Sunday, January 02, 2011


[Blogger reports that today is my 300th post. I never expected to take this blog past 50, but what started as a fun way to highlight some under-appreciated artists, tell a few truths in support of those who already know them, and share some good stories became an unexpected source of stimulating dialogues and rewarding acquaintances. Many thanks to all who have participated, and happy new year to all!]

Ralph Waldo Emerson just couldn't get over how cool a library is:
Consider what you have in the smallest chosen library. A company of the wisest and wittiest men that could be picked out of all civil countries in a thousand years have set in best order the results of their learning and wisdom. The men themselves were hid and inaccessible, solitary and impatient of interruption, fenced by etiquette; but the thought which they did not uncover to their bosom friend is here written out in transparent words for us.
Today it's even better. We not only access the "wisest and wittiest men," but women as well, and from "uncivil" countries. We don't even need to go to a library: we can access these riches from our computer.

In a year of recession and high unemployment, with economic wealth increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few at the top, I am heartened by the artists who recognize alternative kinds of wealth freely available from libraries and museums.

When the great draftsman Noel Sickles was asked where he learned to draw, he responded, "In a library." Sickles had no formal art education but was able to teach himself from images he found in the public library in Chillicothe, Ohio:
I studied not only American cartooning, but all over the world: European, particularly. I became acquainted with all of the various types of cartooning. I went back and studied Simplicissimus and Jugend [magazines] and so on, and that got me more and more into becoming aware of illustration. And I then did the same thing there. I went through, well, the entire background, as much as I could find.
Building from these examples, Sickles develop formidable artistic powers:

Imagine what he could have done if he'd had the resources of the internet.

As an impoverished child, Albert Dorne couldn't afford food, let alone art classes. At age 10, he began cutting school 3 or 4 days a week to sneak off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where he taught himself to draw by copying the pictures. The determined little boy soon became well known to and admired by the museum staff.

After he became a famous illustrator, Dorne did everything he could to make sure that resources would be available for later generations of children.

Libraries are not relics of the past. One of today's best illustrators, Phil Hale, said:
I grew up in a town with a terrific traditional library, and a great collection of art books including many Illustrators annuals.... But also books about Brandywine and other early twentieth-century movements... The library was hugely important to me.
There's nothing dated about Hale's sensational work:

Arthur Koestler was convinced that the right book will find us in time to fulfill our destiny. He recounted how, as a depressed and impoverished failure in Paris in the 1930s, he decided to commit suicide. He turned on the gas in his apartment and lay down on his bug stained mattress. "But as I was settling down on it, a book crashed on my head from the wobbly shelf. It nearly broke my nose, so I got up [and] turned off the gas." The book turned out to be about the Nazis coming to power in Germany. Said Koestler, "a more drastic pointer to the despicableness of my antics could hardly be imagined." He regrouped and went on to became a world famous author with a huge impact on the international politics of his day.

We can't always count on the proper book landing on our nose. We need the vision to recognize value in its potential form, and the initiative to transform it into kinetic form. Those traits are not among the advantages provided by wealth and privilege. Libraries are the great equalizer.


Matthew Adams said...

Ipswich (where I live) is a bit of a laughing stock in Queensland. It is considered by those in the know to be an inbred country city full of hicks and bigots (it is where Pauline Hanson comes from), and nothing good can come from Ipswich.

For those of us who live here we have access to one of the best local Libraries in the world (it pioneered the global info links which has been taken up by other countries like Canada, though unfortunately politcal egos got involved in Ipswich and did a lot of damage to Ipswich GIL), and I have spent so many hours in there which I believe were much more productive than the many hours I spent in lecture rooms at Unversity (my uni also had a good library and I used to spend at least two hours in the library for every hour spent in lectures so that i could actually learn something worthwhile).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog and for all of your wisdom. Your blog and others like it have influenced my thinking more than art school has, and given me a better idea of what I want to look for when I go to the library.

What is that Phil Hale quote from? Any interviews I could track down?

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone!

Hey David, your blog is awesome! Thanks for so much information.
I want to know if you could tell me where I can find more works by Henry Raleigh; there´s not many in internet and the only ones with high quality I found in your blog!


MORAN said...

It's great to see the inspiration artists have found in libraries. The world has been fucked over by rich bankers so regular people have some hard years ahead. It's nice to be reminded in 2011 that there are other ways to find meaning if they don't close the libraries for lack of budget.

Don Cox said...

Congratulations on your 300th post !

You are entirely right about libraries.

Jesse Hamm said...

"Imagine what he could have done if he'd had the resources of the internet."

kev ferrara said...

I used to take whole day trips into the city as a kid and spend it looking at art books in the NYPL. Until I discovered the interlibrary loan service, which was a constant source of rare art books in my life for many years.

