Tuesday, September 27, 2011

THE MOST SIGNIFICANT ART

Last weekend I gave a lecture at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge Massachusetts.  The following is an excerpt from what future generations shall call my NRM Manifesto (unless the NRM lawyers demand that I remove their name, which is quite possible): 
Anyone with the courage to take a fresh look at the role of art in the 20th century might reasonably conclude illustration has played a more significant role than "fine" art.

Yeah, you heard me-- more significant than Picasso, Matisse, Jackson Pollack and the great Jeff Koons combined.

Absurd?  Perhaps.  But let's explore the issue as soberly and conscientiously as we are able, and see where the facts take us.

We should start by agreeing there are many legitimate methods of measuring the importance of art.  For me, the least satisfying method seems to be the most popular: to blindly accept the conventions of our grandparents who instinctively assigned a lower social status to "commercial" illustration.

What might be a better test? I submit that four of the most relevant standards for measuring the significance of art are:
  • The size of its audience
  • Its economic impact
  • Its effect on society
  • Its impact on our individual lives
The first two tests are fairly easy to apply.  They are objectively quantifiable, and in my view there is little question that illustration has had the greater impact.

Size of the Audience: In a century when many towns did not have an art museum, a gallery, or even a public library, the average citizen has been surrounded by illustrations.  They invaded his field of vision from all sides.  The Saturday Evening Post, chock full of illustrations, was selling three million copies while its rival Colliers was selling nearly as many.  Illustrated magazines arrived in mailboxes all across America, along with illustrated brochures from car manufacturers and other advertisers.  Illustrations in storybooks, billboards, posters and animated movies found their way to every corner of the globe, driven by the mighty engine of commerce.  By comparison, attendance at museums and galleries, and the sale of fine art books and prints, was meager at best. If we judge by raw numbers, Norman Rockwell enjoyed far more viewers Picasso.

Economic Impact of the Art: A small number of fine artists such as Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons are paid huge sums for their work, far more than any illustrator has been paid.  Yet, the average illustrator probably earned more from his or her labors over the last century than the average gallery painter.  More importantly, because of the huge audience for illustration (above) it has had a far greater economic impact on the world than museum or gallery art.  The economics of the video game industry alone likely surpass the economics of the fine art market.  Illustrations have been used to sell cars, design feature films, and advertise countless products.  The economic impact of "fine" art simply cannot compare.

Impact on Society:  This is harder to gauge.  Certainly, contemporary gallery art-- from cubism to surrealism to abstract expressionism-- has had an important impact on the intellectual direction of society.  Yet, illustration has also played a major role in establishing the style, visual paradigms and iconic images of our society.  A quick trip through the annals of illustration demonstrates the impact illustrators have had in shaping the aesthetics of society.  Here is a tiny sample:

The Gibson Girl set a popular standard for beauty
The Arrow Collar Man

John Held established the flapper as an institution

Peter Max's psychedelic style became emblematic of his era

 Impact on Our Individual Lives:  The first three tests are revealing, but in my view this last test is more important than all the others combined.  In previous posts I have applauded scholar Lionello Venturi, author of the definitive treatise on the history of art criticism, who proposed what I believe to be  a very sensible standard for measuring the value of art:
What ultimately matters in art is not the canvas, the hue of oil or tempera, the anatomical structure and all the other measurable items, but its contribution to our life, its suggestions to our sensations, feeling and imagination.
If we consider the "contributions to our life" from both illustration and gallery art, we may discover some interesting facts.  It goes without saying that we have all (myself included) been thrilled by the beauty and power of fine art.  But let's keep exploring and see if we we can identify more specific litmus tests of the way art affects our "sensations, feeling and imagination."


It would be hard to find a more powerful statement of outrage against the atrocities of war than Picasso's famous Guernica:
   

Yet, if you want to inspire people to put their lives on the line, to enlist and fight against those atrocities, illustration has historically proven more persuasive than Guernica or any other fine art:

James Montgomery Flagg

Henry Raleigh

Similarly, if you want to motivate people to give up their money and buy war bonds to help fight the atrocities, Guernica could never achieve the results of Norman Rockwell's famous Four Freedoms:


Putting aside the emotions of hate and fear, and looking instead to emotions of love and lust, romantic illustrations in women's magazines played a huge role in shaping women's concepts of what love was and how it worked.

John Gannam detail: should we have sex before marriage?

Pictures such as these in Redbook, Cosmopolitan, McCall's, Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping had blood racing and nostrils flaring all across the country.  (Meanwhile, husbands were developing their own concept of romance from the pinup illustrations of George Petty and Gil Elvgren.)

Romantic illustrations that shaped expectations and fleshed out our vocabulary weren't limited to fiction magazines.  The language of love was spoken in John Gannam's ads for bedsheets as well:

"My precious babykins..."




Now take a look at the kinds of statements famous fine artists have made recently regarding the subject of love:

Damien Hirst, All You Need is Love

Robert Indiana, Love

Tells you something, doesn't it?

There are plenty of other emotions besides love and hate where it might be useful to compare illustration and fine art, but a blog post is not the best place to attempt it.  But applying Venturi's test to the representative examples above, it seems clear to me that illustration has had greater significance.  

The four standards I have suggested are not the only ways to measure significance, and I would welcome any counter suggestions from readers.  In addition, I have not tried to assert which art form has the highest inherent "quality."   I have my personal views on that subject (as does everybody else) but it is far harder to devise standards for measuring quality than for measuring significance.  

In order to play this game, my only restriction is that you have to be willing to abide by Isaac Newton's famous admonition for honest scientific results: 
I frame no hypotheses; for whatever is not deduced from the phenomena is to be called a hypothesis, and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy.
By looking at the phenomena, I deduce that illustration seems to have been a more significant form of visual art over the past century than "fine" or "gallery" art.  But if you have other phenomena for us to consider, or other standards to apply, I'd be interested.

74 Comments:

Blogger etc, etc said...

David,
Great illustrations. I pretty much loathe the "fine" artists you mentioned.

However, it seems to me that you have framed your four standards (which would be perfectly at home in a marketing textbook) and argument around very commercial considerations, considerations which are highly relevant to the raison d'être of illustration, and therefore illustration comes out on top. If you take those standards and apply them to popular music, you'd reach some very distorted conclusions.

9/27/2011 2:18 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- I deliberately avoided standards relating to technique and skill, both because I thought they would stack the deck in favor of illustration and because I don't think they are that important to the significance of a work of art. But I don't see how Venturi's standard favors illustration. If you can't satisfy that test, what's the point in making or looking at any art at all (whether it is conceptual, post modern, pop, op or anything else)? As for the other three tests, it seems hard to argue that those factors aren't significant. Do you have a substitute to recommend?

I'd be interested in how you apply this to popular music. It seems to me that illustration is the rock n' roll of art.

9/27/2011 2:44 PM  
Blogger Jared Shear said...

Interesting read David.

