Sunday, November 09, 2014

STAN DRAKE

Fifty years ago, comic artist Stan Drake drew an unscrupulous director trying to seduce a young actress. We know the director is up to no good because he praises her horrible acting:

From the Heart of Juliet Jones, 1966

Drake's audience immediately understood the joke.  The girl's way of demonstrating rejection (sticking out her hand and turning her head) was so simple minded, the director's praise couldn't possibly be sincere.

Fifty years later, when it was illustrator Ivan Brunetti's turn to draw a woman rejecting a suitor,  he employed the exact same body language.  Only now it's no longer a joke:

Today's version of "rejection with mute futility" using circle heads

Many people like to believe that today's comics and graphic novels are more sophisticated and mature than the soap opera strips they replaced (such as Drake's).   Brunetti's work (unlike Drake's) is collected in books by the prestigious Yale University Press and translated into seven languages.  Brunetti lectures in colleges and wins  awards (such as The Eisner and Ignatz awards) that didn't even exist in Drake's day, when the medium was less self-congratulatory. 

But take a closer look at Drake's work.    Note how he assumes his newspaper audience is familiar with the story of King Priam from the Iliad.  How many comparable literary references do you see in today's comics?   Note too that in Drake's panel, the words are not to be read literally-- they are a lie.   Only by contrasting the words with the drawing do we understand the wicked intention of the director and the lack of talent of the actress.  Fifty years later it's rare to find this type of creative tension between words and drawing, in part because most artists of graphic novels and comics don't draw well enough to pull it off.  Note how Drake's mastery of facial expression, body language and staging give him a range of communication tools that aren't called upon today.

Of course, Drake did employ the now unfashionable photo based realism.  But if you take a look at the great variety in Drake's line, his editorial choices and expressive exaggerations, you can decide for yourself what value comes from the artist and what comes from the camera.  


Whatever Drake's tools,  it seems to me that he was able to achieve a result with more layers of awareness,  more irony and humanity, and with greater aesthetic quality than the result we see from Brunetti and many of his peers.  

So, for those of you who still enjoy good linework, this week I'm offering a collection of Drake's drawings from an era when comics were less chic, and drawings were expected to carry their own as a full partner with the words:







No mechanical lines here: you could always tell that Drake's favorite time of day was when it came time to draw Eve Jone's hair.  There is undisguised pleasure in the act of drawing which is often missing from today's flatter efforts.


62 comments:

Anonymous said...

As usual, your writing is clear, thoughtful, and makes a great point. Thank you for a great post.

peter wassink said...

Hello David, You are covering some interesting terrain with your recent posts.
While i almost got the impression that you were of the position that a drawing with more lines is always better, your post about Chwast proved otherwise.
I'd love to see you post some more examples in this direction. And maybe explore what makes up the difference between good and bad practitioners of more abstract illustration styles.
Because in the end all drawing is an abstraction of the visible world and couldn't it be argued that greater abstraction requires in a way greater artistic skills from the creator?
One example is the israeli Caricaturist Hanoch Piven. His very abstracted caricatures are often very striking even when you don't pay attention to the added layer of the cleverly chosen attributes. I find myself admiring his work more than even the most skillful pencil rendered caricatures which oftentimes end up looking like photos distorted with a photoshop filter.

On topic of this post, your comparison of the two first images is a bit unfair, without the text balloons i don't think Drake's joke would have been that obvious.

Richard said...

David,

Your narrative of past vs. present in comics/illustration is continually undermined by your covering guys like Brunetti, who in terms of actual sales is a nobody.

We understand that the New Yorker's blessing doesn't mean an artist is serious. Do you?

Since you only talk about those sorts of artists when describing modernity, you make it sound like you actually think those specific critics are important after all.

In terms of actual sales, in the US, the king artist of comics right now is Charles Adlard. There's a lot of things wrong with his pages, circle heads is not one of those things. #1 graphic novelist for years running.

There is a circle-head illustrator that is popular and selling quite a few books, but it's Jeff Kinney, of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, not Brunetti. The highest sold illustrator in kids books.

In terms of illustrators that are getting coverage by the royal critics of Post Modernism (Hi-Fructose, boooooooom, but does it float, etc.), Brunetti is not one of them. Some big names lately have been Jeremy Geddes, Tran Nguyen, Andrew Hem, Kazuki Takamatsu, Kris Kuksi, Yoko d'Holbachie, and so on.

If Francoise Mouly's criticism means so little to you, stop telling us about the artist she reps!

-R

Donald Pittenger said...

I'm not into the current graphic novel scene, so it was interesting for me to peek at the link Richard posted above.

Very static visual stuff. This page might well have been reduced to written dialog in a paperback book.

To bring up Tom Wolfe's "The Painted Word" once again, art seems to have been reduced to text in our postmodernist world.

kev ferrara said...

I think postmodernist is actually synonymous with text-centric. Words are "ready-made" as much as recycled imagery, allegorical visual representations, and common graphic symbols are. The common characteristic to all is the surfacing and clarification of meaning-units so they can be read plainly and quickly. The corollary being that nothing is hidden, mysterious or suggested, nothing is felt through intuition, and nobody will feel bad for failing to deciphering the message.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- Thanks very much for your kind comments.

Peter Wassink-- I agree with you there is as much danger from too many lines and too much realism as there is from over simplification. I am a big fan of Chwast and Glaser (I have had the pleasure of long personal talks with both, and found them intellectually exhilarating). I like a number of other imaginative conceptual illustrators as well, and you are right, perhaps I have been neglecting that side lately. I always welcome new names; I like Piven's work but it has been a long time since I took a close look and I appreciate the reminder.

As for your point about Drake and the text, I agree that the words make a difference, but keep in mind that the words aren't explaining or reinforcing the drawing, they are in direct opposition to it. The words say she's brilliant but the drawing shows she's a dope. So in some sense, the words here impose an additional challenge.

Tom said...

Hi David

"books by the prestigious Yale University Press," the same  "brilliant"minds that have created  70 trillion dollars in derivatives.  One can't help but think there is a cultural dumbing down on purpose.

Drake's staging  is brilliant compared to the panel that Richard posted.  He clearly can show a "scene" from any angle he chooses and from any distance, which simply means he can draw.  Also the rhythms he carries through his figures is wonderful and alive. There is a dance to the ink and the forms the ink described.  Your comment on the hair is telling, it's rising and lowering into and out of the light in clearly stated rhythm that carries the eye effortlessly through the forms.  The line work that describes the woman's breast that you commented on feels like and undulates like an ocean wave. You could run your hand across the surfaces. He clearly states his planes with know spatial confusion.

