Tuesday, June 01, 2010

THAT PLACE IN BETWEEN


"Vertical Hold" by Sterling Hundley

Somewhere between the art you have not seen yet and the art you have stopped seeing because it has become too familiar...

Between the veteran artist running out of original ideas and the child who believes his every crayon line is unprecedented...

Between the artist who aggressively competes with all his peers and the artist who is oblivious to where he stands...

Between the professional who desperately depends on art to pay the mortgage and the amateur who resorts to art to fill an idle Sunday afternoon...

Between the expert who is hamstrung by too much knowledge of art's long history and the airy ignorance of the novice...

Between the artist who is shackled by the demands of unreasonable clients and the heedless freedom of an artist with no audience at all...

Between the investor who views art only in financial terms and the fan who is insensitive to the economics that make art possible...

Between the person who ignores art and the person who is so obsessed with art that it diminishes his experience of life...

........................................lies a sweet, sweet spot.


84 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymouse said...

Ah yes, mediocrity. That comfortable little haven. Hundley represents it well. Great post. Kudos.

6/01/2010 4:34 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymouse, if you interpret this post to suggest that the place "in between" represents mediocrity, then clearly I have failed as a writer or you have failed as a reader. I suggest you go back and try to find any of the extremes that you think are preferable.

(None of this, of course, has anything to do with Hundley's excellent and award wining image.)

6/01/2010 5:02 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

I don't know if this is exactly relevant to David's post, but I suspect we all occasionally do a great deal of negative projecting when confronted with an aesthetic different from our own. Perhaps something along the lines of, "I don't like that kind of art. I would be lying if I said I did. That person says they like that kind of art, therefore they must be lying."

6/01/2010 5:02 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

Hundley is brilliant. He is one of the best of the new crop of young illustrators and this image shows why.

David, this picture illustrates your point perfectly. Anonymouse, I thought we found a pesticide to get rid of you.

6/01/2010 5:19 PM  
Blogger Haylee said...

Beautiful, beautiful post! Are these your words or another writer's? None the less, very happy you have Mr. Hundley's work representing it.

Also, to you Anonymous moron, your posts are mediocrity. So please stop posting, no one cares.

6/01/2010 5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymouse said...

Hey, mediocrity isn't an insult. Many people work very hard to reach mediocrity. I guess you think Hundley's a genius or something.

6/01/2010 9:37 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

Mr. Apatoff, I first commented in the recent post about Frazetta, but I think it got lost in the 80+ posts total. I just wanted to let you know that I ran across your blog quite by accident a couples months ago...and love it. I feel we're often kindred spirits regarding how we view art. Many of your posts lamenting the lauding of concept to the exclusion of technique and facility is something with which I completely concur. I often feel as if much of the fine art world is a game of smoke and mirrors or an admiration society of the emperor's new clothes.

I'm very happy that you seem to view some of the great comic book/strip artists as being equals with some of the great illustrators. I could spend hours looking at work by Alex Raymond, Alex Toth, Stan Drake, Al Williamsom, Neal Adams (who I had the pleasure of meeting last year in San Diego), et. al.

I do comic books on the side and have had some stuff published. (Feel free to check out some of my work at my blog, if you're so inclined—raywerks@blogspot.com).

You've turned me on to some wonderful illustrators who I didn't know existed. I try to keep myself in the area of the sweet spot, but I've known times in my life when I haven't—when the workload was too much or deadlines to soon. I often recall how I would spend hours in my room as a child drawing for the sheer delight of it and looking back on drawings done only days before and see huge progress. I wonder if I'll ever be able to recapture that unadulterated fun of drawing. That was before I had to earn a living.

Thanks again for the blog. Keep it up.

6/01/2010 9:48 PM  
Blogger Gabey Dimaranan said...

i hope you dont mind, sir apatoff, if i repost this blog in my facebook. i'd love to share this little bit of poem to every artist i know. :)

though i am having a hard time finding that sweet little spot...i'm quite enjoying the mix of all that is narrated above -- wait...i guess...that little sweet spot is being a college art student, in my point of view that is. haha.

thank you!

6/02/2010 1:34 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- agreed. I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Hundley and he is terrific, both as an artist and as a human being.

Haylee wrote: "Are these your words or another writer's?"

Haylee, I don't do the pictures; I've gotta make some contribution around here or I'd be just another Baldo Smudge. Thank you for a very sweet comment.

Ray-- Thanks for your input. We do seem to enjoy many of the same artists (I can tell from your work on your blog that you are a Williamson fan). Congrats on the birthday of your firstborn-- there's no better reason to put aside comics (at least for a while).

6/02/2010 3:48 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Gabey-- I'd be flattered.

6/02/2010 3:49 AM  
Blogger JDCanales said...

For me, this is like a beautiful (and wise) poem about art. Bravo!
Best

6/02/2010 4:26 AM  
Blogger sam said...

Mr Apatoff, Like Ray, I am new to your blog. Discovered from a tweet not to long ago and I must concur with Ray. It is a Relief to find others of a kindred mind on Art. I was wondering if you have seen a BBC documentary "Why Beauty Matters." "Philosopher Roger Scruton presented a provocative essay on the importance of beauty in the arts and in our lives." It was on Youtube for a while, but sad to say, a brief search for it turned up nothing. I would love to see what you thought of it. Dr Scruton I think made some brave and insightful comments that had me cheering in agreement. Hope it is still out there somewhere for you and others to see.
Thank you for your blog and your thoughts on the Arts. Most insightful.

6/02/2010 8:40 AM  
Blogger Rob Dunlavey said...

I like your blog David because you allude to and point to the goal of many artists and illustrators who make art within a social framework. This is art that lives outside of an ivory tower and mixes it up with real people. The artist knows that she is part of a larger cultural economy which is engaged in the subversive task of humanizing the world.