9/27/2011 3:43 PM  
Anonymous raphael said...

nice read, david. i shall proliferate the link.

i pretty much agree with your criteria at large, all id do is propose a little cosmetics:

the largely commercial/success-oriented point of view is fine, as you did use them to make a point about the significance of art/illustration, not its quality. significance can be read as having made a successful and prolific imprint on a sample size, as a community, a society or even humanity at large.

that said, i find your last point to be more a statement about what id call the "quality" of a piece of art: whether it had an effect not of success and high proliferation, but an emotional impact on oneself.

that is where skill, and all the theories of whether or not learned skill is something worth acquiring come in: these are theories on how to best achieve that effect.

so, id propose to keep your first three points as a measure for significance, and keep your fourth point as a measure for artwork quality.

to leverage your fourth point for measuring significance, it should be made subject of a study of the social or cultural sciences first. that way, it fits in nicely with the empirical focus you have for measuring significance, and we avoid cross-contamination of subjective and empirical inquiries.

9/27/2011 4:21 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jared Shear-- Many thanks!

raphael-- two minutes before you posted your interesting comment, I went back and added a sentence trying to clarify that I was not claiming "significance" is the same thing as "quality." There is clearly some overlap between "subjective and empirical inquiries" in this space but I agree with you that the legitimacy of this kind of exercise depends on avoiding a food fight over subjective opinions about quality.

I don't think that James Montgomery Flagg's picture of Uncle Sam is a higher quality picture than Guernica. Yet it affected men across the United States in a way that Guernica never did. It is an empirical fact that people were roused to put their lives on the line because of that picture. Is some brainiac art professor sitting a remote library and worshipping Guernica a better judge of the "quality" of the picture than a farm boy who is willing to give up everything because he is moved by Uncle Sam's stern gaze? I think that discussion is for another day. This post is already too long.

9/27/2011 4:49 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Do you have a substitute to recommend?
Not if you're going to keep me handcuffed to that fine art wasteland known as the 20th century.

I'd be interested in how you apply this to popular music.
Wouldn't any pop princess du jour score highly on your four standards?

9/27/2011 4:59 PM  
Anonymous raphael said...

david: yes, i saw that sentence in re-reading and wondered if it had been there from the beginning and i had been just sloppy.

i agree there is overlap, or touching points between the subjective and empirical in this matter - it just stuck out a bit to me to have a rather subject-centered point (4) next to the more clearly empirically focussed ones (1-3).
maybe thats really splitting hairs, but id say how well point 4 fits in with the rest hinges on whether we are talking about our very own subjectivity strictly (non-empirical, but very direct and hands-on), or a collection of what people say or how they acted out their own subjectivity. (empirical, but 3rd-person-view distance)

id say both approaches have their merits and their places. for judging something like (cultural) significance, data that can be gathered and compared clearly wins out.
however, as etc. pointed out, what good is significance when everyone bows to an ugly & hollow plastic doll?

these are different questions. i dont see how significance could be measured any different way, just as well as i could not fathom how to measure actual quality of art by anything different from what it does to ones own self. all cultural significance and ivory tower theory cant shake whether or not it moved me.

9/27/2011 5:38 PM  
Blogger jesse said...

Wonderful post. I've felt this sentiment for a long time myself, and it's great to see someone's view, fleshed out with example illustrations.
That said, I'm a little troubled reading your blog... I feel like our views are too similar and thus my POV isn't being stretched! As I learn more about art, my.. disdain.. for fine art grows and grows. It has its place, but overall just seems like a snooty rich man to illustrator's honest work. (Like that post you made a while back of the "no-critiques-plz" "artist" who sculpted the blue dude!)
Anyway, uh.. yeah, fine art kinda frustrates me. But I guess, historically, it had its significance (I'm thinking of church propaganda during the Counter-Reformation, like Caravaggio's work, and whatnot).
I'm rambling. Sorry. >>;; I've followed this blog for a while and since this post struck me as especially true, I just thought I'd drop a note with props. Keep up the good work! And thank you for sharing. :)

9/27/2011 5:50 PM  
Blogger jesse said...

Wonderful post. I've felt this sentiment for a long time myself, and it's great to see someone's view, fleshed out with example illustrations.
That said, I'm a little troubled reading your blog... I feel like our views are too similar and thus my POV isn't being stretched! As I learn more about art, my.. disdain.. for fine art grows and grows. It has its place, but overall just seems like a snooty rich man to illustrator's honest work. (Like that post you made a while back of the "no-critiques-plz" "artist" who sculpted the blue dude!)
Anyway, uh.. yeah, fine art kinda frustrates me. But I guess, historically, it had its significance (I'm thinking of church propaganda during the Counter-Reformation, like Caravaggio's work, and whatnot).
I'm rambling. Sorry. >>;; I've followed this blog for a while and since this post struck me as especially true, I just thought I'd drop a note with props. Keep up the good work! And thank you for sharing. :)

9/27/2011 5:50 PM  
Anonymous Michael Shephard said...

The most "significant" art? I think that word is already too open to interpretation. Does illustration reach a larger audience? Yes, but often because it has less "meaning", so as to be more suited to the mass audience it's intended to reach on behalf of corporate or political interests.

Does illustration have more of an economic impact? Again, it tends to be driven by corporations or political organizations (or, in the past, religious organizations) which both have a lot of money, and often have economically definable goals.

Does illustration have more of an impact on society? Again, distribution and accessibility play a key role here, but I'm also surprised that you make no mention of fine art's impact on the illustration which then shapes the "style, visual paradigms and iconic images" of our society.

Finally, you use the word "persuasive" to argue that illustration has more of an impact on our individual lives. I would argue that illustration usually has a clear intention, a specific idea to communicate. It is, in fact, designed to persuade. It is, as a result, much easier to measure the effect of an ad or a piece of propaganda. To measure whether Guernica is as "effective", you'd first have to define its intended purpose.

Good luck with that.

9/27/2011 6:05 PM  
Blogger camhasnonickname said...

Perhaps Joe the Plumber's never seen much fine art, but I bet a lot of commercial artsits have. And who knows what influences may be claimed by those with all the influence? I'm sure some cases exist of fine art inspiring commercial work. Who gets credit then?
Anyway, it's Apples and Oranges surely.

9/27/2011 9:08 PM  
Blogger grapfhics said...

Perhaps fine art stressed (and stresses) allegory while illustration emphasizes the here and now.
I don't think many Americans saw Guernica till after the Spanish Civil War while Flagg's poster was seen everywhere.
This poster came to mind as well.
http://englewoodreview.com/main.asp?SectionID=10&SubSectionID=15&ArticleID=302&TM=17708
The Obama election poster worked the same way.

9/27/2011 9:59 PM  
Blogger Stephen Worth said...

This isn't just true of the painterly arts, it's true of all of the arts in the 20th century. Look at music.. Perhaps the single greatest creative achievement in music in America was Jazz, which was a popular form. Sculpture in America hit its apex with industrial design of trains and cars and toasters. The greatest storytelling medium was the movie, and our culture benefited greatly from it.

The art of the 20th century is commercial and it is popular. The only people who don't realize this yet are the museums and galleries.

9/27/2011 11:54 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- "Not if you're going to keep me handcuffed to that fine art wasteland known as the 20th century." Well, I agree that fine art ended up in a pretty bleak place at the end of the 20th century, but I do think it had some very impressive moments before it began to disintegrate. And I question whether illustration was more significant than fine art in the 19th century.

"Wouldn't any pop princess du jour score highly on your four standards?" I agree there is a risk, especially with the more quantitative standards, of turning "significance" into a popularity contest. There are pop princesses, or rappers, whose art is noxious to me but who undeniably have a larger impact on society than do musicians I hold dear. But I think if you transcend a few individual bad cases and look to the larger trend, the methodology gains more legitimacy. There are some highly successful but terrible illustrators (LeRoy Neiman, Kinkade) just as there are some highly successful but terrible pop princesses.

