Sunday, July 18, 2010

PANMIXIA ON THE DRAWING BOARD

English illlustrator W. Heath Robinson (1872-1944) was hardly an adventurous guy. Meek and withdrawn, he loved to stay at home surrounded by his books. For excitement he puttered in his garden.



In just about every way you can imagine-- his wardrobe, his manners, his relationships, the food he ate, his morals-- Robinson lived a cloistered life. He courted his future bride on Sunday afternoons dressed in a top hat, frock coat and high collar. Even after he mustered the courage to propose marriage, their engagement lasted for nearly five years (he didn't believe in acting impetuously).

Yet, Robinson fell instantly in love with Japanese woodblock prints-- an exotic art form that had newly arrived in England by way of Paris.



He loved their flat decorative patterns, their asymmetrical and diagonal compositions, their creative use of high viewpoint, and their stark use of negative space. He was smitten by the clean, simplified line and highly stylized designs of Utamaro, Hiroshige and Hokusai.

Robinson adapted these qualities to his own work. He went from drawing in the conventional style of English illustrators of his day:



...to drawing with a cleaner line, using checkerboard and other decorative patterns to enhance his designs:









Note that Robinson didn't plagiarize Japanese images. This is not a story of cultural theft. Instead, it is a story of the wonderful panmixia that characterizes the language of forms. Robinson combined the abstract qualities of Japanese prints with his own style to come up with a genuine hybrid approach. (He was not alone-- the arrival of Japanese woodblock prints in Europe also came as an inspiration to artists from Aubrey Beardsley to Van Gogh).











I especially like the fact that Robinson, who was a cultural hermit in every other respect, immediately understood and appreciated the intentions of artists who were geographically, culturally and socioeconomically on the opposite side of the planet.

Robinson had never traveled, spoke no foreign languages and had no exposure to different cultures and styles. But geographic boundaries and language restrictions are no barrier to the appreciation of forms. Forms travel without a passport and communicate instantly in a global language.

This kind of cross-fertilization continues today in the work of illustrators such as Yuko Shimizu, who are far more open to the potential of other cultures than Robinson was:





Technology also facilitates this cross fertilization of images and styles. When you think how long it took for that first steam ship to introduce exported prints from Japan to European audiences, our own advantages in this area seem overwhelming today.

126 Comments:

Blogger etc, etc said...

"Technology also facilitates this cross fertilization of images and styles. When you think how long it took for that first steam ship to introduce exported prints from Japan to European audiences, our own advantages in this area seem overwhelming today."

David,
Do you feel contemporary artists are reaping the benefits from this advantage, or perhaps are overwhelmed?

7/18/2010 4:52 PM  
Blogger StimmeDesHerzens said...

Is panmixia a legitimate word?
I will now check my "Websters 'New' International Dictionary" (1920).
(As a side thought, your topics are always so original, it wouldn't surprise me if you made up this word!)
panmixia- pan + Greek [a mixing] - Biol. Promiscuous(!) interbreeding uninfluenced by selection. It is supposed to result in the degeneration and ultimate disappearance of organs or parts which are no longer of use.

wellll.... it is legitimate then but, the disappearnce of parts not used? The mixing part (termed promiscuous interbreeding) of the definition is appropriate I suppose.
Application of biology to art! cool. tja, bin immer überrascht, so ein schreiberei!!

manygreetingsE

7/18/2010 6:04 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/18/2010 6:20 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Japonisme, Chinoiserie (dating back to the 17th Century), and Orientalism are the orthodox terminology.

7/18/2010 7:01 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Huge fan of W. H. Robinson, especially his Uncle Lubin which is pure magic all the way through.

It would be really interesting, and probably instructive, to try to tease out the Japonisme influence from the Persian influence in his work. I can't quite tell where one begins and the other ends.

I think etc, etc has a good point about being overwhelmed nowadays.

Although, in a sense, everything looks so much the same, the endless avalanche isn't a big deal. The only thing that really surprises anymore is quality. And that isn't culture specific. (I think the greatest stylistic differences anywhere in the art world are in the upper echelons of the industrial design and graphic design worlds among particular practitioners.)

Overall, the use of the computer in the design world is rapidly eroding any kind of recognizable cultural identity to the ephemeral products of societies with otherwise "closed ethnicities".

The computer is a cultural blender set to purée. Only where the computer is absent does anything taste like anything.

7/18/2010 7:05 PM  
Anonymous Donald Pittenger said...

And Hiroshige (according to Adele Schlombs in her Taschen book about the artist), in turn, was influenced to a degree by Western art. This is mostly in the area of perspective.

7/18/2010 9:36 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

etc, etc-- I think that most artists reap some benefit of the great digital cornucopia. In fact, it seems impossible not to derive a net benefit from it (either in receiving or transmitting images). But I do agree that much of the opportunity is wasted, and that it is easy to get overwhelmed. One could drift forever and never really come to grips with individual images. There are all sorts of new challenges out there.

Stimme Des Herzens-- I meant "panmixia" in the technical sense: random, indiscriminate mating without regard to the particular traits of your partners. It seemed appropriate here because it does not matter whether the images were originally French or German or Japanese; it does not matter whether the people depicted were wearing kimonos or business suits, or whether a picture was drawn in this century or the last. You can still fall in love and couple with the designs, as Robinson did.

7/18/2010 10:57 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

etc, etc: "Japonisme" is certainly the proper name for western cross-fertilization with Japan (and for those interested in Japonisme, I would strongly recommend the smart and sensitive Japonisme blog by the smart and sensitive lotusgreen).

In this post, I was reaching for a more omnidimensional phenomenon. Hence, "panmixia."

7/18/2010 11:19 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev, I agree with you about Uncle Lubin-- beautiful work, with such a wonderfully bizarre story line. One of my favorites.

I think you also raise an important point about the role of the computer, and I certainly like the way you express it: "The computer is a cultural blender set to purée." But I think you underestimate the role of humans in controlling the setting on that blender. It offers us several options. Are we helpless?

7/18/2010 11:30 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger: Agreed. This is definitely a two way street. It's nice to hear from you. I have enjoyed your writings for a long time. Thanks for coming by!

7/18/2010 11:34 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

"I think you underestimate the role of humans in controlling the setting on that blender. It offers us several options. Are we helpless?"

There has been a lot of discussion about how the internet encourages broad yet shallow appreciations. I think this is the direct result of the avalanche of information available, the ease of discursive surfing, and "the frisson of the new idea", to which symbol addicts (like us monkeys) easily become addicted. This is a cocktail of incoherence, in the strict sense of the word, and to drink it is to be dazed rather than centered.

To be deeply influenced, would require a coherent addiction to a particular cultural aesthetic over a significant time period, a time period adequate to the task of plumbing the depths of that aesthetic in both philosophy and example. And then to incorporate it, and by trial and error, to harmonize it with one's aesthetic personality.

I think this kind of meditation is discouraged by the global bazaar. It isn't Shakespeare that is being thrown on the online doorstep every morning, but the unlocal rag selling soap, hope, dope, and grope.

And the infinity of driven peddlers has taken the lowest common denominator down to 1. Each one of us is targeted for incoherence now. A node is a node.

In some sense, it is always the case that all our favorite artists, despite their influences, are a bit like islands unto themselves. Island kingdoms, actually, where only a few boats carrying the highest quality cargo are allowed to dock... and even then, only the best of the best products are allowed off the boat. (Think of Dean Cornwell allowing Pyle, Dunn, Fechin and Brangwyn into his aesthetic life, and little else. Or Rockwell, allowing parcels of Pyle, Frost, Bridgman, Leyendecker and Parrish.)

I think there is a case to be made that all great style, (style that develops out of aesthetic concerns, rather than the repetition of conventions) develops in isolation, through considered experience of one influence at a time, serially, until the Island Kingdom becomes a self-sustaining aesthetic economy... with only raw materials imported thereafter to feed the mill.

But the internet even discourages the creation of Island Kingdoms. To be connected is to be homogenized in some sense, to be brought into the fold. We are all gathered around the same fire.

7/19/2010 1:11 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev, I certainly appreciate the "broad yet shallow" seductions of the internet. But as with all of life's seductions, I think we need to start with a working assumption that our personal character can determine whether we will be seduced or not.

