Thursday, June 18, 2009

SELLING OUT

Norman Rockwell recalled quite clearly the first time he sold out.

Humiliated by his family's poverty, Rockwell resolved to make money any way he could. It didn't take him long to learn about what he called "the depths of commercialism:"

Jack Arnold, my cousin, came home from Annapolis one holiday and offered me fifty cents to take my girl and him out in my boat. And I did it; I rowed facing the front of the boat while Jack and my girl hugged on the rear seat.
Rockwell quickly realized there were things he should not trade for money. Perhaps he was still smarting over his loss when he began sketching concepts for Saturday Evening Post covers a few years later:



Many people are quick to accuse commercial artists of selling out (unlike true Artists who never compromise their artistic principles). Personally, I'm not impressed by such claims. For one thing, charges of "selling out" are rarely leveled by people who have made meaningful contributions to the arts. Such sanctimony usually comes from gawkers and spectators with little understanding of survival in the market.

For another thing, "selling out" comes in all shapes and sizes but is rarely irreversible. I've never yet seen Mephistopheles appear in the form of an art director offering to buy a young artist's immortal soul. Illustrator Bob Heindel offered a far wiser and more practical view of how young artists inevitably start out making bad trade offs but can still redeem themselves:
We all got screwed around at the beginning. That’s how you learn. But you learn to protect yourself, and mostly, if you care about it you learn to protect your work. [An artist has to be] protective of his ability.... he [should] always want... the opportunities to do his very best.
Furthermore, even when an artist does succumb to crass commercial demands, the taint of commerce usually gets washed away by the passage of time. For example, nineteenth century symbolist painter Arnold Bocklin created a famous and haunting picture of the Isle of the Dead.



When a wealthy widow saw the painting in Bocklin's studio, she offered him good money to paint another copy, this time adding a woman and a coffin in the boat to represent the widow and her dear departed husband George. Bocklin responded with the German equivalent of "you betcha" and promptly painted the duplicate to satisfy her specifications. This version of Bocklin's painting is now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where nobody yet has criticized it as a "sell out."

Of course, some courageous artists never compromise. For example, Monet refused to sell out. Rather than compromise his artistic principles to make his paintings more marketable, he lived off of others, begging money from his parents or anyone else he could persuade to give him a few francs. He was so principled that his family lived in abject poverty; his wife and children sometimes went without food so that Monet could be true to his art. Because he couldn't afford medical care, his wife Camille suffered through a long illness with tuberculosis before dying painfully at the age of 32. Some say she died of pelvic cancer, but others say she died of a botched abortion because she and Monet could not afford to raise a third child.

Don't think Camille's tragic death softened Monet's dedication to his art; he told a friend that he was interested in the way Camille's face changed color after she died, so he recorded the change in a painting:


Now that's what I call principle.

61 Comments:

Anonymous Paul said...

"Many people are quick to accuse commercial artists of selling out, compromising their artistic integrity for economic reasons. Personally, I've never been very impressed by such accusations. For one thing, charges of "selling out" are rarely leveled by people who have themselves made a meaningful contribution to the arts. Instead, it more often comes from gawkers and spectators with little understanding of survival in the market."

That's just a simple question of numbers. There's always far, far more spectators than "meaningful contributors". Artists wouldn't want it any other way. It doesn't mean that the spectators are wrong.

Selling out is considered bad when the quality of the work is poor or if somebody is doing morally questionable stuff. I don't care how much money anybody makes with their work. I care about the quality. So do all art lovers. Bad or mediocre work is overlooked, no matter how much it cost.

A pattern of choosing to do poor or mediocre work for money can be reversed, but the lost time in an artist's life cannot be. And for people with a great talent given to them by God, it is truly shameful.

For every Monet example, I can give you a Sorolla or Zorn. Even their perfunctory portraits are masterpieces. And what of a Sargent, who painted so many genre masterpieces with no commission or ready market at all?

I've never found the rationalizations for "selling out" very convincing. Unless every moment of your spare time is filled up and you have no other options, I can't see it preventing personal work. And most poeple of great talent and creativity manage to buy themselves some freedom with their abilites.

I think you are creating a false dichotomy in order to place the need to make a living as the driving force in all great painting. And its not.

6/22/2009 2:57 AM  
Blogger Benjamin De Schrijver said...

I don't think selling out is doing something less personal in order to make money. As long as you believe in it and can do it with quality, you're not selling out. It's the difference between compromise and collaboration. Working from other people's ideas isn't necessarily compromise.

6/22/2009 3:23 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Paul, I haven't heard anyone accuse Sargent or Zorn or Sorolla of being "commercial" artists who have somehow "sold out." In fact, I don't think anyone would disagree that they qualify as fine artists; unlike illustrators, their work is regularly exhibited in the same top museums as Monet. I would distinguish them from Rockwell and other illustrators who are frequently criticized for selling out because they painted for advertisements and commercial magazines. You regularly hear this criticism from museum curators, gallery owners and art grad students (especially in the 20th century when "art for art's sake" became prevalent) but you don't hear it as much from fine artists who really make genuine contributions to art (for example, artists such as Van Gogh, de Kooning and Jasper Johns were outspoken admirers of illustration). I did not intend to draw a dichotomy between artists who are financially successful and those who are not. I agree that plenty of fine artists are wealthy (including Monet in his later years).