Artists are only mediocre when they are oblivious or choose to consistently ignore the power their images can wield to confirm or question the beautiful, the valiant, the courageous, the transcendent and weird possibility that is a foundation of our humanity (as opposed to Nature's chaos).
Illustration must, by its nature, without equivocation, engage the "cultural economy" of symbols and expedient forms of communication. When illustration wrests an unexpected jolt from this sea of solutions, we are transformed.
To be in that "sweet, sweet spot" is to be merely human in an delicious and ephemeral communion with your defiant frailty which is acknowledged and respected.
Thanks for your thoughtful blog!

6/02/2010 9:44 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

i'm surprised that work as wonky and unpredictable as Hundley's is a hit with the art directors. i can just hear them saying "why are his hands like that ?"... "why are their heads paler than the rest ?"

seems like a victory of some sort.

6/02/2010 12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen that cool picture by Hundley before someplace. Pure representational art is obsolete but Hundley adds his personality and ideas. I love his work. "Wonky" as Laurence says. That's what he did here and that is the future of illustration. Thanks for sharing.

6/02/2010 2:04 PM  
Blogger Poshgit said...

A beautiful train of thought Mr. Apatoff...and a beautiful blog. Really look forward to and enjoy reading your posts. Cheers.

6/02/2010 3:19 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

I was having an online discussion recently with a college buddy (who changed his major from fine art to philosophy during those years) about what is art. His view is encapsulated in the Oscar Wilde quote, "All art is quite useless." True art does not serve any function but merely to be admired. Anything created for any purpose other than "for art's sake" is not art but rather "design." Hence, illustration can only be design and not art because it is created for another purpose than merely its own sake. Yes, my friend calls Michelangelo a great designer, but not an artist. 

Oscar Wilde, elaborating on his famous quote, wrote an inquirer, "Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realise the complete artistic impression. A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one."

Now, my friend, I think, goes even further than Oscar Wilde in that he believes that the creator's INTENT for the work to have another purpose is enough to keep it from being art...not merely the art itself promoting some activity or directing someone's attention to something outside of the art itself. Thus, if you follow that to its logical conclusion, we can never be sure if anything is art because we can't know the intent of the artist. So, it's merely a bunch of navel-gazing at that point—something philosophy major are prone to falling into.

Back to Wilde's explanation, aside from the fact that the flower does not blossom for its own joy but rather has a scientific and utilitarian purpose for looking as it does (in which case, it might actually serve to illustrate my view, which is below, better than Oscar Wilde's), his point is that art created for anything else other than its own sake is something lesser. If I may, allow me to humbly disagree with Oscar Wilde.

My own (evolving) view is that while art MAY be that, it is not limited to that. Art that is done towards another end may also stand on its own and for its own sake (though not necessarily). I think a work of art that is made for a given purpose can take on a life of its own and become something greater than the original intent...thus raising it from design to art. The work of that great "designer," Michelangelo is a prime example. Just as Oscar Wilde's flower is as it is to allow pollination, it also offers beauty. Our connection to it is merely one of appreciation of its beauty and form. We do not have to know it function to appreciate its form. Likewise, I can view a piece of art outside of its original context and connect with it on its own aesthetic and emotional grounds. Great art may or may not have another reason for its creation, but it doesn't need the reason behind it to stand on its own.

Again, my view is evolving, and I would love to hear your thoughts on that...perhaps even a post devoted to that topic.

I couldn't find an e-mail for you, so I hope you forgive me for hijacking this comments section.  

6/02/2010 10:07 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Ray...

All art is designed. So is all philosophy.

All art is made with a purpose even if its just to be entertaining or entertained. So is all philosophy.

The idea that work for hire somehow illegitimates art is marxist bull. The only thing that illegitimates art as Art is a lack of artistry.

Oscar Wilde wasn't an artist, he was a writer and his notions about art being all about the creation of a mood is flat out stupid and wrong. And the implication that he wasn't a moralist in his own way is also bull, as any reading of his writing would attest.

Art for Art's Sake comes from Whistler and in order to understand what he was reacting against you probably should read Modern Painters by Ruskin. This will at least provide a foundation to discuss the topic. Spinning out endless chains of thought based on 100 year old aphorisms taken out of context is just going to waste time. Wilde could have been piss drunk when he wrote the lines you are giving such reverent consideration. The only people who really know what's going on in art are the very greatest artists who have ever lived. Everybody else is guessing at best.

And as far as your philosopher friend from college... Apparently philosophy is the method of calling all other endeavors useless, except philosophy, thereby satisfying a deep seeded need in the philosopher to avoid the truth of his own indolence.

6/02/2010 11:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymouse said...

Laurence, have you thumbed through a recent illustration annual? Quirky is in.

6/03/2010 2:15 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Anonymouse,

yes i have, but 'quirky' usually comes in a set style. what interests me about Hundley is that he hasn't become formulaic yet. his pieces are often very different from each other and full of unexpected stylistic tics. usually art directors like to know what sort of quirky they're going to get.



Ray,

it's seems obvious to me that Wilde is making the point that FINE art serves no function other than it's own existence. this is not to be confused with COMMERCIAL art or APPLIED art or any other sort of CRAFT, which does have a function. your point...

"I think a work of art that is made for a given purpose can take on a life of its own and become something greater than the original intent...thus raising it from design to art."

... actually validates Wilde's. yes, some commercial art will now and then have qualities that go far beyond it's function just to sell a product or an idea, but how exactly does it become something 'greater' ? well, the functional aspect falls away and you're left with something else... beauty for it's own sake.




Kev: "The only people who really know what's going on in art are the very greatest artists who have ever lived."

you mean the poor, the drunken, the drug taking, the half-mad, the depressed, the hopelessly insecure, the deluded, the suicidal, the ego-maniacal chancers we now call 'great' ? yes, they were all minds of shrewd and calculated brilliance, that lot.

