Wednesday, June 15, 2011

THE ERA OF CELEBRITY ILLUSTRATORS

Once upon a time, the world's largest media companies bragged in full page ads about their upcoming illustrations:

From the back cover of Life Magazine.  When was the last time you saw an ad like this?

Magazines urged readers to spend more time studying illustrations:


This was all driven by economics, of course.  The general public followed the work of top illustrators and made purchasing decisions based on their art:

Before the invention of movies and computer videos, illustrators were the George Lucas and Steven Spielberg of their day. They created magic images that captured the public imagination and shaped public taste.  They invented cultural icons:


This was the great power of stationary images in an era before people learned that pictures could also be made to move and talk.

Like the Cecile B. DeMille of his day, Gustave Dore (1832-1883) shaped the world's image of epic stories such as the Bible, Paradise Lost and Dante's Divine Comedy.  His books (and his visions) were everywhere.



Celebrity illustrators were were richly paid for their contribution to the mass entertainment industry. Charles Dana Gibson, who created the popular Gibson Girl, went from being a cartoonist for Life Magazine to taking over the entire magazine.  His work enabled him to retire to his own private 700 acre island. Illustrator Henry Raleigh earned enough from drawing illustrations for three or four months to spend the balance of the year traveling the world lavishly with family and friends. He spent freely, giving away thousands of dollars. He maintained a yacht, owned a mansion and kept a large studio in downtown Manhattan.

Those days are gone.  Like a huge peristaltic wave, the mass entertainment market has moved beyond illustration to other media.

There is nothing surprising about this.  The golden age of illustration began in the 19th century by crushing  the old fashioned wood engraving industry, which could no longer retain an audience when compared to color photo-engraving. Later, silent movies could not hold out for long against sound movies.  Black and white movies were similarly vanquished by color movies.  It remains to be seen what will happen with 3D, or 48 frame per second movies, or the next development after that. 

This evolution seems to be powered primarily by the economics of mass marketing.  There will always be a significant role for still pictures, but a medium that talks (and therefore doesn't require the consumer to read text), that moves (and therefore doesn't require the consumer to imagine the implications of a moment isolated by a static drawing), a medium that completely fills our sight, sound, olfactory and other senses, allowing us to passively absorb, seems to have a natural advantage over a medium that doesn't fill in all the blanks for us. 

I see no prospect of this trend reversing itself, barring a global electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from thermonuclear war that renders all electronic viewing devices useless.  If nuclear winter ever comes, illustrators can look forward to returning to their historic birthright as the powerful shamans who make magic images on the cave walls.

But for now, I think it is important to emphasize that, while illustration is no longer the centerpiece of the entertainment world, and the great peristaltic wave took celebrityhood and money with it, it did leave the "art" portion behind.  And that, my friends, is the most important part.

113 Comments:

Blogger Zeke said...

"If nuclear winter ever comes, illustrators can look forward to returning to their historic birthright as the powerful shamans who make magic images on the cave walls."

with that sentence you gave me hope that my chances of surviving the apocalypse are better than I'd imagined

6/15/2011 4:52 PM  
Blogger JF said...

Well, it isn't exactly the same thing, but the star illustrator still exists in the comic and graphic novel world, and that has no sign of going away.

6/15/2011 4:52 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Zeke-- The best we can do is cross our fingers and hope for thermonuclear war.

JF-- I certainly agree that during this transition there are pockets of illustrators who are well known in their fields, and who do well financially. Most of them seem to do so by linking with newer technologies. Frank Miller qualifies as a "star," but I think he only became known to the broader public as Dark Knight, Sin City, etc. took hold in movies. Same with Dave Gibbons and Watchmen. Peter de Seve did great character design for Ice Age, and other illustrators have done great concept work for Blue Sky, Pixar, Disney, etc. but I don't think they have the fame or fortune of a Norman Rockwell, a Maxfield Parrish, a Charles Dana Gibson, etc. (certainly not for their illustration work).

I'm not suggesting their art is better or worse, I'm merely noting that the platform and opportunities are different today. Artists who work on animated movies are part of a team effort, where individual visibility is lower and the lion's share of the profit is scooped up by the overpaid CEO, not the artists.

6/15/2011 5:19 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

It's true, it seems that the fan base for illustration lies within comics and the like-- but that doesn't mean there isn't room for others it's just not like it used to be. (Not that anything is)

Like they say, video killed the radio star, and photography killed the illustrator (almost).

6/15/2011 5:48 PM  
Anonymous raphael said...

i think your post would elicit less sighs for ye olde times when one could have masterfully painted pictures in ones magazines if quality photography was more commonplace. instead, we every so often see either a cheap filler photo from a stock library or something with a rather arbitrary level of quality or refinement. there seems to be en vogue a visually noncommital style where even secifically-made photos for an article wont employ much specific storytelling.

an article about how small-scale entrepreneurs can make money via the internet? dont go much further than have some hapless dude in an ill-fitting dress shirt sit on a chair, looking happy-bewildered as money bills rain down on him.

what i dont really know, though, is whether ye olde times really featured an overall higher level of visual quality or whether we fall prey to mistaking a benevolent selection plus nostalgia for an accurate representation of historic everyday, while we today have rather similar situations.

after all, national geographic still takes some pride in providing quality photography. also, at least over here, higher priced magazines might get someone like karl lagerfeld to shoot a small series for them. during the few years i subscribed to vogue, i saw a few of those, for example.

i also remember the outrage against james cameron when avatar turned out to be not as good as everyone desperately wanted it to be. we might not have a widespread appreciation of the visual talents of ridley scott or the kind of striking cinematography the coen brothers often employ, but there is a hint of publicly known figures and the publics expectations about them. were celebrity artists more ubiquitous back in the times of leyendecker, rockwell or wyeth? (not a critical question - i really dont know)

on the other hand, a pretty normal womens magazine of the 50s/60s here in germany apparently had a recurring feature of celebrity portraits:
http://one1more2time3.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/german-illustration-6/
we certainly dont have stuff like that anymore.

6/15/2011 6:12 PM  
Blogger Donald Pittenger said...

Allow me to toss in another factor (probably less relevant than yours, David, but still real). It is the decline of mass media. When McCall's, Saturday Evening Post and other magazines dwindled while Collier's died along with True, Argosy and a host of others, so did the ecosystem of the celebrity illustrator. (Granted, photography was doing its bit in this too.)

Nowadays media are becomimg so fragmented that the possibility of any kind of celeb illustrator -- be it in comix or whatever -- seems almost nil. That is because, along with the rump of a mass media there becomes the rump of a mass audience. No mass audience, no major celebrities: niche celebrity will be all that remains.

If trends continue, that is. And continue they do. Until they don't.

6/15/2011 8:35 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"...it did leave the "art" portion behind..."


David, i'm not sure what you're getting at with this line, but it sounds hopeful. could you elaborate ?

6/16/2011 5:06 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Erin--yup, the one thing we can be certain of is that it's not like it used to be, but as you note, nothing is. Photography is also a major part of this discussion; every time the topic surfaces here, it triggers a range war between the farmers and the cattle ranchers.

raphael-- I hope this didn't come across as bemoaning the loss of ye olde times. Times have certainly changed, and the loss of a mass entertainment audience (with its accompanying fame and fortune) gets much of the attention but I was more interested in the art that remains. The entertainment component made it easier for illustrators to make a buck, and also made it easier to spend more time on a picture to achieve the kind of quality you describe. Nevertheless, I think the art component of illustration (whether a photograph or a painting) can continue unabated.

Donald Pittenger-- the collapse of mass media that you describe is a healthy reminder that, along with the unemployed illustrators, there were a lot of unemployed writers, publishers, printers, etc. who had to reinvent themselves as well.

But no matter how fragmented the new media have become, there are still global superstars (from Lady GagGa to Steven Spielberg to Oprah to Julia Roberts, etc.) who are recognized wherever they go on the planet. They bring stories and music and images to the public employing a variety of new media. There were no movie stars back in the day when Charles Dana Gibson held the public's attention.

6/16/2011 5:46 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- Alec Baldwin tells a great story about a conversation he had with a cab driver. The driver asked Baldwin for tips on how to become an actor, and Baldwin replied that acting was a wonderful profession and he would be happy to help. He talked about the importance of training and motivation and seizing every opportunity to be on stage, even local community theatre. The cab driver interrupted, saying, "Naw, I don't care about that stuff, I want to do what you do-- live in Beverly Hills, play the romantic lead with beautiful starlets, and walk the red carpet at the oscars." Baldwin said, "Oh... you don't want to be an actor, you want to be a star. I can't help you with that."