His lighting is great too, evoking and complimenting the moods of the different panels.  The man reaching into his breast pocket to pull out a letter is quite a piece of work.  The best part about theses drawings is it doesn't look like he is struggling, they are graceful because he is not encumbered by the how.

Of course back then people more readily accepted stories lines that people today find trite, silly and not real. Grace, style, and talent where much more valued fifty years ago. Or the idea of style has changed.  It's like comparing John Wayne with Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle in the French Connection.

 It makes sense that forms change as people views of reality change, but the lack of design(drawing) you are describing in today's illustration  is found in all the arts that are drawing dependent today.

  Skill implies something, but I am not sure what.  Maybe how you do something is more important then what you are trying to say.

kev ferrara said...

Tom,

This is a bit hard to express, but in my view, skill demonstrates that one cares about one's work on a personal basis. Not just as "some job to get done so I can pay the bills." But as something highly meaningful to the artist, such that they would sacrifice any number of precious hours of their limited lifespan to make an honorable product.

And I believe the evidence of that care, in the craftsmanship of a finely made thing, gives off its own unique aesthetic aura or aspect. Partially this is the transcendent value of the ideal forms of the work which "shine" through and radiate from the humble reality of the object. But a second transcendental value, superimposed with the first, is probably best described as love, which is our sympathetic response to the artefactual handwriting of the artist as he thought, fought, and then caressed the work into final being.

I think the experience of this synthesis of idealism and love is become increasingly rare in the world, yet surely it is increasingly needed. By the principle of supply and demand, handmade works should be becoming increasingly valuable across the board. But there is so much gatekeeping in popular mediums, and so much sensationalism-on-demand that I think people don't even know there is this medicine out there to offer respite from the endemic soullessness.

David Apatoff said...

Richard-- I question whether Adlard's readership can begin to match the readership of the New York Times (the Niemi example I offered) or the New Yorker (the Ware or Brunetti or Gauld examples I offered) but it may be an apples-and-oranges comparison, as the New York Times readers don't purchase the newspaper especially to see Niemi's or Ware's art.

My concern isn't so much with "actual sales" as with the evaluation of the quality of art. Putting Francoise Mouly aside, the artists I am criticizing are the ones who are broadly offered up as bringing "high art" standards to "low" comic art. I measure this by noting that their work appears in mainstream museum exhibitions, such as "masters of comic art." They get awards and trophies, up to and including the Pulitzer prize for Spiegelman. Consider the deluxe hardbound art books about cartoonists such as Panter. Or my representative quote from culture guru Dave Eggers fawning over Ware. The New York Times turned down not just Drake but comics by every great artist from McCay and Herriman through Oliphant and MacNelly, until comics finally became "sophisticated" enough and the New York Times began putting comics by inept artists on its editorial page. So I think there is plenty of documentation for the broader phenomenon. The question is, "why?" (other than the general dumbing down of visual taste by literary types).

Jeremy Geddes does some highly polished work and makes a lot of dough on his limited edition prints but has he been in as many museum exhibitions as Brunetti? I think I was pretty careful to say that the circle heads were not the only active trend out there, and that there are some excellent artists currently working. It's just that there are enough artists working in that style so it is worthy of a raised eyebrow.

Donald Pittenger-- I agree with your assessment. I think that Adlard is pretty good compared to the typical sequential artist today; the question is why the standard is so low today.

Laurence John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurence John said...

David: "The question is, "why?"

i've given my answer to that one here.


Richard,

Chris Ware's 'Building Stories' made it to no.4 in Amazon's 'bestsellers > graphic novels' list. it's currently at no.15 after two years in the top 100.

hardly insignificant in sales terms.

Laurence John said...

* Amazon.UK list.

Sean Farrell said...

 Drake's favorite time of day was when it came time to draw Eve Jone's hair. There is undisguised pleasure in the act of drawing which is often missing from today's flatter efforts.

Wonderfully put David and Tom also speaks well of this pleasure.

Pleasure is a big part of drawing and mastering skill takes decades of enjoyment. Love of work generally is in the skill which it is done and in drawing, a love of movement is a simple affirmation in joy of being.

The affirmation of self is another matter, since people really don't understand the self nor have they ever. It was understood by rank for worldly reasons. Then people were warned to not even call another a fool, which was an acknowledgement of the individual self as it had never been so before, not as rank, but in the simple dignity of being, (loved). In such, the gestures, actions and thoughtfulness of the most worthless outcasts became beautifully significant.

Simple acknowledgement, work, skill and pleasure were uprooted and replaced with the idea man, which Tom Wolfe so humorously captured and who has since prevailed. Today we live in a world of binary genius, but people remain as unknown to themselves as they ever were. Everyone wants proof of everything, rather than accept that the affirmation of self is most endearing and meaningful as matter of the heart.

Why do these old illustrations continue to be enjoyable since they were done before many were even born? I think it's in the pleasure within the skill, art and simple human affirmations, which still speak despite their rank in the art world.

Sean Farrell said...

Well said Kev. I was thinking somewhere along the same lines and missed your post.

Richard said...

David,

I appreciate that there are old institutions that are advocating for this sort of garbage.

This shouldn't come as any surprise, Pulitzer prizes and the praise of the New York Times have been going to the literature counterparts to Ware for 50 years. They gave a Nobel Prize to John Steinbeck.

In music they've been giving awards to Philip Glass for ages, Obama got a Nobel Peace Prize...

By giving these institutions, and their award-winners, the time of day aren't you supporting their claim to relevance?

At least if one goes by sales we know that what we're talking about isn't the political/social ax-grinding of a biased organization.

chris bennett said...

David Apatoff -- ”So I think there is plenty of documentation for the broader phenomenon. The question is, "why?" (other than the general dumbing down of visual taste by literary types)”

And this is doubly confounding when we consider the fact that our society is awash with screens and their almost infinite access to images.

Yet in this very situation is the clue. The screen image is dominated by photography (static and moving) along with its interface icon lexicon that manages its websites, social media, aps, games etc. In other words, it is dominated by the techniques of managing information.

Consequently we are subliminally ‘educated’ that all images are read in this way, all images are decoded in this way, all images are digested in this way, all images embody their meaning in this way. And that anything else is surplus to requirements, a questionable ‘extra’, barnacles of subjectivity destabilising the keel in the relativistic ocean.

Add to this the fact that text-centric (thanks Kev) ‘high’ art (Emin, Koons, Perry, Hirst et al) and ‘low’ art (e.g. all the comic artists sited in the recent posts) are ready-made for the journalising publicity machine (its advertisement, discussion and awards), then the hard nut of the “why” problem with all this is beginning to show some promising cracks.

kev ferrara said...