6/03/2010 6:44 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence said:
"you mean the poor, the drunken, the drug taking, the half-mad, the depressed, the hopelessly insecure, the deluded, the suicidal, the ego-maniacal chancers we now call 'great' ? yes, they were all minds of shrewd and calculated brilliance, that lot."

Eh?

Who are you talking about?

What are you talking about?

Every one of those words can describe any human being on the planet on any random day.

A great artist is anything but deluded about aesthetics. And great work and substance abuse do not long coexist. Great artists WORK. Their philosophy is completely tied to the reality of their production.

My point was that finding out about art from a collegiate philosopher or sodden and sashaying writer is no match for actually hearing about art from an artist who is a master at their craft. Since most art masters have not written about their work, the implication is that one shouldn't get too deep into the weeds without first considering the epistemology problem.

6/03/2010 9:10 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

I suspect that many art masters did not write about their work because they did not want to get entangled in endless debate.

6/03/2010 9:17 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Ray said, "I hope you forgive me for hijacking this comments section."

Ray, the most successful posts here are the ones where some idea (or word or punctuation mark) captures the attention of a reader who then jumps in with both feet the way you have. That often triggers a chain reaction which leaves us miles from the starting point. That's fine with me.

I'm a big fan of Oscar Wilde, but minds far more serious than his have tried and failed to play "art police." To my knowledge none of them has succeeded yet.

It's fine for Wilde to announce that art cannot instruct. Perhaps he'd care to fight it out in the alley with George Bernard Shaw, who wrote that "fine art is the only teacher except torture."

We can all make long lists of the ways in which Wilde is wrong. Who can watch a Eugene O'Neill play without learning about the human condition? Art can teach us a language of love and pain that contributes shades of meaning to our lives and fleshes out our understanding. Or, art can teach us how to load and unload cargo from a boat (as the Iliad was intended to do for its listeners). So in a way, Wilde's claim is just plain silly. But you could easily find as much fault with Shaw's pronouncement.

I think that scientists have a much more sensible (and humble) approach to defining things. When they start out to draw conclusions, they figure that "nature is as nature does." If they try out a rule and encounter a contrary example, they don't say, "that's unnatural," or "that doesn't count" or "that's design, not art." Instead, they re-open the rule. When the Spanish philosopher Ortega tried to use this approach for defining human nature, he realized that every time he tried to draw some conclusion about human nature he could always find a contrary example. Ultimately he said that humans have no "nature," what they have is their history. Human nature is just the sum total of human history. You could draw the same conclusion about art. Art is as art does.

I don't want to discourage your friend (or Oscar Wilde) from pursuing flawed theories. Sometimes theories can be wrong in a useful way. But any theory that starts out saying "Michelangelo is not an artist" seems to me to be wrong in a useless way, and not worth additional effort.

6/03/2010 10:10 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

To paraphrase David: Somewhere between useful and useless is the sweet, sweet spot where Art may be found.

6/03/2010 10:32 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"I was wondering if you have seen a BBC documentary "Why Beauty Matters."

Sam, you can still find that documentary on youtube...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=65YpzZrwKI4

coincidentally it features the same Oscar Wilde quote mentioned by Ray above that everyone here seems to miss the point of.

6/03/2010 11:01 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Isn’t history much more an "art form" David, then it is science? Something we "design" as Kev said. A story we tell. As Joyce wrote '"history is a nightmare form which I am trying to awake." Isn’t that what most artist are trying to do, awake from our mind created world, and see the world a new, as it is right now, with fresh eyes. And it is very diffcult to see the world anew when you have reasons an purposes for your actions, like trying to sell something, or change things.

Wasn't one of the Buddha’s most famous gestures showing a group of devotees a flower?

Wilde’s definition is pretty close to Joyce’s “In a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”

It remains of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s problems with Darwin. Darwin filled things with purpose and reasons, Thompson view was most things don’t have a choice in how they are formed, the forces of the universe are few and simple and they force the shape of things. For example if the pull of gravity were stronger or weaker all the forms on earth would have a different shape. Isn’t the idea of purpose in art or anything a way of hiding our fear of not knowing? And doesn't that "not knowing" reveal our freedom? Things may have a purpose but I don’t think our minds will ever know. Flowers do not justify or explain themselves.

Kev: "The only people who really know what's going on in art are the very greatest artists who have ever lived."

I think the audience is as much responsible for who the greatest artist are. The viewer completes the picture.

6/03/2010 12:49 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Tom: "I think the audience is as much responsible for who the greatest artist are. The viewer completes the picture."

That's like saying that a passenger on a roller coaster completes the roller coaster.

Well no. The roller coaster is designed with the passenger's whole physiognomy in mind. The better it is designed to have some experiential effect on the passenger, the greater the roller coaster.

The reason so many aesthetes agree about the same works of art so often is demonstrative of the expertise of the artist. The Mona Lisa is fascinating collectively only because it is fascinating to each individual in that collective. We aren't talking about the American Idol voting process here where gaggles of teenage girls vote for fake earnestness of the guy with the whitest teeth.

6/03/2010 2:04 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

Laurence John,

I'm not sure or not (and I really mean I'm not sure) if Wilde was making the distinction between FINE art and applied art. My guess is that he would not consider applied art to be art in its highest form since it indeed has a purpose other than to behold and experience it. My point of departure from my philosophically arrogant friend (and PERHAPS Wilde, depending on how well I'm parsing his words) was that true art can rise above it's intended functionality whereas I know my friend (and perhaps Wilde) believe functionality automatically negates it from consideration. But, I might be misinterpreting Wilde. I'm not familiar enough with him to get a good sense of it.

And thanks for the link to that BBC documentary. I've finished half of it, and I love it.


David,

I love the points you made—especially, the observation that "art is as art does." I think that might be the best we can do.