I think the opportunity to be a star and earn star-type money depends a lot on external conditions: market trends, the ebb and flow of technological platforms, ripeness, astrology and other factors. At any given time, there are fields that provide fertile soil for the creation of superstars. That was once the case with illustration but it is not anymore. (That doesn't mean it's impossible, it's just not such fertile soil now.)

I'm sure celebrity status was extremely pleasant for illustrators such as James Montgomery Flagg, but I don't think its loss prevents anyone from creating brilliant illustration. Brilliant art can still be made, and in fact is being made today.

Beethoven and Mozart wrote pretty decent music but died as paupers. If they had been born in Elton John's era, perhaps they too would own a collection of solid gold cocaine spoons to hang from their puka shell necklace. They might have leveraged their talent with global distribution of their CDs, along with promotion on MTV and licensing deals protected by favorable intellectual property laws. If they did, they would have been far better known during their lifetimes, and far richer. But would their art have been any better? Did Elton John's fortunate timing, or Barry Manilow's, or Andrew Lloyd Weber's, make their work any better than Beethoven's or Mozart's?

And in fact, if Elton John were born ten years from now when CDs are obsolete and the existing intellectual property laws are largely unenforceable, perhaps he would lose many of his great advantages and have to return to the era of making a living from live performance revenues.

The elements that have ebbed from the illustration field (and many other careers as well) will have different significance for different artists. Artists whose highest and best skills aren't necessarily drawing and painting but who can apply their creativity equally well to computers or to group decisionmaking for corporate CGI art may move in that direction. But for those who were destined to draw or paint, it seems to me that the core of illustration-- the art part-- remains untouched and available.

6/16/2011 8:27 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

People get tired even of good things and desire change. Vogue may replace the supermodels with Renée Zellwegers, but sooner or later people will realize those are just Renée Zellwegers. And Barack Obamas.

6/16/2011 9:14 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

every time the topic surfaces here, it triggers a range war between the farmers and the cattle ranchers.

No empathy and forebearance for the disconsolate, less fortunate? Some forms of milking are far less lucrative than others.

6/16/2011 11:33 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Every time a post like this comes around I feel just awful.

6/16/2011 4:17 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

etc. etc-- would you care to make an argument for the sheep herders?

I think my position on photography is pretty open minded, but I have found little "empathy or forbearance" in the views of some of the commenters.

Richard-- I didn't intend this to be a "feel awful" post. The central premise is hardly news. People who hoped to have a career like Norman Rockwell's have been feeling awful about this reality since the 1970s. I wanted to go beyond that, to say 1.) the mass audience was not everything, and some mighty precious things remain unabated in the field of illustration; 2.) the art forms that are currently cresting in the entertainment world won't be there for long. Anyone starting today who thinks he will or she will have a lifestyle like Elton John based on the sale of CDs will "feel awful" too when they discover that the world has moved on.

6/17/2011 1:56 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

The one field that has remained fertile for illustrators is the fantasy genre. It isn’t difficult to see why: It remains cheaper to employ an artist to make the impossible images rather than get someone to design costumes, build models and CGI the whole thing into something plausible.

Fantasy art is there to make the extraordinary appear ‘everyday’. Fine art is to make the everyday ‘extraordinary’. A bit of an over simplification but hopefully you know what I’m driving at. If the CGI technology can be made versatile enough fantasy art will be driven and created by photography manipulation rather than the mimetic manipulation of paint.

This doesn’t take away from David’s argument at all. Jeff Jones work, subject of his post a month or two ago, although within the fantasy genre possesses immutable poetry that is contingent on profound sensitivity to the nature of the medium that embodies it. John Jude Palencar is a more recent example of this in the same genre.

However, like the music industry the fantasy industry will succumb to the ability of technology to move the goal posts. It will take a little while longer, but when the mimetic techniques of CGI photographic manipulation become more fluent to the user, and therefore cheaper, so will it replace the need to have fantasy art produced in the way it is now and this remaining illustrator’s life boat will start to sink for illustrators just as it did for magazine illustration half a century ago.

Whenever youngsters ask me about going into the field of illustration, even the fantasy/games business, I consider it a moral obligation to make them aware of this situation, to understand their position within the technological trends. It’s their god damned life we’re talking about.

6/17/2011 4:54 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"At any given time, there are fields that provide fertile soil for the creation of superstars. That was once the case with illustration but it is not anymore."

David, thanks for the lengthy reply. given what constitutes the accepted behaviour of 'celebrities' today i think it is probably a good thing that illustrators are denied entry to that playground.

6/17/2011 4:56 AM  
Blogger Joyce said...

This is just a reminder: In any given period somewhere between 1% and 5% of the working artists make it big. In other words their skill and vision is taken note of and they become (ugh, horrible word)'popular.' With their popularity they may earn more money than the average, sell more art,or become known on a larger stage. Even in the golden age not every illustrator earned big bucks or was a household name. So "if nuclear winter ever comes," then there will still be many illustrators who do terrific, memorable work who will not be famous. Sorry. But just think--curators, collectors, historians, and enthusiasts will still have the whole field of creative endeavor to roam!

6/17/2011 8:33 AM  
Blogger Robin Cave said...

oh well, at least Kev hasn't clocked in... yet

6/17/2011 9:46 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Hi, I'm Kev Ferrara, and I'm a photographobe.

I believe that the nature of the camera is that it is a machine for capturing light rays.

Many people think art is only good if it looks like a photograph.

It is recognized that such people are idiots.

However, a photograph also looks like a photograph.

People think if something is pretty or interesting it is art.

So if you pick a flower and spit on it, its art.

It is mean to say somebody who is being creative is not an artist. No matter how stupid the product.

"Mean" is considered a winning argument by the same people who can't distinguish qualitatively between Rembrandt and a Nikon.

The problem is, many otherwise literate people don't think through things.

They think at them and then bounce off.

6/17/2011 11:30 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

etc. etc-- would you care to make an argument for the sheep herders?

Sure: If farmers, cattle ranchers, and sheep herders all follow your blog then certainly it must stink?

6/17/2011 1:15 PM  
Blogger 2Dciple said...

I believe we have long passed the time when it is wise for a visual artist to focus on one medium or way of creating imagery. The artist who can move between drawing, painting, sculpture (physical and digital), photography, videography, etc. is going to prepared to grasp more opportunities in the commercial world. And there are artists who have done just that sort of thing. We have comic book and street artists directing films, traditional illustrators who carried their style over into photo manipulation and digital imagery.

Yeah, a person may not be able to do a commercial job in the Venetian method and spend weeks on that perfectly realized oil painting, but there is still creative (and financial) fulfillment to be had if one can adapt and keep an open mind

What goes for the state of celebrity illustrators goes for even a medium as wide reaching as film. How many non-film enthusiasts (most of the population)know who David Fincher is, even though he is one of the most respected and accomplished modern directors? They may know of Christopher Nolan, if they've been paying attention. Of course filmmaking can be far more lucrative than illustration, but so can sports and winning a gameshow.

By the way, topics like these are often occasioned with the idea that there are some hugely talented and skillful artists out there who are working in obscurity or not getting work. Yet, when they show specific examples of these artists, there work is never of the quality or appeal it has been made out to be. Really, barring utter bad fortune, if you're at least half as good as a Frazetta or Howard Pyle, you're not going to be the guy noone has heard of. And even the legendary Frazetta isn't known to the majority population. Without exception, these "great" obscure artists I've been shown are really not putting out anything that makes me wonder whey they're unknown

6/17/2011 3:23 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

One of my favourite ads in that vein~ …by Mr. Samuel Nelson Abbott, pupil of Benjamin Constant and Jean Paul Laurens of the Julian School, Paris, France.

Erin~ Life is not what it used to be.

etc, etc~ Could it be his boots?

D.A.
Re: record sales. You could write one of the most popular songs of the century ~ …with no income and the band's business manager non-communicative, Ham became despondent and he hanged himself in the garage of his Surrey home.

see also~ Robert Fripp, "…artists receive nothing; or so largely-little that the difference between payment and no-payment is no difference at all." (The real money is in t-shirts)

Kev~ "I'm a photographobe." Embrace your fear.

From ye olde thymes, same pitch for different venues~ art vs. photo. (illus. by E.M. Jackson)

6/17/2011 5:34 PM  
Blogger Kagan M. said...

Loved it!

6/18/2011 12:01 AM  
Anonymous sewa mobil said...

Very beautiful, thanks.

6/18/2011 12:43 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

David Apatoff--The best we can do is cross our fingers and hope for thermonuclear war.

Why wait?

