Thursday, January 05, 2017


Victorian illustrator William Hatherell worked in a simpler time, using simpler materials and painting simpler subjects.  Instead of colorful digital images of race cars or women in corsets,  he was assigned subjects like "The Signing of the Documents," in which a lawyer goes through documentation with a witness.

Pretty dry stuff, huh?

But wait.  

If you pay attention to what Hatherell was doing, you might even find energy, excitement and imagination in his approach.

Look at the lightning bolt shading skittering down that sleeve to that vividly highlighted hand:

...or how powerfully Hatherell depicts the structure of the lawyer's face...

( Contrast the subtlety of the lawyer's eyeglasses with the loose rapidity of his neck jabot; this is an illustrator with a broad range of tools and a clear set of priorities.  )

The woman poised to sign the document believes it is false and is looking at the lawyer to understand whether he knowingly wants her to sign it:

Hatherell conveys this with a single raised eyebrow, located strategically at the center of the picture.   Such subtlety would be lost on today's audiences.  Illustrators today would be forced to spotlight that face and exaggerate the expression and body language to get our attention.  In my opinion, our insensitivity is nothing to be proud of.

John Lubbock wrote, "What we see depends mainly on what we look for." Before we conclude that 19th century illustrations lacked strength and boldness, we need to understand what to look for.


Donald Pittenger said...

I wonder how many of those subtleties were preserved in the reproduction process. You mentioned this sort of thing in a previous post about him. Do you happen to know where this particular illustration was published? Can anyone find an image?

Just curious.

xopxe said...

Yeah, pretty impressive! I love specially how her face is perfectly readable with such little detail and dynamic range.
But I do find something weird in the layout, specially in the lawyer... The left arm/hand looks awkward, and the way the right hand rests doesn't make much sense either.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic gutsy - the embodiment of the skillful artist's hand being evident in the result . William A Smith came to mind as I looked at it .

As much as I love Fuchs , Briggs etc. I feel a different appreciation looking at work like this - which is not photo - traced using sort of calculated effects to depict an effortless skill or spontaneity - in lieu of natural unforced actual looseness .

I find artist's comments on other artist's work educational and interesting , and wonder what Hatherell might make of the above two's work .

Al McLuckie

David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger-- An excellent question. The notation on the back suggests that it was for a story by H. Rider Haggard that may have been excerpted in a magazine on July 23, 1898. I'm not sure of the magazine-- Hatherell's work occasionally appeared in Harper's in the US, but there's no trace of such a story on the contents page of Harper's for that date, so it may have appeared in the UK. I'm not sure how to track it down beyond that. The full quote is: "The lawyer and I looked at each other as I sat before him, the pen in my hand, and in his eyes I read that he was certain that I was about to sign to a wicked lie, and in mine he read that I knew it to be a lie."

1898 was late enough so that the illustration was probably reproduced by photo engraving rather than wood engraving. But you're right, whatever they used would not have been as high rez as my scans. As you know, most of the magazines of that era were dense with text-- there were probably more words on a single page of Harper's or Century than you'd find in an entire issue of People magazine today-- so I think that when illustrations came along, people tended to seize upon them, study them closely and invest a lot in them.

xopxe-- I construed that left hand as a revealing depiction of an ill-fitting cuff. Few people back then enjoyed tapered continental tailoring, and Hatherell seems to be telling us that this officious lawyer was not one of them. He wore more rough fitting clothes, which would be consistent with that interior.

Anonymous / Al McLuckie-- I hadn't thought about William A. Smith, but he's a good comparison (especially that noir palette). And "gutsy" is an excellent adjective to describe Hatherell's choices. He worked with a of limitations (not the least of which were audience attitudes and printing constraints). Yet, he still found room to be "gutsy."

We'll never know exactly what Hatherell would've thought about Briggs or Fuchs, but it's a sure bet he would've been astounded by the technology that they employed.

Aleš said...

Very nice image. The woman has an expression/gesture of an interrupted person who was just about to do something. Her eyebrows express a sort of polite inquisitiveness while the bitterness in the gesture of her mouth and a bit of sadness in the eyes show what she really feels. Her face and hand gestures also expresses a sort of indecision, like when you're not really sure what you're doing and you react to any disturbance of the moment because it delays that unsure act you're about to do.
The smoking male staring at the quill could be her kid, who is standing in the back while grown ups do some important stuff. He might be present in the room because whatever they're doing may have an impact on the whole family. The older male has an authoritative expression on his face and is the only one who doesn't seem doubtful or personally affected by whatever is going on. He is also pointing with his finger in a way that graphically he is touching her hand that is supposed to sign the paper. There is smoke in the air so whatever they're doing might be going on for a while. The image has nice emotional relationships among characters.

Paul Sullivan said...

David— you said that this illustration would probably have been reproduced by photo engraving. You are probably correct. I am not an expert on early photo engraving but I know about some of the problems. By the 1890s photo engraving was being used widely and the plates (or blocks) worked well with typography to produce an interesting page. However, this excellent illustration by Hatherell you posted would have presented challenges to the photo engraving technology of the era.

One of the interesting things about Hatherell's illustration is its subtlety. The general low key, the edge lighting on the main figure, the dancing high lights in the background would have been difficult to reproduce with the sensitivity displayed in the original art. At the time, those high lights of the edge lighting and background areas would have been hand tooled out of the metal plate. The fate of the reproduction would have been in the hands of the engraver. Many times this was anything but sensitive. This is also true of the subtle dark areas—areas photo engravers refer to as "shadow detail".

Most of us have seen the marks of a routing or engraving tool in the highlights and darks of older black and white illustrations. One of the places where this was common is the fade-off areas of vignette illustrations. Some of this his heavy-handed work was seen in the larger magazines through at least the early 20s. At times, the fade-off to white paper on a vignette presented a problem right up to the introduction of digital scanning and retouching.

With photo engraving, there was a "pick up of white". That meant that you wound up with a "random dot" in what were intended to be pure white areas. Those random dots had to be eliminated.

kev ferrara said...

Strong and free!

George Freeman said...

Hatherell illustrated a lot of Haggard's books. His portraits of Ayesha are some of the best.

"The Graphic" serialized Haggard's Boer novel "Swallow" from 2 July to 19 October 1898. Hatherell illustrated those.

Here's a poor repro of that page:

David Apatoff said...

Paul Sullivan-- Thanks for an interesting discussion of 19th century photo engraving. It's a little surprising that, knowing the limitations of the reproduction process of the day, Hatherell would make such a subtle picture. Looking at the reproduction provided by George Freeman (below) it appears that some of the elements of the picture may have been put in sharper contrast during the printing process.

Your comment made me think about the transition from wood engraving to photo-engraving, and how a whole generation of talented, hard working wood engravers were suddenly made obsolete. These were true craftsmen and they didn't see it coming. Ours is not the only generation where technology disrupts careers.

Kev Ferrara-- Exactly.

George Freeman-- Wow, you are one impressive guy! My hat is off to you for coming up with that obscure magazine. Where did you acquire your research skills?

Sean Farrell said...

In response to Al Mcluckie's comparison of Hatherell to Fuchs and Briggs. The Hatherrell is a buildout of form from dark to light. The light acts as a unifying force working as passage from one thing to the next and within that is the activity of the people too. In short, it's a painting.

Line drawing as Briggs treated it, was separate from value, tone or color, even though they may be part of a drawing. Such was a creature demanding different solutions because the emphasis on edge separated one shape from the next. A cast shadow can serve as passage from one shape, but it doesn't build out form as when line is subservient to form in the full array of tonal values, or color. In line drawing, tones were used to unify the lines or multiple figures and objects, often as patterns, but again not as a buildout of form (or the nature of the drawing would change). Solutions included designing objects and figures so their shapes invited movement from one to the next. Line variation also emphasized the moving nature of line, quelled the monotony of uniform lines and could express the nature of what the edge represented. I remember reading somewhere that Briggs shot his tone separately from his line because he didn't want his line subjected to the halftone screen, so he was well aware of the nature of the two. Inventive compositions in the 1950s based on Degas' use of the horizon line in the upper half of a picture lent itself to the graphic solutions verses the build out of form we see when things emerge upwards off a ground firmly establishing gravity. Bernie Fuchs became a master of such graphic compositions.

Fuchs did something else. He softened the line to allow passage and in effect was drawing or painting areas. Points of interest were juxtaposed with larger empty areas allowing flow though, creating a broad freedom of movement over the surface of the drawing or canvas. Many copied Fuchs' palette and application of paint, but never quite got his sense of passage because they didn't fully understand what he was doing with it compositionally, even though they did copy the way his paint bled out over edges. One can see this in the copy-cat drawings, where edges remained emphasized, though with a quieter line. Yes, photos lent themselves to the graphic solution, but it was the graphic nature of line itself, no longer subordinate to tone and the buildout of form, which accounted for the evolution of graphic solutions well before the camera became a crutch to the same solutions. Rockwell used the camera in service of painting without the graphic result.

chris bennett said...

Wonderful image David, thanks so much for drawing our attention to it. And some engaging observations from the other commentators here!

