Monday, January 22, 2018

A FEW CRESCENT MOONS

"Perhaps the crescent moon smiles in doubt at being told that it is a fragment awaiting perfection."
                               -- Rabindranath Tagore

Most people realize by now that a quick, rough sketch...

Frazetta

... can be better art than a careful, detailed oil painting.

Frazetta

...and that an "unfinished" painting can nevertheless be quite complete.

Lautrec

Last week the participants in this blog had a robust debate about the kind of detail necessary to create a "well executed" picture.  In attacking the loose drawings of H. J. Mowat, one commenter claimed,
[Mowat] simply couldn't draw well. His struggles with basic anatomy, even basic drawing, are written all over his pictures.... This has to do with distinguishing between informed anatomy and bluffed anatomy....  [R]ough indication, like all suggestions, can be informed or uninformed. One type of uninformed suggestion results simply in vagueness. Another signifies bluffing/pretension. 
 The debate soon came to focus on the quality of Mowat's hands, as a test:
 [M]ost illustrators I know could easily knock out a good hand, in line, from the model, in a minute's time... And there isn't a single well executed hand in the lot. 
 When I offered several examples of drawings by Degas with a similar treatment of hands, the commenters responded that the Degas drawings, like Mowat's, are "shitty."

Are they?  Or are they just a different type of artistic solution, equally valid, with their own standards of quality?

One commenter wrote,
 I feel similar regarding hands which Kev criticized many times.  [In the following image]  her palm on the floor looks childishly crude, a complete mess, while the other one on her lap seems kind of acceptable to me, the area between the wrist and knuckles has an indication of a solid shape... but the fingers sadly end up quite weak. There is no artistic purpose for these anatomical conditions, they were not Mowat's thoughtful decisions, so I think if somebody fixed these things in front of him he would be pleased. 
Mowat (detail)

 I disagree with these assessments, and as I indicated last time, I thought the only way to have a constructive  discussion was with real live examples of quality art in front of us.

Few people would argue that Toulouse Lautrec did not understand the anatomy of a hand:

Lautrec

Yet, look at how he chose to treat the hand in one of his most famous finished pictures:



Kinda makes Mowat look like Vesalius.



Bernie Fuchs is another example of an artist who clearly understands the anatomy of the hand:

Fuchs
 Yet, as he became older and wiser as and artist, he chose to experiment for important assignments, such as this full page illustration for Sports Illustrated:

Fuchs 
Compare this hand to the much-vilified hands drawn by Mowat:

Fuchs
Henry Raleigh, a contemporary of Mowat, sometimes rendered hands in a looser, more amorphous way than Mowat did:





Nobody disputes Rodin's mastery of human anatomy...

Rodin
Rodin cherished his watercolors, such as this one where he deliberately took liberties with a hand to create the design he wanted.  Compare this hand to Mowat's:

Rodin

Finally, here's one more example from our old friend Degas.  In this early work, the hand is rendered with precision...

Degas
But later, in Degas' period of greatness, several hands look like mittens.

Degas

The examples above can't all be "incomplete" drawings or work that was intended for the artist's trash can.  And even if some commenters insist that they are, I can pull out a hundred additional examples of work by excellent artists who decided that the anatomical truth of phalanges was subordinate to the expressive truth of the picture.  These artists are not, in the words of last week's commenters, "fudging" their drawings of hands.  And it is my view that we cannot properly evaluate their work by saying, "the size of the area between the wrist and knuckles is too small, and fingers are too short," even if that is factually correct.

For me, this is like looking at a crescent moon and waiting for it to become a perfect full moon. I think that each of the works above has its own perfections.

     .


99 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Fewer strokes-still fewer strokes-fewer strokes must count." John Marin

kev ferrara said...

David,

Quoting anybody out of context as a method of "controlling the narrative" is a bitter-ender kind of move.

A little bookkeeping: I was using the term "shitty" jokingly, as a kind of prod to you, because of your weird straw man tactic of pitting the best of Mowat (he ever put on public exhibition) against the worst of Degas (most of which were not put on public exhibition by him), which I think deserved rebuke. I busted your chops a lot in that discussion because of that strawmanning. I would not have agreed to a more public airing of that term as if I were serious about using such language in Respectable Discourse™.

Nor, do I believe you did the courtesy of asking my consent to quote me several times "in public" so to speak, with my points lifted out of the essential context of my argument.

It so happens the nesting idea you failed to include was the key one, which I still think you don't understand; that Mowat's anatomy was suspect not because it was "abstract" or "gestural" or "unfinished" but because, if you looked hard at what he was doing, it was apparent that he was "faking it" -- making indications of specific anatomic features (or, say, naturalistic visual events), which, upon inspection, lacked knowledge.

Which means he was often pretending at abstraction... Abstraction meaning something like poetic summaries of real phenomena which sufficiently evoke the original to the imaginative intuition.

Analyzing the level of abstraction Mowat actually functioned at as an artist, the issue boils down to a cartoonist grafting faked indications of realism onto his work. Which makes the work inconsistent, mannnered, and in some sense unethical; like putting a Swiss Pearwood veneer over a pine box and selling it as solid Pearwood. My judgement on what he was doing is that he was trying to "do Gruger" without having Gruger's talent, knowledge, or integrity.

Thus, this entire recent post, while a fine opportunity to educate on suggestive rendering, and make me out to be a troglodyte (well, shucks... guilty) is making an argument that nobody is really disagreeing with. Yes, of course, not every hand need be finished to the ninth degree. And quite gestural abstractions can be quite beautiful. But such does not in the least address my actual arguments about Mowat's work, which are to do with pretension and inconsistency in relation.