There is nothing more boring than when perfection becomes the norm. Human beings are not perfect and can’t tolerate institutional order for long. What makes Homo sapiens (“the wise or knowing man”) unique is the ability to use our intellect and make things with our hands. The further away an artist is removed from that reality the more susceptible they are to being made irrelevant with changing technologies.

Art is always relevant even when it isn’t. Technologies come and go. Some artists change with the times and reinvent themselves, some stay the same and others give up altogether. But change is often cyclical. What was old can become new again. That’s why history is important. We can stand on the shoulders of past generations and reach even greater heights.

The next big thing is just around the corner. Initially, most might not be able to make a living but a few will break through and make a killing, leading the way for the rest of us.

6/18/2011 1:02 PM  
Blogger CoryJay said...

"Hi, I'm Kev Ferrara, and I'm a photographobe."

Hi, Kev...

6/18/2011 3:49 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

etc, etc: "If farmers, cattle ranchers and sheep herders follow your blog, then it must stink."

Perhaps you would like to work with me on an Olfactory Timeline of Art? Regardless of what you might say about the aroma of the settlers, it is a well known fact that the first pioneers who preceded them did not carry soap in their saddle bags. Once the cities rose, gallery owners showered daily and sprinkled themselves with lilac water but it still could not conceal what Tennessee Williams called "the odor of mendacity." And finally, as empires aged and rigor mortis set in, the stench of decay began to pervade art. Around that time, the smell of farmers starts to seem pretty good.

6/18/2011 5:15 PM  
Blogger N.J. Atom said...

I'm curious, David. What do you think of someone like James Jean ?
He started out as an illustrator for magazines and pretty low profile stuff and now he's a star painter whose paintings are worth several tens of thousands of dollars and whose books are sold out a few days after they are released and all. And he's only like 30...
He's not recognisable everywhere he goes, but ask any person who has some interest in art and they'll know who he is.

6/19/2011 5:54 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- You make an interesting point about the role of fantasy illustration. I like your theme that "Fantasy art is there to make the extraordinary appear ‘everyday’. Fine art is to make the everyday ‘extraordinary’." I am one of those who believes that art is at its best when it shows us how miraculous even the commonplace is. Fantasy art by its nature tends to show us how miraculous the miraculous is, which is generally a less ambitious goal, but still leaves plenty of room for excellence.

"Whenever youngsters ask me about going into the field of illustration, even the fantasy/games business, I consider it a moral obligation to make them aware of this situation, to understand their position within the technological trends. It’s their god damned life we’re talking about."

Agreed. Good for you!

Laurence John-- "given what constitutes the accepted behaviour of 'celebrities' today i think it is probably a good thing that illustrators are denied entry to that playground."

I don't know whether illustrators are spared from decadence by their poverty or their superior moral character, but I do think commercial art is inherently more honest than much of "fine" art today.

Joyce-- Fair enough. Only a small percentage of the talent pool can become celebrities. I just hope today 5% of illustrators are capable of earning a living as illustrators.

6/20/2011 7:04 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- "I believe that the nature of the camera is that it is a machine for capturing light rays."

Of course, the human eye is also a machine for capturing light rays. In both cases, the image captured is selected by the brain wielding the machine. Does that mean that the only legitimizing distinction is that art is translated by human hand? And by the way, what does a photographobe think about Steichen?

2Dciple-- "The artist who can move between drawing, painting, sculpture (physical and digital), photography, videography, etc. is going to prepared to grasp more opportunities in the commercial world."

Bravo-- I salute your attitude about keeping an open mind, being pragmatic, and finding creative fulfillment in new places. Of course, it's not clear yet what the impact will be on the resulting artwork; if an artist takes time away from life drawing to study computers, or takes time away from the study of oil painting techniques to learn videography, you aren't going to produce any more Leyendeckers or Cornwells. Perhaps we don't need any more. But what will take their place is not yet clear.

Kagan M and Sewa Mobil-- Thanks for writing.

6/20/2011 7:55 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन-- That's a great ad, thanks. Thanks also for the full concert of oddball music I never would've heard under other circumstances.

Matthew Harwood-- "The next big thing is just around the corner. Initially, most might not be able to make a living but a few will break through and make a killing, leading the way for the rest of us."

Well, in the past when things seem to be winding down, the next thing has always been just around the corner, and that is encouraging. Of course, David Hume said that the only thing we can conclude from the fact that the sun has always come up in the past is that the sun has always come up in the past.

Even assuming that there is something big waiting or us around the corner, we will still have to exercise our independent judgment to decide whether those who make a killing should lead the way. Sometimes those who make a killing should be lead to the guillotine.

6/20/2011 8:16 AM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

I wonder if Rockwell and Parrish were household names as artists or illustrators? Might seem a silly splitting of hairs but it might make a difference of survival in the future which camp you place yourself in (a splitting of heirs?).

And no, I am not trying to suggest that illustrators are not artists, what I am talking about is more a matter of (public?) perception.

6/20/2011 9:43 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David, an aperture is just a funnel. The light rays are captured when they are stopped by the recording surface. In a camera the road from light-ejecting phenomena to recording surface is mechanical and instant.

When light funnels through the eye, it must filter through the entire conceptual architecture of a human mind, the whimsy of that neural tangle called personality, and a large measure of the unique physical person as well.

Let’s make the argument as plain as can be… Locate love in the following diagram.

Steichen is a glamor photographer who knew a few design techniques cribbed from Harold Speed's art books for beginners. Steichen's popularity shows just how easily the sophist sophisticates fall sway to shiny, pretty things and meaningless rhythms. Shallow is deep as long as it has the scent of the new... and so it has gone for 100 years. Decrying the fakery of the modern art world, as you do, is like complaining that recently its been getting hot in the summer.

6/20/2011 11:57 AM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

David,
Given the choice of hoping to see the sun rise everyday or to survive a thermonuclear explosion, I lean toward waking up to sunshine and the birds chirping. I guess that makes me an optimist.

We live in tough economic times. Everyone is hurting, especially artists. But out of this decline there is the possibility of new beginnings. Will the next big thing be enduring and worthy of the pain and suffering we are going through. You’re right, there are no guarantees. Italo Calvino, in Invisible Cities wrote:

"The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

What I love about your Blog is your respect for the past and setting demanding standards for today. You help artists endure and give us space. Hopefully, we will survive these tough times as better artists and some of us may even be able to influence that next big thing.

6/20/2011 2:12 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

N.J. Atom--"What do you think of someone like James Jean?"

I am no expert, but I would say James Jean is a very talented young man who won a tugboat full of Eisner awards right out of art school, which qualifies him as a big fish in a small pond, but doesn't place him in the category of the artists I am describing here.

The fact that he is now paid handsomely to design Prada stores adds some perfume to his pond, but I'm not sure it makes it much bigger. In part, he is at a disadvantage because there are no longer weekly magazines with 5 million general readers who have the time or the intellectual curiosity to linger over his work. Illustrators simply have a different audience now, and are competing with different media.

Slightly off the subject, another change that puts Jean at a competitive disadvantage (in my view) is the departure of talented art directors with the backbone to give him some much needed pushback. Jean seems to me like a cross between Jeffrey Jones and Margaret Keane-- some of his work is beautifully stylish and some is achingly dumb. (You forget just how precocious he is until you hear him brag-- as I have-- to an audience about his SAT scores. You wouldn't think someone who draws that well in a moleskine could still be green enough to think his SAT scores are meaningful). If he had benefitted from a hard ass like Dick Gangel challenging some of his artistic choices, rather than being lulled by Prada purring in his ear, I think he would be a much better and more consistent artist today.

6/20/2011 2:52 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Curious that some posters are talkining about ‘the next big thing’ etc. Thinking broadly, technology’s replacement of illustration’s mimetic function is somewhat akin to ‘reality’ TV’s replacement of much drama.

I say this because our greed for mimetic sensation afforded by the new technologies is leaving us drained of appetite for the vitamins of myth.

If I can stretch that metaphor:
This is why Fantasy (in all mediums) has become the pill substitute to Art’s fresh fruit. It's now the most convenient form of taking the redeeming qualities of our myths into our imaginative system, sick with the mimetic seduction.

The great illustrators, while serving the commercial demands of their paymasters, were giving us myths that were the outcome of imaginative intimacy with their craft. The automatic mimicry of the machine allows only the surface of life to be explored.

6/20/2011 5:48 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

The problem I have with most contemporary art is the lack of stylistic insight, of which photography and technology (and painting from life for that matter) are no help (an actual hindrance if blindly followed in most cases) and therefore a red herring. In a photo-saturated world, Form/idealism must prevail over content/realism if art is ever to regain its former glory.