Paul Sullivan said...

George Freeman—Thank you for supplying us with a reproduction of Hatherell's illustration. You mentioned that it was a poor reproduction of the page but I am surprised that it came out as good as it did.

The reproduction looks as if the original illustration was retouched at some point. I will only point out the vertical spindles in the foreground chair and the dark detail of the main figure's coat in the upper arm area. It is difficult to judge the reproduction quality of the actual page but the image looks as if the illustration was shot somewhat light and with low contrast. There does not appear to be any tooling on the plate.

kev ferrara said...


When line is abstracted out from "realism", the set of design solutions that follow from linear thinking follow along. They don't suddenly develop and emerge out of nothing once line is isolated. They just become much more obvious when isolated. And so easier, as currency, to pick up, appreciate, pocket, and then play show and tell with. All the design ideas you mention were taught in the better painting/art classes throughout the 19th century or were part of the poster arts curriculum. Most appear in disguised form even in the Hatherell painting that prompted this thread, even though it was clearly executed in haste.

Regarding your take on the horizon line as somehow key to uniquely connecting at a distance the 50's illustrators to Degas seems to ignore the fact that deciding on spatial division was literally the very first step on the route to developing compositions as taught far back into the Romantic era. (I'm not well versed enough in classical art training to take these ideas back farther.)

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, A line drawing isn't “just more obvious”, but it's more dependent on its edges as there is little else. That's what a line drawing is.

The design is not the same after it loses its build out of form because it becomes the edges of the drawing and not edges within a painting. One can call a thing passage, but the device of passage changes and must change because there isn't a buildout of form from dark to light. Passage in a Matisse open line drawing is different than the passage of light burning an edge to a thinner line weight. In the same way, the nature of the device changes even though we may use the same word for what its doing. They are each passage, but different solutions.

Drawing freed from being a support of painting became its own end. Briggs and Fuchs are an interesting comparison because Briggs entered finished illustration with a life drawing of a group of three men (likely the same model) and a woman with ink and brush and some gouache it appears on a textured paper or cloth. I forgot what it was drawn on since I framed it long ago when I bought it, but it looks like a cloth with an elaborate squared patterned surface. It's not a surface that would have taken a preliminary pencil well and there's no sign of any pencil residual. It's a direct drawing from an overhead loft in a studio done in 1951. There's nothing traced about it. A copy appears on Leif Peng's flickr archive here:

The heavy black brush line of Degas, found favor with Vuillard, Bonnard, Mucha, Art Nouveau and a home in fashion illustration in the 1930s to 1960s with Bernard Blossac, Carl Erickson, Rene Grau and Rene Bouche. Big chunky lines were influential through the drawings of Ben Shan and David Stone Martin too. David recently showed some beautiful drawings of chunky black lines by Harold Von Schmidt. So line variation was really a first love of drawing throughout the era. The whole notion of drawing expressively with line and edges was taken very seriously and wasn't just done as part of some truncated screwed up version of reality. It was a love affair not just of the artists, but public as well.

We discussed the graphic composition at length a while back and I explained that the horizon line in the top half of a picture reversed the field of gravity from bottom to top. Degas was the favorite artist of Fuchs and his compositions and those of many other illustrators were based on the reversal of gravity which dropped off into a graphic field in the lower half. It was a favorite for page design and the trick was getting the downward movement to return to the top and Fuchs did many things to make it do so. Such compositions were part of the influence of Asian prints collected during French Impressionism. When Fuchs softened his line into a single tone, it did effect other illustrators and the love affair with the bold and chunky line slowly gave way. None of it may be for you, but that's the way it happened and people loved it. I know you like paintings, but compare the lines in this Jack Potter life drawing to your average photoshop rendering. It's like comparing a real drum to a drum machine.

Alice Abner said...

That's some amazing pieces of Art Work :)
Snapfish Coupon

Tom said...

I think Al McLuckie point makes a lot of sense. Hetherell can not "say" anything about Fuch's and Briggs's work but his work does say something about their work. Hetherall's figure's come into being from an inner force, a line of action, they feel motivated. I recognize the space they exist in just like I recognize the "camera space,' of Fuches and Briggs, whose figures look like photographs of people.

kev ferrara said...

A line drawing isn't “just more obvious”, but it's more dependent on its edges as there is little else. That's what a line drawing is.

"Measure twice, cut once" also maps to the relationship between reading comprehension and reply.

Anonymous said...

Tom and Sean - I hope to be first in line to obtain the forthcoming Fuchs book vol. 1 , and can't wait for vol.2 and 3 .

I've been painting for 50 years this year , did a cover for Don Grant early 80's and learn something every time I paint . I do weekly life drawing which , I believe , benefits my work, when I use photo ref . I had a guilt complex for many years about photo ref. courtesy Frazetta's misleading advise about how he worked .

Seeing how favorite artists like Jeff Jones and many hundreds actually worked , got me over my "guilt". At the same time I love Fuchs etc etc who heavily employ it -[photo ref] . I do believe that as great as these guys were , that their work would be even better had they kept up direct observational drawing , much as Fawcett apparently did .

So my comment about Hetherell's work giving me a different kind of feeling from Fuchs , had to do with that "INNER FORCE" Tom mentioned , that comes from grappling with the depiction without the safety net of the tracing .

Sean , how do like Grove's work ? He strikes me as someone who was probably inspired by Fuchs working method , absorbed it , and found his own voice .

Al McLuckie

Sean Farrell said...

Very nice Tom. I also like the Hatherell very much and It does come into being by a line of action as you say, but the inner force is also realized by the build out of form itself emerging from dark into light.

I added the 1951 Briggs (19 inches high) into the conversation because it wasn't traced and I added the Potter for the same reason. Potter only used models. Yet both drawings had a graphic nature because they were line drawings. The removal of the build out of form changes the recipe and places emphasis on the edge, flattening it. The build out of the form does place an emphasis on what is built out from the sides, which is often the core of the form verses the edge of the form. Anyway graphic emphasis pre-existed the abuse and monotony of the camera as a crutch in illustration. Fuchs may have been the only guy who quite understood what he was doing at the time. A long attrition of drawing followed until photos eventually replaced illustrations in school books, magazines, movie posters and fashion illustration. Prior to that end, there was some nice drawing done with a softer use of line by a number of illustrators. One that comes to mind is Fred Greenhill whose work has been archived by The New School and also Yale I think has a bunch of his oversized fashion illustrations. A favorite source for seeing the experiments of line variation in this era was Fashion Drawing in Vogue by William Packer. In it there are also some English illustrators I failed to mention.

Norman Rockwell did illustrations in line as well but they were some of the least interesting black and white illustrations because he did nothing with line variation. His line recorded the edge as it would if it were a study for a painting, or in service of a painting with some reference to form in the way of tone.

We did see the Briggs drawing of the mother and daughter getting on the train last year and in that drawing we got to see how Briggs accented curves in what was a very moving arrangement and hardly would one argue was a tracing. In comparison to many of the other artists doing line drawings, Briggs' explorations of edge and movement could get tight and studied.

One regrettable result of separating line from the full support of tone, value and color, is that it left two schools of thinking often at odds with each other, either not understanding or not fully appreciating the other.

Sean Farrell said...

Al McLuckie, So many people were copying Fuchs in the late 1970s and 80s that I stopped looking for their signatures. I agree with Kev that the use of tracing was no good and by the time the business switched to photographs, illustrators really differed little from each other. Fuchs had his own brand of what made a picture and he owned it while his imitators distinguished themselves mostly in the type of composition they made.

Some of them were very good before they moved in that direction and others were beginners who did their best to copy Fuchs. Fuchs used blacks to make his reds and greens brighter, but his imitators often just made their work too dark. David Groves often used simple symmetrical or montage type compositions. Simple can be epic, but it doesn't always feel so original. His drawings were the ones I was referring to earlier, but he did execute his work very well. Looking at the Workbooks of the which illustrators advertised in the 1980s, one saw only tracings but for an emerging world of cartoon illustrations. By 1987, the world of big time illustration had priced itself out and an art director told me the best guys were up around 18K per illustration. With their end, the era of tracing ended as well. I wasn't heartbroken because I never liked the tracers and it had been dying a long death. About 4 or 5 years later the department stores dropped their illustrators. The cartoon illustrators replaced what was left to the market. Drawing as Briggs described it was graphic and along with line variation provided a lot of room to move. Tracing eliminated the drawing, then the line and eventually it eliminated illustration. Thanks.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, In the book I mentioned, the author makes excellent comments on the drawings and his pitch is that it took a great deal of development to achieve an unselfconscious mastery in drawing and for no fault of their own, many artists simply never got the professional repetitions to achieve such mastery. Painting is also an old man's game because one only gets better at it over a lifetime. But not everyone views drawing this way.

In my opinion, Briggs knew that thick and thin lines or accents could represented light and dark and he knew thick and thin lines or accents could represent something coming forward or receding. He knew that thick and thin lines or accents could represent patterns and he knew thick and thin lines or accents could represent movement. He knew that lines in the form of hatching or repeated applications of line could create a graduated area useful as a graduated tone. He knew thick or thin lines and accents could represent time, speed and attitude over the area they travelled. He knew that limiting line to one but one or two of such functions can make line drawing much simpler, but not as expressive.

