectors, I took my lead from Raphael's knight on the horse doing battle with the dragon. Everything is almost touching. That creates tension. I figured that Raphael was onto something so I grabbed what wasn't nailed down.

What the problem seems to be is that you arrived with a satchel of preconceptions...Merlin could only be a bearded guy with comic book robes and a pointy hat, soldiers must always be in a priapic state of readiness and not seeing the picture click with your built-in symbols, the picture perforce failed.

Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur is a ripping good read and most of today's potboilers are distilled from it, but what the movies don't explain is his poignant relationship with Morgane Le Fey and how, when she had extracted his secrets then caused him to fall into a deep sleep and awaken prisoner in an invisible castle built only on a spell. The movies also do not go into Merlin's early days and the deep mysteries for which the Welsh are noted....oh, you thought the story was about the English?

5/31/2009 8:37 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

We are talking about a work of art here, yes? Words are apologetics. It is what we see that counts.

I can't tell that Merlin is a kid from just viewing his little back. I can't even tell he's Merlin. I can't even tell he's a wizard. In what way, outside of verbal explanation, do you demonstrate his character? You did not stoop to signify him in any of the classic ways. Fine. In what way did you visually signify him at all?

"Everything is almost touching... creates tension"... yes it does, but what does that particular kind of tension signify as you use it here? You are thinking of design as something separate from meaning, something separate from the specific emotions of the scenario. Just in terms of basic dramatic understanding, how can 3 participants in a drama, 2 dragons and young whiz with his hands in the air, be in the exact same state of dramatic tension with each other? Can you really mean that to be the truth of the moment? Yes, abstractly, it is possible that if you view this scene in your mind's eye, there may come a moment when, visually, you achieve a three way equality of tension. But that is not the truth of the moment, it is an incidental happening. The truth of the moment is the great battle between dragons. If we are to believe the greatness of the dragons, young Merlin would be utterly small by comparison, and would probably be equally horrified as enthused by the spectacle, as we the viewer are upon sharing his view. Imagine if you were underneath one of these dragons, in the shadow of its underbelly... imagine how warped the perspective would be, the dragon like a dirigible above your head, stretching in all directions. Did you feel the weight of the dragons? Their vastness?

And if workers freed these dragons, where is the hole? How much did they break through before the dragons took the opportunity and blasted out the rest of the way? How come nobody is dead on the ground?

Anyhow... I only crit you out of love! :)

I don't know which movie you are referring to, but I've only read the book and seen the Pyle and Wyeth illustrations, as well as some comic book versions that I can't recall at the moment... except for Wizard of Id and Mickey Mouse in Sorceror's Apprentice.

It may be so that all these things I say were last heard in art school, but as you know old information reveals new insights as time goes by. I've been reading Dunn's notes for a decade, and tease out new understanding upon each reading.

Hijacky Kev

5/31/2009 10:58 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev and Rob,
this discussion MIGHT be more relevant to the rest of us if we could actually see the image you're talking about.

6/01/2009 9:55 AM  
Blogger John Picacio said...

Hi, David --

Apologies. Didn't have time to read the 66 previous comments, but just wanted to give kudos for another great post by you. This one hit home most especially. Was going to post a long response here, but decided to just do it at my blog, with deserved linkage to you.

http://www.johnpicacio.com/2009/06/dont-get-me-started.html

Very best,
John

6/01/2009 12:45 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

John -- Are you the same John Picacio who drew a comic called WORDS AND PICTURES? If so, we met once at Comicon, '94. Good comic; I look forward to checking out your blog.

Lawrence -- The Merlin image was linked above, but here's a refresher.Kev -- It doesn't sound like the shapes you mentioned are unstable here by any of your definitions, and I don't see why a young Merlin would need a beard or avoid cheering dragon battles. Backs don't need voluminous detail to provide a way in to the picture; that Merlin is witnessing the events enthusiastically, at a high contrast center, should be enough to welcome our identification.

If you missed the delicate composition of the Nick Ut photo I linked, or of other photos by him or Robert Cappa or their ilk, then I'm afraid you're missing a lot. Being at the center of the action is only the first step in the photojournalist's mission; the most demanding step is to choose moments and angles with an intuitive sense of drama and, yes, composition.

Had Ut been snapping a pic with no regard to composition, he wouldn't have balanced the shot by including the figure at the far right; he'd simply have zeroed in on the weeping girl. Notice that this is what most laymen do with that very same scene: if you search for that photo online ("trang bang" "napalm"), most of the resulting images crop the right side of the photo to favor the girl, which unbalances the composition, dropping our attention to the lower left. By contrast, Ut knew (both on the spot and later in the darkroom) that the seemingly trivial right-hand side was crucial to the photo's composition, and to its power.