Is there something more at work here than free will, perhaps something biological? I've read the reports that the prolonged use of the internet may rewire the way our brains function, which would certainly put free will in a different light. (Depending on whether you are a Darwinian or a Lamarckian, it would raise even more serious questions about the free will of the next generation.) But the jury is still out on that theory, as far as I can tell.

It may be that the internet will at long last create McLuhan's "global village," and after it has pureed every last distinctive culture under every last rock in ever far corner of the globe we will all have a homogenized starting point. However, it seems equally possible that instant global communications will just bring our jagged, irreconcilable differences into closer, sharper proximity.

For example, do you see any evidence that the internet has brought us closer to "gathering around the same fire" politically? To the contrary, it seems to have heightened our partisan differences. Half the blogs out there often seem to be filled with increasingly angry exchanges between people who talk past each other. They aren't brought closer to a common vision as a result of a pureed feedstock from the internet.

As the great Peter Viereck once wrote approvingly, "The unadjusted man is the final, irreducible pebble that sabotages the omnipotence of even the smoothest running machine."

7/19/2010 5:32 AM  
Blogger peacay said...

--couple with the designs--

Well that's going to set up some odd dreams I daresay.

For completeness sake: the extraordinary and prolific Yuko Shimizu.

Thanks David, I enjoyed this.

7/19/2010 6:39 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Rather than give you a mini-lecture showing that I can Google, cut-and-paste with the best; let me instead thank you for this charming essay and drawing me into this illustrator as the human being making these delightful illustrations.

In a way this bears out what we were speaking about with the mania I share with John Lennon...bread baking and marveling at how such simple ingredients (flour, water,yeast) can produce such a varied array of baked goods. The same can be said of the influence Japanese woodblocks had on a variety of western artists. Each took the simple ingredients and created their very own interpretations of the same thing.

This, to me, is one of the marvels of making art.

P.S. I surpassed Robinson in one aspect...a longer engagement. Eight years before embarking on a delightful marriage.

7/19/2010 6:43 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Peacay, you are being typically modest. Anyone who wants a more complete picture of Yuko should turn to your own excellent and informative post about Yuko which I enjoyed at the time and revisited when I wrote this.

As for "coupling with designs," I hope you will not be shocked to hear that there is at least a lot of heavy petting going on with the images on your site, Bibliodyssey.

Rob Howard: well... you must have been worth waiting for.

7/19/2010 8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>The computer is a cultural blender >set to purée. Only where the >computer is absent does anything <taste like anything.

Does that explain why that recurring thesis of yours sounds so bland?

Maybe it would improve if you sent it by letter instead of blogging it all the time on a malevolent digital contraption?

Antonio (typing on an evil computer on a break from scratching colored pencil from a polyester sheet with an x-acto knife, for whatever it may be worth to the Luddites amongst us)

7/19/2010 10:02 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David,

Rewiring of the brain aside, I think it is hard to dispute what the internet discourages and what it encourages.

The internet trains us in shallowness. Just as it trains us in giving in to temptation. The anonymity and passivity of the net, its "hive" quality, the ability to indulge in endless confirmation bias, and the sheer volume of temptations peeking over the transom make it qualitatively different than real life. The lessons in "character" on offer are against the very idea of character.

All to say, the internet itself is a culture. No matter what political stripe you wear on your back, the helmet over your head is still "the internet."

Only the detached individual, the island kingdom, will actually develop quality culture in this overconnected environment. (Same as it ever was.)

Antonio, your last post was brought to us by the internet.... shallow, self-indulgent, disengaged, and lacking in character. ;)

7/19/2010 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>Antonio, your last post was brought >to us by the internet.... shallow, >self-indulgent, disengaged, and >lacking in character. ;)

Don't be so prickly, now. Can't you ever take criticism? Are you in the business of dishing out and never taking? What a fine privilege.

I was not trying to be rude, but rather pointing out that your generalizations should apply to yourself too, if they are valid. It was a simple point that should give you pause one way or the other.

Unless of course you have special immunity from your digital condemnation? Do none of your arguments apply to yourself?

It's quite a privilege that not only are you immune to anyone's criticism but even to that of your own making.

7/19/2010 12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

forgot to sign. that was me, obviously (Antonio)

7/19/2010 12:31 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I winked, Antonio. I was joshing you, I thought, on the same terms you were joshing me. I'm sorry if it came off too prickly. I harbor no ill feelings toward you and respect your brains and comments. Sorry for the confusion.

But you have misinterpreted what I am saying if you think I think mere exposure to the net necessarily causes bland ideas. I would ask that you reread what I have written more closely.

David contended that "Technology ... facilitates ... cross fertilization of images and styles. When you think how long it took for that first steam ship to introduce exported prints from Japan to European audiences, our own advantages in this area seem overwhelming today."

Etc, etc. pointed out that overwhelming access wasn't necessarily an advantage at all. And I have made the point that influence is only worthwhile where the source has been considered in depth... and the net, as a culture, tends to encourage shallowness.

This is why I believe the net has no net effect on quality cross-fertizilation, because at the same time it offers more quantity and access, it offers less quality and aesthetic purity. Only a cultural producer who is already established as an "Island Kingdom" of creative and rigorous thought can really make deep use of the medium. And this is the same as it ever was (well at least the same as it was in 1910.)

In graphic design, the question of depth and purity of vision doesn't really matter, its mostly pastiche and surface effects anyway. So the net has been a boon to that genre, which has largely replaced illustration, further reinforcing the point about what the computer encourages. Graphic design and -- to the extent it is now a subset of graphic design -- illustration now belongs to the postmodern remix and sample culture, where style is mostly a mashup unrelated to individual personality.

7/19/2010 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you have such immunity, can any of the people who make digital media their life's work claim such immunity too or are they all to be swept aside without a glance as useless idiots by your edict, just because of the tool they happen to use? And in such case, are they allowed to be as testy as you so often get, and maybe mention that your generalization is "self-aggrandizing, shallow, arrogant", and whatever else you are so prompt to call other people who question any of your pronouncements?

Do you for a moment, you who are so quick to take offense, realize how offensive your empty generalization is to thousands who are striving just as hard as you to make art, only with another tool? And not only striving, some have actually arrived somewhere. I was looking at Thomas Fluharty just a few minutes ago and he doesn't seem much hindered by his digital pen. He still draws circles around many a true artist and his true artist's sable brush. If you can equal him with your brush, kev, then you can feel proud of yourself. I love a good brush, but your brush doesn't make you an artist. It's silly and pedantic to expect it to make you one just as it is to disqualify other people from the heights just because they prefer a wacom pen.

It's eyeballs on the actual work that decide what is worthy. Both over your own work, over some guy's at pixar, or whomever, even if they paint with goose crap and a stick. Beyond that it's all just pseudo-philosophical empty talk (if it sounds like philosophy, looks like philosophy, smells like philosophy but makes utterly no sense, kev, then it is just crap).

You see lots of bad digital work? Sure, there are thousands armed with a wacom pen. With sable brushes back in fashion, they'd be just as bad. You have to watch what you are sampling, otherwise you end up making shallow generalizations that just make you look bad. Go back to statistics 101.

7/19/2010 1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>I winked, Antonio. I was joshing you

Ah, damn, missed that....(and posted that last one before reading your response)

...my bad, then. I apologize, I thought you had fired a shot across the border(memories from old times I thought we had put behind us, and apparetly we did). Disregard the bad humour, it was a response to perceived offense. You know how it is with these casus belli... I will have my border guards shot for it.

Still hold the argument, though (minus the invective). Let us proceed civily, then (I'll have to go for today, probably, but I'll return, as the saying goes).

Antonio

7/19/2010 1:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will try to explain why I get so heated up in defense of those evil machines.

There is a certain truth to the notion of the internet as a shallow ocean. However, I defend that this is a partial truth, and a minor one.

Maybe our personal experiences are different. Here is mine:

1- Commerce is an engine of culture

I live in one of those European countries that are currently at the brink of financial disaster. We live far from the center of the empire (the USA), sole supplier of prismacolors and all good gizmos. I don't think you are aware how things were before the internet in countries like mine (and we're not even talking 3rd world here, just european backwater).