Aleš said...

Nice post David, some images are new to me.

There is a little mistake tho regarding my quote: "[In the following image] her palm on the floor looks childishly crude, a complete mess, while the other one on her lap seems kind of acceptable to me, the area between the wrist and knuckles has an indication of a solid shape... but the fingers sadly end up quite weak."

I wasn't talking about the image you showed up there, as I said in previous post I was talking about image 2/10, this one: LINK

I'll cut the female out: LINK.

Put your finger over the whole hand that rests on the floor (from the shoulder to the palm). Look at the face and look at the hand on the lap, compare the gentle gesture of the neck and the hand, compare the solidness of form of the head and "the area between the wrist and knuckles", compare the styles of execution. To me both seem to belong together. Now cover the whole female and look only at the her right hand that is touching the ground. The gesture is stiff and the palm looks "a complete mess", like a zombie hand compared to the realistically executed face because: the palm on the floor doesn't evoke the same sense of solid form, it doesn't evoke the subtlety of the other hand gesture, it doesn't belong to the same rhythmic pattern of the body, it's shape is out of tune.

Regarding the Lautrecs's image of a horse ride, the hand doesn't bother me as much because the almost caricature like style of the whole image provides a justification. I don't mind the size of the rider's palm, but I'd would prefer to see a proper expression of a grip because now those fingers look like he is playing a melody on those multiple lines attached to the head of a horse. What bothers me most is his thigh, it's too long. Abstractly as a green shape the leg works well within the image, but anatomically the leg pops up because it's caricatureness is a bit too exaggerated.
The anatomical and gestural structure of the horse (and the structure of the whole image) probably dictates how far can the shape and gesture of the rider be distorted. The image evokes senseful (informed?) formulation of many little things that are going on (horses mouth is open because it is breathing heavily, the back hoof shows the gesture of pushing the body forward, the rider's boot is pointing downward because of the unstable/swinging stirrup, ...) so the fact that the palm doesn't provide me with similarly obvious sense of what it is doing bothers me (that would be more acceptable if that palm was placed somewhere in the background).
That's how I feel. (also, I wouldn't consider that Frazetta painting lesser art compared to his sketch. I enjoy both very much)

David said "... even if that is factually correct."

In a way yes, but as I said many times, It is not really about that. It's about unity and harmony, I'm not after academic realism.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

I don't understand all this energy being spent in trying to tear something down. Why isn't all this intellectual prowess being used in an attempt to appreciate something?

Kev, in the previous thread you chided a poster for not "contributing". The wonderful educator (and conductor) Benjamin Zander teaches his students that art (and life) is not about measurement, not about competition, but about contributing something.

Some people are more talented than others, and some are more educated than others. I think we can all agree Degas was both more talented and educated than Mowat. But anyone can contribute something.

Perhaps David referred to anatomy or knowledge of anatomy in his appreciation of Mowat, but I don't think that's what he was trying to point to. I believe it was his decision making. Perhaps Mowat didn't have the skill to get the most out of that decision making, but it was enough to make his work, his "contribution", stand out among the sea of anonymous illustrators from the 20s and 30s.

Speaking of straw man fallacies, in this context pointing to bluffed anatomy in the hands seems to me exactly that. It doesn't matter whether he can draw hands as well as Degas. Or that he can draw hands at all. That may reduce how much you can appreciate his work, but what really matters is that he made enough interesting choices as to make it worth sharing.

Not that there's no merit in discussing the value of anatomy, or skill vs. bluffing, but personally I would much rather see all of you, who are much smarter and learned than I am, bicker about what is GOOD in his work. Then I might truly learn something.

David, I for one want to commend you for this blog which, with its spirit of positivity, has contributed so very much to my life over what's already such a long time.

Aleš said...

Benjamin, I don't think Kev is simply trying to tear something down. He mentioned likable aspects about Mowat's drawing and where he regards him in the hierarchy of "Grugerites of the Golden Age". Yes, Mowat "made enough interesting choices as to make it worth sharing.", I think everyone expressed an initial pleasant reaction to his images. It's just that the concept of bluffed anatomy was a point where the differences of the opinions were the strongest and people felt the need to get to the bottom of it. The process of that generated interesting thoughts and perceptions and Kev was contributing knowledge with intention to provide perceptive tools that would advance our ability to appreciate art. The fact that Kev is rigorous about his positions doesn't make his exposure of bluffed anatomy a straw man fallacy. The "energy being spent" is not about "trying to tear something down", it's about providing the arguments for a position you believe in.

MORAN said...

I'm with Benjamin that Kev is only trying to tear something down. Mowats not the best illustrator but Kev is making shit up to make him sound worse. Kev's positions are often good but he argues and make shit up just to look for a fight and then its bullshit. If David said Mowat was bad Kev would be saying Mowat was good.

Ibrahim said...

Hello,

I don't think i've ever commented here before, but i'm a frequent "lurker" i believe is the phrase, visiting for the art as much as the philosophy, both of which are never less than edifying. In fact, it's hard not to be intimidated by the erudition often on display here.
Nevertheless, as a bit of a draughtsman myself, i do feel pleasantly compelled to contribute, now. Because despite all the arguments and counterarguments, it seems there is also a dynamic at work which bypasses logic, something like 'artistic intuition'? To me, as a working artist, even at my level of mediocrity, it is obvious that Mowat bungled that by now infamous hand, that he was 'bluffing' there. In fact, of the examples given in this post, except for perhaps the Lautrec example, it is immediately clear to anyone who has ever got his fingers inky that they are actually well-drawn; there is a fundamental 'rightness' to their outline and position that you can't fake, not with a hundred lines.
It's a terribly boring and barbarous assertion, because it stops short communication, but perhaps "you either see it or you don't."