I'm sorry that I've said this a few times before, but it seems clear that text-centric people are simply not comfortable with the power of art. It is too mysterious, too intense, too wild, too emotional, and they can't make it or control it, (so it serves as an uncomfortable reminder of their lack of talent and control.) They seem to psychologically long to be editor, curator, and DJ of all cultural products in their vicinity to ensure that; they are not left out of the loop in determining what information or meanings are acceptable for any given question (particularly where politics can be shoehorned into matters), and they are not overwhelmed by the intensity of aesthetic emotions. This obsessive need to control information is a constant feature of text-based culture, which is by its nature intensely tribal, egocentric, and assertive. Words are the dweebs' weapons in their attempt to manipulate the non-dweeb world to their liking.

That words makes for cheap, quick, and easy-to-make content while inflaming passions and causing drama is exactly why it has taken over the world.

Regarding the role of technology in shaping culture, here's how I put this issue last July on this blog (I've combined a few paragraphs)...

"It is what the technology teaches, secretly, that matters. Technology is created embodying a certain philosophy. (And any particular technology will always be a trojan horse for the philosophical beliefs under which it was built.

The use of the technology teaches the (user's) appetite according to the philosophy. The more one uses any particular tech, the more the philosophy of that tech embeds in one's worldview. I think this holds across all areas of endeavor; all the sciences, all industries, all entertainments, all professions, all of the arts, all information delivery systems, and all professions.

A culture eventually becomes the products its technology teaches it to consume.

Equally crucial, the technology is occupying the time and mind-space of the user. While doing so, all other technologies are being blocked, their philosophies and surface content blocked out of the question.

The technology that comes closest to isolating the user the most, shielding him the most from all other stimulus and competitions... wins this marketing game."

Sean Farrell said...

Kev and Chris, both of your posts are extremely interesting. Originally the use of images in advertising was considered a threat to the ability of people to form and understand differences in ideas and there was some truth in this concern. I'm thinking of famous image campaigns like Nike and Air France which used no words other than a logo on a huge image.

There had also been the notion that good writing drew from the real world and worked best when actual events were told truthfully to what was physically true, not unlike the manner of painting the authentic article or event and Joseph Conrad would be a good example of such a writer. Of course all that is long gone.

But what you are both saying is that the limiting nature of the technological devices and even the technologies behind them creates such an artificial world, that once inside, there is little relationship with what is outside the parameters of this artificial world and one's mind is shaped or reshaped according to these limits.

Wow! There certainly has been a break from skills, pleasure in skill and a limitation in human affirmation, but it is clearly worse than that and explains dweeb culture. Thanks.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I don't have a better explanation than your "postmodernist is actually synonymous with text-centric" argument, and I think there is a great deal of insight there. Yet, it doesn't seem to explain everything. For example, Spiegelman and Ware don't draw very well, yet it's hard to deny that they are both true lovers of the graphic arts, with a thorough knowledge of the greats going back to Winsor McCay and earlier. They are not what we've called text people. Similarly, there are museum curators out there (at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hammer Museum, for example) who specialize in pictures, not words, yet who swoon over Panter and others. How do they fit into your assessment?

Tom-- I like the way you characterize "the dance of the ink and the forms," and it won't surprise you that I share your view of Drake's work. Your point that "the lack of design(drawing) ... in today's illustration is found in all the arts that are drawing dependent today" seems true for many of the high profile artists such as Hirst, Koons, etc. but I'm not ready to indict the whole class quite yet (just as I think Yale has done a few commendable things). Claes Oldenburg may be too ancient an example to be relevant to your point, but I recently saw a show of his early work and I was deeply impressed by his design / drawing.

Laurence John -- I recall your points very well, and if you did not care for Leonard Starr's work back then I suppose it should not surprise me that you don't care much for Drake. (The two were good friends and actually shared a studio for a while). I did agree back then (and continue to agree) with your point that there has to be room for multiple forms of excellence, and that the ability to capture a likeness is not determinative. And while you made a strong argument for Ware, when I go back and look at his circle head work, it's difficult for me to take him seriously as something other than a writer.

You wrote, " it's not so much that the technical drawing skills in comics overall declined and acceptability followed; it's that a new generation of artists began producing work that referenced various genres of modern / 'fine' art. In short: comics could now be 'avant garde'. the boxes were ticked. the gallery doors opened." I suppose yours is the more charitable side of the "chicken and egg" dilemma but I dont know how we prove who caused what. Let's just say that I would find it easier to believe if the "fine art" cartoonists had the drawing skills to draw like Drake; then I would know their choices were made out of strength, not weakness.

Laurence John said...

David: :Let's just say that I would find it easier to believe if the "fine art" cartoonists had the drawing skills to draw like Drake; then I would know their choices were made out of strength, not weakness."

David, you're hung up on the question of how on earth the plaudit-makers can't see that Ware or Spiegelman don't have the traditional drawing skills of previous comic artists.

well, since when have modern art critics and fans cared about traditional drawing skills ???

modern art fans think Picasso and Matisse is brilliant drawing and Leyendecker is kitsch. so as long as comic art resembled kitsch (according to Greenberg's definition) it was never going to get any attention as a serious medium. traditional drawing HAD to go and be replaced by a new graphic language before the intelligentsia allowed it past the reception desk.

chris bennett said...

Laurence.
That’s certainly true – up to a point.
But I think you would agree that the alternatives for side-stepping the kitsch block were other than what has become prevalent. I’m not as knowledgeable on the history of illustration as some people here, but broadly speaking, the same issue faced illustrators in the ‘50s when abstraction hit the blades with Jackson Pollock. 

Laurence John said...

Chris,

i'll get back to this later (i've got to go out right now) but the 50s illustration point was briefly addressed in the previous comment section linked above. quote:

as for 'why the recent acceptance by the tastemakers ?'... you know how the art establishment became comfortable with certain types of illustration from the 1950s (Ben Shahn etc.) once it started to include 'modernist' influences but remained sniffy about virtually all the preceding stuff ? ... same thing with comics.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John and Chris Bennett-- I think there is a fairly basic point about human nature here that doesn't require knowledge of art history.

We tend to take a more skeptical look at the philosophy of people who are capitalists because they are rich or communists because they are poor. Their view may turn out to be correct, but we assign them a higher burden of proof because their ideas happen to coincide with their self interest.

By the same token, an artist who claims that art should no longer value the skills the artist lacks gets an additional layer of scrutiny from me. I want to understand whether their view merits broader applicability to people who have the luxury of choosing from a broader range of options.

I suspect that a lot of people gave Les Demoiselles d'Avignon a second look because Picasso was able to draw in a conventional sense.

There's more to be said about this, and especially in response to comments from Sean, Kev et al but it will have to wait for a time when I am not writing on a boat at Epcot.

Tom said...

Kev
I think you expressed that very well. I was talking to a carptenter one day and he said “if you are going to do it,you might as well do it right.”