Jeff, issue 26 of Illustration Collector is devoted to Henry Raleigh. Go to Illustration House's website and click on the subscriptions link and scroll down.

Anonymous said...

This is bullshit. Wall Street wrecked economies around the world and filled their own pockets with multi-million dollar bonuses. They don't give a shit that they created poverty and misery for workers. Workers lose their jobs and families get evicted and billionaires don't want their taxes raised. You're saying that these shits have money but they aren't creative and will never appreciate that the best things in life are free. It's nice that their victims can go to public libraries to get out of the cold. 2011 will be a good year if exploited artists wake up and join the workers and burn down a few mansions.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous asked: "What is that Phil Hale quote from? Any interviews I could track down?"

Anon, that quote wasn't published, it is something Phil said to me and then graciously consented to my posting here. However, he will have an interview published in Elephant Magazine in the near future, so watch that forum.

अर्जुन said...

"…wake up and join the workers and burn down a few mansions." ~
You took my dream and canned it
It is not the way I planned it
I'm society's destructor
I'm a petrol bomb constructor
I'm a cosmic light conductor
I'm the people's debt collector
So watch out Mr. Business Man
Your empire's about to blow
I think you'd better listen, man
In case you did not know

Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

I don't like this rich people vs everyone else thing I'm seeing in the comments. The rich aren't out to get us and public libraries might not exist if it weren't for rich people like Andrew Carnegie.

Anonymous said...

Jurgend --- Frazetta commented in an interview that J inspired him by showing how far an artist could go .

Alex said...

Traditionally, Americans have always been insular in their outlook, so Sickles was going against the grain by studying the European art scene.It certainly paid off for him.
I like this Sickles-Dorne stand off.Sickles was an absolute master of light and shadow and he says so much with a simple black pattern.Dorne uses minimal light and characterizes every fold and wrinkle of his characters.

Polar opposites in approach but both geniuses.

Eric Noble said...

David, this post has given me comfort and courage in my time of self-doubt. I feel like sometimes that I'll never be a great artist, but this has encouraged me to get off my ass and get back to work.

I too am a great believer in the importance of libraries. I believe it was ray Bradbury who said, "The library is our brain. Without the library, you have no civilization." I always return to it time and time again. I hope to introduce my kids to the library, and get them on a path of reading, from the great novels to comic books.

Laurence John said...

UK readers, there's an excellent Phil Hale portrait up in the National Portrait Gallery right now, where you can also see Sir Thomas Lawrence (the regency Sargent) til late january.

also Norman Rockwell at the Dulwich picture Gallery until March. about 30 originals (some of them studies and some weak later ones but hey, it's the first Rockwell exhibition over here ever so we can't complain).

Unknown said...

Thank you, David, for this blog, and especially for this post. It's my opinion that many of the greatest, most enduring works of art came from humble beginnings, and for me libraries are the ultimate symbol of that process. I have long obsessed over how incredible it is to have free information at our fingertips, first in the crevices of some tome stashed away in an unassuming corner of my local library--and nowadays in the humble haunt of a curious blogger. Thank you for putting to words what I have felt all my life yet lacked the gumption to say.

Lipov said...

Where did Rob go? He used to be very active on this blog. He just disappeared... or did I miss something?

David Apatoff said...

Matthew Adams: Thanks. Many of the greats grew up in small towns. Sometimes they used the microcosm of a small town to learn the most sophisticated lessons about the darkness of the human soul (the way Ibsen did) and sometimes what you refer to as the "hick" aspect of small towns left them with a kind of innately wholesome style that resonated well with the world and made them wildly popular as illustrators (for example, Bernie Fuchs, Mark English, Bob Heindel). Wherever they started out, success historically seems to have brought them from small towns to the big city where there were better libraries and more money. I suspect the internet is changing all of that now. You can stay in Emporia Kansas, like William Allen White, and still be in constant contact with the world.

Jeff: are you looking for work "by" Raleigh or work "about" Raleigh? My answer would differ dependng on your interests.

Don Cox: Thanks very much!

David Apatoff said...

MORAN, Anonymous and Anonymous (writing about the rich, the poor and libraries): I agree with those of you who say we must be careful about loose claims that the rich exploit the poor. It is also clear that, in the United States and elsewhere, the divide between rich and poor has grown substantially in the last 20 years, and that an unhealthy percentage of that growth is not from satisfying market demands in arm's length transactions (the way Carnegie or Rockefeller did) but from slippery games shuffling insider paper.

The public certainly seems to have drawn this conclusion, hence movies now regularly turn to corporate moguls as the standard arch villains and Sunday comic pages have done the same.

Sometimes I fear that crony capitalism has done more to delegitimize free markets than Karl Marx ever could.

But for purposes of this blog (which is not a political blog) the real test of any system is the extent to which it provides upward mobility based upon merit. I view libraries (both terrestrial and digital) as one of the most important ingredients in that process. Watch what budget cutbacks do to your local library's budget and hours over the next few years.