In my opinion, he knew that without a middle tone and without the graduation of tone with it's innumerable subtleties, organizing line in its multiple functions is very difficult because as a dark form, each line independently demands attention and that multiple lines and marks can get all bottled up and confusing, suffocating, etc. Our preconceived notions of why a line enclosing a figure is a figure helps greatly, but it doesn't solve all conflicts when line is used in its multiple purposes. Briggs was well aware of the artists I mentioned who were contemporaries even if in other commercial areas and some of them were performing many feats of mastery in such things. His work was in my opinion, a sometimes self conscious exploration of the multiple purposes of line without the aid of the middle tone and its gradations to full black or white. He was also using the invisible lines formed by edges and accents as a painter would use them and he also knew how to use space in relation to shapes and line.

What I'm saying here Kev is that I disagree strongly with your comment that isolating line makes these things more obvious, rather isolating line makes solutions less obvious because multiple black lines serving different purposes by their nature, seek unifying elements and the middle tone buildout isn't there to help unify them. I think Briggs was showing us that in the line drawing of the mother and girl getting on the train.

In my opinion, Bernie Fuchs was a brilliant artist and did something unique to solve the conflicts of line and edges. He was his own person followed by a legion of people who never truly became themselves and the whole lot of them went over the cliff when Fuchs' work went either out of style or was for economic reasons dismissed. That can't be blamed on Bernie Fuchs. If a few people were tracing it wouldn't have been so appalling or destructive, but we know that's not what happened and some of the blame goes to the art buyers, but they can't be faulted for wanting Bernie Fuchs. Thanks

kev ferrara said...


I meant that, with line-centric work, the design solutions associated with linear expressions become much more obvious to those looking at Art, in part, to appreciate design solutions. This would include serious Artists and art students. Whereas, in more complex artistic cases, the utter sublation of the linear information requires a great deal more insight and intuition to tease out, often requiring prior technical and poetic knowledge - which in the case of artistic composition of any sophistication was kept more or less esoteric - guild caged - until after World War II.

I agree that Fuchs was quite often wonderful. And tracing reference alone could never have gotten him to his heights. But it airlifted him to the middle of the mountain. And far too many others saw that helicopter ride up not as Fuchs' unique solution to his artistic path, but as The One True Way.

Also, not to overtaffy the metaphor, but the bottom of the mountain is where the greatest tests of gravity and character are. Fuchs' decision to jump right to rare air may be the cause of the naggling sense of the blithely pretty I find in his work. (To others, I assume, this unbearable lightness is a feature, not a bug.) But he was an artistic soul, surely, and his struggle to push inward from his shallow starting place, was always a fascinating tension in his work.

I think you would be interested in John LaGatta's linework. He was an important precursor, in illustration's Golden Age, to many of your late favorites. Particularly in that he was an important teacher to Bob Peak, Bart Forbes, and Mark English, imparting to them many of the old values, which grounded them.

Sean Farrell said...

Thank You Kev,
I agree with what you wrote. Fuchs did two paintings for a calendar put out by the athletic department of the University of Oklahoma, I think it in 1985. One painting of the band in red from the side with trumpets raised was brilliant. The second was from the height of a football about a 20 feet from the football about to be snapped. The lightness of his treatment of the subject may have captured a majesty to the moment, but I don't think it captured its potential power.

I find the same misappropriation in the line in Weaver's NY Times drawings of the NY Yankees. His line is expressive and captures the size of the guys, but misses the elegance of the game. Though I think his line may have been perfect to capture football players in a locker room after a losing game.

If one is going to run a race and has prepared well for it, then the rules change and they have to run the race with one foot tied behind their back, it's going to cause problems. What we're talking about here is eliminating the middle ground as a basis for unifying a picture. Yes. a pencil is easier to handle than paint, but the middle ground with its many gradations is removed in line drawing. LaGatta was an early fashion illustrator but he went in the direction of building out the female form in a traditional manner with light and dark. His use of darks in light did form shapes of movement, but they were not lines absent from light and dark understandings. I appreciate your point though. There was an abbreviated movement in LaGatta which is akin to line variation, no doubt about that, but thick and thin line variations were established by Degas, Lautrec etc. and such was brought in through the Asian prints and such line did act as movement in itself, not necessarily in a field of light and dark. I do love what you pointed out though and will be thinking about it.

This is certainly a conversation worth having, but I'm not sure I'm making my point clear. We are coming at this from two different points of view. The nature of the treatment of subject matter by appropriate expressions is an interesting subject you've raised. I think more people didn't know what they were doing than did know what they were doing regarding line as I described its properties, which is why the era is also interesting. Yes, the studios put out a product conforming to their expectations but this passed with the end of the studios. Fuchs' elimination of the conflicts of edges basically eliminated drawing. The success of his work limited what became acceptable to the field. It changed the way people saw and was a step towards a takeover of photography however that actually took place. Artists like Gary Kelly became flukes rather than one of many unique expressions. It's unfortunate there weren't a hundred more individual expressions like him. A few older guys got stuck in their looks and weren't bringing much new to the table either. But it was a sad end for artists like he and Paul Davis and Cunningham and a few other people who had a own point of view other than the tracers.

kev ferrara said...


I would disagree with your timeline regarding the takeover by photography. It was already clear in the depths of the 1930s that photography was "eating the lunch" of illustrators, as Dean Cornwell put it. Photography was cheap, easy, and people were in a materialist mood at the time. And magazines were struggling like hell. So with so many being put out of work, illustrators took on the camera as a kind of chess move in the arms race of commercial survival. And it was at that time of the Depression that the poor imitators of Rockwell and the supercommercial illustrators (not to mention the ADs who hired the same, and the advertisers who controlled those ADs) were the ones who sent illustration as a fine art form into the ditch of hackwork.

What Fuchs et al did was a reaction to that banality, an effort to bring expressive life and poetic beauty back into the game, while still making the effort to conform to the "realism" standard that had been. While also hitting deadlines. So that's why all those 50s new wave styles strike me as tactical, as well as artistic. Because they combine the worst hack methods with the best of poetic intentions. After their innovations, there follows on the imitators, which coincides with the death of mainstream illustration... and offshoots which pull apart the expressionism from the tracing, resulting in Pushpin, Naive, and Dadaist illustrators on the one hand, and the tracers on the other. Meanwhile the last wave of well trained painters moved out west to paint cowboys or started teaching in NYC as proud stalwarts of a dying tradition, a.k.a. Bitter Enders.

Sean Farrell said...

It's impossible to entirely divorce drawing from form, but the buildout of form from a middle tone started to recede leaving an emphasis on edge and accents, however such happened. Looking over La Gatta has been a pleasure today and he clearly photographed his models but built out his figures from an extensive understanding of the human anatomy within light and dark. That's to say, that the photos he employed didn't deny his form. Many art books try to align linear influences with history whether to antiquity or Impressionism or some medieval influence like Hollbein etc. The movement in the work of La Gatta and Patrick Henry Raleigh alike were already heading towards a more linear view of the world even though they remained built from dark to light and I do agree that such was part the development of the emerging line drawings which did part from the same reliance on a form built out from light from dark. An exact source of how such happened may not be entirely discernible and obviously fine art was an influence too. Drawings using light in limited quantity did emphasize edges and such were in full swing in the early 1930s with an artists like Willamuez. But there was also a linear world of comics and animation, severed from the middle ground build out and newspapers printed line better than tones and photos can't be blamed for demanding drawings that printed better. One way or the other and most likely a multiple of influences made the line drawing, largely cut off from it's reliance on light, a reality. The interior illustrations in books often were of a linear nature. I associate Briggs with this concern for linear solutions to drawing problems (rather than the formal build out of form) and he was in a world with some artists who were very good in this regard and Noel Sickles comes to mind.

Of course photography as reference was all over the place, but it didn't drown out the type of illustrators who drew from life either in a linear manner or those who built out form. Such didn't happen until the later 1950s, around 1957. The studios and people like Bob Peak and Jack Potter, Al Parker, Coby Whitmore, etc. all engaged in new types of compositions which were flatter and more graphic. I connect such composition to Degas, but that aside, the compositions were more graphic in themselves and flatter executions of content followed. The early Fuchs VO illustrations were flat in their composition, but less so in execution of the stuff in them. He got flatter in the next few years. The nature of the compositions did have an effect on the flattening stuff in them. And here photographic reference exerted its own graphic nature having found a home in the new compositions. This of course is the way I see it. I don't think the development of a more graphic linear drawing was prompted by photos alone, because it evolved in fashion art, animation, comics and interior book illustrations. People like LaGatta and Rockwell also used photos but maintained their relationship with the buildout of form as I've been defining it.