David, i wash”t just thinking of the visual arts but I was thinking of architecture and the whole design of our towns and cities. So many buildings now have to place signage on their walls so you can figure out where the entrance of the building is. Or in old building which often have magnificant entrances where one is visually directed, signs are often placed to redirected you to some hidden side entrance. Drawing and design are inner changeable.

I like Claus Oldenberg’s drawings, but they are more like calligraphy, a nice signature.

'modern art fans think Picasso and Matisse is brilliant drawing and Leyendecker is kitsch. so as long as comic art resembled kitsch (according to Greenberg's definition) it was never going to get any attention as a serious medium. traditional drawing HAD to go and be replaced by a new graphic language before the intelligentsia allowed it past the reception desk.'

Now that is interesting Laurence John, Greenberg’s essay was published in the Partisan Review which apparently received a lot of CIA funding. Passing the reception desk, sounds a lot like Walter Lippman’s idea of manufacturing consent. I do like the general thrust of Greenberg’s essay and I diffidently prefer Matisse to Gil Elvgreen.

Sean Farrell said...

I love what's going on here regarding the comments on the gatekeepers.

The going argument is that we can only agree on things that are verifiable and provable like math, science and medicine, so the other stuff has to go because people really can't agree on it and its all based on ancient cultural habits and religions anyway. In short, the argument is an aggressive and incredibly destructive form of relativism and it is also false.

In the previous post, one of the Chwast drawings portrayed lust as predatory groveling. The disposition is a curious paradox of motives and a very insightful truth. Another image rendered lust as a cold demon with no concern for the female herself, but only the pleasure or beauty about to be engaged and so captures a destruction about to happen. I think both images capture unwanted truths about lust as a destructive and powerful vice.

Why would anyone argue the truths of the drawings? As human beings, we don't want to submit our urges to any other concerns because vice fills an emptiness and from a marketing standpoint, our emptiness is very profitable. So many are determined to rid the world of ancient concepts of truths and vices, but that doesn't change the truths captured by the Chwasts.

The argument which seems to have nothing to do with the concerns of drawing per se, is connected through a cultural destruction which is limiting our capacity to understand complexities, by reducing things to simple linear directive or binary utterances and this is where Kev's thoughts on technology and the marketplace are a profound warning.

Yes, it's true, we don't understand ourselves, but we can recognize things like honesty, beauty, forgiveness and lust and such create interior states every bit as substantive as the truths of matter.

If it weren't true, we wouldn't hunger for such both good and destructive. It was the truths of matter which were previously subservient to the needs of being, but this is now being reversed by a great effort and it is creating casualties. One of them has been art.

Laurence John said...

Chris: "But I think you would agree that the alternatives for side-stepping the kitsch block were other than what has become prevalent."

i'm not sure exactly what you're imagining Chris, but there are many ways that comic art can be tackled, yes.

however, it's worth noting that the oft-mentioned artists that David feels don't draw well enough to deserve acclaim (Panter, Spiegelman, Ware etc.) have all brought some sort of 'modernist / graphic / avant garde' sensibility to the medium. and that is what seems to have lead to their acceptance by the non-comic critics. as i said in the previous comment section, it's like they were waiting for comics to catch up with modernism before the medium was allowed 'in'.

twenty years ago there were artists such as Kent Williams, Bill Sienkiewicz, Jon J Muth, and George Pratt attempting to take comics closer to 'fine' art by making the imagery closer to painting. they succeeded to a degree, but the art was never championed by the New Yorker or Whitney Museum crowd. why ? because it was the wrong sort of 'fine' art. it was too romantic, too painterly, too old fashioned.

David: "By the same token, an artist who claims that art should no longer value the skills the artist lacks gets an additional layer of scrutiny from me."

your argument is with the critics not the artists. i don't think Spiegelman, Panter and Ware have ever said they think their own skills represent some sort of ceiling, beyond which it's unnecessary to venture.

chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...

Laurence,
I completely agree with that. But what I’m saying is that the current trends in graphic art, just like in the 50s, were not made primarily to gain acceptance in the fine art lobby, nice as it is for the artists involved. The changes have been made, first and formemost, to fit in with a prevailing eminence gris that has settled in the minds of both publishers and the public alike.

Laurence John said...

Chris,

if illustration is moved closer to prevailing trends in modern art (as happened in the early 50s) then critical acceptance by modern art establishments will follow.
whether it was the intention of illustrators to deliberately close the gap between illustration and 'fine' art for the benefit of their own careers (as later-life gallery artists) is something we can only speculate about. but that's going off on a tangent anyway.

my point was that since modernism has bugger all to do with classical, 'realistic' drawing skills, then why does David keep expecting the intelligentsia to notice that Panter and Ware aren't as good at drawing as Winsor McCay ?

kev ferrara said...
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kev ferrara said...

Spiegelman and Ware don't draw very well, yet it's hard to deny that they are both true lovers of the graphic arts, with a thorough knowledge of the greats going back to Winsor McCay and earlier. They are not what we've called text people.

Ah, but you see, "graphics" as a medium is a form of text. It functions the same way, using, generally, commonly understood units of meaning to piece together its statements in a mostly linear way.

Art once was understood to mean aesthetic suggestion, which is not readable by the general population because its causes are simply too subtle. So we can only feel artfulness, we can't read it.

Great illustration bridges the gap between those two qualities, with some works being closer to art and some being closer to text.

Ware and Spiegelman, in terms of their illustration (not their storytelling) are almost wholly inartful. Everything they put down is indicative graphic statements rather than suggestions, the meanings of which go unstated.

Their storytelling, however, contains all sorts of suggestive aspects. So while they are artists as sequential storytellers, they are far over in the graphic design camp as illustrators. So they are indeed text people in that sense. (As I understand these things anyway.)

Similarly, there are museum curators out there (at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hammer Museum, for example) who specialize in pictures, not words, yet who swoon over Panter and others. How do they fit into your assessment?

Since most contemporary art is text disguised as graphics, as discussed earlier, it doesn't seem a stretch to assume that the curators under question don't know their art from their elbows.

Tom said...

Spiegelman has a fasicinating story the drawings don't brother me in fact I never expected anything else then what they are. I never thought while reading the stories, jeez I which the drawing was better The Drake stories seem tivial like 1960 television shows but the art work is compelling.
I like Ware's New Yorker covers. But his stories seem predictable, the one with the pigeon that David posted perviously, you knew what was going to happen half way through. I asked myself do I really want to read this to the end. If 1940's and 1950's was kitsch according to the critics, Ware strikes me as sour kitsch.

But there is no reason why values can’t change.

David Apatoff said...