That said, after all these years, i still don't know what i see when i'm looking at a Frazetta painting.

Regards,

Ibrahim

kev ferrara said...

Gentleman, gentleman...

I tried to articulate and share what I thought was an interesting set of observations about Mowat's work, which connect back to larger points about visual poetry/aesthetics.

Such would have constituted two or three posts at the most, but with repeated challenges, some fair-minded, I have had to make the same argument ten times over. Thus it seems like I'm harping on the matter.

Mowats not the best illustrator but Kev is making shit up to make him sound worse. Kev's positions are often good but he argues and make shit up just to look for a fight and then its bullshit.

Shit up already.

kev ferrara said...

That said, after all these years, i still don't know what i see when i'm looking at a Frazetta painting.

Ibrahim,

That's a really interesting statement. Can you unpack what you mean by that?

MORAN said...

Thanks for making my point Kev.

kev ferrara said...

Thanks for making my point Kev.

Hard to tell when you're blindfolded, but the mere fact that the tail stuck to the wall doesn't mean it hit the donkey.

Anonymous said...

Mowat should have studied Hogarth's Dynamic Hands book .

Ibrahim , love hate or anything in between , I'd be interested in what you make of Frazetta. My first look at Frazetta was in 1966 . My dad took me , age 13 , to chicago for a Rembrandt exhibition , which I remember enjoying - had started oil painting that year . On the way back to the train , stopped at a drugstore and saw a Conan paperback which I purchased , the one with Cona on horseback , arms outstretched - whatever the title was . Rembrandt was forgotten , looked at it for hours returning home and for many hours for weeks after .

I could articulate many aspects of his work that I like , except for the most important one , which may not be easily described .

Al McLuckie

Ibrahim said...

@kev:

Well, there's several sides to what i was trying to express, there.

To begin, Frazetta's paintings are obviously the product of an able, intelligent and curious (in the sense of taking genuine interest in both the thing rendered and the rendering itself ) artist- but this is most obvious from his sketches, which show an artist willing to explore and search. But then to what end is this searching directed? After all, the paintings themselves are also the product of an entire industry around it, demanding a certain visual grammar. One hopes that one is looking at an artist reining in his imagination rather than letting it run riot. Because if the latter were the case, it would be a disppointingly limited imagination on display.

Let me approach it from another angle: Without a doubt his work possesses strength, poise, conviction, but then there is the matter of its one-dimensionality.
Jeffrey Catherine Jones took many of his tricks and gimmicks and gave them depth by applying them to/applying to them a wholly different theme, thereby absolving them of their gimmick-ness ( the palette, the compositions, the mass and physicality ).

Another angle, but related to this: One thing that always happens when i look at the work of Mike Mignola, which i really appreciate, is that the page or picture captures my attention directly: the stark, crisp, but very humane linework, the use of heavy black & the way these simple elements have evolved together over many years, all show a draughtsman of great ability, worthy of study. But when i do actually take a closer look to study the drawing, i realize i have already seen all there is of it; it is that minimal & that effective. Now, the same happens when i see Frazetta's Death Dealer picture: it is immediately striking; conveys mood, weight and menace, yet once having seen it i have seen all of it in the moment of seeing. There is no need to go back to the image; the image is filled with the image; there is no room, there, for anything else.

Well, all these aspects come into play when i see a Frazetta picture, keeping me from facile conclusions about whether the work speaks to me or not.

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie wrote: "Mowat should have studied Hogarth's Dynamic Hands book ."

Actually, I think Hogarth should have studies Mowat's hands... or Lautrec's, or Raleigh's or Rodin's. Then Hogarth's hands wouldn't look so stiff, wooden and uninspired (however anatomically accurate they may be).

"I could articulate many aspects of his work that I like , except for the most important one , which may not be easily described."

I think you and Ibrahim (who wrote, "perhaps you either see it or you don't") have put your finger on the core issue here. I've shown several examples of hands that physically look very similar, yet commenters seem either to love or hate them based on their feeling that one is "poetic" or "rhythmic" and the other isn't. One of the things we try to do around here is press honest reasoning and sincere words as far as possible to explore the basis for our differing reactions to such images. I refuse to accept that the process of art appreciation is totally subjective, and yet-- as these various comments reflect-- it can't be totally objective either. The quality of these various pictures cannot be determined simply by measuring the size of the area between the wrist and the knuckles. I hope I am not being presumptuous when I conclude that there seems to be a general acceptance of the view that anatomical accuracy is not the test. Finding a replacement test that is not totally subjective is where the rubber will meet the road in this discussion.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I'm sorry that you feel I distorted the meaning of your comment by quoting the word "shitty" out of context. Perhaps if I'd quoted you more extensively, the nuances of your argument would have become more apparent:

"utterly obscure, dashed-off, putrid sketches from the wastebasket of Degas's studio," "dreck," "faking it," "fudged and fudged, day in and day out, undoubtedly driving himself nuts with self-frustration," "absolute shittiest Degas images on the face of the Earth," "scribble from Degas' trashcan," "inarticulate," "Unsophisticated... unimpressive... uninteresting," " inconsistent, mannnered, and in some sense unethical," "poor suggestion," "without real anatomical knowledge/memory," " bluffing/pretension," "fails," "fudged drawing," "inarticulate," uninformed," "I don't think Mowat knows exactly what it is he's drawing fully half the time," "he never gets past this design stage," "bluffed anatomy," "Poor suggestion," "Mowat's work is filled with such shell games. Sometimes you look deeper and you find fudge," "some dim moral recess in your mind," "never meant to see the light of day," "Insane," "lacked knowledge," etc.