I have no doubt that there was a tactical reality to meeting deadlines and photos were certainly accommodated to this end. And Fuchs certainly brought beauty to his later work. But life drawing was being taught in NYC in the early 1970s in a linear manner similar to this early Fred Greenhill drawing. In it one can see the graphic use of tonal areas and patterns to bring together what might be a pile of linear spaghetti. Such is an example of what I've been talking about and it's not a photo based solution. For your consideration.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, I would just like to add that while I've been trying to establish that the line drawing with its departure from a build out of form brought its own challenges and for me its own confusions over the years of thinking about line drawings, you have added much to the complexity of the subject. The influence graphics, typography and photography were present across decades and by the 1970s, art students were very confused as people who saw things graphically had overwhelmed anyone still teaching form. But as I've been thinking about your points, how it developed appears more complex than any simple summation.

Painters are now more involved in form that they have been in a long while. For the moment, the things which take a bit more time to tease out are slow to appear, in part I think because it all has to be relearned.

A friend sent me a link of illustrations from the Washington Post lamenting the absence of drawing. I was surprised to see the number of illustrators hired from other countries and how indistinguishable they all were as a group. Anyway, take care. Sean

kev ferrara said...


I wish I had the time to wade through all the interesting points of disagreement between us. I can only touch on a few items...

I adore Degas, but the emphasis on pattern that swept the fine art world through the 19th century had so many members on its subscription list that it would take a book to unspool the matter. I think the greatest connection to Degas comes from the recognition that expressive thinking manifesting as pattern can be married to deeply sensitive draughtsmanship. There is also a crucial idea that came out of the Romantic movement lilting toward spirituality, which resulted in effects of dematerialization.

As to additional key names with regard to pattern/dematerialization, I think of the whole impressionist, symbolist-imagist/post-impressionist era as a mine they mined. I would include Edouard Vuillard on par with Degas as an influence on your faves. Also Mikhail Vrubel (see his painting "Morning" from 1897) and O. Redon. Then Thomas Dewing and Eugene Carriere for ghostly vibe (sometimes john white alexander too). Gustav Klimt, Frank Cowper, Benjamin Constant, Alphonse Mucha, Gary Melchers, and the "Glasgow Boys" (Henry, Hornel, Gauld) for the way they combined the realistic with the flat and decorative. Don't miss Joseph Crawhall either...

I just realized I'll be at the computer all day if I keep this up. Basically I'm saying that the artistic use of flat pattern, ultra sensitive draughtsmanship, and dematerialization effects were at full flag by 1905. And expressive linework as a method unto itself was roiling in development throughout the 20th century.

Living artist Fred Cuming is worth checking out as an example of somebody along the same path of Fuchs, Forbes, and Heindel but who stayed in the galleries.

Sean Farrell said...

Thanks Kev, Since you don't agree that the particular composition we spoke at length about a couple years ago was a new influence and during that conversation you didn't produce a composition which acted in the manner discussed, that part of the conversation is a point already contested and gone. Conceding the complexity of developments, is a recognition of the many interesting things you've brought to this conversation.

“And expressive linework as a method unto itself was roiling in development throughout the 20th century.”

Yes, this is exactly what I've been referring to regarding line and it's the main reason for coming to defense of Briggs.

The eye follows a line in the direction it's moving. We tend not to cross the short side of a line (its edge) as the line calls us to follow its length. So in line there's a built in conflict between the edge defining a shape and the desire to travel the line, which is resolved by the methods I mentioned, one of them being the use of pattern to unify otherwise disunited shapes. (Mickail Vrubel in Morning, is doing something entirely different, he's uniting patterns to lines of continuity and they so happen also to be shapes of patterns in their own right. )

The use of light unifies individual shapes separated by lines and the full use of light requires a full build out of form. Such is the world we live in, united by light. But line drawing is different. In line drawing, light is sometimes used sparingly and sometimes in conjunction with a number of other solutions, but it is often not used at all. I believe the French artists I mentioned going back to Degas and Carl Erickson (American) and a few English artists really understood the conflict and went with the line as movement and they did some really great drawings.

This particular conflict between the moving nature of line and the edge which separates the defined objects has not been well explained, because I'm not sure many really understood it. To this end, Briggs found interest in line drawing and if looked at in this regard, he is an interesting artist. To tag him a tracer is to miss what he's about. I think his interest in the nature of line is why as David stated, he left much of his formal training behind him. That's an opinion.

kev ferrara said...


Can you repost the link to your artwork again? I want to see how you are using what you are saying in practice. Maybe then I'll have a better sense of your understanding of these things. And if you have ever diagrammed/explained some of what you say in your own work, that would be all the better to really get what you mean.


Sean Farrell said...

After chasing work with the computer “Cintique line” which everyone in advertising sketching has been using and has a coloring book look, I decided to return to pencil, building out the form a bit with tone and light for passage and unity. I thought I could trace my pencil sketches and get something natural out of the computer line and they are closer to alive than if I traced photos directly, but they still feel gimmicky and have the same jarring linear nature. Most of the business has gone to tracing with this antiseptic computer line. The portfolio is a mix of computer line work and pencils, a first attempt to move away from the computer line. The edges of the purely linear pieces are jarring verses the pencils with tone and light as passage. Recognizing the problem is half the solution. But solving the linear drawings without tone would have taken different solutions, that's if I wanted to solve the jarring effect of the conflicting and battling lines. It's something I may still try, but at the moment I'm enjoying working in pencil and some clients are enjoying it.

People have been accumulating long pages of images on different artists on Pinterest pages. Since Google now limits the images they post on any artist search, I've been using Pinterest for finding images on different artists. I think Briggs is a person to take seriously in this matter and the fashion illustrators I mentioned earlier let the line follow the form using a variety of ways of overcoming the bold outline when figures are placed in situations.

Tom said...

That was well put Kev, that could be what really sets older art apart from modern art. One only has too read a book like Arthur Wesley Dow's, "Composition" to see how much from was neglected for the sake of pattern which is great for landscape painting but It tends to make objects or things look vacuous. To me the opposite of Dow's book would be the teaching of someone like George Bridgeman where the sense of touch and comprehension of from dominates the instruction style.

That's a really nice drawing Sean, thanks for posting it.

kev ferrara said...


Well, we could go on for months discussing all the ways older art is set apart from modern art. But my hobby horse is to point out that as soon as the academic eggheads like Dow, Denman Ross, Clive Bell, Roger Fry and their ilk got involved, banal intellection suddenly had currency. And nice sounding clever chatter has never stopped having currency since. Such could only happen in a milieu where "interesting talk" around art has more weight than the actual art itself; a place where art is merely a stepping stone to personal cachet. And if one can get rid of the paintings altogether and just spend one's time declaring non-art things to be art in the public sphere, as self-pimping douchebags like Jerry Saltz do, then "the word" doesn't even need to be painted. So there goes Thomas Wolfe's thesis. Media types have tapped the stream of public attention at the source. They no longer need the predicate of culture.

Reminds me: I had a friend in academia some years ago who argued and argued with me that the papers written about Shakespeare's work were more important than Shakespeare's work itself. Not coincidentally, I later found out that this guy was in the process of a writing a long "important" thesis about Milton. I detect this pattern of thought all across the academic world with respect to the arts.

I obviously agree with you about Dow's book on composition. It is totally shallow and banal beyond belief. In it he laments the bifurcation of realism from decoration, without realizing there might be other major factors besides those. As it stands, the book is top to bottom a discussion of decorative principles, all of which were articulated beforehand. So he is doing exactly the thing he was lamenting in the foreword. The fact that it is called "composition" and was popular really points out how destructive a clueless academic-on-the-make can be to popular understanding. But this goes on all the time. That he also was encouraged by Fenollosa showed me that while Fenollosa may have talked a good game about the nature of art, when it came time to put his thoughts into practical, actionable form for artists, he didn't have real physical integrity to his ideas. Proof again, that it is immeasurably easier to sound smart than to forcibly demonstrate the quality of one's thoughts as quality product.

The sense of touch and comprehension of form in artistic endeavor, by the way, is most associated with Kimon Nicolaides. But this appreciation, of feeling and feeling around what is being drawn, was also taught by Pyle (anticipating Nicolaides), and my guess is it goes back much earlier. And I totally agree with you that such thinking is shockingly absent from Dow's book.

Sean Farrell said...

Something is being overlooked. Language is a tradition to which new things are added. Art and art history are similar. My wife who is from Ireland says it's not possible to understand Joyce if one didn't grow up in Dublin. Yet people love to sound smart so they pretend to understand his writing because it's a feather in their cap. That's her opinion, that things are lost in cultural translation and pretension.

It's also true that form is itself a teacher and that art emerges from reality, but not everything is readily understandable. Form exudes from John LaGatta's drawings and the lines incorporated as edges and shapes are indeed linear in their movement, but they also move with a certain speed. When that speed become habitual, one may forget about acting thoughtfully. The separation of line by Briggs was intentional and thoughtful. Perhaps too thoughtful, but it wasn't an affectation. The movement of line around the little girl's dress in the train car we saw last year on this blog, moved at a speed appropriate to the situation. When Briggs drew a slow meandering line for creases on clothing on a man standing in an unaggressive stance with an unaggressive glance, he was communicating with line. I think looking at Fawcett who drew line in the world of light and dark makes for an interesting comparison, where Fawcett's interior build out of form did double duty as pattern. Even his fiery core shadows were a type of patterned movement. It's a type of movement Bob Peak made a career out of. It's fantastic, but not inaccessible and Fawcett in using pattern didn't sacrifice form.