The larger point, I think, is that the power of rock music-- the beat, the energetic delivery, the simplified teen angst / hot love lyrics-- has eclipsed other, more traditional forms of music in the last century. It conquered movies, commercials, opera, even elevator and supermarket muzak. Whenever a mediocre movie needs salvaging, they throw in a '60s rock soundtrack because it adds genuine backbone wherever they apply it (regardless of the "pop princesses" out there).

raphael-- sorry to give you a moving target. I would have addressed the point in the "comments" section if I'd known you were raising it. As it was, I thought there was a gap that needed closing. I do think there is a substantial empirical side to point (4). It is not difficult to clock the number of people who respond to the Flagg poster or subscribe to the women's magazines or buy the sheets in response to the advertising campaign. Advertisers have made a sophisticated science of quantifying human responses to these pictures. It is not difficult to observe who responds to art in a life-or-death way, and who responds to art with an essay in some prestigious art journal. You can observe when women wear their hair like the Gibson girl, you can count the money that people spent on war bonds after being moved by Rockwell's four freedoms, and you can draw some reasonable conclusions about how much the art affects their feelings and imagination.

I think the fourth standard, with all of its "qualitative" taint, is important to help keep the test for significance from turning into a mathematically applied popularity test.

9/27/2011 11:57 PM  
Blogger Stephen Worth said...

Etc Etc: Wouldn't any pop princess du jour score highly on your four standards?

I'm betting you are in your early to mid 20s, etc etc.

The reason for that is because for the past 20 years, popular music *has* been a wasteland, and its sole purpose is to wallpaper over the true history of popular music in America in the 20th century.

You assume that the music of the 20th century is similar to the music of the beginning of the 21st. Nothing could be further from the truth. The classical music of the 20th century wasn't performed by symphony orchestras. And it wasn't the esoteric electronic noodlings of John Cage. It was the music of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra and a million other popular artists. These folks are the peers of Beethoven and Mozart. Your generation doesn't know that because no one has attempted to market them to you, and you've been too lazy to seek them out on your own.

9/28/2011 12:02 AM  
Blogger Stephen Worth said...

reOne more quick point...

There is a reason the "Great Generation" is called that. Their era was the golden age of everything. Movies, music, art... You could open the newspaper and see pages of lowly comics by Sterrett and Herriman and Gross that rivalled the art hanging on the walls of museums. The average then was better than our best today.

I really believe this is a generational thing, not a fine art/commercial art thing. Our parents and grandparents were born into the great depression, they fought the great war, they built the great society... and then the baby boomers came along who had never sacrificed and had everything given to them on a silver platter and they let it all slip away.

I feel sorry for kids today. It must be humiliating having hippies as parents.

9/28/2011 12:09 AM  
Blogger Donald Pittenger said...

I'm on the road home from a trip, so what follows is likely to be a little ill-formed.

Your examples are from the "precious metal" (take your pick) age of illustration with the main exception of video game art. But aside from that case, most current illustration I come across is a variation of the usual postmodern irony, etc. So how much impact does contemporary illustration have these days relative to contemporary "fine" arts of the po-mo variety? In other words, does illustration today have comparable impact to illustration 1890-1960?

And I'll add a nit for picking. Newton was pre- Philosophy of Science. Modern science relies (or should rely) on hypotheses that frame a concept so that it can be empirically refuted. If that refutation occurs under test, then the hypothesis is discarded and others are advanced. The objective is not to prove things, but rather to try to home in on Truth by eliminating alternative explanations.

Finally, I'll toss in an unoriginal idea I kinda like: that the great artists of the past were, in significant ways, illustrators; the difference being in the areas of who commissioned the work and how the work was made public.

And a PS: It was a real feather in your cap that the NRM invited you. From what you mentioned in this post, I think you made many excellent points, giving the audience much food for thought. I wish I could have been there.

9/28/2011 12:11 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Charles S. Peirce (the American Aristotle) made the case for abduction (guessing) as a prerequisite for scientific advancement and creativity. Because neither deduction nor induction (the only other ways of coming up with descriptive solutions/propositions) are "exploratory." Peirce's view is now the accepted one.

Peirce also advocated the essential idea of fallibilism (no matter what, you always can be wrong about something you now hold to be true), which was quickly adopted as a modern cornerstone of the scientific method. Fallibilism is as "honest as we can be" in the grand scheme of things.

Sounds like you gave a grand talk. I'm sorry I couldn't attend. I, of course, agree 110 percent with your thesis.

Gannam rocks.

Guernica is an illustration. Actually a fun cartoon. If the average Jack Kirby battle panel were blown up to wall size it would kick Picasso's ass. ;)

The fine art of the 19th century was illustration. The illustration of the 20th century was always fine art and will eventually be recognized as such once the politics that forced the rift die away.

Starting with the hothouse aestheticism of the late Symbolist era, "fine art" became increasingly disinterested in popular values... (those values that allow people to go to work, have a family, a modicum of comfort, a bit of entertainment, a moral lesson, and look themselves in the mirror without detestation)... and more interested in the nihilistic and existentialist, and more liable to fracture reality than celebrate the human experience. Nihilism is kryptonite to anything humans pride themselves on... anything loved or appreciated or respected... and without pride lifting our eyes to the horizons, we are really just monkeys, and everything goes back to the jungle. The thesis of Sullivan's Travels holds here.

9/28/2011 1:42 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

One can draw a line between illustration and "fine" art, hype any style or school they represent, or worship the art deity of their choice, but the single most significant work of the last 125 years is a French academic sculpture done in the official style of L‘Ecole des Beaux-Arts. ~ La liberté éclairant le monde

Stephen Worth said, 'Their era was the golden age of everything' ~ WHOA!!!

9/28/2011 3:41 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Kev said, 'everything goes back to the jungle' ~ The beauty that breaks down 
never learns the reason why

9/28/2011 3:51 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Stephen,
I never intended my "pop princess du jour" comment as a condemnation of all 20th century American music, and quite frankly I'm surprised that anyone would infer that. I'll not take the time and space to refute every detail, but rather just point out that every assumption you have made about me is simply not correct (my parents, both lifelong diehard conservatives, would be highly amused, btw).

9/28/2011 8:44 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Great Post David I know it would have been fun to hear the talk. I am sure you are right about illustration’s impact. Advertising wants to impact our lives and it has found a million ways to do so, but it never questions any of its assumptions about life. What is love, what is hate, what is fear, what do we really need.


It makes me think of Hollywood (as many of the” ideas”, “emotions”,’ and “intentions “ expressed in the illustrations are the same). Hollywood has had a great impact on our lives but a more interesting question might be, why do we need to be entertained or distracted from our own lives and why is there an assumption that somehow our lives are lacking?
The idea’s expressed in much of the illustration are immediately graspable as they appeal to our fears and desires as you wrote. If I look like the Gibson girl, the audience thinks, if it’s a woman “if I look like that I’ll be loved,” if it’s a man “ if I have a woman like that people will see how desirable I am.” The same idea applies to Arrow shirt man or even the notion “I ‘ll be superior to other man, more desirable”. The messages of advertising haven’t change, but as your blog makes abundantly clear the art skills have certainly deteriorated. The notion of love expressed in Gannon’s illustrations seems to be if I have he right bed sheets and choose the right man I will find happiness, it is the stuff of soap operas. I love Joe Gannon’s drawing and his value sense which is incredible beautiful, but if I had to look at those couples on my wall day after day it would make me sick, the ridiculous message and the photographic positions of the couples overwhelms the art. If people really believe this stuff will make them happy no wonder so many turn to alcohol and anti depressants.