I hope that larger sampling provides broader context.

But your comments also touch on the key issue flagged by Al McLuckie and Ibrahim. You say, "Yes, of course, not every hand need be finished to the ninth degree. And quite gestural abstractions can be quite beautiful. But such does not in the least address my actual arguments about Mowat's work, which are to do with pretension and inconsistency in relation." You agree that gestural abstractions are acceptable, but not if they lack anatomical "knowledge and specificity." How are we to tell if those elements are present if they are not objectively visible in the physical lines? (That is, if Mowat's excerpted lines of a hand are indistinguishable from Raleigh's or Degas') You purport to know when the marks on paper are pretending and when they aren't, but when it comes to distinguishing Mowat from some of the artists in this newest post, your conclusion appears to be largely a matter of subjective judgment-- what Ibrahim calls "you either see it or you don't."

I know you have offered your "nesting" metaphor as a guide-- "every experience is nested within larger experiences, while being built of smaller experiences. The larger experiences contextualize the smaller, and the smaller orchestrate the larger. " But that test too (which might have been penned by Kahil Gibran) seems too subjective to be reliable.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

" A replacement test" would be having drawn thousands of hands yourself: this would give one the experience to see at once if a fumbled hand is being covered up by style.

David Apatoff said...

Benjamin De Schrijver wrote: "Perhaps David referred to anatomy or knowledge of anatomy in his appreciation of Mowat..."

Actually, David didn't. My only reference to anatomy-related subjects was to say that Mowat had adopted an unorthodox approach to a central figure-- the man's face was largely a blur, with no distinctive eyes or mouth, and most of what we learned about him we had to glean from a conspicuous cowlick and the tilt of his head. 99% of illustrators would concentrate on the face; it certainly would have been the most straightforward solution. So my question was, "Hmmm, I wonder why he took this unusual approach? It's like Thoreau's trout in the milk." But apparently that was not destined to be the path of the conversation; people were in an anatomy mood last week, and that's fine. I don't pretend to control the path of mighty rivers.

Thanks very much, Benjamin, for your constructive comment and for your kind response to my little blog. It's a great deal of fun for me, and the only place I can still go to be called a "coo-coo puss."

Ibrahim-- welcome! I'm glad that you enjoy this blog and delighted that you have decided to join in with what I think is a very interesting comment. I understand your point about an artist's intuition, and I do think there is importance to it, but I don't understand how "intuition" reliably enables us to conclude that "of the examples given in this post, except for perhaps the Lautrec example, it is immediately clear to anyone who has ever got his fingers inky that they are actually well-drawn; there is a fundamental 'rightness' to their outline and position that you can't fake, not with a hundred lines." Really? If I showed you a close up of those Raleigh hands, or that Rodin hand, in a blind test could you conclude that they had a fundamental rightness that would be missing from a close up of a hand by Mowat? I must say, I would be very impressed by that. I still have a little ink on my own fingers and I don't think I could do it.

I know you suggest in a later comment, " A replacement test would be having drawn thousands of hands yourself: this would give one the experience to see at once if a fumbled hand is being covered up by style." I would suggest that Burne Hogarth drew thousands of hands and even wrote a book about doing it, but was still so lacking in artistic taste and judgment that I would not trust him to separate wheat from chaff (even when he yelled at me). So I don't think the "intuition" or "experience" tests hold up consistently.

Max Aldahondo said...

I found your site by accident last year and I cannot tell you how much I love it. I have caught up and am so pleased to have been reintroduced to those illustrators of my youth and to so many I have never heard of. I agree wholeheartedly with all your opinions and taste in illustrations.

Anonymous said...

I was kidding about Hogarth --- DID HE YELL AT YOU ?!?

It would be interesting if he were around and weighed in here .

Did you ever meet him ?

Al McLuckie

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

David, thanks for your kind welcome.

You write: "Really? If i showed you a close up of those Raleigh hands..."&c.

Yes, really, because i was not talking about a close up. How a thing looks in a drawing is dependent on all other elements around and in it, so that 'fundamental rightness' i was talking about also stems from the relation of a part to the whole. Showing me a close up would be falsifying the argument.

The Hogarth argument does not necessarily prove that Hogarth did not perceive his own artistic shortcomings in that area (trying does not mean succeeding/ no success does not mean not having tried). That leaves it high and dry from proving that he had no artistic intuition...

kev ferrara said...

Ibrahim,

You are writing very interesting things which I would like to respond to eventually. I hope you will continue to contribute your thoughts here.

kev ferrara said...

David,

So... Your response to my complaint about pulling something I said out of context, was to do it twenty times over? So “out of context” x 20 = “broader context??”

While unsound as logic, it is a very successful tactic. I certainly sound bad in that collection of phrases all clumped together; interesting how completely sensible criticisms in one phrase (i.e. artists talk of “faking” anatomy all the time) get tainted by the joking invective in others. That's how hit pieces work, of course; the intent is to stigmatize and taint everything the targeted person says. Fair play has nothing to do with it.

And of course, as I've already mentioned, due to steady misunderstandings I ended up repeating the same few arguments (and thus criticisms, even troll-jokes) over and over in the attempt to be understood, or at least heard. And thus, a backlog developed on the board of my negative judgments, which you have exploited above.

But people who have been reading along and understanding the discussion would know that most of those judgmental statements were in the context of larger arguments, which were dense and considered. Although, since I’m not a robot and I type as fast as I can, not everything I write is of equal value or equally considered.