Tom and Kev Ferrara-- I agree that it is hard to express exactly how skill, fueled by "idealism and love," makes such a difference. Idealism and love in the creation of art are especially squishy concepts in a field that was already pretty squishy to begin with. And it doesn't help that unlimited idealism and love might not improve a terrible artist. Yet, it seems to me that the impact of these forces on art in undeniable.

There is an excellent example of this in the current Wired Magazine (http://www.wired.com/2014/10/big-hero-6) about how Disney animation lost its greatness. Disney cranked out one flop after another under the heavy hand of “creative executives”(layers of very bright accountants and MBAs with no appreciation for the heart of visual story telling.) The animation business was run by Walt Disney's son-in-law, Ron Miller. ("Nice guy, but he wasn't a filmmaker and he wasn't an artist.”) The article relates how a young John Lasseter, filled with "love and idealism" for animated movies got a job with Disney fresh out of school but rocked the boat by arguing that if Walt was still alive, he'd be exploring the artistic potential of computer animation. The article continues: "Lasseter pitched the idea to the top brass. It was rejected. 'The only reason we'd do computer animation,' Lasseter was told, 'is if it was cheaper or faster.' Immediately after the meeting, he was summoned to the office of the manager of the animation department and told he was out of a job." Devastated, Lasseter limped down the road where he helped build Pixar, which went on to trounce Disney with an unbroken string of successes such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo. Disney sank lower and lower. Years later, Disney ran up the white flag, fired their suits, purchased Pixar and brought Lasseter back as the new Chief Creative Officer in charge of Disney Animation. It is really quite an inspiring story which I think reinforces your point.

Sean Farrell-- Are you by any chance related to the Sean Farrell recently featured in Charley Parker's "Lines and Colors" blog?

I agree that "a love of movement" is much of what we're talking about here. I assume that when you talk about the importance of "affirmation," you aren't saying that art must have a positive, affirmative message. There is a lot of great art with dark or tragic messages. (I can't think, however, of much great art with a whiny or nihilistic message).

Richard-- If you are going to dismiss "old institutions" such as the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes and the New York Times, do you have anything in addition to "sales" to replace them? I'm not sure "political / social ax-grinding" is a worse arbiter of taste than Kinkade's sales data.

David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- The funny thing is, I think art is also a "technique of managing information." The difference seems to be that with art we manage information by assigning value to it, prioritizing it, grouping it in aesthetically interesting ways, not by categorizing it at breakneck speed with a binary processing mechanism.

One possible reason for "why" under the framework you describe may be that we are lured by those screens into reading information in a linear, text-centric way because people have found an advantage to processing information that way. Perhaps they feel impressed and empowered by it. Perhaps it can provide livelier entertainment that doesn't require them to work hard. I don't believe , like Richard, in a market test for quality, but we can't ignore the market either.

Laurence John wrote: "since when have modern art critics and fans cared about traditional drawing skills ???"

Well, of course there is a lot of modern art-- perhaps even the majority-- that has nothing to do with making any kind of a mark on any kind of a surface-- video art, performance art, etc.-- but to the extent artists are involved in mark making (I include Tracey Emin, Banksy, Currin, etc. in the contemporary category and Basquiat, Rivers, Dine, Fischl, Hockney, Oldenburg and many others in the modern category ) I think "traditional" drawing skills can be a big asset regardless of where an artist ends up. Jackson Pollock started with those skills. So did Picasso. And I think it taught them lessons about form that helped them. The ones that slid past learning drawing don't impress me as much.

Tom-- Your comparison of Matisse and Elvgren cracked me up. I've never heard anyone contrast the two before.

I would like to have a whole week devoted to the specifics of Greenberg some time; he was a smart and interesting observer at a pivotal time, but there were also a number of flaws in his methodology (in order to dismiss Repin and Rockwell, he would make up paintings that didn't exist) and he made a number of bad bets (he couldn't know how quickly the bold new adventure of abstraction would dissipate into pointless nihilism) and he could be insufferable (the class nature of his whole "kitsch" campaign has a bad aroma for me) but he was still a very interesting thinker. Personally, I find myself more on the Harold Rosenberg side of the schism,but there is vitality, I think, in their re-examination of the premises of art.

Sean Farrell said...

David, there is a painter named Sean Farrell who is probably the one featured in the article.

What I mean by affirmation is that art is for human beings and so we should begin with what is meant by being human. Cracking the mysteries of space and time, infinity and death are human pursuits of mankind in science, but has little to do with being human itself.

Art should be in some way edifying, not necessarily according to the demands of the viewer, but not destructive in some belief that culture should be destroyed, which is what has motivated much of modernity.

Fine Art means a lot of things, but it should reveal some dimension of our humanity which is difficult to understand in other mediums. For example, an order in art may open one to an inner desire for order. A combination of order and beauty may deepen both. A tragic battle scene may give one pause to the glories of war, or deepen a sense of self in response to the image.

One of the troubles with modern art and the modern global marketplace is that it doesn't stand for anything but the total liberation of man from all identities; with the false promises that having no troubles or identities would be an improved life. But we become human through our identities and if all one stands for is total liberation from identities, they will slowly stop being human and such is very much what has happened to art. It began reflecting a barbarism.

I may love people in some abstract sense, but it is how I love and act in relation to real people who are far more trying and require continual forgiveness to keep relations intact, whereas any forgiveness of people who aren't real to me or I don't know is disconnected and abstract. Likewise, it is with real people that I see my own faults, impulses and humanity. Modern art, when there is human subject matter, is like abstract love.

In the Drake comics, the simple affirmation I was referring to was the identity of the reader with the drawings and also stories. The reader is allowed to enter the scene more intimately as the drawings are more dream like, less confrontational than photos and the viewer's identity is enhanced by a freedom in this drawn world. The viewer becomes closer to the characters as a result of them being drawn. They become both less real and more real. I don't think that's happening in the circle heads.

Jordan Faris said...

David,
I would love to read your comparative analysis between three of my favorite photo-realistic masters of comic strip art--Stan Drake, Leonard Starr and Neal Adams (although I feel that you perhaps wouldn't rate the latter as worthy of being in the company of the first two). I loved this piece on the subtle narrative import of Mr. Drake's line-work--again, you put in clear and evocative terms what our subconscious may simply accept--if not fully digest. Another great post, thank you!

Laurence John said...

David,

there's a lack of consistency in your argument.

if you're going to state that modern primitives like Picasso and Pollock clearly had 'traditional drawing skills' that show through in their work, then you've no complaint with the critics who laud Panter because they could say exactly the same thing about him.

kev ferrara said...

Is there some evidence that Jackson Pollock could draw well?

Sean Farrell said...

Panter is a kind of anti-artist and what else could he be after but a third grade boy's version of cool. There's no space to enter and if one can enter, the company is too repellent to stay.