6/01/2009 2:42 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

thanks Jesse... the above link was missing some info off the end.

6/01/2009 4:16 PM  
Blogger einbildungskraft said...

Re: "Only in the fact that we occupied the same time and space as illustrators in New York. I would see his Rolls drive by and I did own a set of bedsheets he had designed. I remember them and those times with great fondness." written by Rob H.
Somehow I stumbled onto this blog, and it is a worthy one so I feel lucky~ however today I find I do not have the time to delve into later comments altho they are usually great. But with regards to your above comment Rob H, I have to wonder exactly whom you guys are! gee! a ROLLS? DESIGNED BEDSHEETS? hmmmmm. More questions from this ca gal will follow i am sure.
Beth (you are forgiven for slandering me in a previous post!)

6/01/2009 5:53 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Jesse, the golden spiral as a compositional device has nothing to do with drama. It has to do with abstract sequences found in nature which are calming in their orderliness, even as the pattern resides within seeming disorder. In other words, it provides the opposite of drama.

Moving the camera slightly off center will generally provide a better composition than aiming dead center, tis' true, and once the composition is off center, one may notice and overlay all sorts of gestalt geometric orders, after the fact, to the heart's content, none of which are sources of drama.

The drama of that photo is the reality it captures. We have dark war clouds, scary looking soldiers in battle gear and the nude girl, whose nudity is in stark contrast to the protection afforded the soldiers. Thus the drama and the poignancy. Good photographs are curations of reality.

Ut's was an historically important shot. And a competent shot, in that it didn't try to overly compose the picture. Reality itself is delicately composed in its horror and beauty. And Robert Capa and Nick Ut and a thousand others, and now a million others, are fine at being where the action is to capture these moments on film, and then getting a shot that contains the drama of the reality and stays out of the way in terms of distracting geometries.

The Double Dragon Defense: The gestalt shapes are stable. The central tension triad is stable. The figures are stable. The picture is stable. One doesn't know the figure is merlin unless one is told. One doesn't know whether he is cheering or scared. Having a light beaming on the back of a tiny figure's head does not signal our sympathies, only our attention, and fleetingly. If you can't see that, I can't explain it any better. And thus endeth the conversation. The critique was not the point anyhow.

6/01/2009 5:59 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Kev and Rob,
this discussion MIGHT be more relevant to the rest of us if we could actually see the image you're talking about.<<<

Yes, it's difficult to speak to visuals and this Blogger system does not allow posting of images. Let's try this. Perhaps you can click on or cut and paste this URL. I took it today and it shows what I have in mind for the pictorial composition.

http://i83.photobucket.com/albums/j296/studioprod/castle1.jpg

I have also made a monchrome with some of the design elements indicated at

http://i83.photobucket.com/albums/j296/studioprod/castle-bw.jpg

I shall go over them in another post as I believe this sort of thing is important to bring us up to the pictorial composition theories of the 1950's. I hesitate to discuss much past that point in history.

6/01/2009 8:46 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Ah Kev, it's always interesting to encounter what Eric Hoffer calls, "The True Believer." Even more interesting is a True Believer who, not only has his watch stopped but he's still using a an eighty year old calendar and wondering why he's missing appointments.

The first thing to understand is that there have been a sea of changes in pictorial design since those rather straightforward examples by Dunn and Pyle. Neither of whom could be called a master of composition unless you consider a bullseye good pictorial composition.

Doubtless this will come as a shock but things have changed since The War To End All Wars and Dunn's in-your-face simplistic approach to design. After Dunn's heyday came Jay Hambidge's influential ideas on Dynamic Symmetry which are very much at odds with Dunn and Pyles approach. The new Dynamic Symmetry is what gave us J.C.Coll's exciting layouts, none of which were withing the range of Dunn and Pyle's skill set.

In truth, lots of design ideas have changed since Velasquez did the Surrender of Breda. Some amusing ventures included the fabled Golden Mean, Golden Spiral, Golden Silliness. Fibonacci was a great mathematician but he really didn't have a head for design, but typical of science guys, that didn't stop him from trying to force it one things and, when he found a shell or a leaf that coincide with the theory, shout..."see, I told you so." The reality is that most shells, leaves and natural structures do not adhere to the Fibonacci theory. Even if they did...so what? We're making ART not Nature (ART is the beginning of ARTificial). The best of us are born liars, deceiving viewers into thinking that a flat surface has depth and emotion. Man, if that's not unnatural I don't know what is.