6/22/2009 4:40 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Benjamin, I would be much happier with your open minded definition of selling out, but I'm not sure it would be embraced by the experts safeguarding fine art venues.

6/22/2009 4:48 AM  
Blogger Arun Kumar said...

Monet -
Great Artist: Pass
Decent Human Being: Fail

6/22/2009 4:57 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Although few are confused as to the difference between an oral surgeon and a thoracic surgeon, there seems to be a great deal of confusion as to the differences between the professions of the illustrator and that of the fine artist. Interestingly, most who adhere to the relatively recent (post-Romantic 19th century Aesthetics Movement driven by the teachings of Walter Pater)concept of "art for art's sake," hark to much earlier artists for their examples of perfection.

There is great confusion as to the actual history of the art they so passionately acclaim as to that they declaim with equal passion eg. a certain Koons antagonist who shall remain unnamed! As you point out, judging the results of illustration with the yardstick of fine arts (and very recent fine arts, at that) is invidious.

6/22/2009 6:55 AM  
Blogger Vanderwolff said...

This post should be compulsory reading by all the young and not-so- young "artistes" who balk and whinny at the first sign of realistic and yes, occasionally uninspiring, application of their hallowed talents.
The Monet example is chilling....I'll never look at his work with the same deference again. Which is good---reverence is a poor co-pilot to insight.

6/22/2009 8:46 AM  
Anonymous Valentino said...

As some people pointed, if you know your trade well and you always strive to do your best, "selling out" accusations are meaningless. That's why I truly admire the works of the best illustrators, no matter if they do magazine covers, children books, story illustrations or cigarette ads.

In regard of Monet story; when it comes to artistic integrity I think that it should not be the most important asset in artist's life. Being human comes first.

If one finds unacceptable selling a couple of canvases in order to save lives of his wife and/or children, well...

6/22/2009 9:58 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Arun and Vanderwolff, I don't want to overstate the case against Monet. He suffered from poverty along with his wife and children, and was extremely sad when Camille died. It's just that he was unwilling to make compromises necessary for Camille's health or his family's comfort. His correspondence shows he was shameless about imposing on anyone if it would enable him to keep painting.

Was it worth it? Perhaps his paintings would not have been so beautiful if he had spent more money on food for his children and less money for paint. I guess my point is that, on the list of possible ways to behave badly, compromising your art is not the worst thing a person could do.

6/22/2009 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Paul said...

That's a better distinction David.

But Sargent, Sorolla, et. al, were also commissioned portrait artists. That's how they made their money. They used that money to fund their personal art. If all they ever did were the portraits, I doubt that they would be so venerated today. Hell, Sargent hated commissioned portrait work so much that he practically quit it altogether in his mid-40's. And those artists above could very well have been accused of selling out if all they did was follow the money. Thank goodness they didn't.

Illustrators put themselves in the same boat as commissioned portrait artists. They work for somebody else, they have to please somebody else, they have deadlines, etc. Pretty much everybody knows what that's like.

What I'm saying is that if a commission prevents an artist from doing the kind of work that he/she wants to do, then they can always choose to follow their personal vision on their own time, or on their own dime.

Rockwell, Leyendecker, Coll, and many other all-star illustrators were given a lot more leeway than illustrators today, so more of that personal vision had a chance to come through. They worked many months ahead of the deadline, so they could take the time to really do their concepts justice. I realize that that's not the case anymore. So all the more reason to do your own work.

Its up to the artist to decide if commissioned work is all that he will do. There are far too many artists who are technically skilled, but have nothing to say. They love the technical aspoects, and become wholly lost in them. And these people generally don't do much outside of their commissioned work because they don't really have any driving desire to do so.

In other words, selling out to me is giving up your own personal vision for somebody else's. Money is just an excuse to do it.

6/22/2009 2:06 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob-- " a certain Koons antagonist who shall remain unnamed"

Fortunately, that label applies to about 99.47% of the human race throughout all of human history, so it is an easy category to hide in.

Valentino-- I agree!

Paul-- your point about "commissioned work" is a larger point that I started to address but deleted because this post was getting too darn long(that happens a lot here!) If you are going to expand my category of corn flake illustrators to include any artist who paints on commission, how do you exclude Michelangelo's commission for the Medici Chapel or the Sistine Chapel ceiling? Viewed broadly, almost all artists work on commission, from Raphael to Jackson Pollack. That puts Sargent and Zorn in pretty good company.

6/22/2009 8:05 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>> and was extremely sad when Camille died.<<<

In Monet's defense, it's not uncommon for someone to have what others would call a limited set of responses. I spent every day with my father from the day when he was told his cancer was terminal. It was a particularly painful bone cancer and he exhibited his usual stoic courage but toward the end it was tortuous to watch. That's when I brought my sketch pad and recorded those final days. I knew at the time that the sketches were a shield between me and the difficult-to-accept reality. They were certainly some of the most powerful and honest drawings I had done since recording a period in the military. All are good drawings yet I cannot bear to look at them.