The process of scaffolding left to right down a figure to draw a shape is the same process a master painter scaffolds down a scene or figure, but with an accumulation of understandings regarding form gathered over time; coming from separate studies, the study of anatomy and interior understandings of how things work, etc. Over the years I often wondered, how did I not know this, why wasn't I taught that? How can I have been so stupid, or so stubborn to not have considered this or that? How could I not have made that connection? What might have been had I known all this when I was thirty years younger? Yet somewhere in all that thick headed stubbornness must have been at least a touch of fortitude, because after a handful of decades I still enjoy drawing, looking at drawings and yes, thinking about drawings.

There used to be an understanding that law was meant to guide people to virtue, but not all at once!
It was supposed to happen gradually with law acting to give pause to those who otherwise had no restraints. Neither was it expected that law could fix all, but only halt a certain percentage of errors and only those fully trained were expected to fully comply to the virtues. Art is the same way. We learn in bits and pieces, often confused by the incredible amount of ways a thing may be solved or messed up. It all takes time, yet the forms of reality sit there the same as they always have.

Thanks Tom. And Thanks to Al McLuckie for putting this one into motion and David and Kev and everyone who puts this comments board into motion. I can't says thanks enough for everything I've learned here.

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie, Sean Farrell, Kev Ferrara, Tom et. al-- Howdy guys! I've been on the road for the past 5 days with nothing but a tablet to follow what I think is the smartest, most knowledgeable, most focused discussion of this topic anywhere on the internet. I've been extremely jealous and yearned to jump in, but sitting in airport lounges with no access to examples and only limited ability to scroll back and forth to the points made, I felt I couldn't grab hold in a way that did your excellent conversation justice.

I apologize for my tardiness, but now that I'm back I'd still like to weigh in on some of the points you've made.

On the perennial issue of photo reference, I agree that the majority of the less talented artists use it as a crutch to help them meet deadlines, save money on models, streamline the compression of 3D subjects, and spare themselves the hard thinking about composition. A lot of the greats, including Norman Rockwell and Bernie Fuchs, were initially suspicious of photography's deadening effect for those very reasons, but were eventually nudged into using photography by art directors and fellow artists who pointed out very specific benefits that photography could have contributed to specific paintings. Fine artists such as Degas, Cezanne and Lautrec didn't even need to be nudged, they embraced photography whole heartedly.

Often Fuchs used selective accents of photorealism, just as a traditional painter might selectively use accents of lights and darks, to shape a picture and to increase its range. For example,in this cover for Sports Illustrated:

you can see that the face was done using photo reference. Fuchs met with Gordie Howe and watched him practice. He took photos of Howe in action and stood behind a plastic shield and had Howe hit slap shots at him. Note how Fuchs' tight rendering of the face enabled him to go wild with the rest of the picture (at least by 1964 standards). He combined drawing and painting (which relates to your primary topic-- more on that later). His drawing of the glove and the folds on that jersey would be far too abstract for his audience if he hadn't pulled them back with the accent of that face; the same with his treatment of those ice skates-- they could've been painted by Giacomo Balla, but unlike the futurist painters Fuchs shows with that one small accent that he is firmly in control. The same with the palette he chose.

In my view, this split approach to portraiture, balancing the realistic face against an abstract expressionist action painting background, is not so different from Rembrandt's approach to portraiture; Rembrandt built up the face with opaque layers and glazes, very different from the vast majority of the surface of the painting was painted extremely thinly and tended toward the abstract.

All this palaver and I haven't even touched on the main themes of your discussion yet. To cut to the chase, my view on this issue is that the better artists who used these new tools well did something more talented, discriminating and discerning than we often give them credit for. At some point, Bob Dylan put down the acoustic guitar and picked up the electric guitar because he saw that it increased his expressive range-- the same reason Beethoven put down the harpsichord and picked up the brand new invention, the piano. The same reason Howard Pyle taught his students to work toward the day when photoengraving and reliable full color printing would replace wood engraving. Meanwhile, the lesser artists who clung to tradition and refused on principle to use these tools did not do their art any favors.

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell-- This afternoon I'll try to offer my reactions on the relative merits of drawing and painting but first I have to get some legal briefs off my desk. Right now, I wanted to touch on a few smaller points that you raised in your comments.

You say: "[Briggs' drawing] appears on a textured paper or cloth. I forgot what it was drawn on since I framed it long ago when I bought it, but it looks like a cloth with an elaborate squared patterned surface. It's not a surface that would have taken a preliminary pencil well and there's no sign of any pencil residual."

I learned from Briggs' son that when Briggs started out making ink drawings for cheap pulp magazines the medium was completely binary-- black and white-- but Briggs discovered that if he drew on window shades the texture of the paper could create an artificial half-tone. Window shades started out as an experiment born of economic necessity but became a long term preference because of the way they took ink.

Speaking of James Joyce, Briggs' son devoted his long academic career to Joyce and is a world famous scholar on the topic.

"I do believe that as great as these guys were, that their work would be even better had they kept up direct observational drawing, much as Fawcett apparently did." Yes, it's true that even at the peak of his career Fawcett drew from life every week; he had been persuaded of its value in life drawing classes at the Slade School in London. In addition, I think Fawcett liked to overstate the case against illustrators who were too dependent on photographs just because he liked to taunt Jon Whitcomb. Still, Fawcett wasn't above using photographs when it served his own purposes. I stood next to Fuchs as he closely studied one of Fawcett's better known illustrations ( ). Fuchs stepped back and said, "Man, drawing just doesn't get any better than that, does it?" Then he pointed to the figure of a man sitting in the chair in the background and said, with a twinkle in his eye, "Bob's photographer modeled for that figure."

"He softened the line to allow passage." Don't you think that a number of artists softened the line, starting in the 1950s-- Briggs, Sickles, Parker, Weaver-- in part because technology could now reproduce those softer, more delicate lines (or those lush broad strokes made with the flat of the pencil or crayon)with more control?

Kev Ferrara wrote: "I would disagree with your timeline regarding the takeover by photography. It was already clear in the depths of the 1930s that photography was "eating the lunch" of illustrators, as Dean Cornwell put it. Photography was cheap, easy, and people were in a materialist mood at the time."

Kev, as I've gone back through old magazines and books I've been amazed that there doesn't seem to be a period when illustrators weren't ranting, "The golden era is over; things used to be a lot better." You certainly found it in the Society of Illustrator annuals from the 50s, 60s and 70s, despite the fact that Bob Peak was driving a Rolls Royce and Fuchs was driving a Porsche, and both were turning away work. You read it in the history of Westport, despite the fact that lights were ablaze in studios all over town, far into the night as Mark English, Bob Heindel, Fuchs and others tried to satisfy the demand for their work. I'd love to see an authoritative analysis of this issue.

Sean Farrell said...

David, Thanks for your appraisal of the discussion, I much appreciate it. Also, thank you for bringing to rest the mystery of the surface of the Briggs drawing. In that drawing Briggs does some curious things. One is he moves the line designated to separate the abdominal muscles over to the far side in order to further turn the standing figure.

When I mentioned that Brigg's son was a scholar on Joyce, my wife responded a touch startled, How does that happen? But later insisted one still had to be from Dublin to understand Joyce. She also said regrettably that young Dubliners now speak in a American style of uptalk. That Ireland lost its language once and kept its culture was sort of amazing, but if they're going to do it again, perhaps these scholars will play an important part.

I'm sitting with the 1961 Society of Illustrators annual printed in black and white and the use of line drawing seems to have survived the year 1960 alive and well. There's a drawing by Briggs for TV Guide, Peak's thicker line and a similarly strong line of a hand by Al Parker. The collection of images is overwhelmingly line drawings. Of all the entries in that edition, those by Fuchs, Bowler and Whitmore appear as the most loyal to the photograph. In them Fuchs is showing his interest in the picture that drops from the top. But in images by Fuchs from 1961 and after, there's a distinct change and the edges of shapes begin to soften, like the Gordie Howe Sports Illustrator cover you posted with the observation of a selective loyalty to the photo. I was unaware this change happened so suddenly. I have been referring to his signature style he held from the late 1970s into his gallery days in the 1990s.

The drawing of the back of the heads by Fawcett went through my mind as an example where a kind of patterning was used to relieve the edges of the figures in what was a vigorous drawing. The famous one Fuchs commented on was one effort of ambitious drawing. Fawcett must have been a force of nature.

Sean Farrell said...

Tom and Kev, If Dow's book was good for anything, it may be that it allowed you both to explain its shortcomings and for Kev to explain his own take on what he observes as a disuniting of things from their relationships and in the process, a disuniting of their relational purposes and meanings as well.