6/20/2011 8:34 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/20/2011 9:41 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

If I can stretch that metaphor:
This is why Fantasy (in all mediums) has become the pill substitute to Art’s fresh fruit.


In truly great art, the lusus naturae is the form. Lurking.

6/20/2011 10:35 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

etc etc: "In a photo-saturated world, Form/idealism must prevail over content/realism if art is ever to regain its former glory"

on 'idealism'; i find the flesh in the victorian painting far more convincing and less 'idealised' than the recent painting, in which the artist seems to have gone for a sugary all-over glow which basically looks kitsch. the main problem i have with the type of contemporary classical-narrative painting you linked to is that the acting is nearly always bad... bad direction and bad staging on the artist's part, not the model's fault. the design of the earlier painting is also on another level in terms of ambition and drama, but that goes without saying.

"In truly great art, the lusus naturae is the form. Lurking."

don't know what you mean here.

6/21/2011 6:03 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Laurence J., well put.

“The Beautiful is always strange,”

An Aviano illustration ~ “bottom of page”

6/21/2011 7:21 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Kev, how about “Cecil Beaton?”

6/21/2011 7:25 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Laurence,
The flesh painting in both examples are far more similar than different, as they follow the same basic formula: low chroma local color with coolish half-tones. The Aviano is a little more sculptural. Flesh painting, "acting", etc., are details of which I was not referring to.

6/21/2011 8:50 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Etc, etc-- Just to see if I understand you correctly:

In the first painting: The music of forms is ‘telling the story’ right across the rectangle inclusive of all the forms within it. It is a ‘story’ told with the language of forms.

In the second painting: The ‘story’ is told by illustrating efforts of two bodies.

If that's what you are saying then I agree with you.

6/21/2011 9:38 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"The Aviano is a little more sculptural. Flesh painting, "acting", etc., are details of which I was not referring to"

what were you referring to when you mentioned 'idealism' ?

6/21/2011 9:57 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I'm a huge 2(Solomon) fan, but I've always felt that S&D picture unsuccessfully tries to graft realistic rendering onto a cartoony composition. The expressionism is fun, but at the end of the day it looks like a taffy pull. The aviano is a work of photography and isn't worth talking about.

DJ Ganges... always enjoy your cyber-wicking segues to the cultural ramparts. I think Cecil Beaton's work is built of the exact same stuff as Steichen's. If what is in front of the journalizer isn't interesting, the journalism isn't interesting. The ubiquity/proliferation of digicams, reality TV, and word processing programs is demonstrating quite nicely just how worthless journalizing in general is, and the commercial hype that once surrounded the delivery of aggregated "fit" facts to the doorstep or living room is dissipating like dead air from a waning balloon.

6/21/2011 9:58 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Chris,
What I meant was that the former painting has imaginative design, while the latter does not. I was agreeing with you that fantasy/sci-fi art now largely fulfills the longing for imagination and invention in art, but only because of the modern ignorance and inability to recognize imagination in overall design. It now largely requires a monster, spaceship, or some other oddity to awaken design consciousness, but anything in which such subject matter cannot be invoked, the overall design ability of the artist is frequently exposed as inept.

Laurence,
Idealism in contrast to realism.

Kev,
"Cartoony composition"? That's ironic.

6/21/2011 12:00 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

etc etc,
that victorian painting is an odd choice to represent 'idealism' given that it's not too far removed from the earthy vigour of NC Wyeth (look at the guys entering the room in the background).
i would have gone for something like this:

http://tinyurl.com/29fgpl9

anyway, there's still plenty of modern idealised painted images out there, but i don't think they're helping painting to 'regain it's former glory' (i fear you might be in for a long wait for that one).

this whole 'why can't painting be as good as painting from the past?' thing is getting a bit tired don't you think ? why not just enjoy painting from the past (there's plenty of it to go on discovering) and to hell with painting from the present ?

6/21/2011 12:40 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Laurence,

I was attempting to tailor the message to the audience.

Any practitioner benefits from an understanding of the past.

6/21/2011 1:07 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"Any practitioner benefits from an understanding of the past."


no question, but most modern day painters who try to recreate the quality of past masters fail epically. they can't recreate the conditions under which those works were created so the work falls into lame revivalism, material fetishism, and academic snobbery (see ARC). better i think, to take inspiration from the past but move on.

6/21/2011 1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,
Please check out call for this contest. http://www.entersila.com/
I'm wondering what's credibility of the contest with such a illustration.


Best

6/21/2011 2:04 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Kev,
"Cartoony composition"? That's ironic.


No it isn't. Generally, (well in my opinion anyway), it is best that an artwork's realism be rendered with the same level of fealty to nature as the composition will allow. That way the entirety shares the same level of elasticity and distortion.

Solomon J has enormous facility with mimetic drawing and painting and this works beautifully with so many of his other images, yet here, the composition is so taffy-like that the realism looks like comedy.

Its the same kind of comic-ironic statement (except reversed) that happens when a fine art painter like Steven Skollar paints
paints toys. The style and composition is "fine art" but the subject is a cartoon.

Get my meaning?

6/21/2011 4:20 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Generally, (well in my opinion anyway), it is best that an artwork's realism be rendered with the same level of fealty to nature as the composition will allow.

Kev,
I agree with you in principle in general. However, I think there may be far more stylization going on than you are aware of, not to mention more than enough theatricality so as to never be confused with reality. As far as Skollar goes, I understand exactly what you mean, but find a comparison far more of a taffy pull than Solomon's composition.

6/21/2011 6:04 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

However, I think there may be far more stylization going on than you are aware of, not to mention more than enough theatricality so as to never be confused with reality...

If I didn't know you better, I might think the above comment was trolling.

6/21/2011 7:00 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Kevs,
If I didn't know you better, I wouldn't know that "troll" is your default response to people who disagree with you. Whatever. Later.

6/21/2011 7:44 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I wasn't disagreeing with you. You were saying "I may not be aware of" something completely obvious. This would seem like trolling... except for the hundred other posts you've made displaying similar mental idiosyncrasies.

Since I engage constantly with people with whom I disagree, including the proprietor of this blog, your suggestion that I consider all people who I disagree with trolls has no basis in reality whatsoever.

But that's just how you roll, isn't it?

Later whatever.

6/21/2011 8:13 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Kev,
O.k. granted it was an exaggeration to suggest all people.

However, there are degrees and types of stylization that are not so obvious, and frankly I'm not so confident you have the sensitivity to many technical subtleties you like to believe you possess. Just some food for thought for you from your favorite troll.

6/21/2011 9:20 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

And by the way, Kev: The fact that you called the composition "cartoony" betrays your aesthetic point of reference.

6/22/2011 12:33 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hi David
This is just silly
"Of course, the human eye is also a machine for capturing light rays. In both cases, the image captured is selected by the brain wielding the machine. Does that mean that the only legitimizing distinction is that art is translated by human hand"
A million tourists can take pictures of a gothic cathedral, how many could draw a buttress let alone relate a seris of buttress or draw the whole nave? Some might be able to draw something copying a photo of the cathedral put them in front of the real thing forget about it. How many people could just draw the plan? They all have an "image" in their "eye machine" See how long your eye "image" holds up when you try and draw Notre Dame.

6/22/2011 7:30 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I'm not so confident you have the sensitivity to many technical subtleties you like to believe you possess.

Your mind is hilarious.

The fact that you called the composition "cartoony" betrays your aesthetic point of reference.

Cartoon meant cartoon long before Barney Google. They didn't invent the word when the Sunday Funnies became popular. I could have used the word Arabesque-esque, but I don't think you would have gotten the reference.

Again, your comments are so eye-roll worthy you are indistinguishable from a troll...

It's real simple: The day you post up an artwork of yours that I can respect is the day I believe you know what you are talking about. Because, as of now, your wide-eyed assertions of expertise clank like hollow pots on the side of a donkey.

6/22/2011 10:50 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

The day you post up an artwork of yours that I can respect

Respectable artists do not frequent this blog; haven't you noticed? It's all farmers, cattle ranchers, and sheep herders.

6/22/2011 11:19 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote, "Since I engage constantly with people with whom I disagree, including the proprietor of this blog,"

Allow me to step in and vouch for Kev on this point. He disagrees with me all the goddamn time.

Chris Bennett-- I like your point about "our greed for mimetic sensation" and I agree that those awful photo-realistic fantasy paintings we see everywhere (Rowena and a million clones) have no nutritional content. But I'd be interested in hearing more about why this genre combines exhaustingly realistic form with fantasy content. These artists will paint with great precision every single hair on a fur pelt, but place it on the shoulder of Zim Bam Foo, warrior maiden from the purple world of Twongor. What does that combination do for us?