The war pictures immediately want you to choose sides, I am with the good team the others are clearly evil and must be defeated (actually killed). Like you write fear is a powerful motivator. In fact most of the illustration are trying to get you to do something, join, buy and find the perfect man because you are lacking, and we have something that will make you happy or safe. They are manipulating the viewer and that is why in the end I think a lot of people find it unsatisfying and questioned their authenticity and make distinctions between “fine art” and “illustration.

In relation to the other war pictures Picasso’s painting seems the most interesting to me because the painting doesn’t convey the idea that fascists are evil and must be defeated it reflects and allows us to see what war really is, insanity. I am sure that is why we no longer see war footage anymore like we did in the Vietnam War. The reality of war breaks down all story lines and the gradually people just start to see the insanity of it. One could even say reality always breaks down all story lines. I think some of the greatest artist of the 20th century have sense this especially its writers, like Kierkegaard, Joyce and Kafka. Like Jesus said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the son of Man has no place to lay his head.” I think art starts from wonder it’s not trying to get you to go some place different or do something. (Maybe that is why 20th fine arts rejected “skill”). It’s like Geometry which is beautiful, all it asks is to see its beauty, and it will help you create and make things but it sure doesn’t care about your ego nor does it advertise.


As and aside it is amazing how much you can feel the space between the dancers in the Leydendecker painting, another body could easily fill that space, I don’t get that at all in the Rockwell.

9/28/2011 10:06 AM  
Blogger T Arthur Smith said...

We're not looking at advertising in a vacuum. The ads regarding WWII were a specific instance in history, that luck happened to coalign with just enough technology to mass produce ads, but still needing artists over photographers. And WWII happened to be:

1.huge
2.a conflict with clear aggressors, defenders, and objectives

All advertising plays on viewers' desires, but that doesn't immediately make it dishonest or evil - nor is that the definition of propaganda. All the illustrations presented here ring true to me (possibly not the Huns comparison, but in general), and it's humanity's natural state to be dissatisfied and greedy. It's an evolutionary advantage for us to want new things (up until we use up all our resources and society collapses).

But, it's unfair to blame advertising for our own moral failings and addictions. They only have as much power as you give them. Children may see a cartoon and have to have every toy, card, lunchbox, etc. But adults are supposed to learn restraint. Material objects are great, but anyone above the age of 18 who needs them (clothes, cars, computers, music, jewelry) just for self-esteem purposes has been miseducated.

Advertising can be dispicable, such as when cartoon characters are used to sell toxic products, like McDonalds food or cigarettes. But there's a world of difference between Rockwell and Ronald McDonald.

My main critique of this lecture (which I agree with) is to question the importance of the debate. I know many illustrators feel jilted by the art world - but that world's been whittled down to an island in the ocean of culture, so big deal. The purpose of armaking is that we artists love making art. If it's good, we hope it'll find an audience, and we usually want the work to endure. But it's the making that draws us like flies to our canvas.

Questions of enduring significance have more to do with how eras were shaped, defined, and led. It's a sociological question - and I think you'd have a tough time arguing that any art played a major role in this. For instance, to what extent does art shape culture, and to what extent does it merely reflect culture? And then, how do you measure the effects of something like that "Uncle Sam Wants You" poster? Are there statistics for army enlistment - before and after? How do you separate the role that art played in shaping opinion from that of radio, newspapers, and/or television? Art's definitely in there somewhere, but it seems hard to research and put in concrete terms.

9/28/2011 12:15 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jesse-- Thanks for writing. Like you, I am wary of slipping into comfortable routines, and one such routine (for me) can be bashing the current gallery art scene. I think the fine art world is now paying the consequences of throwing out all limits and boundaries. It was exhilarating for a few decades, but now they seem caught in a death spiral and can't manage to find their way out (nor will they have to, as long as glib gallery owners and auction houses continue to whip tasteless investment bankers into a competitive frenzy). Regardless of the larger fine art scene, I do think that talented individual fine artists continue to work with sincerity and dignity, and it is important to remain open minded and receptive to them.

Michael Shepard-- you write that illustration often "has less 'meaning', so as to be more suited to the mass audience." I would be very interested in your views on the "meaning" of fine art these days. Ever since dada, much of it explicitly eschews meaning, and the fine art that does profess some meaning mostly seems pretty lame to me. I agree with you that illustration by its nature must aim for a broader audience, but that does not necessarily signify less meaning (or less intelligence). Shakespeare was written for the masses and was enjoyed by the masses in the US through the 19th century. Mozart loved that his music was performed in the beer halls. Listen to Gilbert & Sullivan or Rogers & Hammerstein, all brilliant, all laden with meaning, and all popular with "the mass audience."

>>"I'm also surprised that you make no mention of fine art's impact on the illustration which then shapes the "style, visual paradigms and iconic images" of our society."

I think that traffic flows both ways. Illustrators were clearly impressed by the abstract expressionists, Diebenkorn, Larry Rivers, etc. but fine artists from Warhol and Lichtenstein to Basquiat and Koons borrowed aggressively from illustrators. Apparently the artists are less finicky about these dividing lines than the critics.

Camhasnonickname-- I agree that influences travel both ways (as I replied to Michael above). Fine art inspires commercial work, just as commercial work inspires fine art. That's how it should be, in my opinion. I'm sure that Warhol did more for the designer of Brillo boxes or Campbell's soup cans or Coke bottles than they could ever have achieved on their own. The one place we disagree is your conclusion, "it's Apples and Oranges surely." I would say the artistic difference (as opposed to the marketing difference) may be tangerines and oranges, but not much farther apart than that. I would also note that while fine and commercial art borrow from each other, only one side of that exchange seems to have an attitude problem.

9/28/2011 4:01 PM  
Anonymous karoline said...

I like your fantastic web site

9/28/2011 6:27 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Grapfhics-- " I don't think many Americans saw Guernica till after the Spanish Civil War while Flagg's poster was seen everywhere. "

They certainly had the opportunity; it was displayed at the world's fair the same year as the bombing (1937) and it toured widely. I just don't think there was as much of an appetite. If you want a great example of fine art reducing a statement about war to an allegory, check out Robert Motherwell's Elegy to the Spanish Civil War-- dozens of paintings of abstract black and white shapes. But beautiful.

Stephen Worth-- You covered a lotta territory. I agree with you about the potential of movies, and also that popular music seems to have degenerated into a place where it feeds on itself. I also agree that jazz was a major leap forward, but I part company with you on "The classical music of the 20th century wasn't performed by symphony orchestras." Gershwin, Copland, Stravinsky, Debussy, Faure, not to mention Bernstein, Kern, Loesser, Arlen, Rodgers, Sondheim... the list goes on and on. Did you mean to exclude all of them?