After reading a suggestion that a reader compare a Sargent drawing to one of Waterhouse by Chris Bennet some time ago, I began a pencil copy, not ambitious but relaxed, of the painting “The Soul of the Rose” by Waterhouse. As I was drawing the image not so carefully but in a slow enough manner with the side of a pencil, it became apparent that there was a relationship between time and the interrelating patterns of the dark and light between the rose bushes rising and the wall as well as with the patterns on the woman's robe and her gesture to the rose. But something that particularly caught my attention was the torn sleeve of the woman's robe which enforced the feeling of love for a thing over time. As I was moved to a similar relation in time with the image an interior liquid like experience happened I will call hallucinogenic for lack of a better word. The more one looks at the painting, the tempo of the interweaving undulating configuration in the woman's hair and beads in her hair become more apparent and it is in the context of time that the movement acts and so should be viewed. In other words, if one sees the movement too quickly, they aren't seeing it in its proper time.
Time is an element in seeing.

I would like to add that such has happened looking at line drawings as well where an interrelation of
parts has had an equally mesmerizing effect. I would like to suggest that such connectivity is in part movement and part time suggested in the art and in the viewer. One reason I bring this up is because I think there's been a misunderstanding when talking about individual elements which by their nature interact with other things. A pattern interacts with line as it interacts with movement and a pattern need not be an actual decorative element, though the modulating dark and light of the rose bush and wall cause a patterning. In the same way, the forces of the picture plane interacts with stuff in the picture and so on. In this case the painting gently rises in a vertical format.

I've also brought this subject up because in a new documentary airing on Netflicks called Alive Inside, elderly people previously thought to be near catatonic Alzheimer's patients experience a remarkable awakening when hearing their favorite music and of course music is of movement. The reason I brought up the cultural disconnect earlier was because I think modern people have lost touch with distinct cultural connections to their most inner callings, the desire to love when there is no one to love, the desire to do some kind thing, like place a blanket over someone who has fallen asleep without waking them up, and yet there's no one to place a blanket over. The desire to make a cup of tea and listen to someone, etc. Such are things which have no convincing explanation, they are not in the fast lane but cultural sensibilities now very much lost not just in our hurried world, but by an antagonism towards anything contemplative or of a human pace. One of the elderly fellows in the documentary when asked what his favorite thing was said, riding a bicycle. The documentary questions some of our modern cultural presumptions. For what it's worth, the trailer.

kev ferrara said...


Waterhouse is one of the greatest masters of composition, no doubt. His pictures have many ancient secrets and exquisite subtleties, and Soul of the Rose is no exception. There is nothing in it that is unconsidered or unfelt. I think you are feeling him quite deeply and so have fallen into the aesthetic spell of the piece. I too have felt this piece like that, so I know the shuddering feeling down in the soul of which you speak. Regarding the other points; Of course sequential time is considered in all great works of art, and so here we have a particular manifestation of that kind of force which is pitched to resonate with the feeling of this particular piece. But an entire book can be written on just how this one picture works to produce its feelings in the receptive viewer, and this is not really the place for that. I don't know if you are here looking to instruct about art, receive instruction about art or just commune about its various phases including that of appreciation... but if I were asked by someone how to get to the heart of this Waterhouse as a work of artistic engineering, I would suggest beginning with pictures of obvious violence first, and back engineering them to the point of being able to reproduce their effects. And then working back to the subtlety of Waterhouse after being sure of how dumber aesthetic mechanisms function. Just my two cents, fwiw.

Sean Farrell said...

“But an entire book can be written on just how this one picture works to produce its feelings in the receptive viewer, and this is not really the place for that.”

It doesn't matter how many words can be written on the painting.

My point in going into the Waterhouse experience was to get past this notion of degrading simple but essential relations into bland and narrow definitions as dumb, just as Dow restrained broad concepts into a few relations. Transition can be practically all relations and yet he restrained it to one architectural movement. He makes such an error and so do you in your observation of Briggs.

The interrelationship I was describing in the Waterhouse is an example of pattern, movement, pattern as movement, repetition, nuance, undulation, contrast, tenderness, time, tempo, passage and transition in the context of a simple cultural and human relationship in time created from the same extremely simple elements, not a single element of which can be called dumb or dumb mechanics. I never implied the painting wasn't more and I added that such depth of feeling can be experienced in simpler forms like line drawing.

That's why I offered the video as an example of what happens to human beings in a world of pretension, where simple relations of , space, movement, time, and human identity are dismissed as dumb.

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell and Kev Ferrara-- I want to revisit the issue that Sean introduced as "flatness" and that Kev reshaped as "pattern / dematerialization." (Kev combined flat pattern, ultra sensitive draftsmanship and dematerialization into an unholy troika, but I want to hold back on the draftsmanship point for the moment and focus on the "pattern/dematerialization."

I agree with your insightful discussions of how flat patterns evolved through art from the 19th century into what Sean describes in a flattering light as as "new types of compositions [such as Peak, Potter, Parker, Whitmore, etc.] which were flatter and more graphic" and which Kev seems to view as a more inimical trend toward atomization into pleasant colors and shapes which lack a central nervous system. As no one else has done so yet, I wish to speak up for pattern and suggest that it is wider, older, and capable of playing a more important role than at least Kev suggests.

Everyone understands the influence of Japonism (and the flat patterns of Hokusai, Eizan, Eisen, etc.) on Degas, Lautrec, Bonnard, Manet, van Gogh, Beardsley, Mucha, etc. stretching into the sacred spring crowd such as Klimt. I think they also had a demonstrable impact on Leyendecker, Maxfield Parrish, and yea even unto Mark English. And that's not counting its influence spilling over into architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright) glass and ceramics (Tiffany) etc. That trend was renewed with the Tut-mania that enveloped the world starting in 1922, when Egyptian patterns were at the heart of art deco and again affected taste (including artists such as Leyendecker again), architecture (the Chrysler building), movies, jewelry, etc. Without the equivalent of a DNA test, it's difficult to come up with a scientifically verifiable genealogical chart to track these influences but I feel pretty safe in saying that a number of artists that even Kev respects were charmed by, and made important aesthetic use of, flat patterns and designs.

It's hard to do this without examples, so please forgive my referring to an old blog post about patterns, for a collection of images ( ) As you'll see, flat patterns and designs were there 40,000 years ago at the birth of art and at the birth of conceptual thinking. As far as we can tell they reflected totemistic or religious thinking, easily as profound as the content of many of the more descriptive paintings that evolved millennia later.

But content aside, I think that the the flat, linear art (or what Kev describes as " the set of design solutions that follow from linear thinking") may be just as powerful, beautiful, moving and sophisticated as Kev's most accomplished oil painters. The Degas paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art are wonderful but when I go downstairs to the ancient Egyptian wing, I see artistic excellence that is easily at the same level, despite the fact that it does not employ the full symphony of artistic elements, the coordination of which Kev values so much. Apart from personal taste, I don't know why a more comprehensive art form should necessarily be superior, just as complexity is not necessarily superior to simplicity. Throughout history, there are linear patterned art forms-- oriental rugs, Chinese bronzes, Islamic tiles and manuscripts-- surely you cannot think they are all categorically inferior to a fully painted solution?

Sean Farrell said...

David, In the post on Godwin, Kev wrote a beautiful couple of sentences on the capacity of the individual instrument to make poetry and also to be part of the poetry of the whole orchestra. I was under the impression that such was a common understanding.

I wasn't putting Fuchs down, rather I thought his understandings of what he was doing regarding a particular composition and also passage, eluded that of his many imitators and even his peers who were influenced by him. It's a credit to him, but a side effect was a loss of drawing. At least, a side effect of the entire field moving in this direction brought for a time confusion and at least a minimizing of drawing. Though line drawing lingered on for some time, its most prolific use may have been in the 1961 SI annual edited by Robert Fawcett.

Besides the beauty captured in the ancient flat art, there are also cultural priorities which are now considered linear or creations of the mind and not part of the visual hierarchy. The ancient preoccupation with death and the afterlife which animated so much art is now considered not a valid part of art, a non-art linear concern? This is where I have found myself most at odds here as I do believe the hierarchal ordering of a picture does follow such and that having lost touch with culture, art has been imprisoned in its own parts. The Soul of A Rose I think is a fair example of a cultural presence.

That said, parts are not by their nature imprisoned to themselves or incapable of performing multiple duties in relation to other things. They are not linear in any way because even a line divides space as it moves through it and it does so with a particular tempo in time. The same holds true for pattern which does the same and encompasses areas in time. The multiplicity of uses of simple visual devises comes through in The Soul of A Rose. My position here is that Briggs and Fuchs, Potter and the French fashion artists mentioned where adding to our understandings to what line drawing was and wasn't. That an inherent conflict in specifically drawing in line needed to find and did find its own solutions in the work of these artists.

I agree with you wholeheartedly, that when we dismiss simple movement, rhythms and identifications, we become like the imprisoned Alzheimer's patients who are shut in within themselves. In these simple things there is life. Movement however simplistic is beautiful and possesses a spirit with multiple characteristics and dismissing such as one dimensional is a mistake. If there is one analogy which captures the beauty of drawing, it is like a song.

Tom said...