The painting of Camille's corpse held a similar kind of power and also (perhaps I am reading too much into it) the artist hiding behind the brush. Had he allows himself to feel as a normal human, I am certain that a man of that degree of sensitivity would have fallen apart.

It's good to know that his later years were truly golden. He deserved it.

6/22/2009 9:15 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob, I think yours is a fair characterization of what Monet felt. Certainly, his contemporaries were startled by his seemingly distant, dispassionate response to Camille's death because he aparently did love her. For me, the bigger puzzle (and the worse indictment) is the long slow years of torture leading up to her death. If he loved her as he claimed, why didn't he abandon his artistic mission long enough to cure her? You can bet I would have gladly sacrificed a few unpainted haystacks and cathedrals and lowered myself to the level of Leroy Neiman or Jeff Koons if I thought the money would cure (or reduce the suffering of) my wife. (Just one of the many differences between me and Monet).

6/22/2009 9:28 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

David, apercu the theme of selling out comes an excoriating essay on Francis Bacon by Jed Perl in The New Republic. I suspect that Bacon is yet another in that panoply of artists you proudly hate. Perl's hatchet job will make your legs tingle like Chris Matthews upon seeing the Chicago Messiah. Go to http://www.tnr.com/story_print.html?id=5c8a2dfd-3e0d-4f3f-82e2-4f2b10dad432 for the fireworks. You won't regret it.

6/22/2009 9:30 PM  
Blogger Rolfe Bautista said...

I enjoyed this post very much. My studio is connected to many artists studios so there is always talk of someone selling out. Artists and people are too quick to throw this label around. I think that so long as one doesn't compromise his morals then they are not a sell out. It is truly tough to distinguish between a sell out and not and people really need to think carefully before deciding.

6/22/2009 9:31 PM  
Blogger ARMAND CABRERA said...

I always hear ‘selling out’ leveled at mostly successful or famous artists. Rarely is it applied to anybody on their way up. I’ve often thought that spending my life writing grants for government handouts would be selling out.

Isn’t what you are really talking about compromise? When you use that word it changes the act to an internal decision as opposed to an external influence.

6/22/2009 11:32 PM  
Blogger Matt J said...

Hi David-I was fortunate enough to have another chance to meet with Ronald Searle last weekend. Brief report on my artblog-more to come on the Searle blog soon.

6/23/2009 5:35 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Armand, Rolfe, I believe the term "selling out" is usually leveled at those whose work is selling by those whose work is not.

The idea of spending years and fortune to attend schools to learn a "profession" that can't support itself is tantamount to spending those years and money just top learn a hobby

6/23/2009 1:12 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/23/2009 1:12 PM  
Blogger ARMAND CABRERA said...

Rob,

I agree and I would add that it is also leveled at people whose art becomes accepted. This has always baffled me because art on some level seeks an audience and once you get an audience people criticize you for achieving the goal every artist wants

6/23/2009 6:04 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Artists who have sold out use the money that they made from selling out to justify and feel superior to those people who haven't sold out.

Selling out is abandoning your artistic vision for somebody else's. Money has nothing to do with it. Taking on jobs should never prevent anybody from doing their own work their own way. You can find a zillion examples of this.

My suspicion is that artists who routinely sell out and do no personal work really have nothing to say anyway. These sellouts can't understand the idea of doing anything different than working for hire or forcing their fine art work into a commercial genre. I don't worry about them because if they have nothing to say, then selling out is no big loss to the rest of us.

They always think that people are jealous of the money, but the folks just want to see great work. Its just that most sellouts aren't capable of making any. Unfortunately, the giant egos of the sellouts won't allow them to believe this.

6/23/2009 6:23 PM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

To misquote Rob "Ah selling out...Zzzz! Where's the remote? Who took the remote?"

6/23/2009 6:48 PM  
Blogger Andrew R. Wright said...

It is quite possible that so called sellouts do not show personal work because it is exactly that: PERSONAL.

Who are "we" to judge what is personally satisfying to an artist. Oh, because "we" do not agree with the quality/subject/etc., it is selling out and not personal. Come on...

Thank you David for the topic. I have been away from the blog for awhile but have been trying to catch up.

6/23/2009 8:49 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

It is quite possible that so called sellouts do not show personal work because it is exactly that: PERSONAL.

Who are "we" to judge what is personally satisfying to an artist. Oh, because "we" do not agree with the quality/subject/etc., it is selling out and not personal. Come on...


What gall for a viewer to JUDGE a work of art! How dare an audience applaud or boo a performance!

Yes, all work done on personal initiative alone must be hidden away somewhere. That's why we never see these lords of art commerce showing anything but commerical work. Sure.