A long, long, (actually short) time ago, before "the internets" and their tubes were freely flowing through private homes, I was a physics undergraduate with a passion for books. Except I couldn't find the books I wanted. Ever. I went to all the bookstores and bought what they decided to have for sale. At whatever price they set. I once or twice tried to have the bookshop send for a specific book. I waited months, then gave up. It was this bad.

When dover books came around I would flock to the bookshop with a couple of friends and spend all i had because god knew when those books would come around again. We bought stuff we couldn't afford after 5 seconds thought before someone else would snap it up. We did lots and lots of photocopying from library books, you can imagine (I skipped a few meals).

Now I look around and I have bookshelves full of books of all sorts. I couldn't find more than a few of my current books in any public library here, or in most bookstores, even today. There are the ones that I got at great expense to answer the questions I had for a long time. And, yes, kids, that's all thanks to the internet tubes, amazon, powells, and so on. Internet commerce is a worldwide force for culture.

(so don't be a hater, kev! :D - a bit of youtube-level lowbrow dialect seems apropos)

As for art, you can't imagine how hard it was before the net, to get the materials, or even to know what they were! I didn't know what an illustration board was! And what is a scratchboard? And what is a brushpen? Today we begin to have such things. That is, because we started buying them online and our local suppliers are realizing that either they stop treating us like bitches or they go the way of the dodo, like so many bookshops.

Many of those bookshop complained of the influence of the bad internets ruining (their) cultural activity. Their cultural activity was buying shitty books and treating us like serfs. Is this the kind of local culture that we want to preserve? Not me.

(continues (oh no))

7/19/2010 2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2-Free information. Is it shallow?

Take the wikipedia. People are in the habit of mocking it. some academics revel in it. They are spoiled, rich brats. I didn't have money for Britannica. I cannot tell you how much wikipedia would have made a difference when I was a kid. I wasted so much of my life. It angers me to realize how many years I spent trying to understand things that were so easily available to others who couldn't bother to read them. It is a very fine for a rich gentleman to mock wikipedia. He may choose to focus on the fact that he can find entries on "hanna montana" and "farting in popular culture", but he is just being pedantic. I focus on the facts that:

1) I couldn't afford Britannica

2) Now that I can, I wouldn't choose it! True, wiki is filled with crap, has some innacuracies, and cannot be trusted as a source - that doesn't change the fact that if I randomly choose an article about something that matters it will often be more infomative than the corresponding entry in Britannica. Nobody is forcing me to search for the entry on Hanna montana, and in general:

Nobody is forcing me to tread the shallow part of the net!

The net is a very vast, usually shallow ocean, with lots and lots of rather deep wells. You just have to do some prospecting.

(and yes, it continues )

7/19/2010 2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

3- the deep wells.

Today I have access to the thought of physicists and mathematicians who discuss their most current research online. It used to be that I'd meet foreign researchers three or four times a year (when funds were available, they have now dried up) just to chat for a while between formal talks.

Now, of I look at my most visited bookmarks, I find something lie this:

(From John Baez's site - this week in physics)
In "week299" of This Week's Finds, hear about the school on Quantum Information and Computer Science that was recently held in Oxford, and also the workshop on Quantum Physics and Logic. Watch videos of the talks! Learn how classical structures give Frobenius algebras(...)"

Is this shallow? How often could I listen to this guys thought's on physics before? Well, I could catch a plane, find him at a conference, and maybe talk to him for a few minutes, if I worked in his area, which I don't! Now I can read his digested thoughts on a regular basis.

A few years ago I missed a biology conference in Cambridge that I really wanted to see. Hey, no problem. They put the mp3's and slides online. Is this trivial? Is the content shallow? Does it become shallower because there are a billion more searches for "clown pornography" on google than for "lectures in biology"?

And what about arxiv? Do you know how hard it was to get preprints before? You had to beg and steal. And if they weren't from your specific area? forget about it! (I still rage about how hard it is to get papers on scientific magazines, but we have come such a long way thanks to stuff like arxiv). There is no doubt that this is a revolution in knowledge, at least for people outside the USA. This changed my life qualitatively. It gives you the very basis over which your brain can work. Without access to information you're just munching on air.

I'm sorry, but all the talk about the shallow internet, if driven to hyperbole, just sounds like singing Pink Floyds "we don't need no education" in countries were people have access to none. It's the imaginary problems of rich people, who focus on the wrong things.

The vast majority of the net will be shallow beacause the vast majority of people are. But the internet is overall a positive force on the level of Gutenberg's invention, though, just like it, it may mostly be used to print pulp novels for pulp people. Its not the average depth that matters, it's the depth of the deeper holes.

And by the way, for another example, I didn't know one 20th of the great illustrators from the past that I got to meet through blogs like David's. And I had no way of learning of them in my country, if not for the net. None at all. That is how shallow the net is for someone outside your country.

I am sorry if I wasn't clear, this is the best I can do since I am in a rush. I hope it makes it a bit clearer why I get a bit rabid defending "the tubes". Why I love computers so much is for another day, or even better I'll just spare you that one. Let's just say that people's experiences vary. I'll just say that, in my guess, the lowly computer is a lady that I think you haven't met from the right angle yet. She can be charming under the right light.

Antonio

7/19/2010 2:59 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Antonio,

I don't disagree with anything you said. But I don't think you are arguing against any points I actually made, either.

7/19/2010 3:08 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>you must have been worth waiting for.<<<
I am informed of that every day.

7/19/2010 5:34 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>But I don't think you are arguing against any points I actually made, either.<<<
Nobody's listening to you, Kev. I have the poll right here.

58% say either prolix or gaseous.
27% say circulus in probando.
11% say logorrhea dementia
4% (all physicians) say give him an enema.

So sensei, the sad truth is everyone writes to me with comments on this forum and all voted they wanted you to know...No One Is Listening To You, Kev. I thought you'd like to know the real vox populi rather than the figmentary version.

7/19/2010 5:46 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

However, everyone listens to Antonio because he's genuinely cool ;-)

7/19/2010 5:48 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Rob,

I hope you are well.

kev

7/19/2010 7:12 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hi David
I really love that tanker ship you can really feel it's size. And the ascent of the smoke makes you feel the space of the sky. Up and up you go.

7/20/2010 12:02 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

"This is why I believe the net has no net effect on quality cross-fertizilation, because at the same time it offers more quantity and access, it offers less quality and aesthetic purity."

The quality is all there (at least by comparison to texts and video), it just requires a desire to look for it.

I've learned more about representational art in a few hour long bit-torrented intructional videos than in 6+ years of in-person painting instruction.

I agree that the internet is on average of lower quality, but it also has higher-highs.

So where is the problem?

Is it inherent to the media itself? This seems unlikely.

I believe it is inherently related to the current novelty of the internet. It's novelty means that people have low expectations for it. Their lowered expectations drive down the quality.

As people expect more from the internet they will see more from the internet.

That is just how the lifespan of new media goes. At first it is all novelty, and thus it's content is of low quality as it figures out what it is, who it is, what it can do, and where it could go.

Early cartoons were all slapstick and nonsense -- today the best of them are by all means great art.

In the days of Pong it would seem videogames would destroy us. By the time people were playing Zork that no longer seemed so sure.

In film we managed to go from Méliès to Spielberg.

Expect similar, if not greater, growth from the internet as the culture of the internet moves from novelty to literacy.

7/20/2010 2:13 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

tl;dr: Rome wasn't built in a day.

7/20/2010 2:14 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Tom-- I agree, and she did a couple of others in that boat series that are just as nice. Yuko Shimizu is an interesting character, and warrants further investigation.

7/20/2010 3:31 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

What I've posted here about the internet was in the context of how cultural influence in aesthetics gets transmitted. Whether it is at lightning speed or arriving piecemeal on a barge, it still takes serious consideration on the part of the artist to keep any influence from being merely a pastiche of surface effects. Serious consideration takes time and research. For the amount of time it takes, the information may as well have been accessed through a brick and mortar library.

The speed with which the research material may be procured has certainly increased, however. But finding good resources on the philosophy of any particular style or artist remains as elusive as ever. Even with google books, you can find a 19th century treatise on aesthetics in a flash, but you still have to read it for yourself, and tease out the meanings from the arcane language yourself. And half the time the philosophy book has been written by a lay person and ends up being useless after all. And just try to find a good explanation anywhere of what Brangwyn, Pyle, Cornwell, or Frazetta was doing in their work. The internet doesn't help there at all.