An artist like Hokusai certainly did not think flatly. Look at his studies for his prints and he clearly drew in the round, that is he drew dimensionally. You can restrict the depth of space in a picture like Pierre Puvis de Chavannes but still draw solidly. The problem with a book like Dow's he never reveals the effort it took to get to the shapes. Tarcing the outline of something is not the same as drawing which considers 3 dimensional space. Once you have conceived a mass or volume how the artist decorates it is up to him

Sean Farrell said...

I forgot to add that flat patterns also define space when wrapped around things. They can go somewhere and they can come from somewhere. They can unite and divide and they can be hidden in plain sight as darks and lights on any number of objects. Pattern is one of the fundamental visual expressions in nature and art. Of course patterns are capable of great beauty and use. The only thing that seems to be linear is the hyper definition which one dimensionalizes the multiple properties of artistic elements. So yes David, I fully agree with you.

David Apatoff said...

Tom-- Like Hokusai, a lot of artists who found delight working in flat patterns did not start out "thinking" flatly. Yet, I assume that Kev would say that Hokusai's masterpiece, "The Wave," was limited in its potential because of its flat, linear style. There are a number of great illustrators who featured patterns prominently and worked with 2D outlines but who clearly liked to demonstrate that they could think in 3D space. Coles Phillips practically made a career of doing that. ( or ). Maxfield Parrish is another example. ( ). I don't think anyone would dispute that Parrish understood the "mass or volume" in that Collier's cover, although he clearly worked from a photograph, and I would not call those eye popping polka dots or that fire engine red background just a matter of "how the artist decorates" the 3D foundation of his picture. I think they are the very essence of his picture's character (just as Picasso's use of flat patterns and shapes was at the core of some of his work.

Sean Farrell said, "Kev wrote a beautiful couple of sentences on the capacity of the individual instrument to make poetry and also to be part of the poetry of the whole orchestra. I was under the impression that such was a common understanding."

Sean, that is my understanding as well, but as I think back to Kev's point, I believe we still disagree about whether a full symphonic piece is an art form superior to chamber music, or a piano sonata. I understand that coordinating numerous individual instruments to make the poetry of a whole orchestra requires great skill and experience, just as coordinating all the ingredients of a mature oil painting requires greater skill and experience than picking up a pencil. (Or, as you suggested, "Painting is also an old man's game because one only gets better at it over a lifetime. But not everyone views drawing this way.") I am not alone in my view that Beethoven's chamber music or Chopin's compositions for a sole piano can achieve artistic excellence just as high, or higher, than a full symphony. An orchestra, like an oil painting, can hide a multitude of sins within its layers and its ambiguities and its takeovers. A drawing works in the spotlight on a tightrope without a net. Or as Bill Watterson said, "You drop your pants with every line you draw."

Sean Farrell said...

David, I don't know if an experience can be measured by the multiplicity of its connections because each experience has its own depth and simplicity can so deeply move a person. There's no doubt that even a popular song can continue to reveal connections over decades because for one reason or another we don't hear everything at any given time. And there's no doubt a tenderness in a certain interweaving of visual elements that produces its own experience in space and time. I think the trouble with the unfortunate divide between the two camps of graphic art with that of form built out from dark to light is that each group stops bothering to look at the other and much is missed and misunderstood.

In art for contemplation there are people who feel a symbolic image is more truthful because it separates that which we can know from what we can't know. That idea alone is a mind boggling twist to presumptions. Yes, I agree with your comment about the tightrope and Bill Waterson's funny line too. Very good. Who can argue that simple orchestration can be powerful, like Part's Lamentations? I am deeply grateful for what Kev has been trying to say regarding the 19th century paintings, the multiplicity of connections, form, etc. So too with Tom and Chris and others. I am very grateful, but I couldn't let it stand that Briggs was but a tracer. Yes David, your first paragraph to Tom I also appreciate. I much appreciate your interests and latitude. That's an art in itself.

kev ferrara said...


If you think I was suggesting that the combination of pattern, beautiful drawing and dematerialization was some kind of negative thing, an "unholy troika"... you have me totally totally totally wrong. I believe the complete opposite, that this was one of the absolute keys to how art got so damn good. The only other feature absent from that recipe is an expressive point, which is the very thing which guides the other three and provides them with a "central nervous system" as you so eloquently coined it.

So, there is no need to explain to me the merits of pattern as if I were a upstanding member of the Art Renewal Society. That ain't me.

kev ferrara said...

Throughout history, there are linear patterned art forms-- oriental rugs, Chinese bronzes, Islamic tiles and manuscripts-- surely you cannot think they are all categorically inferior to a fully painted solution?

This conflates Objects of Art with Art. Both are wonderful, but they are different kinds of communication, fundamentally. Conflating them destroys the possibility of understanding the beauty of what distinguishes them. If one only wants to discuss all beautiful things as equivalent, there won't be much to talk about.

kev ferrara said...

All great art is song-like. That's how the brandywine artists taught and thought about their work as evidenced in their notes and their results. And Pyle said he began teaching to pass on what was already known and being lost with modernist thinking. So this was not an original thought with him. This idea of art as music is a huge adventure of the mind to examine and contemplate, and a bit of a danger as well because the metaphor is inexact in how musicality maps between the artforms.

I don't dispute that a work wholly in line can be masterful, emotionally cathartic, transcendentally beautiful. But I ain't seen one. Almost invariably a little tone is thrown in there, which is a different instrument. Just as, invariably if you see a string quartet its not just a bunch of violins, but includes several sizes of the basic violin idea so people can play in different ranges and qualities of sound. A piano is about four instruments in one, maybe ten if playing chords, when you compare it to any single reed instrument which can only play a single note at once in a fairly limited note range.

Well, what is the range of line? There is thin reedy pencil lines to thick bossy ink lines, smooth to wiggly to scratchy. But at a certain thickness a line becomes a stripe and we are on to a different graphic instrument because now the value of that line is reading as its own color and value distinct from the line itself. And if we cross hatch or stipple or create a tight pattern with line then we are creating a tone; again, a different instrument. This is assuming that by "line" you mean line alone. The major drawback with line is that it only has texture, timbre, and emphasis. It has no color per se.

I would love to be proven wrong. Maybe the problem is that I haven't pursued pure line as a serious artform unto itself, so I don't really know its capacities. I have ventured into mostly line with a bit of tone thrown in many times, however.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, A little tone doesn't destroy the nature of the line. These variations were covered earlier and Briggs used tone in limited amounts. There's a middle ground where a build out from shadow isn't entirely finished. Tiepolo's drawings had tone in them without destroying the nature of the line and they were tied together in a bunch of ways besides light / shadow which was a unifying force. Master paintings and drawings do make multiple uses of elements and connect them in a multiple ways that are not all visible or easily read. And nobody is saying a painting doesn't have far more tools at its disposal to further weave connections.

Fawcett also was a line artist but he relied heavily on a buildout from dark. Briggs did the same if called for, like a terrific night scene in the 1961 annual of some civil war soldiers lit by gaslight before a tent, but where Fawcett rarely ventured away from dark to light drawings, Briggs intentionally avoided such when he could and he used tone graphically. What makes Briggs interesting is that of so many people working in line, ink and washes during his era, he made a special effort to explore and understand drawing as line and those efforts were quite thoughtful and often intriguing. That can't be taken away from him. I can't pretend I always understood what he was up to.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Sorry for misconstruing your take on the value of the individual elements of the "holy" troika. Perhaps it's my sense from previous discussions that you consider painting an inherently superior art form to drawing. Perhaps it was what I read into your characterization of draftsmanship as "ultra" sensitive or your use of the term "dematerialization," but in any event I'm glad we're on the same page. It makes sense. I never doubted that you were better than the Art Renewal crowd.

As for the connection between music and visual arts, I agree that it is a rich area for consideration but the issue that jumps out at me is that music for the most part operates at a level of abstraction that you begrudge the visual arts. If you can accept the artistic rules governing Chopin or Stravinsky, why do you have such little regard for the artistic rules governing Rothko or Pollock?

Sean Farrell-- Circling back to your comments about Briggs that helped launch this whole rabbit trail, I share your high regard for his work, and agree with your comments about Fawcett. Briggs wrote some of the more thoughtful passages about photography and drawing, and about art generally, but unlike some of the pontificators criticized above, he was a real artist who mastered traditional tools and, after several years of oil painting, turned to the "simpler" medium of expressive drawing.

kev ferrara said...

the issue that jumps out at me is that music for the most part operates at a level of abstraction that you begrudge the visual arts. If you can accept the artistic rules governing Chopin or Stravinsky, why do you have such little regard for the artistic rules governing Rothko or Pollock?

Jesus. This is just more profound misunderstanding, David. Am I really that abstruse? Because I swear I am trying to make myself as completely clear as possible. I'll say it one more time...

I have no problem with abstraction at all. I am utterly fascinated with the principles of abstraction, in music and art. I've been a musician and artist all my life. And the amount of research I've done on how it applies to art, the amount written and the demos would choke a wood chipper.