Hey, did anybody see those fantastic sketches by Nathan Fowkes on his website? I heard that he does those things in his spare time, when he's not at DreamWorks. They put most "professional" landscape painters to shame. Even some that post here on this blog. Its a good thing he doesn't hide them!

I wonder what motivates him to do them, seeing that somebody wasn't standing behind him with a whip and a checkbook! What a mystery! I guess we'll never know.

6/23/2009 9:18 PM  
Blogger Andrew R. Wright said...

First, yes, Nathan Fowkes is an incredible artist. One that I look up to quite a bit.

Second, I think you are missing the point. It is not about judging the work, it is about presuming whether a piece is personal or not. You are implying that because someone is creating work for a "client" that there is no possibility of it being personal. Even when you spoke of Mr. Fowkes' work you implied that you know for a fact that it's personal. How can you know that? Only the artist that is creating the work can.

6/23/2009 9:53 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Artists who have sold out use the money that they made from selling out to justify and feel superior to those people who haven't sold out.
<<<

It's been my experience that the reverse is true...artists who haven't achieved a wide audience feel morally, spiritually, emotionally and nutritionally superior to those artists who have captured a solid audience. If you read the jeremiads at ARC that's what you'll read...guys with very limited audiences bitching about the "sellouts" read; successful artists.

>>>My suspicion is that artists who routinely sell out and do no personal work really have nothing to say anyway.<<<

That certainly is my case. I have absolutely nothing new to say (nor, I will hasten to add, have very many artists), however I do manage to squeak my little message out in an attractive form.

Not too many years ago, in music there were songwriters and performers. Now they have to be songwriters, lyricists, musicians, producers and probably plumbers when the sink leaks. While I admire the jack-of-all-trades, history has shown in the arts, the artist plying just a few well-honed skills has the greatest lasting power. Of course there are exceptions, but generally speaking, the individual illustrator and individual writer are stronger than the illustrator/writer. I have an illustrated book in production, currently being illustrated by another illustrator. I wrote it and the publisher loves it. With luck, so will a film company. They were very happy when I suggested that it be illustrated by someone who could bring additional depth to the words. That's just doing business with the success of the end product in mind, not feeding one's ego and have to be the bride at every wedding you attend as wwell as the corpse at every funeral. Playing second fiddle ain't bad.

6/23/2009 11:44 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Nathan Fowkes appears to be a well-placed artist in working in a profession in which he thrives and grows being assigned subjects to paint. The work he does without having it assigned, ie, his "personal" work is nowhere near as ambitious.

Much has been said about John Sargent's personal work and if you are speaking about the work he did while still in his twenties, I'd agree. But as he developed into the society portraitist, his personal work never attained the power of his series of Venetian alleyways. By the time he retired to do landscape, his work, though well-done, lacked that spark he had as a youth. Most of those landscapes are uninspiring and his painting for the war office show that he was clearly out of his element in doing narrative painting. That lack accounts for some of the dullest murals in this country, whereas Ned Abbey worked side-by-side and produced one great mural after another, as well as stunning easel paintings. It's a knack that Sargent never mastered.

6/23/2009 11:57 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Rob,

Regarding Nathan Fowkes, "ambitious" doesn't mean good. Why does it sting you so when the issue of selling out arises?

By Sargent's crummy later work, maybe you are referring to paintings like these:

http://www.thewoobeewoods.com/Paintings/Sargent--The_chess_game_john_singer_sargent.jpg

http://nga.gov.au/exhibition/edwardians/Images/LRG/126284.jpg

As hard as this is for you to fathom, I am not talking out of any desire for money, or envy of those who are making it. I am speaking solely for my love of great art. Pictures like the ones above inspire me, and I wonder why things like that aren't being made today.

Speaking of envy, maybe those sellouts are envious of Sargent, a man who made quite a bit of money, yet still followed his muse vigorously without any consideration of money. They envy his creativity, his technique, and most importantly, the popular love of his images, which they will never have, since they gave themselves away.

You can't take it with you, Rob. Its how you inspire others and what you leave behind.

6/24/2009 12:21 AM  
Anonymous Ivan T said...

I expect those who are disgusted by Monet’s attitude give a sizeable proportion of their income to the Malaria No More fund. As you know, every so many minutes a child dies from malaria, and it's expedient to put a child’s life before your artistic propensities.

There is no clear picture of how human decency should translate in practice.

There are many poor people who behave unintelligently and even immorally… maybe exactly because they are poor and not supported enough.

My attitude is to understand and not judge people.

6/24/2009 6:01 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>My attitude is to understand and not judge people.<<<

That sounds admirable, Ivan...almost Christ-like. What might be an aid to that bulwark of understanding is knowing that the human mind is hard-wired in interesting ways. For example, we will respond to children in need more readily if those children are our children than an abstract "The Children." There is a very different chemical secreted into our brains when the imploring eyes belong to our children rather than those on a printed poster.

Having had a touch of it, I can attest that malaria is indeed a terrible disease (fortunately there are drugs such as Fansidar on the market). Too bad all of the malicious fakery of Rachel Carlson and other environmentalists who were willing to falsify the facts (even misquote Albert Schweitzer and say the opposite of what he said), led to the banning of DDT. Millions of lives were lost as a result of mass delusions promulgated by an anti-establishment voice at the right time...much like Al Gore (inventor of the Internet) will be looked at in the future.