The "shitty trashcan Degas" type comments, which sound the worst out of context, were a sarcastic rebuke to your bald strawmanning attempt. I then repeated as trolling, to "fun" you. Because you did go out of your way to find weak Degas pictures, hasty sketches almost nobody has seen, to "make" your point. (That they have signatures on them and were sold, of course, doesn't elevate them to gallery works.) I thought then, and still think now, that your tactic deserved rebuke.

kev ferrara said...

You purport to know when the marks on paper are pretending and when they aren't, but when it comes to distinguishing Mowat from some of the artists in this newest post, your conclusion appears to be largely a matter of subjective judgment-- what Ibrahim calls "you either see it or you don't."

I’ve already explained my argument on this at least twice. As Aleš pointed out on the prior thread, you asked me to explain this after I had already explained it to you in detail. I then explained it again, and here you are asking the same question still again. This is flagging up something we should take note of, and which I’ll get to…

I know you have offered your "nesting" metaphor as a guide-- "every experience is nested within larger experiences, while being built of smaller experiences. The larger experiences contextualize the smaller, and the smaller orchestrate the larger. " But that test too (which might have been penned by Kahil Gibran) seems too subjective to be reliable.

My nesting metaphor has nothing to do with this question. It had to do with the idea that suggestive effect, narrative, interesting information, etc is happening at all scales of an experience and of an artwork and of a memory/interior image. It was in general response to Chris saying (regarding an image in the mind’s eye) that upon “zooming in everything evaporates into a notional generality.” It was a dispute about imaginative perception, one’s personal pixel resolution so to speak, which implicitly pointed to the reality of mental differences.

kev ferrara said...

Which brings up the larger, meta-issue: You are still very confused about what I am saying. This is surely partially my fault as well as the fault of the difficulty of the material (particularly when I’m rushed and online without visual aids). But none of us should rule out the possibility that you, dear David, may simply not be able to understand this material. And you are getting emotional about this possibility. Which would explain why you keep reflexively translating “Perceptual Sensitivity” to the strawman of “Selective Judgment” (implicitly denying in the process that there might be differences of perceptual sensitivity among different people.)

When you “how dare” me, regarding my claim that Mowat is bluffing, you are putting all your chips down on four assertions: 1. That I am hasty in how I am characterizing what I claim to be seeing in Mowat’s lines, which makes me sloppy in thought. 2. That, because my judgment is “harsh” to your sensibilities I am actually being nasty. 3. That my belief in the accuracy of my hasty, nasty judgment demonstrates my arrogance. 4. You know all this because you have the exact same perceptual abilities and education on the matter that I have and yet haven’t detected the same things I have.

Well, it is all well and good to say “If you would judge, investigate.” But it assumes such an investigation is always possible. The problem is, none of us are equal in ability in any area. We all are individuals with degrees of differences at every scale and in every ability. So we can’t all make the same investigations, let alone have the same sensitivity to the signs/facts that attend those investigations. When Ibrahim remarks that “you either see it or you don’t” he didn’t mean there was no fact to the matter. He meant that maybe the guy who denies the existence of red and green is, without knowing it, colorblind.

/end

Aleš said...

While we were in the previous debate I mailed a few museums with a question regarding the signatures on Degas sketches. I got a response from Denver art museum (there is an upcoming Degas exhibition that will open February 11th):

"I have consulted with our exhibition Curator and he explained that not all of the signatures on his drawings and prints are his signature. Upon Degas’ death, an estate sale of Degas’ works took place (1917-1918). A red ‘estate’ stamp was used on all of his works on paper that were found in his studio as a mark of authenticity for anyone that might be purchasing these never before seen works on paper, as Degas had kept quite a large collection of sketches in his studio."

Look at the signatures on some of the sketches you posted David:

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/333809

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/334326?

That is probably a stamp, right?

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

Those red stamp drawings, sure are good! Simple clear form, of a mind choosing not to be weigh down by excessive detail, that would only interrupt the continuous flow of one form into another as is the French way. One only has to look at classical French interior design to see this outlook, where doors, paneling and windows tend to merge with walls, instead of asserting their identity at the determent of the flow of the room.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous (no.1)-- I've always had a hard time relating to John Marin's art, but I certainly appreciate his sentiment about the importance of "fewer strokes."

Aleš wrote: "I wasn't talking about the image you showed up there, as I said in previous post I was talking about image 2/10"

Sorry, I mixed up image 2/10 with 7/10, but I'm happy to discuss either one.

"the palm looks "a complete mess", like a zombie hand compared to the realistically executed face because: the palm on the floor doesn't evoke the same sense of solid form, it doesn't evoke the subtlety of the other hand gesture,"

Would you say the same is true about the Raleigh example? Aren't the faces "realistically executed" while the hands convey no "sense of solid form" whatsoever? Or the Lautrec (image no. 3)? For me, that's a common device used by artists, to focus sharply on the center of interest, using hard details to direct our attention, then getting increasingly loose as they get further from that center.