I really DO NOT have a "problem" per se with Rothko or Pollock. People can make and like any art they want. What's my business what people like or do? But there are a lot of claims about Rothko and Pollock which simply aren't true. Like for instance thinking that their works are composed with anything like the sophistication of Chopin, let alone Stravinsky! Such comparisons show NO sensitivity to what is going on in music, how orderly it is, just how it is abstract, how it is narrative, how mathematized its foundational elements, the tenets of compositional organization and expression, tone, harmony, and so, so much more. The comparison is absurd. So absurd I can't believe anybody would make it outside of a booby hatch.

Rothko and Pollock register barely a blip on the radar of what great music has accomplished. They are feeble even at the level of abstraction, if that word still means what it is supposed to mean, which is not the same as vagueness functioning as a psychological projection test. They are designers, both of them. And good ones, in that they have accomplished new and popular decorative styles, respectively. And that is no mean feat, creatively. If you want to call it art, go ahead. But don't pretend its artful in the same way as Fechin or Antonio Mancini.

kev ferrara said...

Yet there are all these people making these grandiose a-philosophical comparisons. Probably because that has been the popular teaching. This has been shoved down our throats. And if we are to consider ourselves well educated we have to believe all the correct things, no matter how blatantly incorrect; even when the beliefs are hype and lies written into our minds by political hacks, auctioneers drooling at the hordes of credulous swells looking to invest, and their scribes in the media. Meanwhile the artists who really understood the musicality of their form go entirely without credit because they drew and painted like angels, in a bad, bad era, and believed bad, bad things. And, by Jove, that is not allowed!

You want to see real visual music, look at Kotarbinski’s Orgy, look at any painting or mural by Brangwyn, or any Everett he put time into. If we have any appreciation for music at all, anybody on this thread, anybody in the world, the mapping of music to these kinds of works is evident and obvious; theme, rhythm, beat, melody, sonority, keys, counterpoint, narrative abstraction, passages, instrumentation... the whole lot of it. The entire suite of features associated with music is there. And simply by comparing these kinds of works to Pollock and Rothko's, even in the baldest, most surface way, the lack of equivalence is blindingly evident. But if anyone cared to push beyond the surface, to what is actually going on beneath, it would be evident that this obvious visual distinction has nothing to do with opinion. This is wholly a formal matter. The musicality is structural.

See, I don't hate abstraction at all. My antipathy towards Rothko and Pollock has nothing to do with them or their work. What I hate is bluff, hype, uninformed opinion, blind obedience to authority, the arrogance of acceptable wisdom, and the snarling mob's interest in laying low the great; particularly, in this case, the many brilliant artists who sacrificed so much and slaved themselves to bring us the dream of beauty and meaning unified. To elevate fashionable mediocrity to the level of greatness is, de facto, to pull down greatness from its rightful perch. And I won't have it. No matter who I make enemies of. I don't care what names I'm called.

kev ferrara said...

By the way, I am not saying that Pollock and Rothko's works are NOT visual music. They are. But only because all visual arrangements can be thought of as visual music in a very broad sense.

Tom said...

There are a number of great illustrators who featured patterns prominently and worked with 2D outlines but who clearly liked to demonstrate that they could think in 3D space."

Hi David
I don't know how Kev would respond to Hokusai's print of the wave. But like Kev wrote, I wasn't degrading pattern to some nether world. Pattern makes art possible and it's beautiful. My point was in regards to Dow's book. Copying and tracing outlines of things will never teach someone how to draw like Hokusai, let alone a boat like Hokusai, no matter how many times Dow breaks his pictures into line and different value patterns.

The whole modern approach of tracing/drawing the contours or outside edge of objects never considers how near or far a line is in relation to the viewer of the picture. One only has to look at the examples you provided to see the difference between a modern contour drawing and someone who has learned to construct or better yet, to draw the forms he sees or imagines.

The Cole Phillips paintings are like little stage sets, with a clear horizontal stage (ground plane) for his actors. The stage recedes perfectly into the background, into space, but he doesn't want your eye to travel to far back so he keeps the space shallow, like a room and puts up a vertical wall perpendicular to the stage and frames the actors.

The woman in green, the foot is clearly forward of her body, and one realizes the far contour of her top right thigh is farther back in space then the outline edge of her lower left leg on the floor. Look at the white fringe of her skirt on the ground see how it lays horizontally on the horizontal ground it rests upon. And see how it turns the corner at her left knee and heads the fringe toward the back of the picture.

The other big thing he does, which is what a lot of early modern French painters did, which is beautiful , is he merges the edges of things by refusing to change his the value scale. Like Corot's Italian landscape paintings, he doesn't over model the interior of his forms, in fact unlike Corot he doesn't model the interior of his forms at all.

That is what I meant by decorative. The artist chooses what he will emphasis in his work, what colors he will use and how many values he feels is sufficient for what he wants to describe or express. I am sure Cole Phillips could have modeled up his pictures if had wanted too.

Look at how wonderful Hokusai handle the drawing of his fisherman who are at a 45 degree angle to the center line of their boat (whose flat top deck, is as clearly drawn as Cole Phillips stage) who seem to be bowing down to the immeasurable power of the great wave they are approaching. Like the Cole Phillips paintings one feels like you could fit the whole scene into a stage set.

Tom said...

The Maxfield Parrish on the other hand is immediately recognize as a photo. The polka dots travel across the terrain of the cloth admirably but they don't have the life of a Watteau cloth or that wonderful red dress in the Henry Raleigh drawing in your next post, to my mind. Like Al McLuckie's comment early about Fuchs, the photo reference always nags at the back of one's mind. It reminds me of the Bridgeman's statement that you quoted in an earlier discussion, one does not feel that the artist has, "constructed his house, before painting it."

As Sean wrote earlier a pattern can travel around and trough space, but it has to travel on something, and that something is a plane and a plane is only the surface of a volume. Clearly there is a hierarchy of order here, the volume precedes the smaller details or patterns that ride upon it, like a zebra's strips.

Choosing one warm color like "fire engine'" red or orange or yellow with black is a wonderful color combination which I would say is a decorative choice. Wasn't it a pretty common color choice by illustrators at the time because of the limitations of the printing press? Or something like that? Harold Von Schmidt did some wonderful paintings in black and brunt sienna whose paintings seem so much more full of life because he constructed the forms his brush travelled over instead of tracing and already existing image. IMHO!

Anonymous said...

If you took some Fuchs on a time-machine , and showed them to some artists of earlier periods prior to photo tracing as a base for painting , maybe the artists would be stunned , not understanding the process involved . "How does he get this precision in element placement without the searching lines and strokes ?"

Like being thrilled by an illusion , then seeing the mechanics behind it , the magic can be lessened . When I began discovering Frazetta swipes , it affected my enjoyment of some pieces - nagging at the back of my mind .

Still looking forward to the first of the forthcoming Fuchs volumes however .

Al McLuckie

Sean Farrell said...

Al McLuckie, I agree that the absence of drawing in Fuchs leaves does gnaw away at one, but the poetry as it has been referred to is found in other devices, its edges, scale and graphic movement and also its relation to the subject. He was able to achieve considerable tenderness, despite the absence of drawing in his work and his overuse of the warm, agreeable, or nostalgic as subject matter.

If tenderness is a deeply felt experience, then thoughtfulness is that thought either born of such, or brought to heel before the presence of tenderness. In the first image of next post, Raleigh uses form to serve abandonment. In the bottom image he brings thought before a deeply felt tenderness as conscience, the beautifully drawn helpless young woman and baby.

Laurence John said...

Tom: "An artist like Hokusai certainly did not think flatly. Look at his studies for his prints and he clearly drew in the round"

i think of those Japanese artists of the Edo period as drawing in 'relief' (or semi-relief) i.e. they composed their drawings for a completely artificial, semi-flattened space (for the viewer). if you 'moved the camera' the whole fiction would fall apart very quickly... which isn't a criticism at all.

David: "A drawing works in the spotlight on a tightrope without a net"

i understand entirely where David is coming from in his likening of drawing to chamber music. the drawn pencil / charcoal line or slash of brush laden with watercolour leaves a mark on the surface which can't be undone ('mistakes' and all) - like the stroke of a bow on a solo cello's strings.
it has an immediacy which can't be erased or worked over (as an oil painting can).

i also think that the graphic clarity of Japanese drawings have an equivalent in chamber music with their use of sinuous line against empty space.

Paul Sullivan said...

I like to encourage any sort of intellectual exchange—however this is more like a pot-luck. You might compare it to a choreographed saloon fight in a old John Wayne movie, hit somebody over the head with a chair for change of pace—or bust a whiskey bottle on the edge of the bar for a little excitement. As Cole Porter would say, "Why heaven knows, anything goes!"

kev ferrara said...

I like to encourage people who, now and again, pretend to "encourage any sort of intellectual exchange" to either contribute something to said intellectual exchange, offer an alternate line of discussion, or keep silent. This being the internet, the exit is in every conceivable direction; so there's really no reason to hang around complaining in any particular forum.

But if you truly cannot resist leaving a snide comment, please have a sense of humor. Otherwise you're just interrupting for no reason and wasting everybody's time.