Thanks everyone for your comments. They have been very enlightening.

6/03/2010 10:03 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hi Kev
I think the artist communicates our own human feelings about things. An artist brings forth our own experience of the world, they give that experience form. The richest deepest works have the longest audiences which can span hundreds or even thousands of years because the objects still speak to something in us. But the objects need someone to engage them, to bring them to life so to speak, and to find meaning in them, even new meanings that have never been seen or thought of before.
I am not talking about judging the quality of the work, I
am talking about the truth the work carries in it. Or maybe a better way to put it is the work awakens something that is already in us. That is what speaks to audiences over a
long time. It is not a matter of discrimnation or taste.

"The artist, like the God of existence, remains, within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, unaviable, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernais.". James Joyce. Are the authors of the bible determining it's
meaning or the people who read it?

6/04/2010 9:50 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"What are you talking about?"

merely suggesting that even the "very greatest artists" probably don't have the answers to what makes great art... being just as human and fallible as the rest of us.



"The reason so many aesthetes agree about the same works of art so often is demonstrative of the expertise of the artist"

maybe. could also be that we've been told again and again that the work in question is important by critics. maybe the Mona Lisa is fascinating because we've been told it is. most people would probably walk straight past it if it was in a quiet corner of the Louvre and not behind bullet-proof glass. since you think that all art is created with a purpose, what do you think was Leonardo's purpose when he painted that picture ?

6/04/2010 11:48 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Hi Tom,

I enjoy your writing.

I would say, however, to your point: The reason great works keep hitting their mark generation after generation, era after era, is because they contain eternal human truths. And a certain percentage of sensitive people, despite their media training in nihilism, cannot help but respond, if exposed, to a work of timeless appeal which is knowing about the human condition, our faulty psyche and foibles.

When we read Shakespeare it may take us some while to get accustomed to the unfashionable language, but once we can read it naturally enough, it sparkles with human insight that is as fresh as the wet morning grass. Proving that nothing really changes except fashion and nothing really progresses except technology.

When something new is teased out of such a work as Hamlet, say, my first thought is that the seeker always finds what he is looking for. “Seek and ye shall find” is a wonderful remark about man’s innate pattern matching obsession. No doubt the teaser-outer would have found their hobby horse no matter what they looked at, because that is simply the way pattern-seeking mind works.

Which always leads me to think, “Funny how they chose to find their little idea in Shakespeare rather than some ranch romance potboiler written for a Woman’s Home Companion in 1926” where it is just as likely to be found. So what we have here is a cheap kind of piggybacking attempt, relying on the great artist and the great artwork to draw people to the seeker’s little hobby horse idea (and by extension the seeker). Rather than impressing, that the seeker finds his little idea in the great work only serves to demonstrate how utterly encompassed their small thoughts are by the largeness of a great work. That a great work houses multitudes barely needs to be said.

It’s the same thing you often see with art composition analysis… the finding of this line or that line amid a great work, diagramming this geometry or that. And to the easily-led there looks to be understanding there, with all those seemingly apt symbolic squiggles laid over the masterwork…but it is an illusion of understanding... often fooling the diagrammer as well as his audience that comprehension has been had because the fit is so beautiful, the lines so parallel. The proof is always in the pudding, however. Would any sane person follow a recipe developed by someone who has never made the dish?

All this falls under the umbrella of the ever-dangerous postmodern movement, and its radical-egalitarian offshoot, the self-esteem movement which has infected everything. So we have an attempt to raise the aficianado to the level of artist by equating finding with making, DJ’ing with musicianship, and idle comments on creative work with creative work itself. The pandering involved here borders on the infinite.

Anybody can "complete" an artwork by looking at it. There's nothing special about consumption, ("completion" being a pandering euphemism for "consumption".) Consumption doesn't add to anybody else's experience of the artwork.

Just like anybody can "complete" a meal by eating it. And we recognize that no aesthetic value is added by chewing the roast beef except to the consumer himself.

Termites aren't architects.

6/04/2010 12:15 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence: "the "very greatest artists" probably don't have the answers to what makes great art... being just as human and fallible as the rest of us."

I trust a rocket scientist, fallible as he is, to know more about what makes rockets work than I do. Despite having an unfinished idea of what Gravity is and how it works.

On the Mona Lisa: At the very least we can say that Da Vinci was fulfilling some psychological need with the creation of that picture, which he carried with him like a talisman to the end of his days.

And the work rose to prominence long before it was behind bullet proof glass, or sold on tee shirts. And it was on the rise before it was stolen, or else it would not have been stolen. And before some schoolboy put a moustache on it.

6/04/2010 12:26 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/04/2010 5:23 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

David, allow me to once again break from the herd lowing their oh-so intelligent take on your choice of artist or writing or just use it to once again fart triumphant homage to themselves and the herd...and forgive me dear herd animals while I commend David for a lovely bit of writing. ...writing I'd recommend you go back and read before forming another of your self-aggrandizing, the-world-revolves-around-me statements.

Damn, David, that was lovely. It needs none of Kev's quasi-erudite disections or the hey-look-at-me pathos of etc and anony. It needed only to be read and,dare I say, FELT in much the same way you had to feel as you wrote it.

That was lovely. It was moving, and it went to the heart of what it is to be an artist occupying that broad space between stardom and the almost idiotic joy of the untrained (but absolutely ensorcelled) amateur...a quicksilver and delicate human condition, and so well described.

Kudos.

And now we return control to the angry mob and their comments that emanate from their nether parts.

6/04/2010 5:25 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/04/2010 6:18 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

I guess the question is not whether art is useful or not, but rather what it is for.
Technology provides a tool for our physical life.
One way of thinking about art would be to say that it provides an architecture for those things that populate our imaginative life.

6/05/2010 10:21 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

JD Canales-- thanks so much for the kind words.