I know that Dunn is a sacred figure to you and his lectures were inspirational. But then, so was the author of one of the most damaging books ever written, Robert Henri. What twaddle! (btw to Henri's Art Spirit, add Kimon Nicolaides as a prime mover of bad draughtsmanship and the Art Student's Bible of BS by Ralph Mayer. To the uniformed artist, this is heresy. However, to anyone who knows about art materials, they think that too much of Mayer is laughable, too much of Nicolaides is provably false and too much of Henri and Dunn are just vacuous pep talks for the home team. That crap has led to generations of students staring at an easel trying to "feel."
I'll admit that I put aside the horse and buggy ideas you espouse and looked about and, what did I see? Look...there's a television...there are images rocketing at speed...there's real full-color printing...whoa, look, fluorescent colors...iridescent paints...my God, W.W.D.D. (What Would Dunn Do?) Who knows. I doubt that he would have stood rooted in another century, quoting that as though the clocks had stopped when men wore top hats.

In the late 1950's we experienced something that is not consonant with the Church of Saints Dunn and Henri...it was the blossoming of modern graphic design and it produced revolutionary thinkers like Paul Rand, Ed Benguiat, Saul Bass and the whole crew at Pushpin Studios. Oh the times they were a changin'...and changin' big time. Kiss your Fibonacci anchor and prayerbook goodbye. What happened then set modern illustration as far away from Dunn as a De Tomasso Mangusta is from a LaSalle touring car.

Go into any office and ask where the adding machine is...the typewriter...the file clerks, rotary phones and the ash trays. Yes, I suppose there are those holdouts who consider that we've gone to Hell in a hand basket since these newfangled computers came in. Well maybe not, but there is still a group of retro-looking folks (not just at ARC) who thing the best is behind us and all we can do is emulate that glorious past.

The problems you encountered with that dragon picture were problems you've been carrying with you...it did not conform to a design idea that was popular before the invention of the steam locomotive.
(I have to break it at this point)

6/01/2009 10:07 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

(cont'd)
I dunno, Kev, I'm an old guy but your ideas on design are much older than I can ever hope to live to be (although it would be interesting to be a 400 year-old man...if I could maintain my once-rakish figure). So let's put aside what your version of Merlin is because it's clear that you neither have read Le Morte d'Arthur nor have any desire to do so. However, that did not stop you from commenting on the content of that book, and as an old book illustrator, I simply illustrated the story as written, not some cocked up idea based on my own misunderstanding.

1. this is about the YOUNG Merlin...probably less than 12 years old.
2. You wanted to see the hole where the dragons came from as if not seeing it would destroy the written story I might be a bit cynical at times but never, ever do I insult my viewers to spell out everything to them...always, always respect your viewers.
Now onto some of the design changes that took place in the 1920's all the way through to the late fifties (I won't go further because that gets into really advanced design stuff, much of which is as useful as the Golden Mean)...remember, Kev, this is all given with love
If you go to http://i83.photobucket.com/albums/j296/studioprod/castle-bw.jpg you will find a black and white rendition of the illustration. As I said, this was done as a demonstration for an assignment I posed for members of Cennini Forum. I got involved with it well past where I had intended
I recommended the participants do the working method Pyle recommended...get fifty index cards and make compositional sketches just blocking in big shapes. I did fifty too. Then came detailed sketches based on the big blocked in shapes. Adding details to enhance the overall import of the message (I stress content and intent...always). Then on to some color sketches to work out some ideas I was unsure of. I kinda, sorta posed a model but ended up drawing the figures out of my head. The modeling agency couldn't get the dragons so I had to make those guys up too. I knew that the new castle would be a bear to do in the right perspective, so I did it in a neat 3D architecture program.
If you've read any of jay Hambidge's influential work you'll recognize that I've split the picture in the middle. This is a film trick...put something between contending parties to create a feeling of conflict. To further point it up, one side is dark the other is light. On the dark side is a jumble of diagonals. This created a feeling of disarray/danger/fear. Now for a totally modern idea...visual echoes. Much of the art/science of embedding subliminal messages is based on this knowledge of human perception. It relates to Dr. Goebbels' Big Lie Theory...say something often enough and it becomes the truth. The same happens when you repeat forms in a picture. They can be subtle renditions (I unsubtly put in the blue head to show you why that outcropping was shaped like that. You can invert the echoic shapes, turn them upside down...heck you can even do distorted type upside-down and mirror imaged and the mind will read it and not know where that thought came from.
Over on the left side is a very different approach. There's much more light and it could be very static if it were not for the rhythmic repeats of the zig-zags (rhythm was not well-known to Pyle and Dunn and definitely was a mystery to Henri). The zig-zags need only be repetitive. They can be rectangular like the pickets in the cart and the castelations on the castle wall, or triangular like the fins on the white dragon.
In truth, there's a whole lot more going on but, as the bard would say, we'll part on that and there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Sorry to have taken so long with this but I feel it's important to know that there's more than brute feeling and antique theories in modern illustration. That's why Dunn, Henri and Pyle would look at Peak, Fuchs, Whitmore, Bowler and the lot as alien beings. In a way, they were. Sorry, but the 18th century is so last Tuesday.