As for Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" argument, I was always skeptical. I think one can make a best of all times / worst of all times argument for a great many points in history. It seems that many of the high points in culture (such as the Italian Renaissance or the golden age of Greece) come in times of great civil unrest and turmoil. If that's the case, we might expect a new flowering of culture over the next couple of decade.

Donald Pittenger-- I agree that illustration in the last few decades has not been as ubiquitous, or as influential, as it was earlier in the 20th century. 1890-1960 was indeed a "precious metal" era. Of course, gallery art has been nothing to write home about in the last few decades either. The only generalization I felt reasonably safe making here was that, on the whole, 20th century illustration played a more significant role than other visual art forms of that century. Obviously, individual artists (fine artists and illustrators) varied from that general rule.

I want to take up your point about Isaac Newton too, but it seems only fitting to combine him with Kev Ferrara's point about Peirce, below.

9/28/2011 10:52 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

I've been meaning to visit the Rockwell Museum but for me it would be a very long drive. It sounds like I missed a good opportunity. If you go back, give us more warning next time.

9/28/2011 11:53 PM  
Blogger Stephen Worth said...

There was some fine art in the 20th century that was great. There was some classical music that was great as well. But the mainstream of creativity wasn't in the traditional fine arts. It was in popular media. And as the century progressed, it shifted even further in that direction.

The great generation was great because they lived through some of the greatest challenges in modern times... two World Wars and a Great Depression. We can only hope that the next generation deals as well with the mess that the self indulgent, lazy, pampered baby boomers left them as our parents and grandparents did.

9/29/2011 1:23 AM  
Anonymous karoline said...

I like your fantastic web site

9/29/2011 6:29 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Don Pittenger and Kev Ferrara-- when I decided to start a blog, It was hard to choose between illustration and the philosophy of science as my theme. It is a good day when comments combine the two.

Don, not only was Isaac Newton pre-Philosophy of Science, he was also a complete mystic wacko. He famously claimed that he "framed no hypotheses" because he understood the importance of rigorous deductive reasoning to good scientific method, but we know in hindsight that it was not true. He came up with "occult hypotheses" all the damn time. Yet, he was one of the very greatest scientific minds of all time.

It is astonishing how often this happens. When you try to trace the thought process of some of the great scientific minds, they seem to have been guided at key moments by leaps of intuition. Gregor Mendel seems to have falsified his data to reach a conclusion that turned out to be correct.

But for those of us lesser scientific minds who can't rely on divine inspiration, I think it is useful to remember Newton's admonition to stay away from a priori hunches that are unsubstantiated by empirical phenomena.

Kev, I have never heard Charles Peirce described as "the American Aristotle" before. A bold claim, as I love me my Aristotle.

I knew of Peirce only from his connection to pragmatism, but I (and most people, I think) give William James the most credit for that. I did a little preliminary research and it looks like his reputation gained some real credibility after his death. Sounds like an interesting guy, and I will delve further, but was it really necessary for him to keep inventing new words for his theories? Fallibilism? Abductionism? Interpretants? Cenopythagorean categories? Perhaps it was the style of the 19th century, but Newton didn't make me work so hard.

After I got over my initial shock at your irreverence for Guernica, I liked your point (although I think your Jack Kirby point was something of an overstatement. Don't you think it was smart of Picasso to make the eye of god from the sky an electric lightbulb? Rather than paint a fascist airplane, he universalized the source of death raining down on the people. And rather than employ some mythological eye of Zeus, he created a symbol of the merciless technology of the 20th century. You didn't see Jack Kirby doing work like that.)

9/29/2011 9:05 AM  
Anonymous Daniel Mackie said...

Brilliant post. Fine art = high culture, illusration = pop culture, maybe?

9/29/2011 11:05 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

David (sorry for butting in Kev, but my distaste for Picasso compels me),

Don't you think Kirby could have appropriated the kind of symbolism you are describing in Picasso's work if Kirby desired to? Picasso's work (in terms of it's formalism) seems incredibly clumsy and awkward to me, and Kirby was miles ahead of him in that department.

9/29/2011 2:49 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David,

Peirce is often called The American Aristotle, I was just repeating the phrase, as it gets the point across quickly regarding the importance of his thought. (My appreciation for Aristotle is also sky high, of course.)

William James' bowdlerized version of Peirce's pragmatism was considered dubious by Peirce. Which led Peirce to rename his pragmatism "pragmaticism" to distinguish his more rigorous approach from James' populist approach.

James' approach, it seems to me, is very new age-y. (Whatever gets you through the night = truth.)

In fact, there is a lot to James' thought that, on further reflection isn't as sensible as it sounds (and may qualify as pseudoscience.) Whereas Peirce's star has been rising and rising the more his work and influence has been brought to light.

So fruitful are Peirce's investigations turning out to be for so many areas of inquiry that a long term project has been put in place to get every serious thought Peirce ever scribbled on paper into print in chronological order.

Yes, Peirce had a mania for naming. However, in his defense, he who first settles the frontier gets to plant his own flags.

On Guernica: It is a great cartoon. And an important one in terms of combating fascism. Picasso was one of the greatest cartoonists, imho. On par with Sullivant, Klee, Sterrett, Miro, Steinberg, Herriman, George Gross and Harvey Kurtzman. (I don't include Kandinsky, Mondrian, Pollock, Hoffman or Arp in this list because they are really graphic designers, not cartoonists, although there is some overlap.) No doubt Guernica had a seminal influence on guys like Peter Bagge, Ben Shahn and Mel Lazarus.

9/29/2011 2:51 PM  
Blogger Donald Pittenger said...

Back in the glory days of the 2Blowhards blog I wrote about why I consider Guernica a hugely over-rated painting.

Here's the gist: Assume a viewer who didn't know who Picasso was and was ignorant of the Spanish Civil War, therefore having no background information whatsoever. I contend that such a viewer, based strictly on what he saw, would have no idea what the painting was about. It contains no aircraft and no bombs. The only obvious war-related symbol is a broken sword.

Guernica therefore is almost entirely backstory-dependent.

9/29/2011 3:42 PM  
Blogger JonInFrance said...

I sure learn from your blog. Yeah, but surely photo and, especially, film trumps illustration. What matters to me is my personal experience. Why Picasso and not Singer Sargant? - the history books could be rewritten...

I'm sure in favour of according more importance to a lot of "illustration' - you're preaching to the converted, David?

9/29/2011 4:21 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Wonderful post David and I certainly agree with your thesis.

However, the distinction you make between illustration and fine art needs a little more definition. Not in terms of technical issues regarding the making of the images themselves by those who practice in each sector but in deeper, fundamental way.

The technical abilities of the 20th century illustrators in all its aspects (design, composition, conception, flexibility, naturalism etc) taken as a whole far outshone those of the fine artists of that century.

To me the distinction is, at root, really one of how the hand made image is disseminated in each field and thereby how this fundamentally effects the character, world view and meaning of image’s content.

The business of sitting down and dreaming up images that only a very, very, tiny fraction of the population will ever be able to purchase has an effect on the psyche of the person making the image. And the same goes for the psyche of the image maker who knows their work will be distributed to thousands if not millions of viewers.

So the issue is not one of content per se, but one of how the dissemination and distribution mechanism affects its content.
This in turn affects the impact and relevance of the hand made image, whether it be that of the ‘fine artist’ or ‘illustrator’ which in turn feeds back into the imaginative aspiration of its creator.

9/29/2011 6:38 PM  
Blogger Mellie said...