Tom and Kev-- I'm not sure if we disagree about the eye as light machine or not. It seems to me that both the eye and the camera are light machines that depend on the brain behind them. Whether the brain, with all of its taste and judgment and eccentricities, chooses to memorialize a particular image using hand eye coordination in a painting or by clicking a shutter, the result still requires hundreds of choices involving a full range of aesthetic qualities. There are a million crappy photographs of Notre Dame, but only a few good ones, just as there are a million crappy paintings of Notre Dame but only a few good ones. The factors that determine what is good and what is crappy (design, composition, mood, etc.) may not be identical but I think they are almost so. And if that's the case, what is the basis for being a photographobe?

6/22/2011 11:56 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David, david, david, david....

A good artwork is built of nothing but concepts.

Photography is a captured arrangement of light rays bouncing off the outward descriptions of objects. That's journalism.

Any concept that enters into a photograph comes from outside the recording instrument, either in front of the lens, or from some filter or manipulation after the fact.

With enough manipulation after the fact, a photo may become art-like. Sure. But it can never have handwriting.

And handwriting is important... make that essential... because handwriting contains all the unconscious concepts-made-graphic that arise from the personality of the artist. Thus the personality of an artist is encoded in every phase of an artwork. What could be more essential to the experience of any artwork than the living presence of its author and performer? Would you pay to hear a robot sing?

Good artwork is built of nothing but concepts.

Since you can accidentally take a great photograph of Notre Dame, (or anything else) it clearly takes no thought or talent whatsoever to take a good photograph. What makes a good photograph must be something else besides thought and talent.

How about a good camera, with an excellent lens, a good subject in decent lighting. And enough film in the camera to get lucky once or twice.

You cannot accidentally make a painting of anything. Most artists who make an attempt to paint Notre Dame have already gone through a bunch of training. And still most paintings of the subject stink. Because most artists aren't talented or intelligent enough to make a good painting. Its a brutal fact, which is the very cause of all the bull of avante-gardism and all the crutches of realism and cyber-realism that we all decry.

There's no way to get lucky in a realm where only the concepts in your mind matter. (The sensitivity to concepts is probably a good definition of talent.)

6/22/2011 1:55 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

(all the goddamn time!)

;)

6/22/2011 1:55 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hi David

I am not talking about quality I am talking about the ability to do it.  A photo deals with a tiny portion of reality. When looking at reality with only a pencil in hand a mutitude issues arise that are competly hidden when one is looking at reality through a camera. Everyone can take  a picture of a cathedral it my even be crappy but they never have to worry about understanding  or how they will have to contruct the picture except in the most cursory way. In a way I  would go as far as saying if you can't draw it or make the actual thing, you don't really understand it.  Good artist are not good with their hands their good with their minds. They understand how the things work.

6/22/2011 2:20 PM  
Anonymous raphael said...

aww, kev, come on...

even with miniscule drawing ability, one might stumble upon a great design. completely unknowing and unable to replicate it.

that goes even more for all those hobby artists with no sensibilities whatsoever who are heavily involved in their own mass-production of abstract art. once every few hundred paintings, one comes out thats actually good.

i dont know in what world you are living where you can state a linear, exclusive correlation between a phenomenon you associate with quality and an informed, willfull act of mind/skill that made it happen. its not the real world, though.
before you are going to bash me for relativizing all and everything about art and skill for mushy expression-of-personality (as all those "postmoderns" do) - no. skill, intelligence and sensibility absolutely enhance the ability to pull off such high quality things on a regular basis. they just are not the exclusive and necessary way to good design in a picture.

how are you going to decide what is art and what is journalism if you sat in a blind test, choosing between a photo and a painting that completely and indistinguishably replicates the camera look, when both have amazing composition and effectively tell a story?

6/22/2011 3:31 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Raphael,

What are you doing, trying to set a world record for the lamest straw man ever created?

I'm not talking about some lucky scribble by an amateur being "pretty". I'm talking about Lady of Shalott by Waterhouse being an overpowering masterpiece with a detectable inner life force. I'm talking about Brangwyn's murals. Cornwell's Man of Galilee. Fuch's Baseball pictures. Bocklin's Isle of the Dead. Meltzoff's Marine Pictures. Frazetta's Cat Girl or Death Dealer. Mucha's Slav Epic. Matthews' Monterey Cyprus pictures. Winslow Homer's sea pictures. Schaeffer's Counte of Monte Cristo Illustrations. Andrew Wyeth's Koerner's Farm series or Witching Hour or his many pictures of windows. Pyle's Galleon or Pirates. And on and on...

Look at Lady of Shallot. It has all the detail of any photograph you've ever seen, except it was composed from the smallest lily pad on up. Every decision made by the artist, that is... every brushtroke... is not only several concepts in itself, but it is part of, probably on average, 5 other larger compositional concepts as well. This is why painting is exhausting. Millions of decisions go into each painting.

Photography is a joke by comparison, a sunday hobby; look through the machine, adjust a few dials, frame what's in front of you all nice, and shoot. Art! Click a few more times and you have several versions to choose from... 8 decisions and voila... there's a work of art!

BS!

But hey, the ease is exactly why it has become a global rage. It the perfect flattering product to appeal to the global dumbocracy's need to "express itself" with minimal talent, effort, or expertise. Talent while-U-wait.

When a whole bunch of people are being flattered by a product, any sane person instantly knows that CASH IS BEING MADE ON THE DEAL. And that is all its about. The apologetics/rationalies then get written in books because those books will sell to the consumers of the flattery who don't like to be told they aren't artists. (There is no bigger intellectual joke than the study of semiotics in photography.) And from then on, the culture never looks back because once you give millions of people their secret idealistic wish to be talented without having talent or having to work at it, nobody can generate the political/economic will to get it back again. The lie has been sold and the money is in the bank.

Show me the best photographs ever taken, and the core of it is journalism.... what is in front of the camera.

Show me the best paintings ever painted, and the imagination is in full effect, bringing wonderful personal concepts to life through hard goddamn work.

On the rest of it: You should be able to tell from above comments what I think of paintings that are indistinguishable from photos.

Also, you are confusing decorative design and composition. And if you don't know the difference, then you haven't really investigated either.

6/22/2011 4:57 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

David: -- “But I'd be interested in hearing more about why this genre combines exhaustingly realistic form with fantasy content.”

I think it’s to make the fantasy as credible as possible. Until photo manipulation and 3D rendering software become super fluent the painters of these things still have a job in their mimetic capacity.

At the moment the fantasy industry needs people who have enormous drawing skills. This means that among those recruited to serve up the usual tropes of the genre are a handful of artists with powerful imaginations. These guys and gals transcend the genre, in the way any great artist does in any genre. Look for instance at what Jeff Jones did with Tarzan…

Thus poetry still happens today in the only lucrative sector left to the illustrator aside from children’s books and advertising cartoons. But when that area succumbs to technology, as one day it surely will, the financial net that catches the odd leviathan among the shoals of mimetic minnows painting every hair of “Zim Bam Foo, warrior maiden from the purple world of Twongor”, will no longer hold them.

6/22/2011 5:25 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev, some of the artists you revere created many of their paintings with the aid of a light-ray catcher:

http://tinyurl.com/5rmjlw3

what do you think of works that, while not indistinguishable from a photograph, are certainly very similar to one ?

6/22/2011 5:41 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Chris, you don't think that CGI has already overtaken super-realist fantasy painting ?

isn't 'Avatar' really what Roger Dean could only have fantasized about ?

6/22/2011 6:04 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence, its called reference. It is often used to provide corroborative detail in order to give artistic versimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

Now let's see if you can pick out the million decisions Rockwell made that differentiate the reference from the illustration.

