Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Austin Briggs was 19 and still in art school when he sold his first drawing to Collier's magazine. 

Briggs soon decided he didn't need more school.  He was making good money from Collier's imitating the popular artists of the day.  But after a couple of years Briggs realized that he was faking it.  Many of his lines were just random squiggles with little understanding of what went on beneath the surface.  He was borrowing solutions he hadn't earned, and his shortcuts began to betray him.

His assignments started to dry up.  He'd never learned to paint.  Desperate for money, he quit the field of illustration.  He took other jobs, but all the while he was determined to go back and do it right: "I set about learning to draw, which I never could do before."

Briggs' son described this turning point in his father's life:
I see how correct he was in his mature assessment of his early work: he could not really draw, but with sheer vitality he faked his way to renderings that conveyed power and authority.  When the new demand for color illustration left my father in the Depression virtually without work and with a wife and two small children to support, he would not quit.  Taking his easel and sketch pad out of the studio, he began to look at the world-- to really see it.  Over God knows how many long hours of work, he taught himself until he eventually developed great skill as a colorist and as a draftsman....
Looking back, Briggs recalled:
These were experimental years; I explored new compositional approaches, new techniques or variations of old techniques and new manners of working with limited means. The fees I received from my drawings were largely plowed back into my work.... This was my chance to learn, and I worked over drawings until they were as good as I thought I could make them.  
Briggs learned to draw and to paint with great skill:

Then his art got looser...
And even looser:

Briggs became a dominant force in American illustration of the 20th century.  His strong, opinionated work covered the full gamut of the illustration field, from pulps and comic strips to the movie industry to the covers of books, records and top magazines.  

But the thing that interests me most about this story was that, at the height of his powers, having invested years in mastering painting and color theory, Briggs returned to simple drawing where he started.  As he became more fearless, he no longer needed fancy paints or even inks.  He simplified down to a pencil or a litho crayon.  Art directors for prestigious magazines were happy to accept a drawing from Briggs where once a full color oil painting would've been expected.  Briggs became famous in the industry for a remarkable series of drawings that he did for TV Guide, which were cited when he was inducted into the Illustration Hall of Fame:

Image courtesy of Taraba Illustration Art

If you compare Briggs' later drawings with his early random squiggles, you get a sense for how much he learned.   In the words of T.S. Eliot:
We shall not cease from exploration.  And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. 


Donald Pittenger said...

Interesting regarding the early Briggs. I'd sorta thought he always had the Right Stuff and had no idea that he wasn't hatched that way.

Any thoughts on his time at Flash Gordon, working under the shadow of Alex Raymond, and how it affected his development (if at all)?

James Gurney said...

Thanks for this view of Briggs, illustrated with excellent examples. Of all the Famous Artists Course instructors, Briggs is the most reflective and articulate about the creative process. It's hard to find his Master Course binder, but it contains his deep thinking about how he maintains his original vision while meeting client demands, and how he keeps his inspiration fresh.

Anonymous said...

Briggs' first drawings where you say he was faking it are still better than most graphic novelists today. Briggs would not have to go back and learn the right way to draw today because nobody can tell the difference anymore. Even art directors know nothing about drawing because it's no longer part of their job.


Untitled said...

Great post. I had not heard about this self revival. Great self awareness.

David: Could you add a search function on your blog? As the posts accumulate and I try to go back to an older one i remember, I spend hours browsing ( with great pleasure of course) before I get to it.
Thank you,

Paul Sullivan said...

Thanks for once again casting the spotlight on one of the true masters of illustration.

It was in about 1963 and I was in my early twenties working in an advertising agency when I first saw the TV Guide series. You have to imagine the impact of these ads appearing tabloid size in Advertising Age, the bible of the industry. These were black and white—nut and bolts—ads speaking to advertising people. And the reader could easily identify himself and his colleagues with the figures and situations in Briggs' illustrations.

As a student of the Famous Artists School in the late 50s I was well aware of the work of Austin Briggs. However, I have to agree that with this simple technique, he was at his best.

David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger-- I think Briggs did have the right stuff-- how else did he repeatedly sell art to Colliers at age 19? But one of Briggs' recurring themes is that the right stuff will only take you so far if you're not willing to work your ass off. There are a lot of great stories about Briggs working with Alex Raymond, not just on Flash Gordon but in Secret Agent X9 as well. Watch for them in the forthcoming book about Briggs from Auad Publications.