Sam-- welcome! glad to have you participating. I have been traveling on business but I plan to watch the BBC documentary this weekend. It sounds like my cup of tea.

Rob Dunlavey-- thanks for a thoughtful comment.

Laurence John-- I am always pleasantly surprised when virtue prevails.

Anonymous-- You may have seen this picture in the society of illustrators' annual show.

Poshgit-- Thanks very much, I look forward to your comments.

6/06/2010 12:58 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote "The only people who really know what's going on in art are the very greatest artists who have ever lived. Everybody else is guessing at best."

Kev, I'm not sure why you think the greatest artists who ever lived would have more of a clue than the rest of us. For some of them I gather that inspiration passes through them like a massive electrical charge and leaves them shaken and bewildered the next day. For some of them, one could say what you said about Wilde: "Wilde could have been piss drunk when he wrote the lines you are giving such reverent consideration." Some of them lack the self-awareness or analytical abilities of lesser artists or casual bystanders.

Even if one were to ask the greatest artists what the deal was, do you think you would get remotely similar answers from Praxiteles and Michelangelo and Picasso?

6/06/2010 7:42 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John wrote: "'quirky' usually comes in a set style. what interests me about Hundley is that he hasn't become formulaic yet. his pieces are often very different from each other and full of unexpected stylistic tics. usually art directors like to know what sort of quirky they're going to get."

Laurence, I agree with you. In addition, Hundley is intellectually engaged with his art, he spends a lot of time thinking about his content and adding layers of personal editorial content the way an oyster builds a pearl around a piece of grit. His reactions are always interesting to ruminate about. Finally (and this factor may just impress the kid in me) his instincts tend toward the passionate and dramatic. The deep sea diver with the sea siren kissing him inside his diving helmet, his Marat Sade, the picture of the lovers clinging to each other as the fishing nets pull them apart, the man dissipating into the stars on his sofa-- I am a sucker for artists who think in such terms. I have fought against it but I just can't help it.

As for the art directors wanting to know exactly what kind of quirky they are buying in advance, I fear you are right. In the 1960s, illustrators were always stretching to do something new, and when they didn't stretch enough they had legendary art directors to goad them into going further. I fear that the prevailing theme song today is "Plant a radish, get a radish."

6/06/2010 8:08 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Etc. etc. wrote, "I suspect that many art masters did not write about their work because they did not want to get entangled in endless debate."

Or perhaps because they realized they would destroy the magic by opening their mouths. Wasn't it Matisse who advocated that artists have their tongues cut out before they start explaining their work?

Chris Bennett-- thanks.

Laurence John-- thanks for the link.

6/06/2010 8:15 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Tom wrote, "Isn’t history much more an "art form" David, then it is science?"

Tom, this is a subject that interests me greatly, although I fear we would have to open a separate blog on the nature of historical inquiry to do it justice. I know there are lots of legitimate perspectives on this issue but my own perspective is that it is the role of the historian to maximize the "science" component of history and to treat the inevitable "art" component with great self-awareness and perspective. We are not allowed to make up history, even if there is no such thing as a single, objective history behind us. I think the creative tension between those two extremes is the source of much of the meaning that we find in history.

Kev Ferrara wrote: "That's like saying that a passenger on a roller coaster completes the roller coaster."

But Kev, surely you would agree that the experience of a picture is transformed by what the viewer brings to it?

6/06/2010 8:52 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob Howard wrote "...well described."

Thanks, Rob. I appreciate it.

6/06/2010 9:19 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

I forgot about that Matisse quote David. It remains of the Taoist sages, "the Tao that can be spoken of is not the Tao."

A lot of artist may not be able to say or speak about what makes great art although many have. But what makes their work successful is not hidden. The language of art is right there to be seen. Michangelo understands planes as well as Praxiteles although there expressive purposes may vary. Picasso and Matisse speak in planes a volumes as well as Manet even though he uses frontal lighting in his
pictures. I think that is modersim biggest failing insisting on the "flat bed" picture plane. To quote Eugene Carriere
"In Nature all is volume,plane, proportion all is archietecture." Sounds like a definition of geometry doesn't
or Paul Cezanne. What the artist thinks art is, like Kev says, exists in the artist, but it is not truly a reality until it exists in form. That is where you see how similar thinking can be across generations.
"Nowadays we are mistakenly inclined to lay the emphasis
on so-called expression, by which the individual feelings of
the marker are projected outwards, through the medium of
the made object...However, this is contrary to the opinion of
all the great civilizations, which have always striven
towards that objective expression which proceeds from the
work itself.". Van der Laan.
I can't help thinking Noel Sickles would agree with Pablo Picasso when he says "I paint things as I think them, not as I see them."

David have you read Nictzche's, "The advantage and disadvantage of history for Life.". It seems in regard to all relations we are the true subject like Delacroix says.

6/06/2010 2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,

I really enjoyed your art blog here, very interesting. We just started up a new art social network called Dagger Room. Check it out if you get a chance.

6/06/2010 2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymouse said...

Greatness doesn't lie between extremes. Well, the herdly idea of greatness sure seems to. Real acts of greatness are always extreme, they have to be in order to affect the inert minds of the population.

Hundley is a good artist, this image of his is kinda clever and uh... that's about it. I have no idea if he doesn't compete with other artists or use what he earns as an artist to pay his mortgage or if he is really an excellent human being (whatever that means). Since David seems to have met him personally, he may know more about that sort of stuff. But it really doesn't matter.

6/06/2010 3:59 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David Apatoff: "Kev, surely you would agree that the experience of a picture is transformed by what the viewer brings to it?"

When we watch Groundhog Day, how much are we enriching the experience by what we bring to the table as viewers?

It seems to me, the more profoundly the movie affects us, the better we are simply understanding what the movie is actually saying. We are only enriching our ability to comprehend what is already written.