David Apatoff said...

Jesse Ham: touche!

अर्जुन: I can always rely on you to find some bit of relevant wisdom from the world of rock n' roll lyrics. When I try to mentally retrace the search that took you to these places, I can never figure out how you did it.

Kev Ferrara: thanks for flagging the Illustration House catalog for Raleigh. You have an impressive memory.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- yes, Jugend was a great source of inspiration for Frazetta, Sickles and many others. Those wonderful drawings took on lives of their own, and multiple variations of them rippled around the world.

Alex-- I love your characterization of the "Sickles-Dorne stand off." I would not have though to contrast them that way, but I think it is an insightful reaction.

Eric Noble-- I am delighted by your reaction to this post.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John: thanks for the alerts. I think very highly of both artists.

Delidel: I appreciate your comments, and I'm glad you feel the same way.

Lipov: Rob did participate actively in the past and I hope he will participate actively again in the future. Perhaps I have just not written anything recently to provoke him sufficiently.

Matthew Harwood said...

David, congratulations on reaching your 300th post. What a legacy you’ve created with this blog. Speaking on the theme of libraries influencing artists, your archive is a treasure-trove of thought, passion and art. I only discovered you a couple of weeks ago when I stumble on your online debate on DB Dowd’s GRAPHIC TALES comparing Larry Rivers and Robert Weaver. Since then, I’ve been consumed and spending far too much time online going over your past posts and debates - only scratching the surface. You even inspired me to create my own blog. Thank you for this wonderful contribution to the art world. It is sorely needed.

Dylan said...

Like Harwood said, David thank you, and congrats on putting so much valuable knowledge here! I've been following the blog for a couple years now through my terrible art schooling, and some of my most inspiring moments have come from reading not only the articles published here, but the discussions that follow.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

Happy New year!

I too have missed Rob the printer/jet pilot. Re: Perhaps I have just not written anything recently to provoke him sufficiently.

oh probably not. He most likely felt slighted & aggravated one too many times, mainly because he always felt that he was correct and (usually) everyone else wrong or misguided. But he is/was the second best writer on the blog (you David being #1). We welcome you back Rob! Let us know that you are well!!

I guess I will look back and see if you answered my last question.
Perhaps in secret code? :-)

Congratulations are in order. Your consistent output on this blog is so well-driven by your knowledge, your insight, ethics, devotion & enthusiasm!

StimmeDesHerzens said...

...have appreciated your thoughtful comments in 2010.
...zugänglich für jeden der Suche nach einem Anwalt.
Neee, ist nicht so einfach, erzähl mal, irgendwann.
Ja, die Bibliothek (griechisch βιβλιοθήκη „Büchersammlung“) oder Bücherei--unheimlich wichtig!

Anonymous said...

300 posts. God. I lost interest in writing my own blog after 5 or 6, thinking I did not have enough (or enough interesting things) to say. And you keep coming up with good ones, every darn time.

Until very recently, I found much that I needed at whatever local library that was close, including those great Illustration Annuals mentioned somewhere above. I still go there today, but far less because of, of course, the internet.

My Morning Jacket has a great song called "Sexy Librarian" that lauds the beauty of not only the librarian in the title, but libraries in general. It also laments that, "since we got the interweb, these hardly get used."

There is much to be said for communal learning and discovery that you just don't get looking at a screen all by yourself.

Ken Meyer Jr.


hale is incredible indeed. I fell in love with his work after seeing it in the "Spectrum" books. Thanks for including him here.




What's the way to follow your blog..i don't see the Follow Button...



T Arthur Smith said...

Mr. Apatoff, I just saw this article, started reading it, and realized that Spiegelman actually sees eye to eye with you on a lot of things. I thought it was worth sharing:

David Apatoff said...

Matthew-- I am bowled over by your reaction to my humble little blog. Thanks for writing in with such a generous response; it means a lot to me.

Dylan, if I was looking for an excuse to carry on with this foolishness beyond post #300, your reaction and Matthew's certainly provide it. Thanks very much for your comment.

StimmeDesHerzens-- and a heartfelt Dankeschoen right back at you.

David Apatoff said...

Ken Meyer Jr.-- I made the mistake of googling "sexy librarian" without adding "My Morning Jacket." I had to work my way through the first 42,000 web sites before I figured out there might be a more effective way to search. It's a wild world out there. (But once I found your song I enjoyed it).

Leonid Gurevich-- I'm glad you share my regard for Phil Hale's work. I think he is one of the most exciting illustrators worming today. As for a "follow button," I have gone out of my way to avoid anything that smacks of self-promotion or advertising here, just as a matter of personal taste. But I suppose that wouldn't be too bad.

shkylar said...

I'm an artist, broke and in paris.
This is an inspiration to me.