"I wouldn't consider that Frazetta painting lesser art compared to his sketch. I enjoy both very much"

Aleš, I thought that, applying the same standard you applied to Mowat you'd have real problems with that particular Frazetta. Let me see if I can apply your standard (for example, " the size of the area between the wrist and knuckles is too small, and fingers are too short") and see if you think I've done it justice: Conan's leg on the right is small and withered compared to his leg on the left. Even with foreshortening, one femur is half the length of the other. Conan's arm on the left (wielding the battle axe) is also out of proportion and the bicep looks "cartoonish" (to use Kev's term) as does Conan's barrel chest. The tilt of Conan's head ( a difficult angle, and one that has always troubled Frazetta) is highly unsuccessful. And if you dislike that part of Mowat's drawing was "a complete mess," how do you feel about the bottom right quadrant of that Frazetta painting? The tail of that giant lizard is wider and longer than its body. The colors in that quadrant seem to be (in my opinion) an unsuccessful smear. And most of all, since you disapprove of the fact that Mowat drew a "realistically executed face" which is stylistically incompatible with his "zombie hand": Frazetta has three or four realistically executed bad guys which look similarly incompatible with the broad unfocused smears in that quadrant. With the exception of those three or four bad guys, I think this entire painting is a tribute to what you and Kev are calling "bluffed anatomy."

To be clear, these inaccuracies don't bother me that much but then again, Mowat's don't bother me all that much either. I offered the Frazetta painting in contrast to the Frazetta sketch only because I thought the latter was so much more successful.

David C. said...

I think Mowat's illustrations are gorgeous the way they are, and I wish I was as talented as he. I think it takes more talent to make a smudge look like a hand, then to make it look like a life-like, anatomically correct, photo-realistic, and in my opinion, boring picture. To make my point, I always point to N.C. Wyeth's Treasure Island paintin of Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver in the ship's room:



The parrot in the cage is painted with a only a few swipes of color. Can anyone argue that it would have been better represented by a more laborious drafting where one could count the feathers of the parrot? Wyeth certainly could have done so, if he had chosen, but instead, he lets your brain put it together for you. There's no doubt that it's a parrot in the cage. I'll take a Raleigh, Denys Wortman, and many others that can bluff their way through a painting/drawing, rather than a photo realistic rendering depiction any day. You can find thousands of realistic drawings and paintings in any mall kiosk. But, you'll never remember them and they won't have the same effect on you.

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie-- Sorry I missed the joke about Hogarth-- In the past, I heard from a number of unrepentant Hogarth fans and didn't want to take anything for granted. But I'm glad to have my esteem for your taste reaffirmed.

No, I never met Hogarth and he never yelled at me, but at the Society of Illustrators dinner where Hogarth was inducted into their hall of fame, a number of former students were laughing about his rigid, intolerant teaching methods; it was his way or the highway, and he didn't hesitate to yell at students who failed to follow his approach.

Ibrahim R. Ineke wrote: "i was not talking about a close up. How a thing looks in a drawing is dependent on all other elements around and in it, so that 'fundamental rightness' i was talking about also stems from the relation of a part to the whole. Showing me a close up would be falsifying the argument."

I don't disagree with you, but doesn't that bring us full circle? If I understand you properly, the long list of anatomical defects in Mowat's work offered by Kev and Ales ("the ears don't fall off the skull and end up on the neck when the chin is up... the helix of the ear doesn't rip away from the temporal muscle/bone in real life anatomy. ..the back of the skull in foreshortened front view doesn't suddenly disappear, resulting in a V-shaped head") really don't matter, because they're all irrelevant if there is a "rightness" to the overall picture. Fair enough, so why do people expend so much energy arguing about them? Or why do people try to isolate any detail in a picture (as I've tried to do, above) when the overall "rightness" of the picture can completely transform the nature of that detail? I would propose that its because if we don't, we are reduced to saying "the total picture seems right to me" or "the total picture doesn't seem right to me." (This is your "you either see it or you don't" path, which leads to a dead end. Even worse, as we approach that dead end it justifies all kinds of intellectual sloth and ridiculous opinions)

One of the things I like about the spirited debates around here is that we can't just get away with saying, "It seems right to me." We press ourselves, or we press each other, to explain the reasons why we think a picture is good, which necessarily involves concrete examples. I agree that there is a risk that "showing [you] a close up would be falsifying the argument" but on the other hand, allowing you to pass judgment on a picture without reference to supporting detail creates a (possibly greater) risk of cheating. If Kev and Ales complained that Mowat's hands or necks were poorly executed and uninformed, and I replied that nevertheless his pictures "seem right" to me, they would roast me for failing to justify my opinions (and they would be right to do so.) That is why we so frequently find ourselves treading water somewhere between scylla and charybdis. Sometimes our arms get tired, and we yearn for a safe space on solid land with universal principles, but so far art doesn't seem inclined to make it that easy for us. Many of the commenters seem to feel that whatever art contributes to our lives is worth it.

Of course, we turn eagerly to each new participant in these dialogues, hoping that they will be the one to introduce the immutable principles we can use to weigh artwork without lapsing into a sea of subjectivity and nihilism. So if you've been working on such a list, don't be shy!

David Apatoff said...


Aleš wrote: "That is probably a stamp, right?"

Fortunately, we don't have to guess. The Metropolitan Museum of Art carefully lists, for each picture, whether it is signed by hand or whether it has an "atelier stamp" (often called an estate stamp). Most, but not all, of the examples I used were signed by hand. My own experience is that those signature issues can be tricky. When the Italian artist Marino Marini was nearly comatose on his deathbed, he was surrounded by his loving family which put a pencil in his limp hand and "helped" him sign numerous prints before he died.

kev ferrara said...

If Kev and Ales complained that Mowat's hands or necks were poorly executed and uninformed, and I replied that nevertheless his pictures "seem right" to me, they would roast me for failing to justify my opinions

Actually, no. I said myself that I liked them at first glance, but then I fall out of the spell quickly, noting all the bluffing, which then leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Two issues are at play there: The first is that I fall out of the spell of Mowat's work quickly. And the second is that his bluffing is inescapable. The former points out a definite weakness in his composing, and the latter a weakness in drawing or integrity.