David, you and your readers might find the following post from James Gurney's blog interesting:
http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2007/10/art-history-fresh-view.html

He argues for the view of Dennis Nolan that since modernism, the narrative traditions of western art have been inherited not by 'fine' art but by illustration, animation and comics. 'Fine' art has actually gone off in a marginal direction of its own.

We can argue about the relative importance of 'fine' art vs illustration or how that might be measured, but I think this interpretation of art history helps overcome the snobbish approach of 'high' and 'low'.

9/29/2011 7:20 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन-- Thanks for the soundtrack. Still working on that Dalida song.

Tom-- "Advertising ... never questions any of its assumptions about life. What is love, what is hate, what is fear, what do we really need."

Tom, if you can show me examples of quality gallery art from the last 50 years that raise significant questions about "what is love, what is hate," etc. I would love to see them. I have seen plenty of sophomoric examples that for the most part show less insight into the nature of love than Gannam's advertisements. Prominent fine art today, to the extent it has any content at all, seems more concerned with oblique social commentary. Much "content" seems to be added to an inconclusive jumble of images by gallery owners packaging work for prospective customers. Of course, I can't claim to have done an exhaustive survey in this area.

As for your position on Guernica, I take your point that "the painting doesn’t convey the idea that fascists are evil and must be defeated." There is a valuable role for the arts in conveying the broader insanity of warfare, and I generally believe that art which is little more than propaganda is an inferior art form. However, I still think it is a major accomplishment for art to glorify behavior and inspire people to action (whether to embrace a lover or pull a trigger). I'm thinking that the people who are moved by the Raleigh or the Flagg would kick the ass of the people who are moved by the Picasso. (How's that for a test of art?)

Karoline-- many thanks.

9/29/2011 10:07 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I clearly have a lot to learn about Peirce. His work sounds pretty dense and difficult to approach, but it sounds like he may be worth the investment. If there is an American Aristotle, I should definitely make his acquaintance. At the same time, let's give poor William James his due. During the mid-20th century, when political philosophers were running around trying to understand why the world had gone so terribly wrong, there were a few feeble attempts to blame James and translate pragmatism and utilitarianism into a "truth is what is useful" philosophy that would justify totalitarian excesses. (But remember, that was the era when they tried to hold Nietzsche responsible for Nazism). Later in the century when analytic philosophy turned out to be a dry well, and people looked backward to see where philosophy went off the track, it was Emerson's transcendentalism and James' pragmatism that merited a second look. Add to that James' groundbreaking work on psychology and his exquisite writing ability-- he was the real deal.

Your comment that Guernica influenced Mel Lazarus was the funniest thing I've read on this blog or anywhere else in a long time. I laughed out loud. I'm laughing still.

T Arthur Smith-- An interesting discourse on advertising art. I agree with you that advertising is not inherently immoral. I would go further and say that much of 20th century advertising-- not just the advertising that gained ballast from World War II-- had great aesthetic strength. Check out the ads painted by Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth, Leyendecker, Ben Shahn, etc. As for the importance of the debate, I wish that art and illustration operated on a level playing field but I fear that is not true. The attention of the critics, the prestige, the incentives, the cultural attitudes all still favor fine art, as far as I can tell.

MORAN-- The Rockwell Museum is definitely worth the trip. Next weekend, Jaleen Grove is giving a lecture on the promising topic of "Sex, Booze and Al That Jazz" in illustration.

9/29/2011 11:14 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Re: Liberty
Your silence explains the state of the nation.

Re: The Light Bulb
The Eye of God shines light upon the horror so it may be seen and known by Seekers of the Truth.

Some like to think of it as ~ the Triumph of the Eucharist over Paganism

Sing it kids ~ Let the Sunshine In

~ of course Picasso's pic is a pastiche of his own work, done well before any bombing occurred, and some cut-n-paste *neoclassical poses…

OLÉ!, 1933

The Horrors of Bullfighting, 1934

The Horrors of the Minotaur, 1935

*such as ~ David drawing

Picasso the neoclassicist

9/30/2011 1:14 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Sorry David
What I meant about not questioning assumptions was that when selling things, Love tends to equal romantic love or sexual gratification. Other people when they become our "enemy" are absolute evil. Fear is not being love by others. All ideas that quickly fulfills the narrative and needs of the ego. All I am saying is I think a lot of people sense this when looking at the products advertising. I was talking about the content of picture making, illustration or fine art or what ever you want to call it, I wasn't defending fine art against illustration.

“Much "content" seems to be added to an inconclusive jumble of images by gallery owners packaging work for prospective customers. “
I am kind of making the same point; just replace gallery owners with advertisers. Fine Art, illustration, Hollywood, are all probably more similar then there are different.
Content is a tough question show one person a tree and they see nothing show another person a tree and they see the whole universe.

The people who paid the Flags and Raglaihs bought the Picasso’s. How’s that for a test of power? Just having fun.

9/30/2011 2:06 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David, your samples for 'impact on society' and 'impact on our individual lives' are almost all taken from the first half of the 20th century. the audience who's lives have been significantly impacted by CONTEMPORARY illustration is niche, and it mainly consists of other illustrators / designers. i'd argue that for most people 50 or under, illustration would come way behind film, music, literature and fine art in terms of impact.

9/30/2011 4:03 AM  
Blogger T Arthur Smith said...

"The attention of the critics, the prestige, the incentives, the cultural attitudes all still favor fine art, as far as I can tell."

Who listens to art critics anymore (present company excepted)? I hear what you're saying, but I think we're witnessing a shift away from all this, through the rise of the internet. If you look at what the kids are all drawing these days, and who their artist heroes are, it's not Donald Judd or Hirst. Ever since Dungeons and Dragons gained sway in the 60's, along with those early mystery/horror comics, a lot of the wind was knocked out of "fine art". The irony is the new illustrative work is actually closer in line with the renaissance than any of the postmodern works we place in museums next to the Raphaels.

The last great hurdle to popularizing illustration are the universities, and the internet's helping usurp their role too, with people like Jason Manley and James Gurney. Who knows how far it will go, but these are definitly interesting times.

9/30/2011 4:14 AM  
Blogger Shaik said...

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9/30/2011 6:28 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger-- I tracked down your earlier blog post on Guernica. Wow, you didn't mention your position that "I don't like almost everything Picasso ever produced." You don't pull any punches, do you?

I would agree it is a major flaw for Guernica to be so "backstory dependent" if Picasso wanted the audience to draw specific conclusions about the Spanish regime, but don't you think Picasso intentionally sacrificed the particulars in order to look for something universal in what took place? The rearing horses and dead babies may not tell you a lot about who to shoot at, but I think it aspires to join a broad tradition of human tragedies.

Daniel Mackie-- I thing the terms you have suggested would be widely accepted. I just worry about the connotations of the term "high" culture.

Etc, etc-- Yikes, another Picasso hater? Maybe we should open up a broader dialogue on the subject.

9/30/2011 1:01 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Etc, etc-- Yikes, another Picasso hater? Maybe we should open up a broader dialogue on the subject.

David,
Let's do. Funny thing is, as a child I thought I liked him; I liked art and was taught that Picasso was one of the greatest artists in history, so by simple childish rationalization I liked Picasso (all prior to any real aesthetic consciousness). Maybe it's totally unwarranted projection, but I can't help but wonder if many adults are attracted to Picasso by that same childish rationalization sans real aesthetic consciousness.