Strange things happen to a society that is too jealous to admit it's envious of accomplishment, or that there really is heroism, courage and beauty. It's when people are more proud of being nothing than something do we see the scatological rise to the top.

Tom said...

Sean
Not being contrary but some of the greatest artist of modernity saw through the nature of identity where the most discipline workers such as James Joyce and Alberto Giacometti.

All the roles we choice to identify with are impermanent as many of the sages of the 20th century have told us, like Ramana Maharshi whose life was anything but barbaric or self centered.

Sean Farrell said...

Tom,
Yes, I understand I'm going against more than a century of geniuses telling us that identity is temporary, arbitrary, a mere label and so on, but this is what we've gotten for it.

It's how it works when people aspire to nothing. They wind up identifying with the most base things, or with not being this or that. Often it is common embarrassment for being something, like being Catholic, or Jewish, or Irish, or Italian, so people try to shed this self consciousness on being something, which they want to deny, but which is apart of themselves in ways they don't fully understand.

I'll take a screwed up anything who is trying over a nothing. Being a father, a husband, a Catholic, a mother, a Jew, a draughtsman, a doctor, a teacher, etc. is not nothing. A nothing is someone who thinks they are too good to be something and it is a form of judgement over others who are trying, who have their hands full, who are human and often difficult, which is closer to truth than the facade of pretending to be better than that by being nothing or because they experienced some non verbal, non identifiable liberating state of being. Being nothing is often a form of hatred.

Life is wonderful, a thing of incredible beauty, loaded with heaps of dignity and love, in our efforts as we fulfill our roles, identities, what we are. We should aspire to it with all our hearts, in humility etc., etc. Yes, we are messed up people, human, but we know that. Aspiring to the heart in such is not nothing, it's everything. Thanks.

Sean Farrell said...

Tom,
I hope I didn't come off too brutish. I was trying to identify a false virtue which is widely accepted for the real thing these days. It is a curious by product of America's pluralism.

There are people from very orthodox or seriously differing identifications who seemed by all logic to be doomed as couples, but who really pull it off wonderfully by understanding identity, the importance of it and what it means. I suspect that their concept of commitment and forgiveness is also very strong.

kev ferrara said...

I agree that it is hard to express exactly how skill, fueled by "idealism and love," makes such a difference. Idealism and love in the creation of art are especially squishy concepts in a field that was already pretty squishy to begin with. And it doesn't help that unlimited idealism and love might not improve a terrible artist. Yet, it seems to me that the impact of these forces on art in undeniable.

Sorry, let me clarify, David. I didn't mean that the artist must be "idealistic" in a 1960s flower child way in his art. I meant that, with excellent and beautiful work, "pure, ideal form" shines through the material substance, ennobling the viewer as it does so (this tradition and belief in idealism goes back to the ancients, as you know.)

Secondly, I didn't mean that the artist must be full of love in life or as he works. I meant that the fine crafting of a thing leaves the traces of that care and thought and consideration that went into its creation in its final aspect. The work is utterly suffused with that caring. It become redolent with it. And all this caring suffusing a work subliminally communicates or radiates to the sensitive viewer a kind of quiet, loving presence or energy.

So what I am saying is that the aesthetic experience of a fine work of art naturally includes feelings of idealism and love. (Whereas what you were saying is that, just because an artist is idealistic and loving, doesn't make his work any good... which I agree with, but is a different issue.)

Richard said...

David says, 'do you have anything in addition to "sales" to replace them? I'm not sure "political / social ax-grinding" is a worse arbiter of taste than Kinkade's sales data.'

I don't think we ought to try to replace them, there's no one we can trust. Like a shift from Monarchy to Democracy, if we trust sales over academics, we may not end up with one of The Five Great Emperors of the art world, but we also won't end up with a Mao or Stalin, so to speak.

Kinkade does not deter me. I don't think the general population is as crazy for Kinkade as the Academics would have us believe. I think they tell us that story to cause us to fear the taste of the masses.

I remember reading something from the people at Hallmark that it is Bouguereau, not Kinkade, who sold the most greeting cards. XD I can live with that.

I started an Art "subreddit" called /r/museum, which now has 24,000 members. I think it is fairly representative of the tastes of the young populace when it comes to Art. The pieces the members collectively voted most popular this month include works by Maxfield Parrish, Frederick Judd Waugh, Mucha, James Hart Dyke, John McCartin, Ivan Aivazovsky, and Thomas Burke.

That gives me hope. It's not what I would have chosen, but I'm not in agony looking at the list.

If art is all its cracked up to be, I trust the collective sentiments of the common person to choose more wisely than the academicians.

Sean Farrell said...

It's no surprise that the Greeks developed a high level of skill and care because there was an atmosphere of civilization, thoughtfulness, purpose, etc. The same can be said of the early medieval times into the Renaissance.

There is a liberation and joy in caring for things and such is not an imaginary act, but a deliberate sensibility in experience. Many people possess the same sensibility today, but there is also a wider abstract notion that the self requires a stripping of identity in order to respect others, things, life, etc. and it just isn't so.

Everyone who sees themselves as a universalist may not be careless, but the universalist way of seeing as it practiced and taught today is abstract and comes with no disciplines other than the direct threat of politically correct retribution. It exists as a free floating ideological sentiment and false virtue, which in fact has replaced a previous respect for many real cultural things which did teach disciplines of care in action (drawing and painting were but two of them).

Such is responsible for the endless flow of abominable art celebrating liberation as a destructive force for good and destructive force as liberation for the betterment of humankind, always leading to a good end and its political art stance is similar.

Artworks proselytizing its own universalism are often brazen acts of hatred of other beliefs identifiable by symbols. In other words, its destruction is an end all of liberating infantilism which somehow will lead to heaven on earth. Until this erroneous belief is shown for what it is and rejected, the flow of infantile work will continue.

Chris James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris James said...

"That gives me hope. It's not what I would have chosen, but I'm not in agony looking at the list.

I consider it a blessing to live in a time where there is no single entity making the decision of what is valid and what is not, ruling taste. It would have been insufferable to live during, say, the height of Modernism and be told that representation or narrative of any kind was essentially verboten. Such small-mindedness is the enemy of art. Throwing out one type of dogma for another still leaves you with dogma. Today's creative has enough limitations placed upon him by the market and competition for people's attention.

There is more pablum than ever, but this is a natural consequence of the democratization of art that began in the 19th century, the growth of amateur painting (according to 'The Materials and Techniques of Painting' Stephenson, Johnathan).

But I'd rather have more perspectives out there than less.

Sean Farrell said...

What is in question is not the sensibilities of the common person or the open marketplace, but the elite gatekeepers who control the pathways into the museums and thus, the high end of the art market.