The more blankly we experience the movie, the more we must lack the experience (and thus insight) to recognize the subtext. (Or possibly we have seen it so many times, it has become dead as a metaphor.)

So I wouldn’t say we are transforming an aesthetic experience by bringing something to the table, as much as we are simply better experiencing the experience as it was designed in the first place. This is why a lazy or jejune audience is no fun… because they are a weak instrument on which to play one’s music.

We must grow into some great works… the works themselves don’t need changing.

6/06/2010 8:30 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David Apatoff: "Some (great artists) lack the self-awareness or analytical abilities of lesser artists or casual bystanders… For some of them I gather that inspiration passes through them like a massive electrical charge and leaves them shaken and bewildered the next day."

A lifetime of preparation goes into every great art performance. The amount of bygone analysis relevant to any particular work would bury us if we could only see it at once.

So, the idea that any great artist is lacking in analytical abilities… I just find that a non-starter. Can’t happen and I don’t know how such a myth gets started or takes hold.

I suppose because some of the greatest artists refuse to speak vaguely or in purple academese?

But great artists don’t need to pretend they are saying something when they talk about their work, they don’t need to fluff the buffalo or gild the lily, because they know they are saying something. If they are misunderstood, it isn’t their fault. Not all things can be understood by all people.

My own experience is… So much of what I consider the purest wisdom I’ve heard regarding aesthetics was stated with such absolute simplicity that it took me years to understand it. I had to grow into the profundity of the idea, and unfool myself that I had already understood it simply because it was written in immediate language. Maybe I had to live the meaning of the quote myself, before I could appreciate how dense with information it was.

6/06/2010 10:28 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Overall on this point, I think a distinction should be drawn between information descriptive of the appreciation of a work of art, (which can be quite poetic and persuasive to a fellow viewer), versus the actual information that went into a work’s creation, (which may be bone dry and have absolutely no meaning to somebody outside the profession, (or even outside the style being used.))

I consider the latter to be real understanding. But most ink spilled about art falls into the first camp, describing in depth how art is appreciated. The best of such essays captures quite well the effects of the work, but none get to the reality of the causes of those effects. Because aesthetic causes are only readable by the top practitioners because it is a language only they can read and write with expertise.

As the worthlessness of so many academic art treatises attests, proficiency in writing English has nothing to do with proficiency in reading art. Not that anybody would admit such a thing.

Which brings me to what Tom just said, that “what makes (the work of great artists) successful is not hidden.”

I think the opposite is true. If everybody knew what makes the Mona Lisa so enigmatic, it would not be enigmatic. But it is, so we should admit that, even after 500 years, we still don’t understand it.

Yet a great work of art, at once, shows us all its got. What’s there on the canvas is there for all to see… a card trick performed right under our noses, frozen in time for us to inspect to our heart’s content, with a microscope if we want.

Yet with all the zoom lenses in the world trained on it, the Mona Lisa’s mystery remains.

The conclusion that must be drawn is that we are seeing less than what is there. And we are understanding even less than that. We cannot even appreciate our own ignorance because our ignorance keeps us from realizing just how much we are ignorant of. Only by a great deal of study do we come to realize how ignorant we are.

6/06/2010 10:30 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

So information is indeed hidden, but only in the sense that we can’t see it because we don’t already know it is there. And we don’t know it is there because it is written in a language we can’t write or speak. It isn’t hidden behind the painting or in the next room.

In the moment of aesthetic mystery, we either simply let the powers of the picture wash over us, or we resist and look for something steady to hold onto.

In the first case, we have an experience. In the second case, we back away and try to defend our psyche. We look for the known, and begin there. We get up close and look at a blob of paint. We admire the anatomy, the linework, the finish, we try to find a way back to egolibrium…

In other words, we start lost in the woods, and then try to find a way home by digging because we happen to have a shovel.

We betray our ability to actually see by looking for only what we know.

We are dazzled at a magic show. And then somebody on the ride home says, “Oh, I know how that trick is done… you palm the card while nobody is looking!” And this is how we flatter ourselves again and again with our mouths.

Last week… I’m sitting there looking at the Sickles you posted, (sinking carrier), utterly agog at how many different clever ways he’s making that damn carrier affect us… some so subtle I barely can see them, (and I’m still not sure I’m even picking up on them all.) I was just completely blown away by the levels and levels of thought put into that piece and how seamless they were all integrated into the drawing. And then someone chimes in with “oh, that’s just grade level perspective he’s using” (or whatever the remark was.) After such a comment, there’s nothing to do but take a nap to recover.

In art, we only see what we know. We have no idea what we don’t know. Unless we did the picture ourself, despite how beautifully we can describe its effects, or how bluntly we can dismiss it, we should always bear in mind that an understanding of the profundity of our experience of a work is not the same as having a depth of knowledge about how it was made.

6/06/2010 10:32 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

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6/07/2010 12:21 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/07/2010 6:31 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

To me, on a simple visual intuition level, it seems that the above water to below water proportion of the ship must have been exaggerated (i.e. when added together, the length of submerged fore required to buoy the aft would make the ship impossibly long). It does add to the sense of drama and tension, though.

6/07/2010 6:32 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

David, this is an interesting case study.

What you wrote about that vast between-land in the pursuit of art was, it would seem the readers almost totally ignored the content of the text and immediately gravitated to the pretty pictures...or singular picture in this case and again used it as an opportunity to share their tastes and opinions about art.

This points to a huge disconnect between the text and the accompanying illustration. I am lead to wonder -- if an almost completely unrelated illustration takes precedence over the accompanying text, has former value of illustration changed to being a minor communication and quite separate from the text? If that's the case, it would put illustration in the same category as mere decoration.

It would have been interesting to see results A+B tests in which the same text was accompanied by another unrelated illustration. Would the assembled people have ignored the import of the textual message and attached themselves to the picture?