No doubt, however, it is easier to hit google books than take a train down to the city every time I want to consult some antiquated library books. And for those in remote or isolated locations, the net is even more of a stroke of good fortune.

Regardless, the speed with which an artist can assimilate an influence has not changed a bit. (except in the area of graphic design, where shallowness doesn't matter and influence can literally be stuck on the art document by cutting and pasting pre-existing elements.).

All this talk about scientific papers, the problems of isolation, access to how-to art books, and wikipedia and the net as a new media outlet has nothing to do with the argument.

7/20/2010 3:39 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev, you have far more confidence about the nature and eventual impact of the internet than I do. I have no idea what it will turn out to be, let alone how it will affect us.

So when you say, "The internet trains us in shallowness," I respond, "let's talk again in 100 years and see if you're right." When you say, "it trains us in giving in to temptation," I say "not nearly as much as walking down a sunny street filled with girls in their summer dresses," and yet many of us manage to make it through the day. I can't say where the cyber world is headed, but so far I am on the side of the commenters who think the internet has put a formidable, life altering tool in the hands of those who love images. It enables us to cast our net far wider than any previous generation of artists, and it makes it easier to take a deep dive into something that really interests us, assuming we have the personal attention span and the will power to follow through. But that has always been a prerequisite for success, even before computers.

Richard said: "Rome wasn't built in a day."

...and it wasn't sacked in a day either. I think it is way too early for the internet to be responsible for all the pernicious effects ascribed to it. I agree with you, about the current state of affairs. The quality is still all there (even if the internet has provided us with lots of superficial distractions from our search for it.)

Rob Howard wrote: "I am informed of that every day."

Then you are indeed wealthy beyond all measure

7/20/2010 3:44 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

In the context of being a fan of something or another, the internet is clearly a boon, I agree.

I don't think we are in disagreement that deep consideration of any subject is dependent on characteristic persistence. I also don't think it arguable that the internet discourages persistence in depth.

I also have no idea where the internet will go. But I think it is safe to say it is never going to be a substitute for personal reflection.

I wasn't speaking of only feminine temptations, when I characterized the internet as a minefield of temptation. The temptation to over-indulge in information or interesting conversation is equally strong.

But if you do want to talk girl power, succumbing to feminine temptations is a lot harder when the girl can say no after serious time and effort has been expended. The net rarely offers temptation that defy us. In life, avoiding temptation is actually a lot easier. (Assuming one isn't rich and living in a brothel full of Victoria's Secret models.)

7/20/2010 4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did ramble a bit too much. one shouldn't write in a hurry.

kev, I wish I could discuss this properly but I cannot go back to the argument right now or anytime soon (even if it appears that somebody used the words "model" and "brothel" in the premises, in the same sentence no less, I still must go). Real world has called and I'm on a tight deadline.

Maybe some other time.
Regards,
Antonio

7/20/2010 4:49 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "I also have no idea where the internet will go. But I think it is safe to say it is never going to be a substitute for personal reflection."

Agreed. In fact, you remind me that in a previous post this blog talked about how the internet skews the balance between information and rumination, and how that might've affected Edward Hopper's long, slow work. So I could hardly argue something contrary now, could I?

But if a person has the character for personal reflection, don't you think the internet makes a new and important contribution by giving that person a wider range of grist for reflection, while freeing them from time consuming trips to the library? We just have to be selective about what we reflect upon, right?

Also, to be clearer, I was attempting to contrast the gravitational pull of women in their summer dresses with the pull of the internet's broader temptations: indolence, superficiality, etc. I tried(apparently unsuccessffully)to make the broader point that the world is filled with distractions, some even greater than the internet, yet we continue to make our way down the street block by block. What you refer to as the "feminine temptations" of the internet is a whole separate subject involving a whole separate category of damage, in my opinion.

7/20/2010 6:37 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I think we agree that the Internet is used according to character and need and that it can save a great deal of footwork for the serious student, professional, or dedicated aficianado. I don't think it encourages either seriousness, professionalism, or dedication, however, but their opposites. There is a constant spiral refrain playing over at conceptart.org to join the online art community to learn, but to shut off your computer and go draw to make anything of yourself. I think it was better for artists and art (and personalities, too) when loneliness wasn't so easily circumnavigated. Stephen King once offered advice on writing that applies more widely to the visual arts: Keep your butt in the chair, paper in the typewriter, and your fingers on the keys.

7/20/2010 7:46 PM  
OpenID gabrielanton said...

I love doing Japanese themed art and I've never been to Japan, I don't consider it plagiarism . . . different cultures are here for us all to learn and be inspired from . . .

7/20/2010 10:27 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Not that I absolutely agree with Ruskin (he must have been too British to appreciate the Bolognese School), but even in his time he asserted that a few prints were better than a plethora, simply because the artist was more likely to devote quality study to the few rather than the many. I suppose it is proverbial wisdom; true in most cases but not necessarily always so.

7/20/2010 11:20 PM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

Thank you for sharing this post, the illustrations are beautiful!

7/21/2010 2:40 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

etc, etc: Agreed. Whether you can see more through an airplane window or a microscope is a similar proverbial question. It depends on your receptivity at the moment.

Elizabeth: How nice to hear from you. Thanks for writing.

7/21/2010 7:30 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Then you are indeed wealthy beyond all measure<<<

Indeed, a constant and loving marriage is one of life's greatest treasures. I think of myself as Mister Lucky.

7/21/2010 8:18 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

a serious artist will absorb imagery from anywhere that will nourish his / her personal vision. whether it comes from a gallery, an advertising poster or the internet makes no difference. that they will also have quality control switched on, and the ability to assimilate the influence over time is a given.

7/22/2010 2:36 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

"a serious artist will absorb imagery from anywhere that will nourish his / her personal vision. whether it comes from a gallery, an advertising poster or the internet makes no difference. that they will also have quality control switched on, and the ability to assimilate the influence over time is a given."

Or life for that matter.

We don't hear anyone complaining about life's constantly providing us with imagery to look -- so much so that we might become distracted and not produce anything.

7/22/2010 12:11 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Rob --

So I've twice heard now some mention of your apparent distaste for Ateliers. Is this true, and if so, why/what do you see as a better alternative?

7/22/2010 12:46 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/22/2010 6:43 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>So I've twice heard now some mention of your apparent distaste for Ateliers. Is this true, and if so, why/what do you see as a better alternative?<<<

The skills they teach bear no resemblance to the ateliers of a century ago. It's applying the Dewey educational system to art. In case you don't recall, John Dewey created an educational system designed to produce docile workers for the Industrial Revolution. When the revolution burst upon the scene in the UK and France, it was disturbing and confusing to a largely agrarian population who would throw their clogs (sabots) into the machines...from that we got saboteurs.

Dewey's concept was to start early in school, get the students used to sitting still, doing tasks quietly, moving positions with a bell and even having to raise their hands to pee. It made for docile assembly line workers and America would never have been such an industrial power without the adoption of Dewey's system.

The ateliers are similar. Give students drudgery make-work projects while the teacher takes a hike and appears for scant visits. The owners get to buy prime real estate in romantic settings. That brings in the hopefuls.

The way to judge any project is by it's success. Who's space program put men on the moon? Ergo, which is the most successful? The same with art instruction. Which ones turn out the highest percentage of working pros with the skills to make a living in art? Which ones produce an inordinate number of skilled hobbyists who haven't the skills to compete?

How many people now in "straight" jobs spent thousands study to be an artist and found they were poorly trained?

What percentage of the graduating class makes a living in art? Would that small percentage of working pros be acceptable in medical school or law school? What percentage of broken dreams are those schools producing?

I know that it's a nasty four-letter word but unblock your ears when I shout SCAM!

If you went to an art school or art program and can't make a living in the field and have to either teach or wait tables, you were snookered and wasted your money.

7/22/2010 6:44 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

David Apatoff said...
"It depends on your receptivity at the moment."