6/22/2011 6:49 PM  
Anonymous raphael said...

kev,

the lucky shots were in response to "a painting doesnt happen by accident" - seemingly as opposed to photography, if i follow your line. and you are just dead wrong as wrong can be about that. not everything in a picture that "works" is there because of a conscious decision. thats delusional. it is so in an ideal case only.

i still dont see why photographing should be reduced to the practise of tourist point-and-click whereas painting, in comparison, is allowed the high epos with meticulous planning and decisionmaking. thats not a comparison of media, thats a limping argument.

what exactly differentiates the mental planning of a pictorial end product and the subsequent manipulation of real-world materials and tools (brushes, canvas, paint, models, reference) to realize it from the mental planning of a pictorial end product and the subsequent manipulation of real-world materials and tools (models, props, lighting, backdrops, camera) to realize it?

where is your justification in omitting every decision of the photographer who strives for a certain effect and has to arrange everything so that the desired end product will coincide with what he planned while rambling on each and every decision possibility the painter has?

your argument just is formulated in a sloppy and distortive manner.
if every photograph is "just journalism", then the lady of shalott is just a wench in a dingy. youre equating photographys production setup with paintings intentional end result, here.

by the way:
process, as a whole, is irrelevant for whether an artwork works. being moved in any possible manner can only happen in a receptive consciousness. reception happens only between a viewer and the artwork.
the technique, process, medium and the artists intellect play a role only in so far as they have a conductive or detrimental effect on the artwork.
they themselves do not happen in reception (if at all, only in an inductive manner, quite analog to hume on causality). all your fine decisions about lily placement in the water do not sanctify a painting when it wont move the viewer. as long as it doesnt achieve that, its a dud. end of story. if you spent half your life pondering and measuring its intricacies, it still is a failure.
youre making the carpenter the authority on whether the chair is comfortable.

carpenter = authority on the production of chairs; sitting person = the one whos ass is on the chair. a skilled carpenter can play to the sitters ass, or can play to please most asses. the chair is in use at the sitters ass, though, and not in the production notes of the carpenter.

as long as you can not provide a formal proof why any picture taken via the mechanics of a camera, according to the planning and workings of a photographer, is categorically unable to evoke anything that is in the scope of a picture produced via the application of paint via brushes, your argument is just plain unsound.

6/22/2011 8:23 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Raphael,

Of course all that work doesn't guarantee a good work of art. Who said it did?

Yes, photographers might arrange the stuff in front of them. Which means they are creating a bas relief sculpture of form and light that faces the camera, which they then record for posterity using a light gathering machine.

The art is not the photo. Nor, similarly, is an audio CD a performance. This should be plain.

Regarding what you are saying about art... I'll just assume you aren't an artist and/or have never worked on a serious or complex composition and/or don't analyze artistic compositions with any frequency in order to improve your work. (Or you just set up a still life tableau and attempt to render it as if you were a camera made of meat.)

I'm not going to provide a lecture on composition and aesthetics to prove why you are completely out of your depth here. It is massively complicated. I have hundreds of pages of personal notes on the topic and a shelf full of books on aesthetics, art, and artists, as do many other artists I know. Plus piles of my own work and piles of composition, figural, landscape and life sketches.

The idea that artists do their work unconsciously is a fantasy. You can't be in the zone as a realist unless you are thoroughly trained and prepared in what you are doing in terms of mimesis and aesthetics, and composition. And most artists only get in the zone after all the preliminary work has been done... the sketches, the comp, the color comp, the ref, years of anatomy, form, drawing, painting, lighting, landscape study and optics studies, versing in compositional theories, aesthetic theories, decorative design principles, arguments, beliefs, imagination, memory, etc.

Whereas someone brand new to "fine art" photography can pick it up in a few months, as my entire class did at college, darkroom technique, montage techniques, and everything. And we all saw the same thing, quality all came down to who had the best camera with the biggest negative, and best quality lens, and who had the most interesting things in front of them when the clicked the shutter. All the semiotics in the world couldn't help the "artists" with the crummy camera or the introverted personality.

The comparison of photography as art to great painting is laughable, both on an artistic and intellectual level.

I also notice you didn't answer any of my points. Particularly that a great photo may be taken by accident.

I advise you to take a fine working camera with a good lens out on a street or to a fairground and just walk up and down randomly taking shots of interesting or strange looking people, interesting bits of architecture, anything weird or worn out. Don't compose the pictures, just make sure they are in focus. You will discover that most are no good, some aren't bad, but some are quite interesting indeed.

And then make a few imaginative paintings using any reference you want.

That comparative experience alone should demonstrate the soundness of my argument to anyone who isn't tone deaf

6/22/2011 10:24 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"its called reference"

thanks Kev, i'm well aware of the term 'reference'.

"Now let's see if you can pick out the million decisions Rockwell made that differentiate the reference from the illustration."

you make it sound like those were tough decisions to make. they weren't. working from photo reference is a breeze compared to the work that went into your Lady of Shallot example.

"Show me the best photographs ever taken, and the core of it is journalism.... what is in front of the camera"

there's 'journalism' in Rockwell's reference of all the detail in that barber-shop, the chairs, the tools, even the marks on the walls. there's also 'journalism' in Fuch's photos of Kennedy (just one example of many) so why use 'journalism' as a criticism ?

i'm sure you wouldn't disagree that the taking of reference shots of humans requires the skill of a director, to get the models to act the way you require, to pose them in ways you know will work in the final painting. that's part of a director / draftsman's process and requires experience and sensitivity. that's not journalism.


not all photography is journalism:

http://tinyurl.com/6ay9ssf

http://tinyurl.com/63tneyl

at least compare paintings with imaginative and labour-intensive photographs like these and not with tourist snaps.

6/23/2011 5:00 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Photographic reference is journalism, Laurence. Straight data gathering is journalism. Which is why the golden age illustrators all recommended drawing your own reference, so everything is filtering through your sensibilities from the start.

That Rockwell directed the photoshoot to journalize, as much as possible, a certain vision he had for the final painting does not mean the photo is a work of art. It just means the photo is the best reference Rockwell could gather to assist his vision.

I wouldn't, by the way, defend that particular Rockwell as a great work of art. For the very reason that it is too much like data in, data out. That his vision here is so easily photographed does not make a strong case for the artistic value of the idea. (I think he was trying to combine his homespun ethos with an Andrew Wyeth kind of earthy grit, but without the haunting quality that made Wyeth's work so fascinating.)

In a sense, you are proving my point by citing this Rockwell. Although the Aviano linked to earlier makes the point far more forcefully; The more a painting looks like a photo, the deader and more meaningless it gets.

Those photos you linked to are pretty generic "art" photography. I have source books full of that stuff. There are scores of photographers whose work looks identical. Show me a source book full of Leyendeckers and I'll concede the point.

6/23/2011 8:22 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev,
Gregory Crewdson (the top link) often builds elaborate dioramas akin to film sets for his photographs. does lighting, set design, art direction etc not interest you at all because it hasn't been painted or drawn ?

6/23/2011 9:41 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence, the image as a work of art unto itself is dead. It just sits there. It has no life. How much work was put into it means nothing to me, because, from my perspective all that work was wasted.

After years of looking and thinking and reading I have been led to an understanding as to what makes a work dead or alive.

Capturing the light rays bouncing off the outside of an object at a single instant is a static description of the surface of an object. The surface eggshell of anything is, by definition, a shallow understanding of a thing.

An artistic concept of an object is based on what it does... which explains what it is like to experience the object, which provides its meaning to humans. In animation this is put in very simple terms: build everything with verbs. But this is very old art principle and is quite philosophically complex when it expands out to consider what other kinds of concepts can be captured by art besides concepts which explain the experience of objects.

6/23/2011 1:50 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Laurence:-- "Chris, you don't think that CGI has already overtaken super-realist fantasy painting?
Isn't 'Avatar' really what Roger Dean could only have fantasized about?"

Broadly speaking I think it has, yes.
Roger Dean is a good example of why the mimetic power of CGI will supplant this kind of thing. This stuff is all about “wouldn’t it be cool if this was real!”

This component of fantasy is far more seductive than the genre’s opportunity to embody myth. ‘Avatar’ is a case in point: So consumed by the mimetic intent of making the dream world ‘real’ the makers of this film saw everything in terms of surfaces. And this went right down to the content of the story itself; a pat allegory that pasted its symbolism in front of you like a car advertisement… with very similar emotional results.

Our culture will continue to endure this state of affairs for as long as the seductive effects of the evolving new technology keeps our interest focused on the surface.

6/23/2011 5:54 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

Kev,
I saw this and thought of you and your view of photography.

“There's no reality except the one contained within us. That's why so many people live an unreal life. They take images outside them for reality and never allow the world within them to assert itself.”
Hermann Hesse

6/23/2011 11:35 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev: "the surface eggshell of anything is, by definition, a shallow understanding of a thing."

Chris: "So consumed by the mimetic intent of making the dream world ‘real’ the makers of this film saw everything in terms of surfaces"


if you are interested in the visual arts then you are interested in surfaces, the fall of light on surfaces, and the depiction of the illusion of surfaces (on another surface).

6/24/2011 3:54 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Laurence John
"if you are interested in the visual arts then you are interested in surfaces, the fall of light on surfaces, and the depiction of the illusion of surfaces (on another surface)."