David has shown the objectivity to question what if anything he isn't understanding regarding the questioned work.

It takes courage to question the gatekeepers.

Courage, along with loyalty, were the most valued virtues of the ancient Greeks.

Sean Farrell said...

Take that word courage and put it on for a few days, like a new suit.

Walk in it for a while and see how you feel. No need to get stupid with it, but see If it doesn't add a skip in your step and straighten the spine a bit.

If it does, then the word has some reality and it's time to try on a few other words. It isn't going to cost anything to try. and maybe you'll find out what other things have been cleverly stolen from you by the gatekeepers and the shrews of non-identity.

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David Apatoff said...

Tom wrote: "Spiegelman has a fascinating story the drawings don't brother me in fact I never expected anything else then what they are."

I agree Spiegelman has a fascinating story. I thought Maus was very powerful, even without the drawings. But since every artist has a choice of medium, what do you think Spiegelman's choice did to enhance his story? Did you find that the cartoon drawings took the words to a higher level? Did they play against Spiegelman's words the way Drake's did in that first panel, or supplement the words with expressions or perspectives that could not be conveyed well in words? Was there some advantage to confining Spiegelman's text to short sentences that fit in word balloons?

Another author wrote a heart rending story about 20th century political genocide substituting funny little animals for people: George Orwell's Animal Farm. Spiegelman is no Orwell, and if he wrote Maus in pure text no one would consider it to be in the same class as Animal Farm. Yet, Orwell was turned down for a Pulitzer and Spiegelman was awarded one. Is that because we expect less of words that are packaged in a comic book format? If so, then the pictures had better make a net positive contribution, as far as I'm concerned.

PS-- I think Michelangelo and the Greeks of the golden age would agree with you about the relevance and importance of architecture. They were very explicit about it.

Laurence John-- I confess I have not seen any of Panter's work that demonstrates an ability to draw traditionally, and the work that I have seen (even keeping in mind that he is striving for a punk look) is for the most part so shockingly bad that it is hard for me to envision his ever having logged a significant amount of time struggling with traditional questions of design and composition. Can you point me in the right direction to see Panter's drawings? Most people don't come through that experience with drawing unaffected, even if they end up doing abstract work.

By the way, your point about Kent Williams, Bill Sienkiewicz, Jon J Muth, and George Pratt not being championed by the New Yorker or Whitney Museum crowd because they were doing the wrong sort of 'fine' art sounds right to me. I hadn't thought about that before.

Also, you wrote: "your argument is with the critics not the artists." I don't disagree with that. I understand that Ware, for example, is a knowledgeable, humble, self-effacing guy. My argument is with the morons who proclaim him a a "god."

Laurence John said...

David: " Can you point me in the right direction to see Panter's drawings? "

i have no wish to defend Panter's work.
my point was to do with how difficult it is to talk about 'quality' in drawing in certain strands of modern / contemporary art.
there is so much deliberately bad drawing which passes for 'good', and 'good' drawing which is academically stiff and dull. it's no wonder the critics and public are confused. much of the discourse boils down to "hey everyone sees something different in a work of art so there's no right or wrong".

when drawing gets into the deliberately naive / primitive and / or crude area it's very hard to say why one (e.g. Basquiat) is better than another (e.g. Panter).

Tom said...

Hi David

I think the drawing for most part made it easier to read the stories. I knew the pace would be fast and i could get to the end relattively quickly. I have read powerful books about that time period like Jaqques Lussayrn's "Then there was light." (have you read this book Sean, it pretends to what we discussed briefly earlier?) I remember the Lussryren book, I remember almost nothing of Maus.

Drake is the opposite, i don't even read the text until I look at the drawings for a while. It's like Mort Drucker, I don"t think I ever read one of the movie parodies he illustrated but I sure looked at his drawing a good long time.

I am not surprised that Orwell was turned down for the Pulitzer as his truth was much more of a real threat to the status quo then Spiegelman's stories.

Sean
Sorry if i came off challenging, in my comment, it was not meant to be that way. I just think there is a strong spiritual thrust to Modern art (of course not all modern art) IMHO

Sean Farrell said...

Tom, You were not contentious at all. Also, I'm not familiar with the book you mentioned but I will look into it and thanks for the reference.

Science is showing us that the DNA of the father resides in the mother's brain as does the DNA of the child. The mother is biologically the center of the family. We don't know exactly what this identification is about, but it's fair to say it suggests a certain regard to the notion of body and blood and of family lineage.

Scientists have discovered that after sex, people experience an of identification with the other person as a result of released hormones. We have to consider the notion of bonding not as a psychological weakness and prison to be overcome as abstractionists contend, but as something biologically meaningful.

There is a general good will towards the public, but oddly, it is often people who have the deepest personal relationships who identify the same way with the public, while weaker private relations render the larger good will more abstract or conceptual.

Science is having the unusual effect of bringing pressure to bear on the more abstract view of life. Our relationship with life has an effect on how seriously we take our endeavors, what we draw or paint and ultimately what they mean. If nothing really has much meaning, then nothing we will draw or paint will have much meaning either.

Sean Farrell said...

Tom, You were not contentious at all. Also, I'm not familiar with the book you mentioned but I will look into it and thanks for the reference.

Science is showing us that the DNA of the father resides in the mother's brain as does the DNA of the child. The mother is biologically the center of the family. We don't know exactly what this identification is about, but it's fair to say it suggests a certain regard to the notion of body and blood and of family lineage.

Scientists have discovered that after sex, people experience an of identification with the other person as a result of released hormones. We have to consider the notion of bonding not as a psychological weakness and prison to be overcome as abstractionists contend, but as something biologically meaningful.

There is a general good will towards the public, but oddly, it is often people who have the deepest personal relationships who identify the same way with the public, while weaker private relations render the larger good will more abstract or conceptual.

Science is having the unusual effect of bringing pressure to bear on the more abstract view of life. Our relationship with life has an effect on how seriously we take our endeavors, what we draw or paint and ultimately what they mean. If nothing really has much meaning, then nothing we will draw or paint will have much meaning either.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "Is there some evidence that Jackson Pollock could draw well?"

I'm not sure "well" is the term that springs to mind, but he did copy the drawings of Michelangelo and study the work of Thomas Hart Benton enough so that he could achieve a respectable likeness. I'm sure a student today looking at Pollock's dribble paintings would see no need to take a detour through representational drawing, but I think Pollock's abstract groupings, his compositions and movement benefited from his own detour.