James Gurney-- Thanks very much. I agree about the quality of Briggs' work and about the value of his master course binder. I always thought Briggs had the most persuasive description I've read about the legitimate role for photo reference. Like his contemporaries, he used photos a lot. However, he never let them take control of the important parts.

Anonymous/JSL-- I can't disagree. What artist gets turned down today because of the quality of their art (assuming they have a worthwhile concept)? I think Briggs could have continued to work indefinitely in his youthful style if he were working today.

MORAN said...

When did he do those TV Guide drawings? I see he often puts a big neutral object in the foreground, like a man's back or the back of a chair or an empty restaurant table. That was very unusual in the 1950s but it became the trick of the 1960s for Peak and Fuchs and everyone else.

Paul Sullivan said...

MORAN—I remember first seeing the TV Guide series in the early 60s. TV Guide was trying to increase the advertising space within the magazine. The Briggs illustrations were the main force of their advertising campaign aimed at ad agencies, the people who were deciding where ad budgets were going to be spent.

The "large neutral object in the foreground" you speak of is an interesting point of the design of these illustrations. As you are probably well aware, it is a method of drawing the viewer into the picture. In fact, some of the illustrations are designed to give the viewer the feeling that he is actually in the illustration—in the next office, in the next chair. The power of this was enhanced by the size of the ads. They were full page or three quarter tabloid page ads.

You are right about the large foreground element being more common in the later 60s. However when Briggs employed it in this series it was not a cliche. He was using this devise to create a feeling of intimacy with the scene. This was extremely important because the entire ad concept was built on the idea that the viewer was overhearing a conversation between advertising decision makers. The only copy was the conversation.

Tom said...

Hi David

Those TV guide illustrations have a lot of appeal. Sophisticated, causal. I wonder why no one does something like it today? Like Moran and Paul Sullivan wrote, the design really makes you fee like you are part of the scene.

David Apatoff said...

Paul Sullivan-- It's nice to hear a first hand report of the ripple these TV Guide pictures caused when they hit Advertising Age. I've seen them lauded in the Society of Illustrators annuals, and tracing the images of the period, these really stand out as big, bold and fresh. It must've been quite something to be working in the field see them spring forth in the early 60s. It was just before illustration exploded into psychedelic colors and innovative materials and radical new styles, but you can tell that Briggs was really ramping things up for the post 1950s explosion. I spoke with Bernie Fuchs, who was just launching his own career at that time and he viewed Briggs as a mentor and father figure; Briggs gave that whole next generation of talent permission to go wild with experimentation.

If you worked with the Famous Artists School in the 1950s, did you have any contact with Briggs or any of the other Famous 12? I think people are only beginning to appreciate what an extraordinary collection of talent was assembled for that school. A new book about the FAS by Stephanie Plunkett and Magdalen Livesey will be coming out shortly, and the Norman Rockwell Museum is preserving the FAS archives for public study under the best archival conditions.

Which reminds me, the current owners of the FAS are selling off the classic FAS textbooks at a great discount. The pricing is as follows: one set of Course books (three volumes for Painting, four for Illustration) is $25 plus $18 shipping; two sets ordered together will be $40 plus $28 shipping. For orders outside the continental USA, buyers should inquire for shipping charge. Anyone interested ( I have two sets) should contact Magdalen Livesey at or call 800-245-2145.

MORAN-- I think Paul Sullivan has it exactly right-- these drawings were not cliches when Briggs did them, rather they created the style that, ten years later, would come to be viewed as cliches because so many others imitated it. When the drawings first came out, it was very rare to see an illustration where 25% of the composition was a man's back, while another character had his head cropped off. And it was very, very rare to see a drawing with vine charcoal take up a full expensive page in Advertising Age, which as Paul says was the bible of the industry.

Tom wrote: "I wonder why no one does something like it today?"

First they'd have to find someone who can draw like Briggs.

Paul Sullivan said...

David—You asked if I'd met any of the founders of the Famous Artist School back in the 50s. In 1954, when I was a sophomore in high school, I became a student of FAS along with Bob Heindel and some of our other classmates. In 1959 I stopped by the Famous Artists School, just to see the place. To my surprise I met Al Dorne. He said, "Where did you expect I'd be? This is where I work." Dorne spent the entire afternoon with me. He talked to me like like an old friend and I was spellbound.