9/30/2011 8:10 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Sing it kids ~ Let the Sunshine In

Nice, but what if some of the kids have Darwinian fish pinned to their backpacks; shouldn't their voices be heard?

9/30/2011 11:10 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Etc, etc...

"I held your opinion when I was a child" is generally not the best statement to open a dialogue about anything.

You nutty nut, you!

:)

10/01/2011 12:26 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

"if some of the kids have Darwinian fish pinned to their backpacks" ~ Karma has got them by the tail.

"The rearing horses … it aspires to join a broad tradition of human tragedies." ~ Without a doubt.

10/01/2011 4:08 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Kev,
The hyperbole built around Picasso calls for utter frankness. I don't want to get the discussion off topic, but I'm perfectly willing to offer up my favorite artists for hostile scrutiny; their work can take it and so can I.

10/01/2011 10:01 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Wow David, that was blistering. You brought both tears and a smile to my face today.

10/02/2011 3:46 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/02/2011 3:49 PM  
Blogger StimmeDesHerzens said...

"The language of love was spoken in John Gannam's ads for bedsheets as well"
Lovely and delightful illustrations, and for BEDSHEETS. Geez where do you find such treasures! There is (always)magic behind the veil. gB

10/02/2011 6:49 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Stephen Worth-- "the mainstream of creativity wasn't in the traditional fine arts. It was in popular media."

I agree with that, but I would add two considerations. The first is that some very worthwhile-- even brilliant-- activity takes place outside the mainstream. The second is that "popular media" included many of the composers I mentioned-- Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma, etc.

JonInFrance-- "surely photo and, especially, film trumps illustration."

Well, photos are certainly hugely significant for a wide variety of reasons, but I would not say they are more significant than illustration as an art form. Movies are a different matter.

Chris Bennett-- " the distinction you make between illustration and fine art needs a little more definition."

That's a fair point. In my talk I offered a distinction between the two which I eliminated here for lack of space. My distinction was not too different from the one you've drawn here. Maybe that's my next post.

Mellie-- Thanks for the link to James Gurney's always valuable blog. I agree with the point.

10/02/2011 10:56 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन-- I am starting to spend more time listening to music than reading and responding to comments. When I saw you were offering up "Let The Sunshine In," I thought you meant the Fifth Dimension's Age of Aquarius song. I should have known you'd never refer us to something so mainstream.

Tom-- "just replace gallery owners with advertisers."

Don't you think that advertisers have a more clear cut, unequivocal message than gallery owners?


Laurence John-- "for most people 50 or under, illustration would come way behind film, music, literature and fine art in terms of impact."

Laurence, I meant to speak only about the visual arts. It is interesting to make analogies to music and literature, but I do think they are apples and oranges when it comes to the considerations we are discussing here. I think it is fair to compare illustration and fine art. I agree that the impact of illustration has diminished over the past 50 years, but I suspect the impact of fine art has diminished even more. Film is a much closer call for me.

10/02/2011 11:46 PM  
Blogger Hart said...

impressive essai David, very inspired..

10/03/2011 12:47 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

T Arthur Smith-- "Who listens to art critics anymore (present company excepted)? "

This may be the only forum on the planet where illustration is presumed to have a competitive advantage of over "fine art."

Etc, etc--Looks like I may be the lone defender of Picasso here. That's an odd position to be in.

SimmeDesHerzens-- Those wonderful John Gannam ads reflected what Joseph Campbell might call archetypes of romance, immediately recognizable to people who had been in real life relationships. The big tough army sergeant trying to snatch back his humiliating love letters isn't supposed to be innovative, it is supposed to be timeless. A later generation of women, faced with a choice between the Luke Skywalker/sweet guy prototype and the Han Solo/tough rogue prototype, would choose Han Solo and then work to turn him into Luke Skywalker, just as their grandmothers were doing in these ads for bed sheets decades earlier. While the human dynamic is ageless (and thus recognizable to all potential customers for sheets) note that some of the iconography is very specific to that time. The wedding ring is prominently displayed for readers who believed men and women shouldn't be rolling around on sheets like that unmarried.

10/03/2011 1:36 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David: "I agree that the impact of illustration has diminished over the past 50 years, but I suspect the impact of fine art has diminished even more"

it's a close call, but i suspect that for the average guy in the street, they're equally irrelevant. i'll bet he could name five contemporary fine artists quicker than he could five contemporary illustrators though.

"Well, photos are certainly hugely significant for a wide variety of reasons, but I would not say they are more significant than illustration as an art form."

i looked through your examples and thought about what the modern version would be:

-the GIbson Girl would be a (photoshop-enhanced) photograph of a modern film actress or fashion model in an ad for a luxury-brand fragrance or clothing brand.

-the Arrow Collar man and flapper fashion icons would be (photoshop-enhanced) fashion photography for a label (as above) or a spread in a fashion magazine, such as Vogue.

-psychedlic style could be illustration, but could just as easily be fine art (low-brow / pop-surrealist), music video or graphic design (for skateboards, t-shirts etc).

-join the army advertising would be a TV ad, cinema ad or press ad (photography).

-romantic advertising would be photography (still or moving).

10/03/2011 4:09 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

"Don't you think that advertisers have a more clear cut, unequivocal message than gallery owners?"

David maybe you need more complex language for a million dollar deal then a fifty-dollar deal. A lot advertising appeals to the idea that you will become special when buying a product whether it’s a Damien Hirst or a new Arrow shirt.

10/03/2011 10:39 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Laurence John said… "i suspect that for the average guy in the street, they're equally irrelevant."

~ I'll bet the average chav knows the Statue of Liberty.

Tom said… "David maybe you need more complex language for a million dollar deal then a fifty-dollar deal."

~ You tell him Tom!

10/04/2011 1:04 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Gannam's artwork here provides perfectly adequate answers to the questions: what is love, what constitutes a good life, etc.

And that is exactly why the work, to the degree that it opines about those questions, is advertising. Like most predictions, computer simulations, or fantasy art, the recommendations of lifestyle brands (or pontifications on pseudo-philosophical questions), are intrinsically advertisements; the hocking of one's wares disguised as revelation.

But art's task, in my belief system, is not to convict you of anything you don't already know. Art resonates with our experience, it cannot provide it and shouldn't pretend to, (as virtual reality as entertainment, one can cogently argue, is a form of pornography.) To the degree that we share the truths expressed by a work of art, to that degree the art is good. The rest is mere sensation.

I agree with your assessment of William James' brilliance and importance. Even his pseudo-scientific works, in the grand scheme of things, pushed the ball down the field. However, as the standard bearer in the popular imagination for pragmatism, his lack of philosophical rigor made it easy for the analytic philosophers to brush aside pragmatism. William James makes Richard Rorty's argument that philosophy is "only a kind of literature" seem true.

10/04/2011 1:09 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

अर्जुन
I like it, I think I saw the same ad couple of nights ago when watching late night TV. I have got to get one before they are all gone.

10/04/2011 7:53 PM  
Blogger Vanderwolff said...