6/01/2009 10:17 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Man, trying to post this link has been difficult.

http://i83.photobucket.com/albums/j296/studioprod/castle1.jpg

maybe html will work

nope that was kicked out

or image code

[IMG]http://i83.photobucket.com/albums/j296/studioprod/castle1.jpg[/IMG]

fingers crossed

6/01/2009 10:23 PM  
Anonymous Kev Ferrara said...

There is always a pang of guilt when the trout flails uselessly against the hook in his gills.

Yes, I've read Morte D'Arthur by Mallory. As well as a collegiate paperback edition or two, I have a rare and expensive Flint-illustrated version. I do not often crack it, however.

First of all, there's nothing modern about your composition. Even disregarding the composition, the stiffness and fakeness is dead as a doornail, which would be anathema to your late 50s heroes, (many of whom are heroes of mine as well, in both illustration and graphic design). So you can put that little choo choo away.

Slicing a picture down the middle is a bad idea because it causes disunity. If you've ever seen Hambidge's illustration work, he never did that and I can't imagine anybody else in the history of art has used Dynamic Symmetry as a rationale for slicing a picture directly in half. (Find me a Bowler, Fuchs, Peak, or Glaser that does it, and I'll eat my Flint, Mort D'Fied.)

And of course, that half slice center line creates a tangent with the anonymously costumed little figure with the glowing head with his hands in the air like he just don't care!

Apparantly you think composition is a buffet... a little of this and a little of that, and a well designed meal suddenly becomes manifest. You know that is not how a fine meal is designed, how could you think a picture could be designed that way? Storytelling, like the narrative of a fine meal, is hierarchical. You don't split it down the middle. Or select ingredients you just happen to have lying around. You proceed from an idea and then go to the grocery store.

Oh, that old fashioned Pyle with his ideas about creating meaningful poetic unity around a core idea. How nutty and passe he was!

But that Jay Hambidge, with his ancient Greek design schemes... now that's modern! As one wag put it, "aren't all good pictures in a state of dynamic symmetry?" Of course they are, without the stiff over gridding done by "true believers" in thrall to stability.

Human beings are still human beings, and storytelling is still storytelling, and myth is still myth, and poetry is still poetry... a good compositional strategy can just as well come out of reading Aristotle as Pyle as screenwriting guru, Robert McKee. Narratively, what works for the human mind is what is called a principle. Principles of this sort do not have an expiration date.

Oh, and *yawn*... Pyle and Dunn knew all about shape echoes, programming, subtexts, rhythms, poetics, and graphics and were great innovators in that area... and your insistence that these were somehow "modern" ideas, demonstrates your ignorance, frankly. Many grand students of Pyle became ad men, after all, and brought with them the techniques you find so impressive for manipulating the subconscious.

Thus your inability to actually comprehend what Pyle and Dunn are saying behind the lines is quite a mystery to me. And by this inability, you reinforce my conviction that the collection of compositional tricks you know is not part of some larger view. Just a la carte tidbits, rubber stamps, rhetorical devices, like all your little bumper sticker slogans that you trot out in place of consideration ("true believer" being your current favorite, apparently).

In that you are exactly modern. Right up to the minute.

(The above was written 96.4% out of love.)

kev "true believer" Ferrara

P.S. How 'bout that Peter Max, eh? (David, clearly this horrendous hijacking is beyond the point of apology. So, sorry 7 times over. I promise not to carry this, by now, over strained attempt, to the next installment, assuming and hoping there is one after all this racket.)