Laurence John said...
"a serious artist will absorb imagery from anywhere that will nourish his / her personal vision"

You guys make it sound so easy. One can only receive and absorb what one comprehends. Comprehension in art is most always a matter of cultivation, and cultivation requires time. Why are so many painters currently enamored of 19th century academic art and can paint fine academy nudes, yet are unable to replicate the formal qualities of 19th century multi-figural grand manner painting, and wind up with awkward, unconvincing costume dramas? Or what living illustrator could you hire to emulate Dean Cornwell's work?

7/22/2010 8:25 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"The way to judge any project is by it's success. Who's space program put men on the moon? Ergo, which is the most successful? The same with art instruction."

Doesn't that mean then that all of us students should be going to school for post-modern art? It seems thats what is 'successful' in art now, eh?

"Which ones produce an inordinate number of skilled hobbyists who haven't the skills to compete? "
Could this not just as easily have to do with who is applying as it does with who is leaving?

"If you went to an art school or art program and can't make a living in the field and have to either teach or wait tables, you were snookered and wasted your money."
So where does one go, rather than Ateliers?

7/22/2010 11:38 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Doesn't that mean then that all of us students should be going to school for post-modern art? It seems thats what is 'successful' in art now, eh?<<<

I could have used a bit more pampering in my young life, but my career choices were fairly limited...be a ranch hand or a soldier, continue studying classical languages and jockey for one of the two dozen jobs in the country, or learn the art trade...and that was what it was...a trade taught in what were unabashedly trade schools.

My original goal was to learn architectural sculpting (I could always find work carving monuments for cemeteries).

We were encouraged to work in the field, so I took on all sorts of "commercial art" jobs while in school (as well as hefting sacks of plaster at a commercial sculpting studio). About midway into my second year, I had so much work coming in that I had to make the choice of being an art student or a professional artist. As they said in Corinthians...'I put away the things of a child...I became a man'.

If you are all about followiung trends like post-modernism, you're already doomed to fail because, by the time you catch up, the parade will have passed you by. However, if you are hoping that the 19th century is going to come back because we have a fondness for dandruff, body odor and typhus, you have a long wait.

>>>Could this not just as easily have to do with who is applying as it does with who is leaving?<<<

It appears that you are trying to justify dropping money at the atelier. If, after several decades, they have yet to produce a body of artists who are making a mark other than on that outpost of contemporary realism, Facebook, chances are very slim that they can ever produce more than a 2% success rate who can work as fulltime artists. You have a better chance of growing palms in Alaska.

>>>So where does one go, rather than Ateliers?<<<

My attitude was bound to succeed because I kept it very simple..."I want to earn a living with a brush." One of my jobs was with a ruling pen, drawing dashes ...precise dashes on printouts because the machine could only make hyphems and they needed Em-dashes of a very precise length and thickness. Man, did that give me great hand control.

A couple of years later I was painting figures in national car ads and making more money than my father.

I recall a gal in art school who, compared to my simple goal, had very specific goals. She wanted to paint pictures of horses and riders, but only dressage horses, not western or race horses. Being that specific doomed her. So if you are thinking that the only living that will be worthy of you is as a fine arts realist painter selling at Hirschl and Adler, you may have already slit your wrists.

If I were starting out again, I'd beat a path to the West coast and learn to be a production designer (they used to call it Art Director). Those are the guys who visualize the scenes, the mood and the costumes. The film industry probably has a greater concentration of topnotch talent in one square mile than the entire Renaissance had in all of Europe.

But then that attitude is because of my environment. I live here in the 21st century...two centuries away from the atelier's ideal.

However, if you want to live the 19th century painter's life, make paintings with several dozen people in them, not a single nude or portrait. I used to paint "men's adventure" paperback covers. Some of them had upwards of fifty soldiers, tanks and specific equipment and uniforms. I can guarantee you that not one atelier grad could do that and in the constraints of time and quality that were demanded. They simply are not trained well enough.

7/23/2010 1:45 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"One can only receive and absorb what one comprehends."

etc etc, 'comprehends' is a strange word to use when talking about the assimilation of stylistic influences. did Heath Robinson comprehend Japanese art before it influenced his style ? well no, he just looked at it and his eye did the rest. did Egon Schiele comprehend Gustav Klimt's flat use of decoration to be inspired by it ? no, again it's right there in front of him to borrow / steal / learn from. i didn't suggest that looking at Cornwell will turn you into a brilliant figure painter overnight. that's the bit that requires hard work. i was using the example of a 'serious' artist meaning a solid practitioner rather than an amateur.

"Why are so many painters currently enamored of 19th century academic art and can paint fine academy nudes, yet are unable to replicate the formal qualities of 19th century multi-figural grand manner painting, and wind up with awkward, unconvincing costume dramas?"

i had no idea there was such a trend. are you talking about the generic atelier style that Rob was just discussing ? if so i would suggest it's because if you paint in a mannered, old fashioned style using the costume and conventions of 200 years ago then your work will look exactly as you describe.

7/23/2010 2:32 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Never mind.

7/23/2010 8:50 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/23/2010 10:57 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

""If I were starting out again, I'd beat a path to the West coast and learn to be a production designer (they used to call it Art Director). Those are the guys who visualize the scenes, the mood and the costumes. The film industry probably has a greater concentration of topnotch talent in one square mile than the entire Renaissance had in all of Europe."" -Rob

Yeah, that seems like a great job.

So if you don't think ateliers are a good place to get the skills in representationalism that conceptual art requires, where else does one go?

From what I've seen of American art schools the students are equally if not more ignorant than what you see coming out of the ateliers.

It seems to me there are very few options (no options that will teach you everything), but it seems the ateliers have a side of the story at least, no?

And at least there you'll be getting more than you will out of American University art programs, which are even more pathetic I'd say -- teaching a semester of drawing, two semesters of painting -- and the rest is essentially a free-for-all of nonsense.

7/23/2010 10:58 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/23/2010 11:06 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

If you really think Ateliers are that bad then you ought to get a look at the professors portfolios at the university I was unfortunate enough to take a few weeks classes at when I graduated highschool.

here is the department chair--
11111111

the head of the painting department--
22222222222

and my personal favourite--
33333333


So, when you speak against ateliers you should remember that these ateliers can give us some instruction at a price that us poorer students can actually afford.

You can see how coming out of these types of schools ateliers seem promise land-esque.

7/23/2010 11:09 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"Never mind"

David's point...'forms communicate instantly in a global language' is one i agree with. i don't think i understand your objection, so please try to explain.

7/23/2010 4:09 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

"did Heath Robinson comprehend Japanese art before it influenced his style ? well no, he just looked at it and his eye did the rest. did Egon Schiele comprehend Gustav Klimt's flat use of decoration to be inspired by it ? no, again it's right there in front of him to borrow / steal / learn from."

Laurence, I think the above paragraph is what felled etc, etc.

There's a difference between pastiche (superficial influence, that which digital culture encourages via "elements CDs" and photoshop sillo'ing, cut, then paste, and all that) and a deep understanding of a form where the influence becomes internalized.

Robinson was a great artist who owned his influences, rather than the reverse. Meaning, he was strong to begin with, and then delved deeply into certain interests in order to enrich his work further. He didn't just grab elements that evoked Japonisme and throw them down on the paper. His appreciations were honed and cultivated. This hardly could happen overnight, even in the best artists.

To "comprehend" btw means to be able to get everything at once, comprehensively... to understand the whole ball of wax, from the superficial to the philosophical, at once. Comprehension is the opposite of pastiching.

Incidentally, it would be very instructive for anyone to try to create a piece in the style, more or less, of Klimt, and at the same relative quality as his best works. At the end of every such effort is the realization that that man was just about as aesthetically educated an artist as there ever was in history. What he knew is not transmittable just through the eyes, nor in a day.

7/23/2010 5:33 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

"Incidentally, it would be very instructive for anyone to try to create a piece in the style, more or less, of Klimt"

Exactly. The more I learn, the more I am in awe of the depth and profundity of art, and the more I realize how little I know.

Ars longa, vita brevis

7/23/2010 6:01 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"Robinson was a great artist who owned his influences, rather than the reverse. Meaning, he was strong to begin with..."

if you re-read my first comment you'll see i deliberately started with the phrase 'a serious artist...' i am not talking about the 'superficial cut and paste' attempts of amateurs... that is your interpretation. i was talking about an artist with a personal vision to begin with, who has the ready ability to adapt to a new influence. i didn't mention pastiche anywhere.