Loved this article! You are one of the most didactic, well-informed and persuasive apologists living today for the crucial art of illustration as seen during the past century. I may be biased, since I have always revered the genius and aesthetic balance of melding story, contemporaneous culture and the high-wire act of appealing to a non-elitist audience to an artistic vision, but few modern critics or essayists, perhaps none, have your incisive yet accessible manner of explaining why illustration was (and is) such a quintessentially vital art form. Thank you, David, for letting your professorial banner unfurl across the ether-realm. Long may it wave!!

10/04/2011 8:05 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Richard-- Many thanks.

Hart-- That's very kind of you. I appreciate it.

अर्जुन and Tom-- I keep thinking that if I listen to Jeff Koons long enough, I will work my way through the horse shit and come to a clearing where, advertently or inadvertently, words of lucidity and truth will be uttered. Alas, your Pink Panther video was not destined to be that moment of blessed revelation. I suspect part of the problem is that Koons was teamed with another accomplished fraudster, the oleaginous Tobias Meyers, and the two gained strength from each other. Just when one of them was about to flag, the other was able to spur him on. For example, I don't think the words, "There are only four of these in the world" and "this sculpture is unique" are allowed to come out of a single mouth. I think you get hit by a bolt of lightning or something if they do. That's why they needed a tag team.

Laurence John wrote: "i suspect that for the average guy in the street, they're equally irrelevant. i'll bet he could name five contemporary fine artists quicker than he could five contemporary illustrators though."

If "contemporary" means "living," I would be astonished if the average guy on the street could name 5 contemporary fine artists. Who today has the star power of a Picasso or a Matisse or a Pollack? They couldn't name 5 illustrators either, but I bet they could name five illustrations. ("The guy who draws sponge bob square pants, the guy who draws southpark, the guy who draws the Lion King, the guy who draws Homer Simpson, etc.)

As for photos, I think most of the great significance of photos comes not from their artistic role (for example Annie Leibovitz) but rather from their reportorial function-- the pictures on drivers licenses and passports, the images on security cameras, photo finishes at the end of a race, family scrapbooks of memories, records of current events, etc. Put them all together and I agree photos are more significant than art, but for different reasons.

10/05/2011 4:41 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: " Art resonates with our experience, it cannot provide it and shouldn't pretend to,"

Kev, wouldn't you agree that art expands our experience? When you read All Quiet on the Western Front or The Red Badge of Courage, doesn't that help put you in situatuions where you've never been, and broaden your empathy for others beyond what your personal experience would support?

As for William James, I think we agree on his place in the firmament.

Vanderwolff-- I was really very touched by your exceedingly generous reaction to my little plot of land in cyberspace. It means a lot to me, thanks.

10/05/2011 4:51 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David,

i'm surprised that you can so easily dismiss the dominance of photography and cling to the belief that illustration today is still more significant. if you think the role of photography is more important as reportage than artistic that's beside the point. the point is that all of your examples come from a different era and have mainly been replaced by photography or film / video as the medium of choice. i don't think that's in any way controversial.

10/05/2011 5:19 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

D.A., I'd say a prayer for you, but I'm afraid its a lost cause.

10/05/2011 5:38 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David,

To the degree that Bridge Over accurately communicates the events it portrays, it is journalism. And the point of journalism, it seems to me, is to provide, as best as possible, all the significant facts attending and surrounding an event. Journalism does not express the event. It expands the breadth of reference about life and history we store in our minds, but it is not experience.

To the degree that Bridge makes you feel emotions as you read, it is utilizing it's plasticity to make art. But, while the experience of emotions is experience, you are experiencing the art of the particular book Bridge Over The River Q, you are not experiencing the events it portrays. The specificity of the emotions is an illusion. John F. Carlson wrote (about how art works): All specific emotions draw their lifeblood from the universal emotions.

10/06/2011 12:20 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- I would draw a distinction between photography and movies; I do agree with you that movies / video have become culturally more significant than illustration. I also agree that this point is no longer controversial. (As a side note, that lack of controversy is not the end of the story. Movies control more of the sense and enable the viewer to be more passive than illustration does, both for better and worse).

As for photographs, I agree that photography gobbled up a lot of traditional illustration jobs in the 1970s; the covers of Time and Newsweek were formerly illustrations. Sports Illustrated was formerly a heavily illustrated magazine. Car advertisements used to be paintings and now are photographs.

Still, I don't think you see many photographs with the same kind of iconic significance as illustration, unless it is due to the newsworthiness of the subject. The explosion of the space shuttle, the Arab spring, the collapse of the World Trade Center, the protests in Tiananmen Square-- these images do resonate but I'd argue they resonate more because of the events that occurred than because of the taste and judgment and art of the photographer. I don't dispute that the net impact of photography is greater, it's just that I think the significance of photography gets a collateral boost because its role spans multiple categories.

अर्जुन-- Eeeeek, that's a fresh nightmare for me.

Kev Ferrara wrote: "you are experiencing the art of the particular book Bridge Over The River Q, you are not experiencing the events it portrays."

Kev, it's true that you are not experiencing what it is like to work at backbreaking labor building a bridge under a hot tropical sun, but don't you think that art does enable you to experience (vicariously) some of the frustration and rage and fear felt by the people who were physically there? Isn't that why you feel emotionally drained, or why your adrenaline pumps, or why tears come to your eyes?

10/06/2011 11:45 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"Still, I don't think you see many photographs with the same kind of iconic significance as illustration, unless it is due to the newsworthiness of the subject."

David,
i would agree with that assessment if you were talking only about the 'golden era' of illustration, but not in regard to the last fifty years or so.
anyway, i'm repeating myself.

cheers

10/06/2011 12:29 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

...don't you think that art does enable you to experience (vicariously) some of the frustration and rage and fear felt by the people who were physically there? Isn't that why you feel emotionally drained, or why your adrenaline pumps, or why tears come to your eyes?

We are in sympathy when we rationally understand the plight of others. Journalism can do that for us.

We are in empathy when we sensually understand the plight of others. Only experience can do that for us.

In Literature, as in all arts, the descriptive aspects, the facts and details of the events, scenes and characters, put is in sympathy with the scenario; the surface level of art is journalism. Which is to say, we understand the described scenario in the same way that we may understand a position in chess. It is a dispassionate understanding of the involved tensions and dynamics.

The plasticity of art is the thing that causes the feelings of frustration, rage and fear. Plays, acts, scenes, and beats are shaped in order to aesthetically convey meaning through emotion. As Charles Lasar said, "Design is the composition of the emotion."

It is the marriage of the emotion-causing plasticity of art with our understanding of the sympathetic "chess position" (of the human-shaped pieces that act on the board), which gives one the feeling that you are feeling the rage and frustration of the characters in the play.

What is really happening is that you, as reader, are being subjected, through aesthetics, to the very psychological forces that you think are affecting the characters. And you believe this because the empathy (expressed through plasticity) has been synthesized with the sympathy of the scenario. (In my belief system, the synthetic superpositioning of these elements is the duality that makes art ART.)

Which is all to say; Tears of joy only come to your eyes when you have been released from the tensions of the play.

10/06/2011 1:59 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

I agree with Kev, Gannam is the bomb!

10/06/2011 6:20 PM  
Anonymous antoni said...

Brilliant post. Fine art, high culture, illusration, pop culture, very inspioration for me.

11/16/2011 10:55 PM  
Anonymous Not Yet An Artisan said...

i really miss something like this in other blogs. not just some random showcase and telling "this is good read it". thanks

2/19/2013 5:46 PM  

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