While at the school I was shown an number of Briggs' black crayon-line drawings for the same ad illustration. Most were only partially completed. It was obvious he was going for a sensitive, spontaneous look. Not satisfied with his results, he had started over again and again. The ad was running at that time and was a few years earlier than the TV Guide series.

Through the years I have read some articles questioning how effective the Famous Artists School training was. I don't really know however, I can only say this: all the people I knew who took the course became professional artists. They may not have completed the 24 lessons. Personally, I don't think that was that important because the first 12 lessons gave the student a sound beginning. This type of instruction was essential for young people who could not afford to go to a established art school for traditional instruction. When I was doing advertising art in northwestern Ohio, at least 25% of the artists I knew and worked with had some training with FA.

chris bennett said...

Thanks for the interesting reflection on Briggs David, particularly that marvellous quote from T S Elliot summing up your thoughts.

David Apatoff said...

Paul Sullivan-- Wow, I envy your meeting with Dorne. He was a true force of nature. When I researched Dorne for a book I wrote about him, I kept coming across examples of how he stood up to others; when Andy Warhol and Robert Weaver started acting in a haughty and imperious way around illustrators, Dorne was the only one with the guts to take them on and embarrass them for their behavior. When a cad at the Society of Illustrators publicly bragged about deflowering a young woman, Dorne (a former professional boxer) punched him in the face so hard he went tumbling down the stairs and was on crutches for weeks. But mostly, Dorne was a great visionary who always had time for students, trying to ease the road that had been so hard for him. I'm very glad to hear that your experience with him was consistent with the legend.

I had to smile at your story about Briggs' multiple drafts to obtain that "spontaneous" look. It ain't easy being spontaneous. (Or as William Butler Yeats said about writing poetry, "A line will take us hours maybe; Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought, our stitching and unstitching has been naught.")

My impression of the FAS is that it made a huge difference in the lives of a lot of artists. I think it gets an unfair rap today because, after Dorne died, the business types who took over the company ran it into the ground with some aggressive accounting and other business practices designed to inflate the value of the stock. But none of that had anything to do with the training materials which, at least for the illustration part of the company, were pure gold.

Bob Heindel is a great example. What a talent. He took the skills he learned at FAS and broke away in a whole new direction, those ballet paintings and posters, which made him internationally famous.

Chris Bennett-- Thanks for writing. I agree Eliot really captured something, which is why I couldn't resist quoting him even though he makes my own words look like dross by comparison.

Tom said...


Maybe they need to find someone who can "design," like Briggs. But then again maybe drawing is designing? Maybe the two are inseparable.

kev ferrara said...

The tactic - David Stone Martin traces composited photoreference with a crayon - results in a very effective faux-reportage style. The sensitive bluntness of the drawing impresses with its virtuosity. But it seems pretty bankrupt otherwise. Which is probably why Briggs could dash off version after version, one just as good as the next; once the incidental mentality takes hold, there is nothing much to express except basic matters of form, direction, anatomy, and space, nothing much to think about except being loose and sensitive with the descriptive rendering. Which is also, I would argue, why the style became a staple of that stalwart institution of vacuous commerciality, clip art. (Never reaching Briggs' quality, admittedly.)

Briggs may have been an awesome talent, but this kind of work, in my view, both signaled and accelerated the demise of the industry.

The "feel like you're inside the picture" big-foreground design strategies were certainly not his credit. It was already commonplace by the 1920s. Here's two well-known iterations from around 1940...

Rockwell 1938

Rockwell 1941

David Apatoff said...

Untitled / Amitabh-- I'm delighted to hear that you enjoy these enough to go back and look at older ones. There should be a search function in the upper left hand corner (or are you saying that you've tried it and it is inadequate?)

Tom-- I'm one of those who believe that most good drawing takes design into account. Why pick a visual medium if you're going to disregard visual considerations?