Light changes form does not (relatively). The deepest and richest element the artist has and the photographer is not aware of, is his sense of touch.   One can run their hand across  the surfaces of all things even empty space  and ride the rhythms of the universe through the vertical and horizontal planes in all directions.  Image seems like such a weak word like those fake facades in the old western movies, just a Potyomkin.

A artist is not re-representing or just depicting reality he is showing how reality has affected him how he feels about the wonder of the world.

6/24/2011 6:46 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Tom,
here's a painting of light bouncing off the surface of moving form:

http://tinyurl.com/65j7rje

he was a pretty good meat camera was old Sargent.

6/24/2011 8:54 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

if you are interested in the visual arts then you are interested in surfaces, the fall of light on surfaces, and the depiction of the illusion of surfaces (on another surface).

I think we've plumbed this topic as deep as you can go, Laurence. Your rope doesn't seem to have enough length to get down into the chasms beneath the surface. And your lack of imagination, which is the very thing which keeps you from appreciating the deeper aspect of all this, is also preventing you from imagining that there is more going on here than you are able to understand. Your ego is refusing to consider the possibility that there is more to art than the decorative and the mimetic. This is sad ignorance.

here's a painting of light bouncing off the surface of moving form...

he was a pretty good meat camera was old Sargent.


Not to beat the dead horse, but...

It is now evident that you can't distinguish one kind of realism from another. And you haven't conceptualized any of the arguments I've made. Nor do you seem able to understand the qualitative difference between a machine that captures light rays and a human being which processes a scene through all his faculties and expresses the experience of the scene through symbols.

This will surely sound invidious, but you seem to be an example of what I was talking about earlier, someone who cannot detect the conceptual or true. And thus can't distinguish between vacuous decorative work, or purely descriptive work, and work that is saying something through aesthetics.

It would be the height of arrogance, Laurence, for you to assume that what you currently believe about the visual arts is all there is to know.

6/24/2011 10:53 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Here: If I can't get through to you, maybe Von Schmidt can.

6/24/2011 11:27 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Did I hear someone mention Hermann Hesse?

6/24/2011 11:41 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev,

all you're talking about is dramatic narrative painting (human drama). why you feel the need to make it sound so complicated is a mystery to me.

6/24/2011 11:47 AM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

“Art, even the art of fullest scope and widest vision, can never really show us the external world. All that it shows us is our own soul, the one world of which we have any real cognizance. And the soul itself, the soul of each one of us, is to each one of us a mystery. It hides in the dark and broods, and consciousness cannot tell us of its workings. Consciousness, indeed, is quite inadequate to explain the contents of personality. It is Art, and Art only, that reveals us to ourselves.”
Oscar Wilde

6/24/2011 2:05 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

all you're talking about is dramatic narrative painting (human drama). why you feel the need to make it sound so complicated is a mystery to me.

What I am saying is most certainly a mystery to you, as evidenced by the above comment. And for the reasons I've already stated.

Matthew, you're pulling up some good quotes! You'll notice how all this wise stuff is always from the same time period.

6/24/2011 2:46 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Yes Laurence but how many people can draw the surface of that wave while maintaining the proportion of the wave to the bow of the boat and distant waves. It has the heaviness of water. Once you can conceive the form i.e. draw it, you can throw any light you want across its surface. It's Sargent's drawing that creates the planes that his brush can travel across so freely. He also understood the nature of water so well he could make a painting of a wave that came into being for the briefest moment of time. Is there no structure behind reality?

6/24/2011 2:49 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

"Consciousness, indeed, is quite inadequate to explain the contents of personality" Wilde

What does Consciousness care about something so impermanent as a pesonality. Personalities allow consciousness to explore the world in different ways but the best art strives toward objectivity. Consciousness is unfathomable, personality is predictable.

6/24/2011 3:02 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev,

you're not really saying anything. you're just hinting at a subsurface 'depth' or 'truth' (vague words) that only you are privy to e.g...

"Nor do you seem able to understand the qualitative difference between a machine that captures light rays and a human being which processes a scene through all his faculties and expresses the experience of the scene through symbols"

what 'symbols' do you see in that Von Schmidt painting you linked to ?

please enlighten us.

6/24/2011 3:11 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Tom:

"...but how many people can draw the surface of that wave while maintaining the proportion of the wave to the bow of the boat and distant waves"

proportion's got nothing to do with it. the steep viewpoint of the lilting boat is a very unusual one, and gives the impression of an instant captured as if by camera.

"It has the heaviness of water."

you can imagine that, yes. but the painting doesn't 'have it'. it's just an illusion.

"Once you can conceive the form i.e. draw it, you can throw any light you want across its surface"

true, if you're know how to handle paint that mimics light across form you can do practically anything with it.

"It's Sargent's drawing that creates the planes that his brush can travel across so freely"

no question, he was a brilliant draftsman.

"He also understood the nature of water so well he could make a painting of a wave that came into being for the briefest moment of time"

you don't need to understand the nature of water to make a convincing painting of it. you only need to be able to replicate the effect of how it appears, which is was Sargent was dong in that painting. you might never have even set foot in water at all.

"Is there no structure behind reality?"

of course there is. matter has a basic structure and obeys the laws of gravity, at least here on earth.

6/24/2011 3:28 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Tom:

"Personalities allow consciousness to explore the world in different ways but the best art strives toward objectivity. Consciousness is unfathomable, personality is predictable"

that's not what you said here:

"A artist is not re-representing or just depicting reality he is showing how reality has affected him how he feels about the wonder of the world."

do try to be consistent old chap.

6/24/2011 3:35 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence, I don't think I will enlighten you. Have a good one.

kev

6/24/2011 4:27 PM  
Anonymous Lipov said...

Laurence John wrote:"you don't need to understand the nature of water to make a convincing painting of it. you only need to be able to replicate the effect of how it appears"
_________________

I dont think so. You actually do need to understand the nature of things to express them in the most truthful way, otherwise your work wont possess any additional value beneath the first superficial level of factological representativeness. For example, many artists portrayed poor people, but only a few, like Van Gogh, actually knew how to weave the feeling of poorness into his figures of poor people. And he knew that the only way to express the poorness of those farmers was to live among them.
(I'm not saying that that is the only way to do it (apparently it was for him), I'm just saying that he was aware of the fact that it was necessary to understand the nature of what one wanted to paint).

And just like that there can be a difference among sea paintings too. Everyone can achieve the representational, mimetic level through various techniques and alot of training, but all those paintings wont make you feel the same way. Everyone can use a steep viewpoint, but not all of those works will make you feel the heaviness of water. When you say "you can imagine that, yes but the painting doesn't 'have it'", thats where you are completely wrong. The painting does have it, that's the product of understanding the nature of things. If you do understand it, you can portray the feeling, if you dont, you can only portray the steep viewpoint.

6/24/2011 5:23 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Lipov:

"When you say "you can imagine that, yes but the painting doesn't 'have it'", thats where you are completely wrong. The painting does have it, that's the product of understanding the nature of things. If you do understand it, you can portray the feeling, if you dont, you can only portray the steep viewpoint"

no, that's the product of being on sea on a lilting vessel and making sketches from an unusually steep viewpoint. the painting is a 2D representation of that event.

if you think you 'understand the nature of things' then i suggest you write a treatise explaining 'the nature of things' for the rest of us. it can be filed alongside kev's treatise on 'truth' for future reference.

6/24/2011 5:45 PM  
Anonymous Lipov said...

Laurence John wrote "i suggest you write a treatise explaining 'the nature of things' for the rest of us."
___________

Ehh... what exactly are you saying here? All the great works of art possess the truth about something that they intend to pass on to the viewer and there are infinite books that analyse and explain those works of art. I don't need to write another book, you need to start reading the existing ones. I mean, seriously, look at vanGoghs letters to his brother for example, there is no better example of a process how an artist searches for the truth of things, how he tries to crack the code of greatest artworks to imbue his own work with timeless quality. That's what we humans recognize as truth, as nature of things, I believe.

6/24/2011 6:23 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence,

Nobody is going to hold your hand and explain to you the difference between truth and fact, abstract and concrete, understanding and description. You can act like a sassy Eeyore all you want, but petulance and defiance only makes your ignorance more pathetic and less likely to be remedied.

6/24/2011 6:28 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

I agree with Laurence. There are lots of people here with strong opinions about whether a photograph is art, or "the difference between truth and fact, abstract and concrete." Those ideas are interesting but they aren't factually true. Their just opinions and bullying doesn't make them any more interesting or any more true.

6/24/2011 6:41 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

kev,

you're wasting your time with the personal insults, really.

(we'd still like to hear your 'symbolic' analysis of the Von Schmidt painting)

6/24/2011 6:47 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Sassy Eeyore,

You are unable to think abstractly. There's nothing more to it.