By plugging-in this illustration (which was not done to illustrate your text) has the same loose and generic relationship with the text that you'd get with stock photos and stock illustration.

This leads to a chicken-and-egg discussions of which came first, the stock houses or the new audiences who treat illustration as the seasoning and not the entrée. In any case, I believe this is endemic of the changing face of the dwindling illustration market.

6/07/2010 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymouse said...

Whatchoo talkin' bout, Rob?

David's text is in support of that "everything in moderation" garbage that's been peddled around as wisdom for ages. The illustration reflects this by showing us a take on the different(yet ultimately quite similar) kinds of human exploration, one plumbing the depths, the other reaching for the heights. THe void in the middle of the image (analagous to the vertical hold bar in old TV sets) reminds us of this distinction but also emphasizes the connection. It's also suggested, if you read the text, that this void is the preferable "sweet, sweet spot" to aim for and get comfy in. The style is a quirky blend of traditional, accurate drawing and cartoony nonchalance. It's a safe mixing of the streams that people are sure to find very charming and easy to digest. In other words, it's not very challenging at all, just like playing it safe in life using the philosophy of moderation, which is actually adhered to with extreme fanaticism. So it's all perfectly related. :-p

6/07/2010 12:18 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/07/2010 1:16 PM  
Blogger sam said...

Thank you Laurence. That link didn't quite work so I post this one below. I would love to have a discussion
with regards to it. I think it hits on many points relevant to the discussions I've read here. and David, Please give us your impressions if you've had the chance to view it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=65YpzZrwKI4&feature=related

6/08/2010 8:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymouse said...

Roger Scruton is a nitwit. Beauty is abysmally passé. By the time something comes to be called "beautiful" it has lost all its vigor and relevance. It's already been absorbed by the herdly masses who are always in desperate need of something to worship so they can appear humble and reverent while secretly patting themselves on the back for doing so. For something to reach the status of beauty it needs to have nothing objectionable about it. Naturally, cowards and deceivers will want to align themselves with beautiful things so they can appear as unobjectionable as possible without reallty doing anything to develop their character. I would never insult a work of art by calling it beautiful. Give me a break.

6/09/2010 2:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymouse said...

"If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all."

- Michelangelo Buonarotti

6/09/2010 2:29 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Anonymouse,
Your post seems to suggest that you feel there is a correlation between what is called "beautiful" and what is called "religious", and that both have negative connotations for you; is that correct?

6/09/2010 8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

may i suggest you looking into an illustrator called Arthur Rackman

6/09/2010 11:46 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/09/2010 11:59 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"Beauty is abysmally passé"

you should print that on t-shirts and sell them to chic boutiques.

6/09/2010 12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymouse said...

etc, etc: I wasn't thinking about religion but you're right, there's a strong correlation. People are drawn to both religion and beauty for a sense of being in touch with some greater power. It's no wonder then that religion makes use of art to seduce and mesmerize those who are incapable of independent thought. Oscar Wilde was wrong, art is actually extremely useful, even if you're not particularly religious or spiritual, in fact, an atheistic personality could be more susceptible to it because all his unanswered questions about life might appear to have a resolution in the realm of beauty.

anonymous: I am familiar with Rackham's work and was somewhat obsessed with him when I was younger. But the "beauty" I saw in his work never came without a sense of anxiety. That I could be so enchanted by his masterful depictions of lusty nymphs and vengeful gods forced me to take stock of myself and my motivations in life. Looking back, it was actually pretty educational, but I had to look past all the superficial prettiness of it all first.

I wasn't using art to come to Scruton's hopelessly bland and inane conclusion that "life is worthwhile". Worthwhile or not, we are alive and are forced to act. Art is misused when we just look to it for a temporary sense of relief from the things that annoy or distress us. ARt is really there for us to learn about ourselves. When we look at something beautiful or ugly, we are really looking at ourselves. We are using no one else's curiosities, desires, or prejudices to interpret it but our own.

6/09/2010 2:52 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Beauty is abysmally passé.<<<

Does that mean that, being a non-beautiful person, you are au courant? I suspect by your yardstick, Quasimodo would be leading edge.

You continue to blithely plumb new depths of idiocy with no apparent understanding of how to link your utterances to observable reality.

6/09/2010 3:14 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

"Art is misused when we just look to it for a temporary sense of relief from the things that annoy or distress us. ARt is really there for us to learn about ourselves. When we look at something beautiful or ugly, we are really looking at ourselves."

Actually, it is fine if we look to the best art for a temporary sense of relief, because the best art will also tell us about ourselves (under the radar) in the process of allowing us to bask in its other world. There is always this kind of a moral component (truth is de facto moral) at work in the best art, which is why it ultimately refreshes, rather than depresses.

What's that old saying... "He who rises from his prayers restored, has had his prayers answered."

6/09/2010 3:28 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Anonymouse,
Doesn't Scruton then deserve some credit since he suggests a correlation between beauty and religion, even if one finds them both to have negative connotations?

Also, I am a little confused by your description "an 'atheistic' personality with unanswered questions about life"; wouldn't the term "agnostic" more properly describe this person?

6/09/2010 3:38 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

i can't argue with Scruton's take on architecture... i too feel better around a pretty Georgian building than i do around a 60s concrete tower block.
but his idea of painting seems dangerously limited. nothing chaotic, troubling, confusing, wretched or monstrous is allowed because those things are deemed
'ugly' or too much like real life. he completely avoids the fact that many dark horrific images can have their own kind of terrible beauty. horror is only allowed if it serves some sort of cautionary purpose.
he seems to see beautiful paintings as a sort of balm for healing the morally and spiritually wounded. while he seems well intentioned, i hate to imagine the kind of sentimental fluff that might be created in the service of such a vision.