"To "comprehend" btw means to be able to get everything at once"

that contradicts your previous statement about not being able to happen overnight.

7/23/2010 6:42 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>And at least there you'll be getting more than you will out of American University art programs, <<<

If you are going to a university to learn about art, why not go to a art school to learn about engineering or medicine? It clearly is not the place to go for that study. For art, you go to an art school like SVA, RISD, San Francisco Academy and a handful of others. For a much better approach than ateliers, search out the Russians who went to schools like St. Petersburg. There's one in Ashland Oregon that's very promising...very strict and demanding, but the results (as far as realism goes) are vastly superior to what's coming out of Florence and the ones in this country). An older student of mine went to Ashland and it made a big change in his approach.

In New York, Jacob Collins has been producing a fairly decent bag of students. At least they aren't all emulating his style (which is very attractive and could seduce weak-minded students).

As always, one chooses the teacher one wishes to study with. If I were a kid, I'd want to go to San Francisco to study drawing with Henry Yan, who borders on the miraculous when he draws. Many of the Chinese artists were either schooled in St. Petersburg or at the Chinese schools where that method was taught. In general, the ritzy ateliers can't hold a candle to the influence of the St. Petersburg academy (there are a couple of other excellent art schools in Russia).

The reason that I bring those up is because a surpring number of Russian students graduate with their creativity intact, which is more than I can say for the ateliers. I recall a very promising young artist who started as a delightful and skilled illustrator. Quite imaginative. After the Florence academy, he had become yet another skilled Xerox machine. All of the soul and spunk had been ground out of him. He not infects students with that dreary and ill-founded method that has absolutely no basis in the past.

7/23/2010 7:10 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

That should read..."he NOW infects"...

7/23/2010 7:14 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"The more I learn, the more I am in awe of the depth and profundity of art, and the more I realize how little I know"


the fine art establishment positively thrives on this sort of mystification, obfuscation and pseudo-deification.

7/23/2010 7:23 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Laurence,
Regarding comprehension:

Compare the work of Vermeer, Metsu, and de Hooch to Tiepolo, Pittoni, Crosato, and Bortoloni (apologies to anyone offended because I am not using illustrators as examples). Most anybody can intuitively tell that they are stylistically very
different and that the former are more realistic than the latter. To comprehend the differences, however, would in my opinion to be to not just describe specific differences (for example subject matter) between any two examples, but rather to consciously and rationally explain (in contrast to intuition) the underlying structural and formal differences that are a result of differing principles and artistic philosophies. Or, for the ultimate acid test, try replicating their styles as Kev has suggested.


"the fine art establishment positively thrives on this sort of mystification, obfuscation and pseudo-deification."

They thrive only through distortion and misrepresentation of true cultivation.

7/23/2010 8:19 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Rob--

Excuse me if I am mistaken but doesn't Jacob Collins teach at the Water Street Atelier?

Perhaps you are only talking about the majority of ateliers?

Also, as far as ateliers go is the problem really with the method (teaching in studio, as far as I understand it) or is it with the atelier culture which breeds photocopiers?

7/23/2010 8:46 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

""" the more I am in awe of the depth and profundity of art, and the more I realize how little I know."""

""the fine art establishment positively thrives on this sort of mystification, obfuscation and pseudo-deification.""

"They thrive only through distortion and misrepresentation of true cultivation."

You both sound as if you think the fine art establishment thriving is a bad thing -- wouldn't their thriving on the depth and profundity of art be a good thing?

7/23/2010 8:48 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I mean to say, wouldn't you rather them thrive on profundity and awe as opposed to gimmick and posturing?

7/23/2010 8:50 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>as far as ateliers go is the problem really <<<

Richard, I can't talk through the Kool-Aid gargling.

7/23/2010 10:44 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Is the problem with ateliers the teaching method or the culture?

7/23/2010 10:54 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

(To be clear, by teaching method I do not mean painting method.)

7/23/2010 10:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn, I always come in too late. I loooooove both Robinson brothers...I have a book that I have had in my possession for probably 25 years.

Ken Meyer Jr.

7/24/2010 12:20 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

etc, etc,

the examples you've chosen are both at the realistic end of figurative oil painting, so the stylistic tics are far less pronounced than the reduced stylized information found in much illustration (or even the highly stylized world or Klimt and Schiele that i referred to earlier). even so you can see that the first group is more realistic and the second group more fantastic. someone could certainly devote their life's work to imitating one of those artists, but i don't see why they would want to nor what they think (or you think) it would prove. if you really feel you have to rationally explain their different 'artistic philosophies' before you can comprehend them then it sounds like you're an academic who should be writing a phd on the subject for other academics. most practicing painters / illustrators don't have the time or inclination for that sort of venture and prefer hands-on experience / practice. if you think that such a dry exercise as you describe would make you a better painter, well i sincerely doubt it, but i'd love to be proved wrong.

7/24/2010 6:48 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence, there is a great deal in art that, if you don't know it is there, you can't see it.

Anatomy is the most obvious of these data sets, and you cannot see artistic anatomy on a model unless you know what to look for... Not all obvious anatomy is important or distinctive, and there is much that is essential, yet too subtle to see unless we know to look for it. Thus, in order to see anatomy properly, we can't just look at the model. We must know what is going on underneath the skin, and we must learn to discriminate the salient from the superfluous.

Similarly, if we want to create decent form, we can't just look at the model, we need to consult other sources that help us analyze form and value and explain the practical philosophy behind the illusion of solidity.

Once we get into composition, so much more is invisible (that is, below the threshold of most people's awareness) that extensive secondary research is required. Whole philosophies effect some works (Transcendentalism on The Luminists, for example) and the pictures cannot be analyzed and thereby comprehended until there is serious engagement with the philosophy. The word sublime was invented for a reason.

If you have never been through the experience of analyzing some aesthetic in depth and then coming to some broad realization or epiphany about it that never would have occurred to you without study, you will probably not appreciate the distinction between pastiche and an influence that comes from a deeper understanding.

Whether illustrators have time and inclination or not, does not change the fact that pastiche is cheap and easy and isn't worth toast except to the undiscriminating. Useful in making a buck, sure, but so is learning how to blow smoke in a sit down with a prospect. There will be no museum dedicated to either.

I dare say, there is no artist in history that can, in one viewing, obtain the profundity of a worthwhile influence. Time and again you read of the great artists visiting and/or analyzing the same master paintings, drawing and sculptures day after day... even after fame and fortune had come their way. You can read of Rodin visiting Michaelangelo, the fauvists visiting Delacroix, Inness visiting Corot, Frazetta poring over Rockwell, Foster, and Brangwyn, Jeff Jones visiting Whistler, Wyeth visiting Segantini, Cornwell creating poster size compositional studies of Orozco, and on and on. (Not to mention students actually studying under masters to get the info from the horse's mouth.)

Anyway, whateves.

7/24/2010 10:55 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev, i don't disagree fundamentally with anything you've just said. i just think you keep leaning on the 'depth' and 'profundity' button a little too heavily. don't you think that some compositional choices have nothing deeper going on than 'that looks nice' or 'that looks fresh and exciting' ? to go back to the Heath Robinson example, we can both agree that he produced some charming illustrations influenced by Japanese prints. however i don't see any deep understanding of eastern philosophy in his work. they are simple design choices such as 'lets move the view point up higher here' or 'let's leave this area empty'. you say it results from "analyzing some aesthetic in depth and then coming to some broad realization or epiphany about it". i say it's just down to producing designs that please the eye.

7/24/2010 12:05 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence,

I completely agree that a thing is only as good as it looks. And, ultimately, the artist must use his or her taste as the final arbiter.

But taste is largely cultivated (even though one may be born with a stronger than average sensitivity to hidden patterns). And a great deal of cultivation, maybe most, arises from consideration, rather than simply looking at some aesthetic of interest, saying "that's neat", and "let me use that particular pen technique when I draw birds next time."

A cultivated taste, (in my estimation anyhow), means you can talk about some style of interest with insight. (Rather than the kind of surface description you get in the average walking tour through a gallery, which is the equivalent of using some interesting pen technique you happen to have figured out.)