And those weren't personal insults. They were metaphoric descriptions of your actual behavior from my perspective.

6/24/2011 7:07 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Oh, and it would take me 3 weeks to explain the Von Schmidt picture to a serious student of illustration/art who had drawn his entire life and was able to draw or paint an entire scene out of his imagination from scratch.

I would be willing to explain it to you over the course of a few weeks via private correspondence (there would need to be a lot of diagrams demonstrating various principles abstractly as well as how they are working in the Von Schmidt). Provided you can show me some of your artwork that demonstrates that you can draw or paint an entire scene credibly from imagination.

Deal?

6/24/2011 7:18 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Lipov:

"All the great works of art possess the truth about something that they intend to pass on to the viewer and there are infinite books that analyse and explain those works of art"

do they ? that's a fact according to an infinite amount of books is it ? great, end of argument. thanks.

kev, it's the way you subtly align yourself with your heroes by claiming to have in-depth understanding of their methods that gets me every time. it's as subtle as a sledgehammer.

(you are the new Rob, by the way, except Rob was more amusing)

6/24/2011 7:31 PM  
Anonymous Lipov said...

Laurence John wrote "do they ? that's a fact according to an infinite amount of books is it ?"
_________

There are infinite amount of books, because we find the power of great art so important. So the amount of literature indicates the presence of something, that touches us deep inside. Thats the first step I'm trying to do here. I can't explain why some art feels more truthful than other if you do not seem to even acknowledge the fact that there is a qualitative difference among artworks in terms of emotional power. If our greatest artworks don't possess truth, why do you think we respond so intensively to them? Why do they inspire and move us after centuries, after many cultural, technological and moral changes of the society. Why does the impact of those artworks survives, if not because those artworks possess something that resonates as truthful in our minds?

6/24/2011 8:04 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Sorry Laurence  I wasn't trying to start and argument with you it is fun to talk about these things that's all.

But I find one does not mimic light with a brush.  One creates a mass whose surface is made up of planes.  The artist knows which direction the light is coming from and he places the desired tone on that plane. He also knows if the plane is horizontal vertical or somewhere in between.  I am sure Sargent's brush rushed down the front slope of that wave just like the water itself did.  He dosen't just see but he touches the wave.  The wave could be a million things, a mountain, the roof of a house or anything steep.  You can be sure he considered the backside also. Call it illusion but if no life force is governing the hand of the marker, if copying or imitating is the artists only motivation he has nothing to express
the brush or tool has to move in a direction that describes something about the form.

I don't see the conflict between my two statements deep feelings for space and things does not
rule out the objective statement.
What I was trying to say is the meaning arises from the work itself not from knowing the personality who created it.

As far as water is concern all the forms of this world are water forms, from plants and trees to animals and us. Everything seems more alike then different.  And when we really understand something we use analogy.  And the rhythm of planes is a beautiful way to transpose the rhythms of the universe.

6/24/2011 11:30 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

kev, it's the way you subtly align yourself with your heroes by claiming to have in-depth understanding of their methods that gets me every time. it's as subtle as a sledgehammer.

I think your mind is playing tricks on you.

Any "alignment" I have with my heroes stems from having studied their compositional methods for more than a decade. Whatever authority I claim on the matter is stated only relative to your own, which you have more or less admitted is absolute zero. As you, in your obscene certitude, don't even acknowledge the existence of composition or aesthetics or truth in art or any of the rest of it.

So while I must easily concede that I do not approach my heroes as an artist, I am a damn site closer to understanding them than somebody who hasn't studied a thing.

If your ego wasn't such a raging mess, this would be a very simple fact to acknowledge.

But instead you refuse to accept the fact of your own ignorance.

Why?

You know you don't study composition. You know you don't read aesthetics, let alone late 19th century aesthetics. You know you don't draw serious compositions or paint seriously or study art theory or technique.

You know all these things are not part of your life. And you know that they are a very big part of mine.

So what in hell prevents you from simply acknowledging your own relative ignorance on the matter? Or just the possibility of your ignorance?

Are you insane?

You want to talk about Rob... your inability to recognize the possibility of your own ignorance of Late 19th century aesthetics is exactly the issue I had with Rob. He simply could not emotionally tolerate the idea that he was not Superior Art Man in all possible regards.

So on the question of aesthetics, his mind immediately jumped to an insistance that anything he did not know about it, either did not exist, or was not worth knowing. But when Rob stated on one comment page that Hegel was the only aesthetics that he knew of, anybody who knows anything about the topic would perk up and say WHAT? You only know Hegel? Yet you claim authority?

But you don't even claim to have red Hegel!

So I repeat: Are you insane?

And while I may not be as funny as Herr Rob, you, sir, are not funny at all and never have been. This may be another consequence of your complete lack of imagination.

Most neutral regards and blank dreams,
kev

6/25/2011 12:44 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

kev,

as long as you continue to charge around this comment section like a puffed up silverback i'll be giving it a miss. i can't stand to read any more of your chest-beating.

6/25/2011 7:57 AM  
Anonymous Keach said...

laurence, stop being a big baby. Nobody is going to play the violin for you because you got butthurt. Go or stay, but for god sake stop whining. Your Karl pilkington act is getting old.

6/25/2011 9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like reading Laurence's ideas and agree with MORAN. There is no reason for Kev's bitchy tone. We're all just trading ideas about art.

JSL

6/25/2011 10:24 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I agree, JSL, we are just talking about art. However it is simply a fact that accountants knows more about accounting than dancers. And dancers know more about dancing than pirates. etc.

So when a dancer tells a pirate, "Poppycock! There are no secrets to sailing. You just hold the sails aloft and you get where you are going... And if you tell me there's anything deeper than that, well... that's just a jerky pirate trying to mystify piracy so it seems more complicated than it is!"

The dancer's claim, based on a complete ignorance of navigation, will naturally make the pirate irate. And the pirate might well bonk the dancer on the head with his shoulder parrot to remedy things.

So Laurence,

In light of the above, let's review...

1. You claim there is nothing more to art than you know already. You assert that there is no aesthetics, there is no subtext, there is no abstraction, there is no truth, there is no metaphysics, there is no metaphor, there are no symbols, there are no ideas beyond those evident to you. All there is, is the decorative, the mimetic, and the dramatic.

2. You make no claim to know anything about the craft of art and do not study art theory in depth in any way.

3. Anybody who points out the disconnect between point 1 and point 2 is a bully (seconded by JSL and MORAN).

6/25/2011 11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kev - off topic , Lady of Shallot is one of my top favorite pieces . Have you come across any info on how W. painted it - model drawing or ref. photo whatever - haven't been able to find anything on that myself . Just asking .

Thanks Al McLuckie

6/25/2011 9:22 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Hey Al!

I don't have any special knowledge about Waterhouse. It is said that he burned his art notes. But the phaidon book of his work I own states that Waterhouse's wife is "said to have posed" for his Lady of Shalott (1888). And the book contains many drawings and paintings from the model used for his other works, as well as quite detailed compositional tests in oil. So the assumption, I guess, is that his methods were based on the atelier principles of the era, (models, sketches) rather than the use of photography.

But it can't be known for sure. I'll leave it up to DJ Ganges to do a more comprehensive search for Waterhouse's photo ref on the web.

Either way, the picture is beautifully imaginative and in my opinion it is one of the greatest images in the history of art.

Best,
kev

6/26/2011 11:22 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Al McLuckie,

I think that’s right about Waterhouse’s wife posing for the Lady of Shalott.
This portrait of Mrs Esther Kenworthy Waterhouse painted by her husband convinces me that she was the model.

http://www.johnwilliamwaterhouse.com/pictures/esther-kenworthy-waterhouse-1885/?r=%2Fpictures%2Fsearch%2F%3Fd%3D188

As for that landscape in the painting: it looks very redolent of the home counties bordering on west London. I spent 25 years of my life living in those parts and the light, the plants, the textures, the roll of the land; the very ‘sense’ and ‘smell’ of it makes me think of my home landscape.

I remember first seeing the painting at the age of nine hanging in the Tate and apart from overwhelming me and being unlike any experience I had ever encountered up to that date it had the uncanny feeling of being painted only miles from where I lived. It bewitched me then and has continued to do so to this day. And whenever I visit the river Brent near my old home I still have the feeling that the Lady of Shalott is close by, somewhere amongst the rustling willows… waiting for me.

6/26/2011 5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks gentlemen - have got to some museums in Europe to see some of my heroes works and the Tate is definitely on the bucket list .

Al

6/27/2011 3:20 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home