If I get held in "aesthetic arrest" by the composing long enough, I'll forgive a lot of weak drawing. Because such good composing is one hell of a feat; a lot of integrated suggestion has to be going on and a lot of clever orchestration. Very few artists can express that much depth of meaning poetically. (In the opposite situation, where the drawing is strong but the composing is weak, we are dealing, usually, with a weak poet suffering from reference photo dependence.)

To your Frazetta comparison... While it is certainly true that "most people" can find an excellent sketch more aesthetically valuable than a poor painting, I don't think "most people" seeing these two Frazetta works side by side in real life would agree with your choice of example. It's a truly great sketch, no doubt, evocative and vivacious, but that painting, seen in real life, is an absolute knockout. Everybody I know who has seen it in real life has been stunned by. I've heard endless raves. And, if such a thing matters in these kinds of arguments, I saw a man fall to his knees weeping before it at my first visit to the second Frazetta museum in the mid 1990s. The painting has legitimate aesthetic force. And not just from "wall power."

Partially I think you are distorting your and your readers' perceptions of those two Frazetta works by how you have presented them in your posting. The sketch is quite small maybe less than 4 inches square and the painting is slightly less than 1 1/2 feet by 2 feet and in beautiful color with very strong values and elegant, subtle paint application. But here the tiny one is presented bigger than the painting, white bright as day, and you've chosen a horrible reproduction of the painting with weak resolution, odd photo artifacts, and garishly off color to compare it to.

All to say, Dear Leader, get into steel-manning already. It's the wave of the future. Argue against the best of your opponent, and if you win you'll feel real satisfaction uncompromised by the guilt of sharp practice. This isn't a trial.

Anonymous said...

Glad to have the Hogarth issue cleared up ; I worked from his books as a teenager and got something out of it - got a lot more from Bridgman and life classes .

Would enjoy sometime your commentary on Avati and Robt. Mcginnis .

Pavel Ryzhenko - Ringing the Bell and Luis Falero - Witches Going to their Sabbath .

Al McLuckie

kev ferrara said...

My nesting metaphor has nothing to do with this question.

Actually, I'm wrong on this point. Very wrong. I wrote in haste and didn't think this through at all.

In my view, the nesting of aesthetic experiences is actually a key factor in the nature of aesthetic quality in art. The more nesting, the more opportunities to express relevant meaning at all aesthetic scales and depths of the work. This is the richness of great art. But also the more difficult the orchestration and justification becomes, and thus the more likely that something will go wrong. This is the tightrope act that the greatest artists manage when they accomplish their best works; the stunningly meaningful ordering of multiple levels of aesthetic chaos simultaneously in dedication to a single end.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

David, thanks for continuing to engage with ( albeit by trying to disengage from ) my "you see it or you don't" comment. I do think i should clear up some things about it, though. First of all, it was a comment about a badly drawn hand within the context of a picture; as you've correctly pointed out, if zooming in falsifies the argument, then i should allow the context of the entire Mowat picture to come into play too; but the fact is, i did: and it remains a badly drawn hand, drawing too much attention to itself by its clumsiness and placement.

Another thing: when i say "you either see it or you don't" ( henceforth YESIOYD for brevity) that's not the same as saying "seems right to me." In fact, the entire assumption that the YESIOYD argument is based on subjectivity, is yours. Everyone can improve their YESIOYD by putting in the hours ( hours of drawing, i mean, not talking). I'm sure people will put up with, say, endless theorizing by me upon the subject of medicine, but when push comes to shove few would allow me to perform an appendectomy on their person. Drawing's am actual job; there's a thing or two an artist will know that the layman doesn't.

And as for logic ( as opposed to subjectivity ), i do think i have answered each of your arguments with a counterargument so far, but if you insist on merely repeating your first claim, you force me to do the same ( petitio principii i believe it's called? ).

Respectfully,

I.

Lia said...

NIce post! In my personal opinion it all depends of the artist style. Some styles are made with loose brush strokes and we can not ask a well defined line! It would be inconsistent.
It's plain and simple. The answer is there in 2 paintings made by the same artist.
Best regards
Lia

Tom said...

"For me, this is like looking at a crescent moon and waiting for it to become a perfect full moon. I think that each of the works above has its own perfections."


David maybe a another way to put it is, when an artist leaves of his work it should always be in an aesthetically pleasing state. That is the artist could return to the work and develop it further or never touch it again but whatever choice he makes the work itself is always in a satisfying state.

kev ferrara said...

when an artist leaves of his work it should always be in an aesthetically pleasing state. That is the artist could return to the work and develop it further or never touch it again but whatever choice he makes the work itself is always in a satisfying state.

That's a profound piece of wisdom, Tom. But quite a difficult thing to accomplish. Dunn said something similar in his notes about leaving the canvas so that it will inspire you when the next day's work on it begins.

It seems of a piece with another Harvey Dunn aphorism that a work "Must somehow be good from the start. If, as you work on it, it merely gets better and better, it is no damn good!"

Put these two ideas together and the larger idea may be an admonition to solve for frustration before it happens.

David Apatoff said...

David C-- The famous N.C. Wyeth parrot is probably a better example than any of the ones I've offered. Those Treasure Island paintings have to be among the greatest paintings in the history of illustration. If you look at the parrot close up and in isolation, it looks like a mess, worthy of some of the criticisms that have been leveled against Mowat. If you look at it as part of the total painting, it is one of the elements that transform the picture into true Art with a capital A. (A pre-emptive note for any trigger happy commenters out there: no, of course I'm not saying that Mowat is in the same league as Wyeth. He's nowhere close.)