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I've never been a big David Stone Martin fan, but I like to think I'm second to none in my admiration for Rockwell. To the extent that I understand Rockwell, I think he and Briggs were doing two very different things here, despite the cosmetic similarity of those "big-foreground" compositions. I think they were different not just on "basic matters of form" but also on matters of concept. Perhaps I've done an inadequate job of describing what Briggs' peers-- and the whole industry-- thought was so laudable and innovative about those TV Guide drawings. Please allow me another shot at it, in which I'll try to explain why I differ with your reaction.

We can probably agree that Briggs was a ceaseless explorer who roamed far and wide while Rockwell stayed close to home and refined his traditions. When Briggs roamed in the direction of these TV Guide covers it was with the benefit of having already mastered a tight, Rockwell-esque oil painting style (as with the telephone ad in this post.) Not as great as Rockwell, but certainly good enough so that Briggs understood what he was leaving behind when he made a conscious choice to move on. He did not lack for traditional technical skill or taste or a work ethic, so why move on to these broad, brisk drawings?

By the late '50s the fine arts had fully migrated away from 19th century academy painting (which was the roots of Leyendecker and Rockwell) and toward a more spontaneous, experimental, raw and open ended look. Briggs, who became a charter member of the Museum of Modern Art when it opened, moved in that direction too. The rawness of Briggs' thick line and that seemingly reckless wash was a big leap forward for the parallel trend in illustration. As part of that trend, drawing became more valued in the fine arts, not just as a stepping stone toward a finished painting but as a final work in itself because drawing is more direct, personal (almost intimate), simplified, immediate, and open ended-- all values that were celebrated in the second half of the 20th century. So drawing became a newly preferred medium with enhanced status in both fine art and illustration. (Remember, MOMA only created its drawing department in 1971, after critics and artists began to view drawing as a more important medium for modern art.)


David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara (cont.) Perhaps this is what you meant when you said such work "signaled and accelerated the demise of the industry." Personally, I think it helped keep the industry alive another decade. Nobody wanted Rockwell anymore, and Rockwell couldn't adapt to draw like Briggs. They wanted the excitement and sizzle of Briggs, Peak, Glaser (and pushpin), Fuchs, Weaver, English, Cober and all those other experimenters.

When it comes to content / concept, Briggs was a founding master of that verite, in-between look, which is the opposite of Rockwell's approach. Rockwell searched for the ultimate apogee moment to capture, where the lovers' eyes meet or the punch is landed or the kids confront the new neighbors for the first time. Briggs wanted a more natural look, where one person is absent mindedly scratching himself and another is checking his watch. Where one person is walking across the foreground, blocking our view, while a key person in the background is cropped out in an odd way. In a way, it is a logical extension of Manet's shocking decision to paint ordinary lower class people instead of royalty and mythological figures. He painted them in informal poses looking off into the distance, and outraged traditional art audiences the way that Briggs initially outraged art directors. ( I gave an example of a forced revision at ). So when Briggs uses the back of some guy's white shirt to take up much of the foreground of an illustration, I view it differently than I view the Rockwell Louisa May Alcott, which has another back in the foreground but is subdivided and diminished and subordinate to the beautifully constructed composition which (very traditionally) centers all attention on that high contrast manuscript at the physical and thematic heart of the painting.

Untitled said...

Thanks David. I dont know how I missed seeing it. It works quite well. My other problem is recalling the names of works I have seen on here and I cant go back to them. This unfortunately noone else but I can solve!

Paul Sullivan said...

David— You have made a brilliant commentary. It puts some of the the changes in illustration during the mid 60s, and later, in perspective. However, illustration was forced to change—whether it wanted to or not. The vast changes in illustration were not the results of a spontaneous renaissance of some sort.

Ogilvy's surveys during the 50s proved that the advertising viewer was more likely to believe a photo than an illustration. This was solid information the advertising industry took to heart. Illustration could no longer simply look photographic. To survive, illustration had to deliver images that photography could not produce.

At the same time, television began to take a larger and larger share of consumer advertising budgets. Print media was scrambling to maintain advertising space and circulation. By the late 60s advertising illustration had its back to the wall and fiction illustration was disappearing. Much of the creative frenzy that exploded came from a desperate attempt to be relevant—to exist. However, all of this has to be understood against the vast changes erupting throughout society at that time.

Now, we are witnessing even greater changes in visual communication. We all know the world will never be the same. We will never again see anything like the golden age of illustration—an age that we can extend to at least the mid 1980s.