6/02/2009 12:42 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Rob, thanks for posting the links... it all makes much more sense now.

i'm afraid i'm with Kev... the picture doesn't work dramatically. though i'm not interested in stable triangles and such the way Kev is. art isn't maths, and i don't believe there are formulas to create good art. you can see all that stuff in a great work but that's easy to do after the fact (like seeing golden sections everywhere). also, you can't argue clever compositional theories to try and support a weak work which is what you're doing above Rob. the picture either works or not on its own merit, without explanation.

it looks to me like you got more into the rendering than capturing the initial excitement and narrative possibilities of that scene. the figures in the foreground are the main problem... they look as if they're quietly leaving an ugly domestic scene at a party rather fleeing a scene of awe-inspiring terror. the second problem is the eye is drawn to the pale dragon's wing which frankly isn't doing anything very exciting and looks rather limp. in the central trio of dragon/merlin/dragon it's difficult to know who is looking at what or what their intention is, which creates narrative confusion.

the viewer's position is rather distant and removed from the scene. this further heightens the lack of drama. it would have been more dramatic to have taken the viewpoint of a knight on the ground, with his comrades fleeing past him/us/the viewer.

the composition is fine in an abstract way, but as a piece of storytelling it's weak.

i also see no evidence of modern compositional ideas (of which i'm skeptical of anyway).



sorry if this all sounds like i'm siding with Kev !


Laurence.

6/02/2009 5:39 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Lawrence, those are good points and valid. Take a look at the dramatic rendition my former assistant, Kurt, did at http://forums.studioproducts.com/showthread.php?t=29919

That is far more successful as to the drama. It's all a question of whether you like chili or paté. Both are valid. As I said, this is done for my amusement and done to put some ideas into action and see if they work. The design challenges I had set where inconsistent with car chase/explosion fare. Whether they successfully augment the story as compared to a more obvious in-your-face approach, is a matter for further discussion.

Where i felt Kev had come a-croppers was in his obvious sack of prejudgments being applied, along with the "nothing good ever happened after Dunn" approach that I find at ARC. That's self-defeating in that it doesn't even recognize that advances have been made since his sainted heroes have been laid to rest. That he hasn't followed up on them is another matter.

My first real art teacher was Hans Hofmann. I spent a summer in Provincetown studying with him. Meeting luminaries such as Franz Kline and the Abstract Expressionists who studied with him, was heady stuff for a 16 year-old kid. The talk was all about composition and it was on a very elevated and intellectual level, not mechanistic stuff like Fibonacci and the Golden Mean. That stuck, as did pull-push and a variety of other theories that made sense and worked.

Although I was never drawn to doing abstract art (Those guys laughingly called me The Kid Who Can Draw) being around those guys left me receptive to new ideas. That's why I wasn't closed down when [tags]Jeff Koons[/tags] and Andy Warhol came on the scene. That's why, when Peter Max varied from that pretty album cover to the "cosmic" style, I was 100% in his corner and didn't think that he had sold out (to whom, and where do I apply?). Where he went after that is another matter.

I'll agree that this is certainly far from my most exciting illustration. The "men's adventure" and military paperback covers were far more dynamic. In truth, this didn't even begin as an illustration...just a demonstration to play along with the assembled forum members. Still, it's a helluva lot better than most can do and, most importantly, I'm having fun doing it. Also on the easel is a 2010 Mustang GT that's a request for my grandson. As you can see, I don't take much of this seriously...unless it's a commissioned piece. The bucks make it real.

6/02/2009 10:28 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Lawrence, those are good points and valid. Take a look at the dramatic rendition my former assistant, Kurt, did at http://forums.studioproducts.com/showthread.php?t=29919

That is far more successful as to the drama. It's all a question of whether you like chili or paté. Both are valid. As I said, this is done for my amusement and done to put some ideas into action and see if they work. The design challenges I had set where inconsistent with car chase/explosion fare. Whether they successfully augment the story as compared to a more obvious in-your-face approach, is a matter for further discussion.

Where i felt Kev had come a-croppers was in his obvious sack of prejudgments being applied, along with the "nothing good ever happened after Dunn" approach that I find at ARC. That's self-defeating in that it doesn't even recognize that advances have been made since his sainted heroes have been laid to rest. That he hasn't followed up on them is another matter.

My first real art teacher was Hans Hofmann. I spent a summer in Provincetown studying with him. Meeting luminaries such as Franz Kline and the Abstract Expressionists who studied with him, was heady stuff for a 16 year-old kid. The talk was all about composition and it was on a very elevated and intellectual level, not mechanistic stuff like Fibonacci and the Golden Mean. That stuck, as did pull-push and a variety of other theories that made sense and worked.

Although I was never drawn to doing abstract art (Those guys laughingly called me The Kid Who Can Draw) being around those guys left me receptive to new ideas. That's why I wasn't closed down when [tags]Jeff Koons[/tags] and Andy Warhol came on the scene. That's why, when Peter Max varied from that pretty album cover to the "cosmic" style, I was 100% in his corner and didn't think that he had sold out (to whom, and where do I apply?). Where he went after that is another matter.