Without aesthetic insight, pastiche is guaranteed, because, at bottom, it is the philosophy (or unifying principle) behind a work of art that provides its essential unity. (Pastiche, by definition, causes disunity. And will only please those who can't sense that there is something wrong in a disunified work. There are millions who have no intuition about such things and couldn't care less, of course.)

The realism of really great work is a kind of transparent film over the philosophic core. But if we don't know what we're looking at, if we haven't been exposed to the insight behind the work, we just stare agog at the thing until the intellect gets involved. (And then Inspector Intellect takes out his magnifying lens and zeroes in on the hypnotic linework or the bravura brushstrokes or the pretty colors, effectively zeroing out the larger basis for the work.)

Surely, a lot of taste results from long term exposure, too. But one is always exposed to junk far more often than quality, so most people you meet of good taste in this world must have arrived at their taste through some other method beside mere exposure. There must be judgment and pursuit of the finer works. A person able to judge real quality from faux quality, is someone who is conscious of their insight.

I've researched ancient Asian design philosophies a little bit, and, insofar as my word is worth anything, I can assure you, until I encountered actual statements about the philosophy, (which could be difficult to parse), I was very much in the dark as to the point of these types of compositions. I still consider my understanding shallow at best, even though in my graphic design life I've created some pastiches of the Japanese woodblock style for sushi bar ads.

7/24/2010 3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If he 'stole' the style from Japan it does not matter. Even today you can't copyright style. Myartspace Blog has some good copyright info.

7/24/2010 4:29 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev,
i don't see 'pastiche' as you call it, as necessarily a bad thing. often pastiche is just 2 hops away from brand new territory. what your 'philosophic core' or 'unifying principle' fails to account for is the hybrid form of which Heath Robinson (to return to yet again) is an example. his work wouldn't be allowed according to your principles because it involves sampling a different artistic strain which he isn't part of (and about which he hasn't yet written a phD). hybrids give shape to new forms. if you want to sit around discussing the intellectual purity of this or that artistic movement, that's fine, but don't be surprised when you find you're living in a museum.

7/24/2010 7:01 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Is the problem with ateliers the teaching method or the culture?<<<

Is the problem with cyanide that it attacks the central nervous system or the respiratory system? Who cares. It's bad for you and you needn't analyze why it is.

Poison For Dummies

7/24/2010 8:05 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence,

A little newspeak, eh? Change "pastiche" to "hybrid" and see if that word wins the argument?

Sure, I'll bite...

On hybrids: There is a difference between a biological hybrid and something like a Prius.

The first hybrid is organic, the life form arising from one genetic blueprint (despite a diverse ancestry). The second hybrid actually switches back and forth, under the hood, between two completely different kinds of engines... a little of this, and a little of that, pretending to be the future so it can sell itself as hip today.

Yes, if you want to do a cultural DJ thing, pastiching can be fun. If a design client asks me to appeal to a very young demo, I never worry about anything related to good composition, I just make the thing "zap and pow" with crazy font choices and loud colors, starbursts, weird scales between tilting elements, a little bit of black and grunge texture if the demo is boys, some exotic glyphs if the travel agency is trying to sell south america, etc, etc... I just blow that kind of stuff out the door. I just did a full page magazine ad for an upscale ghetto-cutz salon chain and I musta dropped 10 of the freshest, mad stylin' dope ass fonts up in that mofo. And the agency and the client were all like, that slammin' piece of turkey crap is mad fresh, yo.

(Many, many laymen are embarrassingly easy to please because they can't make money knowing any better because they're selling to a mass audience that can't be underestimated.)

On your last points, I'm not interested in "artistic purity." (I have a funny feeling you aren't quite understanding me.) I actually like influences coming together from weird far flung sources.

But I do prefer work that is both fun and excellent quality. (If I thought these qualities were mutually exclusive, I wouldn't be interested in Art) Thus I am a stickler for artistic unity, a coherent governing philosophy, (no matter the "purity" or "impurity" of the style), and an inner life.

Pastiching is basically junk food. It tends to be fun to consume, momentarily. It is excellent when selling something to kids of all ages. And a savvy kid artist can get the attention of a bunch of other kids by doing some flashy pastiche in the cultural pan to make his mark. (And 20 years down the road, when the novelty has long worn off and the money runs out, he can always sell the same thing to the same people as nostalgia.)

That's just the way things go. But a lifetime of creating pastiches for money, however, is simply careerism... which, while honorable, isn't worth talking about.

7/24/2010 10:38 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"(I have a funny feeling you aren't quite understanding me.)"


likewise. you keep trying to infer that all i'm talking about is cheesy cut and paste graphic design. i'm not. that is your pet theme.

7/25/2010 6:49 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Laurence,
All art is shaped by influences to some degree. Respectfully, yours is not a particularly complex position. However, to understand and grasp deeper and elemental stylistic differences requires an active, sustained effort. It is just like so many other things in life. One does not passively acquire the ability in my experience, including people whose careers are built around art. Frankly, some time ago I would have been skeptical of my own position here. All I can say is, it is possible and requires time and effort. Thats about all that can be said here; if anyone wants to learn the onus is on the individual. I doubt it could be conveyed any other way, let alone to a skeptic.

7/25/2010 7:58 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/25/2010 8:23 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"All I can say is, it is possible and requires time and effort."


a deeper understanding of stylistic devices is possible ? i'll have to take your word for that since you haven't offered up a book or thesis that proves it. etc, etc are you a practicing painter or illustrator yourself ?

7/25/2010 9:17 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

"a deeper understanding of stylistic devices is possible ? i'll have to take your word for that since you haven't offered up a book or thesis that proves it."

Does it require a book or thesis? How do you suppose Johann Liss from northern Germany fully assimilated Venetian Baroque style?

7/25/2010 10:14 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence, your thesis seems to be that there is nothing deeper to art than what it looks like. That all styles are just a host of visual conventions that, if you can just duplicate them with enough skill, you have mastered the style.

It seems to me you evidence a failure of imagination by believing this. And by that I mean you fail to imagine that there is useful information that you don't already know.

If you want to grouse that people like me belong in a museum, I hope you won't mind if I grouse that people like you belong on Deviant Art.

7/25/2010 11:01 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

i'd be happy to look at any art you've produced too that shows how you've understood and assimilated "deeper and elemental stylistic differences".

7/25/2010 11:05 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

that was to etc,etc not Kev.

7/25/2010 11:08 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

my 'thesis' Kev (and we've been here before) is that you don't need to be an academic to produce great art. in fact the art academics i've met never produce anything. they just write about it. nor do you need to study archaic 'artistic philosophies' (whatever they are) to be a powerful painter. or maybe you can tell me which 'aesthetic philosophy' your man Frazetta belonged to ? (i'm sure you can make one up).

7/25/2010 11:36 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Laurence,
Here is the centerpiece of a triptych I am working on. You may have to refresh the page a couple of times to get it to load.

http://tinyurl.com/2u78rqe

7/25/2010 1:25 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

so you do have a sense of humour after all.

7/25/2010 1:34 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence, Frazetta was a romantic. (Or what I would call a romantic symbolist, because the symbolist movement was the last evolution of romanticism that had a coherent philosophy.) I don't need to make anything up about that. If you research romantic philosophy, everything frazetta says about art confirms his allegiance. He even references Sturm and Drang in one of his interviews.

The BS of early modernist "intellectualism" was actually badly cribbed from late Romantic teaching. Just because those early pseudo intellectual fakes have led to the current pseudo intellectual fakes, does NOT mean that there was never a sound aesthetic philosophy anywhere to be found. This is the problem with your thinking. You are judging the intellectuals you don't know, by the pseudo intellectuals you do know.

And, furthermore, because your only exposure to art intellectuals are "academics" you can't seem to fathom that there are intellectuals who are hands on practitioners who know their craft, are grounded in a sensible philosophy, and know how to use composition to knock off socks. I've rarely met a professional artist who wasn't a intellectual of some stripe or other.

Again, there is a failure of imagination on your part to consider that there is information you have not been exposed to which is yet cogent.

Not much more to say on the topic.

In other news, Charles Saatchi just bought etc, etc's digital tryptich for 4 million dollars.