William Golden, the great art director of CBS, once said that when the products of a craft no longer fill an essential role in society they have the opportunity of becoming an art form. I think that is the change in illustration which we are seeing today. An art form? Maybe. We see magnificent illustrations like the ones of Briggs for the TV Guide series and we see the true power of advertising illustration.

These ads did not need headlines.

kev ferrara said...

I understand and appreciate the faux-reportage innovation. That doesn't stop the technical procedure that achieves that look from being a kind of trick. Which is why, again, other professionals could replicate it and hand it around to their studio mates. The 50s-60s era was rife with "innovative" studio tricks ("scrub and bubble", various cooper studio inking techniques, etc.) laid overtop reference tracings; ways of being sensational or pretty with surfaces to attract eyeballs while still keeping things recognizable and therefore still commercial. (Just as much as the era was rife with interchangeable Reilly students.)

I think I've mentioned before that my mother was at Pratt in the late 50s when Fuchs was the godhead, and illustration students were raiding dumpsters in an effort to find new ways to enliven their pieces. The whole form was learning to shout and flail "innovatively" for attention in a dwindling marketplace. Finally Bob Peak discovers the airbrush, the sky cracks open, and hellfire rains down upon the Earth.

It should be pointed out that many of the surface innovation of the new wave era were developed in the decade before the Post announced to its advertising clients that its A.D.s would be trucking toward the abstract and radical. When the Post redesigned itself au moderne, the Rockwell that "nobody wanted anymore", was the cover artist. A few years later, at the apex of the new wave, as a 70 year old man, he was signed to Look magazine and painted for them for ten more years. As far as I can tell, Rockwell, as long as he was able to raise a paintbrush to canvas without tumbling over, was never not wanted.

Rockwell couldn't adapt to draw like Briggs.

Don't be silly, David.

Rockwell, for The Connoisseur, was able to conceive the painting, reference it, learn to "action paint" like Jackson Pollock sufficiently, and complete the finished piece all in the span of 3 weeks. I'm quite sure he could have mastered a sensitive crayon trace-line in short order.

But the (much greater) likelihood is that Rockwell didn't want to ape his friend and fellow Famous Artist Course business partner like some neophyte looking for hand-me-down assignment from unethical editors who didn't want to pay for the originator of the style.

(By the way, thank you for the note. Meant a lot.)

David Apatoff said...

Untitled-- Thanks, I'm glad the search function worked. One of these days I'll do a proper job of revamping this blog and putting search and other functions in more conspicuous, user-friendly places. But for now, I seem to be just a patchwork quilt of compromises due mostly to time constraints. As for not remembering names, I wouldn't worry about it. The secret of this blog is that the words (and even the names) aren't very important. What's important is that any random post should contain images that you don't see every day but which deserve to be seen.

Paul Sullivan wrote: " illustration was forced to change—whether it wanted to or not. The vast changes in illustration were not the results of a spontaneous renaissance of some sort."

I agree, Paul, and I'd go even further to argue that fine art was also forced to change-- whether it wanted to or not-- because of the invention of photography. The historical mainstays of fine art (portraits, paintings of great battles / regal ceremonies, paintings of nekkid ladies camouflaged as religious or mythological art) were eviscerated by the camera, which did it faster, cheaper and more accurately. I suspect many fine artists had to flee to places such as cubism, futurism, or abstraction where the camera could not compete. I'm not suggesting that was the sole reason, but I think it made a substantial difference.

As for illustration itself, everything you say about the impact of photography and television sounds right to me, and I especially agree with your point that "even greater changes in visual communication" will transform art as we know it.

But let me suggest that while illustration was on the broad trajectory you describe, there was a period, from the late 50s to perhaps the mid 60s, where illustration exploded like a supernova that flares up before it sputters and goes out. Bernie Fuchs used to describe how magazines such as McCall's, Ladies Home Journal, Sports Illustrated and Look, all desperate to stave off television that was gobbling up their advertising revenues and market share, tried to make magazines even bigger, more colorful and more adventuresome than ever before. Illustrators were more encouraged to be radical and innovative than they'd ever been in the history of illustration. They were given full color double page spreads in oversized magazines. They were encouraged by art directors and publishers to redesign pages with new typography and layout to integrate text and illustration.