I'll agree that this is certainly far from my most exciting illustration. The "men's adventure" and military paperback covers were far more dynamic. In truth, this didn't even begin as an illustration...just a demonstration to play along with the assembled forum members. Still, it's a helluva lot better than most can do and, most importantly, I'm having fun doing it. Also on the easel is a 2010 Mustang GT that's a request for my grandson. As you can see, I don't take much of this seriously...unless it's a commissioned piece. The bucks make it real.

6/02/2009 10:29 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Kev, your argument gives me the same feeling I get when seeing a drunkard leaning against the lamppost...more for support than for illuminating.

I have no desire to defend what is not, never was anything other than a divertisment. Commenting on that is like commenting on a telephone scribble. It's my intentional work that stands up to scrutiny and, as you said, my portraits are bloody exquisite.

I admit that this piece was carried well past where its intent should have. Those design theories that Dunn and Pyle are supposed to have known must have been learned posthumously because nowhere are they evident in their work. I certainly would not want to have my oeuvre judged on this piece anymore than Pyle would want to be judged on his line of British soldiers marching through the grass or Dunn on his charging doughboys or Sargent and his war paintings.

As I said in the beginning, I apologize for offending your sensibilities, as antique and out of touch as they might be (really, the last part of the last century produced a few new approaches). I'm all for preserving the old growth ideas.

6/02/2009 10:40 AM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Rob, you wrote this earlier in this comment section: "Few things make you more intelligent than when you leave your artistic ego at the door and listen to what the problem is that needs solving."

Possibly there is not sufficient room at the door in question to house your daunting rucksack of an ego. Possibly you have no interest in being "more intelligent." You've squared the circle of your own mind. If you don't know it, if you can't see it, it can't be there. If you can't understand what is being said, there's nothing to understand. If you don't know the history, it isn't the history.

And then a few posts later you were back on your high horse with "Can you direct me to a website of your work that will cause me to treat you with the respect you think that you deserve? Failing that, what is it that you feel should not be greeted with the contempt one reserves for the ordinary and mediocre."

No provocateur could have done better to arouse ire than you did with that statement.

Following your lead, in the area of portraiture, you have my respect.

However, in the area of dramatic illustration and composition, I ask that you please refrain from commenting as if you are an expert. You really don't seem to have a grasp of the issues at hand. And I doubt trumpeting Hans Hoffman and attempting to run down Pyle and Dunn's work and principles will gain you any points in that regard. Certainly not from anybody with any appreciation of the genre.

Thanks so much,
kev

6/02/2009 1:08 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Kev, I must admit that not getting your approval has really bummed me out. There I was on the back porch, looking down at the lake. It was, finally, a beautiful day and they guys could get out there and string the net on the tennis court. The flowers were finally beginning to come up and, in reality I should have been happy. But I must admit that I was deeply disturbed by your otherwise loving messages. I realized that I had never seen your work so I Googled you name and there were several references to you at Conceptart. So I figured that I'd learn a thing or two about hard-hitting, selling composition and design but that darned site makes it impossible for anyone to search for an artist. Lots of little pictures of guys with horned helmets, swords, buxom beauties and, most of all, lost of stuff done in Poser and Daz. There was a sea of all that crypto-Frazatta stuff to wade through so I admit that I lost patience before discovering your work. I know that there are a few real painters over there but it appears that most are just enfranchised by the Mac and Poser. I suspect, from what you write that you are not of that lot but rather, a real illustrator.

I know that in the world of Harrison Bergeron it's considered a bit impolitic to ask anyone's credentials, but it would help to know if I'm speaking to a working professional. If you are one of those who really walks the walk, has a list of credentials with name publishers, then the deep funk I felt will be justified.
Meanwhile, the trout are jumping down at the lake, we have a game planned for tomorrow and all seems well with the world. Seeing that you have nothing but my welfare in mind, I thought to cheer you up.

Still, how bout some creds?

6/02/2009 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Kev Ferrara said...

Maybe you've missed my point. So I'll just spell it out. NOBODY needs to defend themselves to you. NOBODY.

This is NOT your blog.

You are NOT in control here.

People are here to have fun. To talk about what they love. Without you getting in the way of that. When you act like an arrogant asshole, it ruins the fun the rest of us have here.

Have I made myself clear?

Thanks
kev

6/02/2009 10:08 PM  
Blogger slinberg said...

^^^ Seconded. Heartily.



I am here to learn what David thinks of the works he posts. If I want to learn what other people think, I will visit their blogs (and the bigger the ego in question, and the meaner and more spiteful the person behind it, the less interested I am likely to be).