6/09/2010 5:54 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

That special was written for a mass television audience... ceartainly not the venue for a closely argued philosophical treatise on the nature and necessity of beauty.

I would consult his books if you want the actual substance behind the rhetoric presented in the show.

6/09/2010 6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymouse said...

Rob: It makes as much sense to worship ugliness as it does to worship beauty. That is, none at all. Worship of any kind is mindless self-indulgence, a perfect way to avoid really thinking about anything.

>>>You continue to blithely plumb new depths of idiocy with no apparent understanding of how to link your utterances to observable reality<<<

Where's your argument to justify this utterance? Oh, that's right, you didn't include one because you don't have one.

etc, etc: "Doesn't Scruton then deserve some credit since he suggests a correlation between beauty and religion..."

That would be like giving someone credit for discovering a link between ego-mania and opium addiction. Go ahead. Give him some credit, I don't see how it matters.

"wouldn't the term "agnostic" more properly describe this person?"

Agnostics don't believe they can ever know anything for sure so they aren't really interested in getting answers. An atheist may still want to know something but finds any answer that includes God unconvincing.

6/10/2010 12:51 AM  
Blogger Ray said...

Anonymouse, I guess you just date ugly chicks.

6/10/2010 12:04 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

Seriously, though...

Anonymouse said, "By the time something comes to be called "beautiful" it has lost all its vigor and relevance....For something to reach the status of beauty it needs to have nothing objectionable about it. Naturally, cowards and deceivers will want to align themselves with beautiful things so they can appear as unobjectionable as possible without reallty doing anything to develop their character. I would never insult a work of art by calling it beautiful."

I think you might be mistaking true beauty for sentimentality or shallow contrived beauty. The realization of truth is beautiful, not sentimental. To appreciate on a deeper level how the laws physics play out in the cosmos or how biology functions in its complexities can be said to see their beauty. Beauty in art (or life) doesn't always have to mean pretty or idealized. Even Scruton made passing reference to that in the documentary when he talked about Rembrandt showing the beauty of age in a face.

6/10/2010 12:12 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

As to the BBC documentary, I enjoyed it very much.

I think one thing it makes clear to me is that art is humanity's aesthetic mirror on itself. Looking at the art from whatever period, you gain understanding of what people thought and believed about themselves and the world and also what they valued.

I think the question of what is art might be less important than what is our art saying about us...and do we like what it's saying. I don't like much of what art said about us for much of the 20th Century up until now (with exceptions noted, of course). I think Roger Scruton has a valid point when he discusses the seeming self-loathing, belittling and debasing aspect of much of modern and post-modern art. Canned shit is hardly a profound statement about the world, and it's probably not meant to be (unless you read a duped art critic who will prattle on at length about its subtleties and meaning). But, it is still a reflection about what the artist and a segment of society think about themselves and the world...and one thing is that they don't value it much.

6/10/2010 12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymouse said...

Ray, I guess you like to date senior citizens.

Seriously though, I don't agree that truth is beautiful. Truth can also be ugly or painful but even then it's only a projection by the observer. The laws of physics or biology aren't really beautiful. Someone may find them beautiful but that's really just a psychological reaction to having uncovered something that they were formerly ignorant of. Relief of anxiety or an increase in anxiety is primarily what causes us to label things "beautiful" or "ugly".

6/10/2010 12:32 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Truth is an idea, which means it transcends the physical aspect of life where ugliness and pain reside. Ugliness and pain are facts that are incidental to physicality, not to the imaginative consciousness.

Where biology most beautifully demonstrates function, it most closely resembles a pure idea and is beautiful.

The fact that beauty and ugliness are a result of the vagaries of human perception does not negate the existence of beauty and ugliness. We arrive at such labels knowing full well these labels apply to human experience.

6/10/2010 1:55 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

Geriatrics are hot hot hot!

Truth (or truths) can be ugly, as well.

It seems you're just saying beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which I think is accurate. Beauty is a word that defines an idea. I don't think something is necessarily intrinsically beautiful because for something to be beautiful, someone outside of it has to regard it as such--whether it be the laws of physics, a painting, or a poignant moment in connection with nature.

6/10/2010 2:09 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

Kev,

Just came across some of your comic book work (assuming you are THAT Kev Ferrara). Nice stuff.

6/10/2010 2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kev said somewhere:

"The reason great works keep hitting their mark generation after generation, era after era, is because they contain eternal human truths."

There are no eternal human truths. Humans are not eternal. We didn't exist before about 200,000 years ago and quite possibly will stop existing at some point in the future.

6/11/2010 11:02 AM  
Blogger Ray said...

Just because humans aren't eternal does not mean that truth is not eternal. Something can be true whether or not anyone is around to realize its truth. Granted, if humans would no longer exist, truths about them would be largely irrelevant at that point.

6/11/2010 1:59 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

"There are no eternal human truths. Humans are not eternal. We didn't exist before about 200,000 years ago and quite possibly will stop existing at some point in the future."

Pretty much the fear-mongering weltanschauung of Hitler in a nutshell, with the implication being that those who are judged to be destroying the planet must be destroyed.

6/11/2010 2:11 PM  
Blogger Whit Brachna said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/13/2010 1:39 PM  
Blogger Whit Brachna said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/13/2010 1:58 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

Love it... where is that in between?

6/14/2010 7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymouse said...

Love is between ignorance and wisdom. Mediocre people are full of it. :-p

6/16/2010 12:44 AM  
Blogger aetherea said...

Dear Mr. Apatoff,

I just came across your blog this afternoon and regret not having done so sooner. The illustrations you've chosen are wonderful and as an illustrator myself, I am familiar with many of creators of the work here, notably Sterling Hundley and Saul Steinberg. Thank you for spotlighting an artform that has had to struggle for legitimacy for way too long!

Ilene Winn-Lederer
www.winnlederer.com

6/19/2010 3:17 PM  

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