They didn't know the experiment would become an economic failure by the end of the 60s. Nothing could be done to turn back the relentless expansion of television but in the meantime, illustrators had an astonishing amount of space and freedom. A lot of those experiments failed, and some, like Peter Max's psychedelic phase, or all the new dayglo colors and reflective materials, seem dated now. But some of them (and I'd include Fuchs and Peak in this category) knocked the cover off the ball.

Robert Cosgrove said...

To drop a mundane note into this highly interesting historical analysis, thank you, David, for alerting me to the FAS course book sale. I called the 1-800 number and gave them my credit card number, and within two days had both the painting set and the illustration set. Just goes to show that it pays to read the comments here as well as the "main post." My only regret is that the folks selling the FAS volumes don't have copies of the Master Courses lying around to distribute. On that subject, I have scored a few of those on eBay, including the Austin Briggs volume. Reading the comment of the always insightful James Gurney above has sent me scurrying back to that volume to reread it.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "I understand and appreciate the faux-reportage innovation. That doesn't stop the technical procedure that achieves that look from being a kind of trick."

Couldn't you say the same thing about Renaissance perspective?

"Which is why, again, other professionals could replicate it and hand it around to their studio mates."

Lots of professionals replicated Rockwell, too. Crockwell, Schaeffer and Dohanos, for example. (In Schaeffer's case, the Saturday Evening Post pressured him to tighten up his style to bring it closer to Rockwell's, to meet their demand for covers in between Rockwell's.) . All successful styles get replicated, for obvious reasons. But if an innovator is really good, the best imitators always fall at least 15 or 20% short, and that last 15 or 20% is where much of the best quality resides. Competitors may "replicate it and hand it around to their studio mates" but David Stone Martin and others never closed in on Briggs' last 15 or 20%, just as Crockwell, Schaeffer and Dohanos never closed in on Rockwell.

I don't disagree that in the 1950s "The whole form was learning to shout and flail 'innovatively' for attention in a dwindling marketplace." Do you consider that better or worse than the 1910s when the whole form was learning to shout and flail innovatively for attention in an expanding marketplace? When, for example, Charles Dana Gibson's success was imitated by Orson Lowell and a dozen lesser artists?

"Finally Bob Peak discovers the airbrush, the sky cracks open, and hellfire rains down upon the Earth."

Well, I'm not sure all of that was directly attributable to the airbrush, but I do agree that when Peak went to Hollywood with his airbrush it was a dark day.

"When the Post redesigned itself au moderne, the Rockwell that "nobody wanted anymore", was the cover artist. A few years later, at the apex of the new wave, as a 70 year old man, he was signed to Look magazine and painted for them for ten more years. As far as I can tell, Rockwell, as long as he was able to raise a paintbrush to canvas without tumbling over, was never not wanted."

I agree that Rockwell's career didn't fall off a cliff the way Leyendecker's did, in part because of Rockwell's timeless subject matter and in part because Rockwell lived in dread of Leyendecker's fate, and worked hard against it. Nevertheless, when the "new" Post began in 1962, they threw out Rockwell's entire inventory of a dozen approved cover ideas, and put him to work instead painting close up cover portraits of politicians and celebrities (which they interspersed with cover photos of show biz personalities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando.) Yes, Rockwell found interior work by moving to Look Magazine but I think the sun had set on his era.

"Rockwell couldn't adapt to draw like Briggs.
Don't be silly, David."

Kev, I don't doubt that with careful study and multiple iterations Rockwell was fully able to recreate a Briggs drawing the way he imitated Pollock's style for The Connoisseur. (Deborah Solomon called it, "meticulously re-creating an image of free-wheeling spontaneity.") However, you know from looking at 60 years of Rockwell drawings that he was fully entrenched in his careful drawing style. For that reason, and because his timid personality was so different from Briggs' vigorous, aggressive personality, I don't think Rockwell could have adapted to the new market by becoming an artist like Briggs. He would have to work much faster, outside his studio and and outside his comfort zone.

Tom said...

Which is why, again, other professionals could replicate it and hand it around to their studio mates."

David; I don't think that is a very good comparison. There is a lot to learn before one start's using perspective with any grace or ability. Copying or tracing images doesn't really require any learning. Just look at Betty Edwards book. Just like one has some learning to go through before even playing Mozart badly on the piano. And yes I know some people use photography much better then others.