Jordan Faris-- I like each of the three artists you mentioned very much, including Adams (who reputedly ghosted Drakes's strip for two weeks). They were at the top of the post-Alex Raymond generation of soap opera strip artists, and each reacted in a different way to the demise of their genre. They each had the talent to adapt and survive (Drake by doing Blondie, Starr by inventing Thundercats and doing Annie, Adams by turning to comic books) but in my opinion these second acts did not make as much use of their full talents as their original strips. I think Adams did a lot of splendid work for the comics (and for Warren magazines) and had a huge impact on the field. I think he is an excellent draftsman and I've always been impressed with the fearlessness of his inking. But after a while, all those repetitive clenched teeth and hunched shoulders became unworthy of Adams' talent.

Richard wrote: "there's no one we can trust."

Richard, you hurt my feelings.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "with excellent and beautiful work, "pure, ideal form" shines through the material substance."

Now I understand better what you meant by "idealism," and agree with it. I'm not sure where those "ideals" come from-- whether they are biological or Plato's "forms" in the sky or something else-- and most efforts to analyze them rationally end in embarrassment. But for some reason there seems to be a universal language of form, recognizable by people with eyes to see.

Laurence John wrote: "when drawing gets into the deliberately naive / primitive and / or crude area it's very hard to say why one (e.g. Basquiat) is better than another (e.g. Panter)."

I think that is a fascinating topic, and one that I have struggled with repeatedly. For me, it is absolutely self evident that the naive, primitive scrawls of Dubuffet or Basquiat are good, while the naive, primitive scrawls of Panter are crap. I'm certain I could pick them out of a line up 100 out of 100 times, despite the fact that there are no objective standards (such as the laws of perspective, anatomy, proportion, etc.) by which to judge the work. I have offered a few feeble theories for this in the past, but Kev Ferrara's point about ideal form (above) may come closest.

Boycott American Women!-- Thank you for sharing your highly personal, heartfelt views with this group. I know it could not have been easy to do, but you obviously recognized that this audience would relate to your message, and I'm glad it gave you the courage to come forward.

kev ferrara said...

They each had the talent to adapt and survive (Drake by doing Blondie, Starr by inventing Thundercats and doing Annie, Adams by turning to comic books) but in my opinion these second acts did not make as much use of their full talents as their original strips. I think Adams did a lot of splendid work for the comics (and for Warren magazines) and had a huge impact on the field. I think he is an excellent draftsman and I've always been impressed with the fearlessness of his inking. But after a while, all those repetitive clenched teeth and hunched shoulders became unworthy of Adams' talent.

Well, in my opinion, fixating on clenched teeth and overmuscling is surely a reductive lens through which to inspect Adams' comic book work. As I see it, Adams' storytelling/"camera work" and paneling innovations alone blow away the staid artistry of the soap opera strips you are discussing; his work in comics justified on that count alone. And the soap opera strips may have a had a few subtleties of emotion here and there, a few ironies in the interactions requiring an attentive reader to suss out, but aside from those rare features the writing seems no different qualitatively. And comic books have the additional features of imaginative storylines and concepts and disciplined plot structures.

I think the main issue was that, during Adams' heyday, there wasn't a writer in the medium that was his equivalent to pair him with. Except for Bruce Jones, I think, but I don't think they ever worked together.

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell wrote: "Our relationship with life has an effect on how seriously we take our endeavors, what we draw or paint and ultimately what they mean. If nothing really has much meaning, then nothing we will draw or paint will have much meaning either."

Sean Farrell also wrote:
"Strange things happen to a society that is too jealous to admit it's envious of accomplishment, or that there really is heroism, courage and beauty. It's when people are more proud of being nothing than something do we see the scatological rise to the top."

You have made a number of comments I can relate to on a philosophical and sociological level. For example, I can only take so much of Chester Brown's stories of the hollow, neurotic lives of wasted people incapable of full human relationships before I have to turn to the window for fresh air. Rich, inspirational and heroic work seems much more to my personal taste. Yet, the issue is complex because I don't value art on the basis of political content. A beautiful painting of a racist theme or celebrating the third reich would still be a beautiful painting in my book. And paintings of loving families or noble Greeks in togas are just as likely to be bad art as good, for me.

I have a very high tolerance for dark or bitter or cynical content, but I think there's a kind of weary nihilism that transcends content and begins to infect the form as well. The lines and compositions seem so bleak and uninteresting that it becomes more irksome to me than a politically offensive message.

Kev Ferrara-- Don't get me wrong, I think Neal Adams is brilliant, and deserves credit not just for his broad artistic influence but also for his crusades for artist rights. As a boy, I worshiped his Deadman, Spectre, Batman and X-Men for the "storytelling/camera work and paneling innovations" you describe. But of the three artists that Jordan Faris mentioned, he is the only one who I think fell victim to the "too many lines" syndrome. In August I posted what I called a "disastrous" face by Adams, and I'd be surprised if you disagreed with me. My view was that he was so skillful at making lines, he lost sight of when to stop (something for which I have faulted Frazetta in the past, as well.)

As for his writers, well... he illustrated Harlan Ellison and Edgar Rice Burroughs but I wouldn't say that art was conspicuously better than his work with Arnold Drake on Deadman. Besides, I really began to become less enthusiastic about seeing the next Adams when he was doing that endless series of musclebound figures facing the viewer, fists and teeth clenched, shoulders hunched over, eyes squinted... there are bout a million of them, and they aren't dependent on any particular writer. That's when I start getting hungry for a clean Alex Toth or Noel Sickles.

Again: I do think Adams was great, just as I think Drake and Starr were great.

Richard said...

Sean says, "it is often people who have the deepest personal relationships who identify the same way with the public, while weaker private relations render the larger good will more abstract or conceptual."


And it is generally the individualist who builds the deepest personal relationships.


"If nothing really has much meaning, then nothing we will draw or paint will have much meaning either."

Merely having meaning is no goal. Soviet Realism is full of meaning, but I'm not sure it's meaning any of us want.


David says, "Richard, you hurt my feelings."

I don't know David, sometimes I think you just run this blog for all of the female attention.

Sean Farrell said...

David,
I guess what I'm saying is that the gatekeepers of the high end art world adhere to a certain political-economic-spiritualism and such is a kind of password into a club.

Richard,
You hit on a very good point. The artists discussed here expressed a strong vitality, including Basquiat and most of them were highly skilled. Many of the mid century illustrators took on responsibilities early in life like Neal Adams. They were strong individual personalities, for better and worse and were part of a broader vital society which possessed lots of meaning and identity.

The sociological angling is to highlight just how much simple stuff had been snuffed out of our current acceptable language. I think it's going to take courage to rediscover one small truth at a time until this unspoken monolithic silence is undone and an environment for vital individuals returns.
Thanks

David Apatoff said...

Richard-- Of course you're right. Do you think it's possible if I do this blog for another 8 years that I might actually attract some?