6/24/2009 8:15 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>> Its how you inspire others and what you leave behind.<<<

Yeah, I suppose guys like us have to reconcile ourselves to leaving small grave markers rather than inspiring the multitudes with what we leave behind. Then again, I am an illustrator by trade and that's why I frequent a blog devoted to illustration and seldom use the florid and engorged language of the fine arts to describe the rather mundane work we do. That's also why I would never compare a John Sargent to an illustrator. He has the wrong toolkit for that, as he proved when working on mural projects alongside Ned Abbey. Murals are the bailiwick of illustrator types, not easel painters and that's is why Sargent's murals are rather bloodless when compared to Abbey's.

Evidently the court felt the same way because they offered to knight Abbey if only he'd throw off being a Yank and become a British subject. No such suggestion was ever made to Sargent, who was not nearly as popular as he now is with today's social strivers, although he did get some acclaim when he all but copied Abbey's approach in his picture of Edith Terry in the role of Lady Macbeth.

For illustrators, Abbey is the guy to discuss, not various fine artists. There's almost nothing to be learned from them that can be applied to illustration and narrative painting. That's like talking about dermatologists at a dentist's convention...a true non sequiter.

6/24/2009 1:11 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>> Its how you inspire others and what you leave behind.<<<

Yeah, I suppose guys like us have to reconcile ourselves to leaving small grave markers rather than inspiring the multitudes with what we leave behind. Then again, I am an illustrator by trade and that's why I frequent a blog devoted to illustration and seldom use the florid and engorged language of the fine arts to describe the rather mundane work we do. That's also why I would never compare a John Sargent to an illustrator. He has the wrong toolkit for that, as he proved when working on mural projects alongside Ned Abbey. Murals are the bailiwick of illustrator types, not easel painters and that's is why Sargent's murals are rather bloodless when compared to Abbey's.

Evidently the court felt the same way because they offered to knight Abbey if only he'd throw off being a Yank and become a British subject. No such suggestion was ever made to Sargent, who was not nearly as popular as he now is with today's social strivers, although he did get some acclaim when he all but copied Abbey's approach in his picture of Edith Terry in the role of Lady Macbeth.

For illustrators, Abbey is the guy to discuss, not various fine artists. There's almost nothing to be learned from them that can be applied to illustration and narrative painting. That's like talking about dermatologists at a dentist's convention...a true non sequiter.

6/24/2009 1:11 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Rob,

Once again you are wrong. Sargent declined an honorary Knighthood from the British Crown because he was an american citizen, and thought it improper. He was right, as usual. And Sargent's murals were commissioned work--not what I was talking about.

Why are you now drawing distinctions between art and illustration? I thought Michaelangelo and Rubens were fine examples of commissioned artist/illustrators?

What does all the ensuing verbiage have to do with people selling out their own personal vision and morals for money?

I thought selling out was the topic, not which illustrator you like best. I just gave the examples above to show you that money need not be an issue when it comes to making a picture.

It really is a sad thing to see people denying the reality of their limited time here. Some folks that have a personal vision make hay while they can. If that's not you, and by your own admission it isn't, then why bother with putting on the charade of greatness? You are a mercenary. You like the fine arts too, as well as illustration. But why the attitude with those who simply look at the aesthetics of art, and care nothing of the money? By your own admission, those are secondary concerns to you.

If you have nothing to offer artistically that can't be bought, I don't mind if you sell out. The same is true of others artists. More power to you. I only care about those who have great talent selling out. Then the rest of us are missing something important.

You need not take time out of your lucrative career to try to correct me or anybody else about art and money. It's not necessary. I'm only concerned about art, not money, and as a spectator, not a producer.

The problem here is that you are assuming the role of a great painter, and not as a specatator to great painting. You imagine yourself to be a producer of great painting, and not a specatator only. That is a mistake.

The sad truth is that it is not up to you to label the greatness of your painting--its up to everybody else. And we suspect correctly that people who insist on their own greatness are compensating for a lack of it.

Keep in mind that nobody here but you sees your opinions as any more than that--the opinions of a spectator to great art. That's the proper perspective for you and everybody else here. BTW, It's a waste of my time to deal with evasions and unnecessary changes of topic to make you or anybody else look good when they are simply wrong about something. Just admit it already, and let it go.

6/24/2009 2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know, it's blasphamy to say anything of Sargent's isn't inspired the work of a genius but, Paul, those Sargent paintings are among his worst work, certainly not representative of why he is considered a major talent these days. With "The Chess Game", he failed miserably at attempting a more impressionistic style. "The Fountain, Villa Torlonia" also fails with a lousy composition. Is that a geyser gushing from the man's head?

6/24/2009 2:48 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Anonymous,

If only we could all fail as well as Sargent!

6/24/2009 8:03 PM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

"Of course there are exceptions, but generally speaking, the individual illustrator and individual writer are stronger than the illustrator/writer."