Maybe shutting down comments for a couple of months would cool everybody down. I've been reading here for a very long time, and the comments have featured far more heat than light recently. Alternatively, perhaps comments could be moderated, and any negative comments stronger than "not my cup of tea, sorry" could be deleted. If you can't resist tearing something or someone down, do it on your own blog. I don't care how awesome anyone thinks they are and how much everyone else sucks. Go pump up your ego somewhere where people care, and leave those of us who don't in peace.

6/03/2009 12:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I;ve enjoyed and have learned quite a bit from the recent exchanges in the comments section. Some of them have made me think deeper, question my own opinions and biases.

Thanks again for the great blog, David and for hosting such great back-room conversations.

6/03/2009 2:16 AM  
Anonymous Brian said...

Kev Ferrara,

You should do what I do when I see comments by Rob Howard--I ignore them.

On the surface he seems to have some interesting things to say, what with his history and all. But for all the talk, he has no great paintings to his credit either. He spends his days now doing photographic reproductions of wealthy people, rather than art. If you disagree with his opinions on art, he then will tell you how much money he has. In short, he is an insufferable bore, without realizing it himself.

Can you imagine what he's like to deal with on a regular basis? To come to a little blog and blow his horn so? A sad case, really.

Go on with your native enthusiasm Kev. It beats a bore any day. Soon the world will learn this secret way of dealing with Rob Howard as well. That will be a great day indeed.

Rob who?

See, its not so hard after all!

6/03/2009 2:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read this blog as a lurker but I want to say that I enjoy the comments of Rob and Kev and some of the others. They have a lot of experience which helps me as a young art student, and they know a lot about pictures and use words well. What I don't get is why their comments always end up getting so nasty and personal. It's all supposed to be about the art, man. I think they are both to blame for fighting like cats and dogs.

6/03/2009 8:21 AM  
Blogger einbildungskraft said...

Hey, without Rob H's salacious malicious but knowledgable comments which David seems to enjoy, wouldn't the blog be less "SCINTILLATING" ??

6/04/2009 4:03 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

einbildungskraft, I do enjoy Rob's comments, just as I enjoy Kev's comments and the remarks of others who have commented here. The trick is that I don't take offense when other commenters call me a moron.

If I became distracted every time someone from the internet lectured me for being a tasteless dope, I wouldn't have the time or nerve endings left to harvest all the good things that flow through these same comments.

6/04/2009 5:31 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Though you and I and a few others are desensitized to boorish and overbearing behavior, very few others are. Very few want to counter it in kind. Or counter it at all. (That was my one attempt at it. If I didn't love illustration so much, I'd be outta here.)

I'm sure you realize that Rob is forcing you to privilege him over those he insults. I assume you find that a trade-off worth making. One loss here, one loss there... In the short run, the attrition is minimal, and your choice understandable given the tasty anecdotes. Over time, you may require a calculator to estimate the fallen.

Of course, over time, he may also run out of anecdotes.

At the very least you can charge him an advertising rate.

6/04/2009 7:18 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Have I made myself clear?<<<

Yes...you offer no creds, no curriculum vitae. Very clear.

6/04/2009 11:23 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Have I made myself clear?<<<

Yes...you offer no creds, no curriculum vitae. Very clear.

6/04/2009 11:23 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

You must be a very lonely man.

6/05/2009 10:52 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev, I think it would be a mistake to conclude I am privileging any individual who comments here. I have never deleted a comment in the history of this blog (with the exception of some unabmbiguous spam from a server in Asia) and believe me, we have seen a lot of pathology on display in comments over the years.

A blog that aims to identify genuine artistic quality in unlikely places (which means disputing the sanctity of MOMA and the wisdom of Sotheby's press releases) has to expect that incorrigible people will weigh in with strong opinions. I often learn from those people; if I were to attempt to engineer a dialogue only of well mannered people who talk and think in ways that are comfortable for me, it would not only be counterproductive, it would be an intellectually dishonest way to pursue my goals.

I am disappointed when any commenter lapses into personal attacks because I think it is a diversion from the art that brings us here, and also erodes the commenter's credibility. I am disappointed in myself when I do it. It would sadden me if people were to stop coming here because they didn't like the tone of the free exchange. It would particularly sadden me if you were to stop coming, in light of your past contributions. How much easier to simply skip over comments from people who make personal remarks, or who you believe don't add value.

6/05/2009 7:08 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Sorry. I didn't mean you were privileging him on purpose. His ability to chase folks away from your blog is a privilege he simply assumed without consent. But a privilege assumed, without correction, is a privilege allowed. Although, now it has been rebuked. So hopefully things will quiet down.