Kev said, "Briggs may have been an awesome talent, but this kind of work, in my view, both signaled and accelerated the demise of the industry."

I think that is an interesting question, at what point does something start to deteriorate? Because what followed the heady days of the innovative 1960's as you describe David is an "epidemic of circle heads."

The up close and personal view was also used by Baroque artist. To heighten drama and effect, to make the stories of the Bible all the more real and part of the viewers life. It's amazing how the principals of art are use and reused over and over again.

Paul Sullivan wrote, 'William Golden, the great art director of CBS, once said that when the products of a craft no longer fill an essential role in society they have the opportunity of becoming an art form."

That's what my art theory professor said Hegel described. The world that brought Greek sculpture into being has disappeared and what we are left with is beautiful objects, we can never recover the "essential role," and meaning that brought the work into being.

Kev, I am just curious as you know a lot about the period and the working methods, did Briggs trace his pictures from photo's as you seem to imply in your response? (not trying to start a debate, I really want to know)

kev ferrara said...

"William Golden, the great art director of CBS, once said that when the products of a craft no longer fill an essential role in society they have the opportunity of becoming an art form."

So dumb.

kev ferrara said...

Couldn't you say the same thing about Renaissance perspective?


Paul Sullivan said...

Ken Ferrara—You should mention that to Bill Golden. You may have something there.

kev ferrara said...

Do you consider that better or worse than the 1910s when the whole form was learning to shout and flail innovatively for attention in an expanding marketplace? When, for example, Charles Dana Gibson's success was imitated by Orson Lowell and a dozen lesser artists?

There was a ton of great pen and ink artists around during the early Golden Age, with all sorts of different styles. Orson Lowell was among them, a wonderful illustrator. I never considered him an imitator of Gibson. (Most of my favorite Lowell stuff isn't online.) In fact, I think Lowell was better than Gibson and more well rounded as an artist. Although I don't think he was as different from Gibson as Flagg was, but that doesn't make him some rank hack. I mean, Lowell could flat out draw.

None of the old timey greats were tracing photos or just being radical for the sake of gaining eyeballs. They weren't putting soulful technical veneers over dead reference cabinetry. They earned their styles, and took pride in their personal developments. As N.C. Wyeth said about the artistic radicals he encountered in 1916 "They are entirely without aim or principle - a motley lot of charlatans, most of them, with no head nor tail to their endeavors unless it is to be different - goddamn the word. I worship individuality, but one can't manufacture it!!"

And that's the real difference between the rigorous, almost religious art training of 1905, which laid the foundation for the individual to prosper on his own terms and through his own sensibilities, versus the expedient eye-catching technical currencies developed and exchanged between practitioners from the late 40s onward which allowed for good, brisk business in a hothouse commercial environment. There's a reason nobody has been able to successfully ape Leyendecker, (peak) Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, Walter Everett, F.R. Gruger, Maxfield Parrish, Herbert Paus, or Franklin Booth, just to name a few. Whereas David Grove and Al Williamson became utterly indistinguishable from Berni Fuchs and Alex Raymond. And most Reilly students were interchangeable. Point being that technical conventions are frankly superficial bits of tradecraft, easily convertible into currencies; the harbinger of today's photoshop filters.

This is not to say that there wasn't also a bunch of innovative anything-goes graphic barkering during the Golden Age. Absolutely there was. Just looking at the covers to Everybody's magazine will give evidence of that. Not to mention the development of the lurid pulp cover.

Sean Farrell said...

David, I've printed the TV Guide pieces out and will surely enjoy them for a long time.
In the second image of the ad guys on the couch, the over and under wave like rhythms between the first man's back arching forward and slumped figures behind him, between the white hair of the second man and the upward movement of the shirt in the farthest guy on the couch are awfully pleasurable. How the shadow on the floor next to the standing man belongs more to the head in the foreground is another moment which belies the apparent simplicity of the drawing. That shadow is adding a lot of volume to the head in the foreground. Briggs is an artist whose interests in movement, momentum and space are handled with great intention. His line work and accents also hold treasures in the language of drawing, but to find and enjoy them, he does have to be taken seriously enough to look. Thanks.