7/25/2010 2:42 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>i'd be happy to look at any art you've produced too that shows how you've understood and assimilated "deeper and elemental stylistic differences".<<<

Me too. In this country, showing what you can do is called "walking the walk."

7/25/2010 3:40 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Not much more to say on the topic.
<<<

We are thankful for small blessings

(the sound of a collective sigh of relief)

7/25/2010 3:45 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Rob,

Its hard to believe you are still smarting from 2 weeks ago. Just because I dared to demonstrate how clueless you were in a post? Just because I dared to point out that your attempt at "getting back at me" afterwards was silly and picayune and of no interest to anybody? Seriously?

Let it go. Nobody cares. Move on.

At least spare us your tedious pissing and moaning.

Although, you clearly deserve congratulation for figuring out how to create bold and cursive text! You aren't a pile of dust yet!

7/25/2010 4:14 PM  
Anonymous H.L. Mencken said...

Rob, you are too easy to manipulate. Don't fall into the trap once again! You don't have to go through life as a troll! Rise above your booboisie nature.

7/25/2010 4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And now a word from Rob. (This should be predictable...)

:)

7/25/2010 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

100th!

7/25/2010 6:46 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Robz said~ ""I used to paint "men's adventure" paperback covers. Some of them had upwards of fifty soldiers, tanks and specific equipment and uniforms.""

Robz also said~ ""Me too. In this country, showing what you can do is called "walking the walk."""

Me three! I'm sure the good readers of Illustration Art will be interested in seeing a few.

7/25/2010 8:08 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Me three! I'm sure the good readers of Illustration Art will be interested in seeing a few.<<<

Show me the money. If you want to see my current portfolio, identify yourself as a bona fide art buyer not some sticky masturbator with time on his hand.

You can look up some work on Flickr and Facebook, but if you are an illustration buyer, send me your phone number and business and the rep will call. If you're in the market for portraits give me your name, address and tel# and when the agent can talk with you. Past that, you're just another wanker trying to waste my time.

7/25/2010 11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In other words, Rob never painted a "men's adventure" book cover in his life. More bluster and bull from the king of bluster and bull.

7/25/2010 11:22 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Nobody cares. Move on<<<

How can you speak with authority for anybody and nobody. Or is this another case of As General Bullmoose Goes, So Goes the Nation?

What amazing camouflage, Kev. You really are clever hiding that razor sharp Machiavellian wit under the guise of being a dull little man. I almost fell for your clever ruse. You almost suckered me in by appearing to set some puerile high school verbal trap. Fortunately I caught it in time, you silver-tongued devil.

Then I realised, because you speak for Everybody, you are clearly an intellectual force to be reckoned with.

Now that I see the cleverness of your arguments, I'll be on my toes around you. It's clear that you are thinking more than five moves ahead.

7/25/2010 11:23 PM  
Anonymous Rob you Hack said...

I think Rob's cookin' up some long winded bull right now. Shall we Yawn in advance? If it's not pretentious, long winded, self-aggrandizing, predictable, and lacking in self-restraint, I'll eat my hat!

Oh, there it is ^. Predictable as usual

7/25/2010 11:27 PM  
Anonymous E.Z. Mencken said...

Nobody knows what you are babbling on about, Rob. Give it a rest.

7/25/2010 11:35 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev, i wonder if Frazetta knew he was a 'romantic symbolist' ? i wonder if he cared ? perhaps if you keep telling yourself you're a romantic symbolist you'll be as good a painter as him one day. until then good luck with the zombie cowboy comics. sorry, i mean the neo-western-gothic- romantic-symbolist-graphic-poetic-
novelettas.

7/26/2010 2:39 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Rob, please, you're making yourself look a fool.


As for the need to digest style;
-Style requires digestion.

-Digestion can happen over a very long period of time.

-In circumstances where digestion takes a long time it may seem natural and effortless.

-99% of the time style is learned the long, slow, effortless way.

7/26/2010 10:08 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Sorry,

-99% of the time style is learned the long, slow, SEEMINGLY effortless way.

7/26/2010 10:09 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence,

What was up with that last prickish comment? Why must you always lose your cool and go into juvenile snark mode?

Of course Frazetta didn't care about some label or other. Practical philosophy does not give a crap about the naming of things until it needs to be taught. Academic philosophy often loses its way because it gets caught up in the words to the extent that the words become the point.

The phrase, "romantic symbolist" doesn't means anything to the executing of my art, its just a helpful way of looking at things for me. I don't expect the words to improve my art at all, (a ludicrous and childish accusation, btw) but the philosophy certainly has.

Thank you for wishing me good luck on my graphic novel. I hope to finish it after completing the Creepy story I'm currently working on. Good luck on your work as well.

7/26/2010 10:29 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

kev,

What percentage of your graphic novel have you finished the illos for so far?

7/26/2010 11:18 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/26/2010 1:12 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

94 percent. Unfortunately, I just realized I have a coding assignment and an oil portrait commission upcoming and another Creepy story after this one. Since it's been fits and starts the whole way through, this is just par for the course on the GN -- but I must run a brain de-frag program soon or I'm gonna end up a bad pastiche of myself. (sorry for the tweet.)

7/26/2010 1:30 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Rob, please, you're making yourself look a fool. <<<

What leads you to believe that your opinion will in any way affect one scintilla of my day. Today, as yesterday began with me laughing all the way to the bank and thanking my lucky stars that, unlike 99% of you, I am living my dream of being a self-supporting artist.

What do you have in your power to either improve or diminish that? What is your art budget for the year? I suspect it is less than what you spend for toilet paper.

Have any of you actually worked in this field and made your entire living with what your brush or pencil produced? What awards have you won? Who are your clients? What books have you written or illustrated (not self-published). Do you work FOR somebody...a boss or group who dictates when and where and what you should do?

So, just advice and guidance should i heed from you people, who nature has cast as anonymous drones -- people so ashamed of failing at their dreams that have to hide in the shadows and mutter imprecations at the few whose lives bear scrutiny?

In thinking of all the people in history who have been called fools...and all of the anonymities who did the calling, why on earth should I be concerned that you think I'm a fool? What benefits will accrue to me if I meet with your approval?

I'd continue but I have to take my daily walk to the bank, laughing all the way.

7/27/2010 9:32 AM  
Anonymous Can't stand blowhards said...

Liberace of Oz has spoken!!!

7/27/2010 10:20 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/27/2010 1:08 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Rob,
I know "showing your art" can be kind of a charged issue around here...but I am curious about those covers you've done.
It's probably not a very cost-effective use of your time to put them up on-line....but if you gave titles and dates, I (we) could look them up.
Even if most were done as "hack" work (a term I don't really see as all that pejorative....sometimes, you just have to do a job) but, there must be a few that you were particularly happy with.

7/27/2010 1:50 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Oh...and Rob, even though I'm not trying to be contentious here....I'll take issue with your "self published" crack.
Shouldn't work be taken on its own merits?
I've seen really sucky stuff that was well paid and published all over the place but, that sure doesn't make it better than the cool self published stuff some other artists (Pixar artists, for example) do in their spare time.

7/27/2010 1:58 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Rob, are you trying to convince us or yourself?

7/27/2010 2:25 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I guess the thing I like most about W. Heath Robinson's art is his ability to capture the character of what he draws. He brings a sense of his personality to everything; the way he draws cloth, the noses on his characters, their hats. He was an artist through and through.

Thanks for all these great and large images, David. Sorry if I started this comment section off on the wrong foot by being contentious instead of gracious.

7/27/2010 3:04 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Kev,
I agree. I've bought just about everything I could find on the Robinson brothers. W, Heath is my favorite, but that was some family....

7/27/2010 4:22 PM  
Blogger Emerson Coe said...

Great post!

7/27/2010 8:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only discovered Mr.Robinson last year. There was antique book at the used book store with high quality print of his work. I was blown away. In a way his style seemed very modern because the colors were reproduced so well in the book. His imagination and beautiful style are very inspiring. Now if I could only afford that book.

7/28/2010 12:33 PM  
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9/03/2010 11:36 PM  
Anonymous dissertation help said...

There was antique book at the used book store with high quality print of his work. I was blown away. In a way his style seemed very modern because the colors were reproduced so well in the book. His imagination and beautiful style are very inspiring.

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