And I take your point about freedom to argue. I like a good scrap now and again too. And it does often act to compress a bit of coal into a better bauble. Provided the pressure exerted is even, steady, and directed toward a central point.

But I think you and I are rather impervious to verbal harm. Those many others, who are still sensitive to commands, demands, taunts, praise and criticism, I feel protective towards. They don't understand that they empower the boorish comment by their emotional reaction.

I wish there were a way to convey this notion to those who need it... Possibly you can include a bit of a byline in the design of your home page. Something along the lines of, "By reacting to an insult, you empower it." as well as a few short bits of etiquette.

Just a thought, discardable.

kev

6/05/2009 8:27 PM  
Anonymous Jack Ruttan said...

Hmmm. That went off the rails... I read thru stuff to make sure I wasn't repeating what was said.

What I wanted to say about Peter Max is that something of his "hit," and to make more money he repeated that, because that's what his public wanted. Part of the trap of being a professional.

Like Conan Doyle having to revive Sherlock Holmes, or some artist having to draw endless re-iterations of a popular character.

I had the notion that George Lucas hated "Star Wars," but came back to it because he thought that people wouldn't like his latest musings, whatever those were.

Bob Dylan has handled it well, but made lots of enemies who hated his electronic and Christian stuff.

It's great when something hits. You can never tell what, but it can also be a trap, I imagine.

6/06/2009 7:40 PM  
Blogger MPAcosta said...

I owned the sheets, someone stole them...I still want them back, and after all these years, I would happily sleep on them again.
He created what he felt like doing, and I love every piece of it. Wish there was a museum showing all his work, I would love to see it all again.

6/12/2009 8:13 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jack, that is a moral challenge every artist would love to have-- how to avoid copying yourself when you've found a formula that works. I think you're right to pick Dylan as an example; he never rests on his laurels. Even when he sings his biggest hits in concert, he experiments with a new approach so that you can't figure out what the hell he is singing until the song is halfway over.

MPAcosta, I have never seen these famous sheets but you and Rob both seem to remember them fondly, so I certainly won't disparage them. They may well have been part of Max's "good" period. Putting your aesthetic judgment aside, I have to wonder about your hygiene if you would happily sleep again on sheets that someone stole 40 years ago. Can you imagine where those sheets have been over the years, and what they have been through?

6/12/2009 6:31 PM  
Blogger william wray said...

late to the table, but I loved Peter Max as a teen artist. Years later when I moved to NY to study at the ASL, imajine my dissapointment when I saw his work in Soho. I copuld have met a hero but he had become what I despised about art in general. Flabby Indeed. I assumed he was on drugs. You can only get so far from some structure in your work. All slap dash ID with patter is bullshit.

6/28/2009 10:54 PM  
Blogger Amos said...

How do you feel about Robert Irwin?

6/30/2009 8:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very rare that I find my self viewing blogs and even more so that I feel compeled to contribute but in this case I must… you see, it's not art as a painting or an movie that is relevant but more so the fact that it is a primary fundemental to all things that exist a binding element if you will a universal language and so on. Most all that has been stated in this blog is as if it were of the past, as if all the initial artist are dead and gone when this is not the case. It's not over until it's over, the reflection is still be created. Perhaps one should start a blog in regards to the true art of a worthless blog that helps in no way the forward movement of art in the purest sense. Passion is greatly lacking in this community and that is unfortunate

10/06/2009 8:34 PM  
Anonymous Jona Denz-Hamilton said...

Peter Max's work moves me; I enjoy the mood and stories that stir from his designs. As for his evolution in styles, I embrace them. The same can be said for great musical artists who try new styles, and are bound to catch criticism. It's a matter of artistic growth, not getting "flabby".


11/19/2012 7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes. You're right. Unbridled freedom for these commercial illustrators who were also painters led their painting compositions to decline. Perhaps the lack of rules that first directed them whilst illustrating led them to make the late career directionless paintings...

2/05/2013 4:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I scrolled down thousands of words generated by a blog that slammed Max as much as possible. For an artist that had so much bad work later....it sure gave rise to a lot of more 'scientific, studied' comments on him and other contemporary artists. I don't respond much, or even read blogs such as this one...but as I scrolled to the end of the comments I read the very last entry and it came from someone admiring Max's work. I am there. His color use and form have appealed to me from way back in '67 and his change in style has not altered my enjoyment of his work. I also find him warm, gracious and easy to be with when I've met him in person.
Peace out.

2/10/2013 3:27 PM  

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