Rob, I think you are right here. Even the exceptions I can think of still had more strength in one area. Edward Gorey quite rightly bemoaned his lack of drawing skill. His illustrations were ok (sometimes they were more than ok, like some of his drawings for The Listing Attic), but it was his ideas and his writing that really pulled him through. Maurice Sendak could pull a book together like no-one else, but there have been better writers, and better illustrators. Despite all this there is a strength to their work that wouldn't exist if they had given either the writing or illustrating task to someone else.

"Yeah, I suppose guys like us have to reconcile ourselves to leaving small grave markers rather than inspiring the multitudes with what we leave behind. Then again, I am an illustrator by trade and that's why I frequent a blog devoted to illustration and seldom use the florid and engorged language of the fine arts to describe the rather mundane work we do. That's also why I would never compare a John Sargent to an illustrator. He has the wrong toolkit for that, as he proved when working on mural projects alongside Ned Abbey. Murals are the bailiwick of illustrator types, not easel painters and that's is why Sargent's murals are rather bloodless when compared to Abbey's."

I think that is spot on. Illustrators produce work to make a living (so do most artists, but at least illustrators can admit it). Our mindset (even the mindset of those of us who haven't yet been succesful) has always been, how do we sell our work? Who can I get to pay me to produce an illustration?

Which is why I think talking about selling out is kinda pointless...

6/24/2009 9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got bills to pay, where do I sign up for "sellout"?

I can most certainly add your favourite poodle or a star spangled banner to that painting, nae bother.

Gotta get paid son.

If it gives me the freedom to paint a very personal and possibly unsold series of figure studies , cool.



Awesome blog by the way David, I've been reading for years. The first blog I ever bothered to bookmark.

6/24/2009 9:30 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

I like the old James Montgomery Flagg quote:

"The only difference between a fine artist and an illustrator is that the latter can draw, eat three square meals a day, and can afford to pay for them."

It's a gross generalization, kind of funny in a brutal sort of way. Besides, I'm a commercial artist from a family of commercial artists, surrounded by friends who are commercial artists, so I may be biased.

As far as "selling out" is concerned, it seems to me to be a terribly presumptuous term. It presumes to get inside the mind of an artist and judge the artist's motives for creating art. Why is it inherently nobler to sell work to a gallery instead of a movie studio? Do the work for the love of creating it and if other people decide you're "selling out" then, as usual, it tells you something more about them than you.

6/24/2009 9:42 PM  
Blogger Andrew R. Wright said...

"Do the work for the love of creating it and if other people decide you're "selling out" then, as usual, it tells you something more about them than you."

Could not agree more.

It all boils down to doing what you love. If someone wants to pay large amounts of money for that, why the hell should you not take it?

If it compromises your beliefs then that is an issue only you can judge. Only you know your true beliefs. An outsider has no right to say you are one thing or another.

Paul,
Correct me if I am wrong, but are you saying that work created for money is never as good as work created out of pure personal motivation?

If so how do you explain the beauty of Alex Kanevsky's paintings? Those are created for galleries that are intended to sell them. How about Francis Livingston's, Mark English's, Jeremy Lipking's, Gustav Klimt's? The list is endless. Just because money is involved does not mean that is their sole motivation. Presuming that it is would be worse than actually selling out.

6/24/2009 11:00 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

To all: I have been off line and away from this blog for the last couple of days as I played hooky at the marvelous Illustration Academy in Sarasota Florida. I am glad to see that the dialogue has proceeded (and improved) without me. It will take me a little while to catch up, but here are a few preliminary reactions from my side:

Matthew-- "To misquote Rob "Ah selling out...Zzzz! Where's the remote? Who took the remote?"

Matthew, I suspect Rob forgot something important that he once knew, and perhaps you have as well.

Yesterday I heard the great illustrator Mark English talk about the time when he just started out as an illustrator and waited for 6 long months to receive his first project. He had a wife and three young children to feed and the situation was becoming tense. It finally appeared that his luck had changed when he received an assignment from the Readers Digest. Unfortunately, the art director soon began pressuring Enlish to change the picture in ways that English believed would ruin it. English told the art director, "kiss my ass!" Ask yourself if you would have had the backbone to do the same. The issue of selling out is not an illusion.

6/25/2009 3:23 AM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

"Unfortunately, the art director soon began pressuring Enlish to change the picture in ways that English believed would ruin it. English told the art director, "kiss my ass!" Ask yourself if you would have had the backbone to do the same. The issue of selling out is not an illusion."

Im not so sure it isn't an illusion. I've had the backbone to say kiss my ass, and have regretted it ever since. Because I don't believe it took much backbone, and instead it took misplaced pride (I can't say it was misplaced pride for English, just for me in the situation I was in, so don't read me wrong there). I was asked by the editor at the newspaper I was working for to illustrate a piece with a particular image he had in mind. I thought his idea was boring and that i could come up with a better idea. He insisted i use his idea and I refused. He passed the work onto another of the paper's illustrators, who got stuck into drawing the editor's idea. The idea was boring, and I could have easily have come up with something better. But what I should have done was accept the editor's idea, and seen what I could have done with it, how my drawing could have made it interesting, what I could learn from drawing it, and so on. It might not have been an illustration I was proud of, but what I could have learnt would have given me at least that satisfaction.

6/25/2009 5:21 AM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

hmmm, to qualify, there have been projects I have turned down that i haven't regretted, either because someone wanted me to rip of another illustrator's work, or because I did not think my skills in certian areas would let me produce work that I would want others to see in print.

6/25/2009 5:26 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Paul, thanks for informing me about Sargent's offer of a knighthood. That's one more bit of wrong information that's been corrected.

>>>But why the attitude with those who simply look at the aesthetics of art, and care nothing of the money? <<<

It the sanctimony that seems to go along with it, the sanctimony. Past that it's a question of personal inclination and, on those rare cases where developed taste exists, it's a question of taste. Mostly it's just personal inclination due to the confluence of social attiytudes that were floating around in school, on TV, etc., producing a gallimaufry of disparate elements often confused with taste. It's like having a regional accent...it's not something one sets out to develop, it just happens from exposure to one's surroundings.

Amusingly, everyone thinks that they have taste when what they have is closer to that regional accent...something that just happened.

6/25/2009 5:38 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>> I suspect Rob forgot something important that he once knew, and perhaps you have as well.<<<

You're joking, David. Do you think that my peppery attitude is an internal tic that I can't control? To the contrary, it's all very conscious. But I would rather pursue what I perceive to be the truth in a question than to gain a few more "friends" who will never help me shovel the snow from my walkway or give a damn if my head bursts into flame.

Like English, I had a wife, three kids and was living in a crappy neighborhood and told clients to go to hell when they overstepped what I considered to be the bounds of good taste. Was it prudent? Hell no. I doubt that any good ever came of it aside from the the empty feeling of moral superiority.

In growing older I've learned to pick my battles, being far more direct with a client getting a freebie than with one of my sitters paying in excess of $20k for a full length portrait.

As an arist who works almost solely on commissions, it's good to bear in mind that there's less latitude for attitude because, unlike the artist working for a gallery show, this is money you have in hand rather than working on speculation. That puts a name and face to the transaction and, there's something about working for a specific person that generally tempers my attitude...that and the realities of having dome it long enough to treat it with a bit more human understanding...with rare exception, comissioning a portrait is a big deal for people...a milestone.

The past twenty years have been less about "making it" and more about solving problems. I think that problem solving can be creative at times. Certainly more so than telling someone to kiss your ass and driving off in a huff (Sir, your Huff is waiting)

6/25/2009 6:00 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>But what I should have done was accept the editor's idea, and seen what I could have done with it<<<

Bravo, Matthew. Spoken like a true pro.

6/25/2009 6:03 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Easy, Rob-- a little too much pepper in that recipe. When I suggested that you had forgotten something important that you once knew, I was referring to your line paraphrased by Matthew that questions of infinity cause you to reach for the remote control. I'm sure there were times before you became so tough and smart when you tilted at windmills such as eternity and universal truth. Now that you realize how foolish such youthful efforts look, you tell me that such subjects are properly reserved to a different class of super human artist. Well, that may be the answer of a smart man, but I suspect you've forgotten something you "knew" in your blood as an ardent youth.

By the way, as long as I have your attention, I really enjoyed the Jed Perl review even though I do like some of Bacon's work. And you have me wrong when you say, "I suspect that Bacon is yet another in that panoply of artists you proudly hate." I am never proud about disliking the work of an artist. I only write about such artists when they really really reeeeeally deserve it, and even then, only with sincere regret.

6/25/2009 7:44 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rolfe, I agree.

Matt J.-- thanks for the heads up. Searle is a great example of an artist who held fast to his own point of view over a long and successful career.

Andrew-- thanks for writing. Robin speaks extremely highly of you and your art'
.

6/25/2009 8:06 AM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Paul, correct me if I am wrong, but are you saying that work created for money is never as good as work created out of pure personal motivation?

No. I wish that people would actually read what I wrote. I'm saying that if you wholly surrender you own personal vision or morality for money, you are selling out. That's what selling out means. Even if you have no leeway to retain your own ideas doing paid work, you can always do your own stuff on your own time. THE NEED FOR MONEY HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THE LACK OF PERSONAL VISION IN AN ARTIST's WORK, NOR IS IT AN EXCUSE FOR NOT TAKING THE INITIATIVE TO DO THAT PERSONAL WORK. Is that clear enough?

I think the vast majority of good work is done where the artist has lots of leeway to do things his/her own way, whether they are commissioned or not.

If so how do you explain the beauty of Alex Kanevsky's paintings? Those are created for galleries that are intended to sell them. How about Francis Livingston's, Mark English's, Jeremy Lipking's, Gustav Klimt's? The list is endless. Just because money is involved does not mean that is their sole motivation. Presuming that it is would be worse than actually selling out.

I don't like Alex Kanevsky's paintings, or Jeremy Lipking's. To me they really really empty. And for some reason that's construed as "depth". Yep, emptiness is infinitely deep. They've got no imagination either, or they never show it in their paintings. Mark English's work I know as an illustrator, and I like some of it. I have no interest at all in Francis Livingston's paintings. I like Klimt's painting's and I think he is a genius.

6/25/2009 1:14 PM  
Blogger Andrew R. Wright said...

Paul,

I have read what you wrote and did not understand what you were saying. That is why I asked you. Thank you for making it clear.

I respect your opinions about the artists mentioned as well. Although I do not completely agree.

6/25/2009 2:49 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Armand, I think the language here isn't very precise, but as a general matter I think there can be lots of reasons for "compromise"-- an artist might compromise his or her vision because a result is physically impossible to achieve with the medium available, or in the space available; an artist might compromise and use acrylic paint because they don't have time for oil paint to dry. They might compromise on a political message because they don't want to hurt their grandmother's feelings. But when you use the term "sell out," it seems you are talking about compromising for one purpose: for material gain.

Andrew, Paul and Ivan-- I think we need a separate post about "daring to judge." There is something to be said for the philosophy that "to understand everything is to forgive everything," and that "the only way to speak the truth is to speak lovingly." Unfortunately, while such a philosophy may give you saint-like results on the quantum scale, it seems to produce utter crap on a larger social scale. The logical extension of such a philosophy is a moral and artistic quiescence that is a betrayal of your humanity. I have thought about it and I just cannot go there. I believe that it is more important to have standards than to spare someone's feelings. Hence, I judge. If my standards for judging are are unpersuasive to anyone out there, then my judgments will carry no weight (and do no harm).

6/26/2009 6:36 AM  
Blogger Benjamin De Schrijver said...

David, I don't think it's got to do with that kind of compromise. It's not the compromise of medium, or anything about you having one specific idea for a project and sticking to it. To me, selling out is about not sticking to your beliefs. If one medium doesn't work, you find another. If another way of doing things does the trick and will earn you more money, wonderful. It's not so much about specific vision as about beliefs, sincerity and maintaining a standard of quality.

6/26/2009 10:08 AM  
OpenID coppervale said...

I just linked to this discussion (I hope that's all right, David!) and added my own point of view at my own journal.

I wanted to add a note here to agree with my old friend Armand - if I didn't have an audience, there wouldn't be any accusations of selling out by doing the work which pays the best. If that's selling out, well, I'm going to have to learn to live with it - but my lights will stay on and my kids will stay fed while I do it.

6/26/2009 11:48 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>> "to understand everything is to forgive everything," and that "the only way to speak the truth is to speak lovingly." <<<

That was the major lesson imparted by that great philosopher, Thumper the Rabbit in Disney's Pinnochio..."only say something good or say nothing at all."

Hmmm...how about, Hitler's armbands always seemed neat and clean. I think it's time to get out the recipe for hossenfeffer and track down that popular philosopher.

Hard on the heels of Thumper was Fred Rogers telling each duplicate child that "they are special." Sadly, that mantra came to guide a mass of very un-special people as they grew up and mirrored each other.

6/26/2009 12:23 PM  
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6/26/2009 2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, how can anyone contact you?

6/27/2009 12:16 AM  
Blogger ennui said...

These days, selling out is abandoning your art altogether.

6/29/2009 1:24 AM  
Anonymous Ben Weeks said...

Don't be evil.

6/30/2009 1:01 AM  
Blogger Bryan said...

I have strong feelings against your comments on Monet. There's no way a painting means more than life itself. If his refusal to take care and provide for his family - to the point of death - is true, then Monet just went down a huge notch in my book. Eventually probably off my heroes list even.

7/01/2009 4:34 AM  
Blogger Shawn Escott said...

I have paintings and drawings sitting around my studio that are personal and perhaps may never be seen. I also have works that are done commercially, which have deadlines and need to appeal to a certain audience. Ultimately, I think we make art for others, not just ourselves, and getting paid to do what we love is icing on the cake.

7/01/2009 9:07 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous, I can be reached at David.Apatoff@gmail.com

7/04/2009 9:11 PM  
Blogger Drazen said...

Was it worth it? Perhaps his paintings would not have been so beautiful if he had spent more money on food for his children and less money for paint. I guess my point is that, on the list of possible ways to behave badly, compromising your art is not the worst thing a person could do.


Maybe they would have been more beautiful?
who knows..maybe he would have gotten nicer skin tones?

Ask yourself if you would have had the backbone to do the same. The issue of selling out is not an illusion.

I've walked away from jobs where I was no longer comfortable with the direction
something was taking but I could have used the money. I never felt I was "selling out"..but that it wasn't best for the work on both ends and in the long run it wouldn't help the next job or whatever.
And I've done stuff done that I wish I hadn't but I don't think my soul was compromised. I think it is an Illusion..its all in your head. If you make whatever decision you like honestly then who gives a crap.

7/19/2009 9:54 AM  

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