Tom-- I agree, it's a highly interesting question whether every stage of an artwork must in some sense be able to stand alone. I agree with Kev, it's a difficult thing to accomplish although I believe that most of the greats tend to do so, just as a matter of personal satisfaction. Years ago we had a range war on this blog when I foolishly criticized the drawing of modern graphic novelists such as Chris Ware. I was told, accompanied by much profanity, that the individual drawings in graphic novels are merely components in the service of a larger narrative and should not be judged by traditional standards for drawing. "Good" drawings would only impede the narrative. (Or, as it was explained to me, "Chris Ware’s comics... do not employ drawing.") In response, I showed some preliminary animation drawings, which later became finished animation drawings, which later became animation cels, which bundled together with tens of thousands of other cels to become Disney's movie, Fantasia. As preliminary and rough as they were at that early stage, each one was a tiny gem. Rather than impede the flow of the narrative, they insured that every ingredient contributed its own holistic excellence to the finished movie. If the animation artist Blair had told his boss Disney, "these individual drawings don't need to look good because they are in the service of a larger narrative," Disney would have fired his ass, and would have been right to do so.

Kev Ferrara-- The fact that the Frazetta sketch is tiny only enhances my esteem for it. (You know the arguments... Faberge eggs and all that.) As for the Conan painting, I too saw it early in the Frazetta museum and I agree that it had some "elegant, subtle paint application," but my point was more that it was rampant with the kind of "bluffed anatomy" that you were criticizing in Mowat and that similarly there were whole passages (such as that lower right hand quadrant) that were faked, apparently out of laziness. (By the way, I think there are other Frazetta paintings with this telltale flaw, such as the Sea Witch, where I think he was batting 1000 and then came up against a deadline or just lost interest, and didn't follow through.)

As for the color of the Conan jpeg I used, I had my own doubts about that. The color didn't look nearly as good as the color on my Conan paperback cover but the image was much higher resolution. The version I used was not an anomaly-- it popped up frequently in response to my google search. I figured perhaps the color was different because it might have been one of the paintings that Frazetta unfortunately went back and fixed in his old age? If you will send me a link to a version you believe is most accurate I will gratefully substitute it.

If you attended the Frazetta museum with someone who was overcome with Stendahl's syndrome ( which made little school girls weak in the knees when they visited the museums in Florence) perhaps you should aim your "steel" comments elsewhere.

kev ferrara said...

If you attended the Frazetta museum with someone who was overcome with Stendahl's syndrome ( which made little school girls weak in the knees when they visited the museums in Florence) perhaps you should aim your "steel" comments elsewhere.

Wait, wait, wait...

Aren't you the guy who cried in front of a Rothko painting!?

And I fell nearly dizzy in aesthetic arrest the first time I saw Everett's Peter Parrot painting. Am I to discount in my experience the very thing Everett meant to do to the viewer upon seeing that painting? Just because there's a scientific name to bandy about and an argument to win?

But listen, I'll gladly give up my Frazetta anecdote if you admit that Rothko's work only functions as a Projection Test.

The difference between Frazetta's knowledge and Mowat's is quite evident and profound. Because Frazetta was so good at drawing and painting and feel, he had a much wider scale of finish available to him, and so a much better time of sublimating and/or justifying the peripheral suggestions by the focal finish. (He also had better ideas and knew ten times what Mowat knew in terms of composition. But why quibble.)

There are certainly terrible Frazettas. Maybe twenty or thirty that are just dreck which I won't look at on a bet, except for purely investigative reasons. But, again, like Degas or Everett or Pyle or Rockwell... I don't judge the whole by the duds. One masterpiece alone is a miracle for the ages. More than one, and that qualifies as genius in my book.

I've sent you the best version of Frazetta's Indomitable I've ever seen for you to substitute in. I hope you will post it frame and all.

Anonymous said...

I think David joked about people who cry before Rothkos a few years back - I might blubber a little in front of one , if a lovely woman was standing there overcome by it's magic .

So , the space between "bluffing" anatomy and slavishly copy rendering it . Hogarth could probably name all the muscles , yet his bluffing or interpretation of it was ridiculous - in his hand book he would draw a fingerpad with a split down the center like a buttock , and his geometric treatments of the throat in an up-angle were beyond belief . Mowat's bluffing lacked knowledge in hand depiction , yet the whole feeling or mood worked .

Boris doesn't bluff , he just traces and tweaks it and we can see the results .

That Frazetta piece is a masterpiece . I believe he did most or all of it in one sitting , in a heightened state of creative intensity .If someone bought the original and paid Boris or Michael Whelan to touch it up - improve the parts where Frazetta was "lazy" , and they conscientiously rendered all the lizards scales with a little highlight on them , and tightened up the figures at the base , I don't think it would be a masterpiece anymore . Especially if Boris added butterfly wings to the lizard and tattoos on Conan.

I think his aim was to create a gut reaction - as if you were there . As he said of Silver Warrior when asked where the harness was on the bears - it would clutter it , and if you were there, you wouldn't be staring at the harness . It could be Lazy , but more often than not , he would leave stuff out - like detailing everything at the base of the body hill , to suggest and let the viewer to participate in the "completion" of the scene .

H.Dunn or NC Wyeth in his Treasure Island prime are the only artists I can imagine pulling off a Conan with some of that gut level intensity . I love Gurney's work and blog , but if someone offered him a million to do a maximum effort on a Conan pic , I'm not confident what he would pull off , in spite of some time and tips he got from Frank . Like some artists , he might give a lot of thought to the job , get a stick and beat on something with it to gain some insight on the physicality , make some maquettes and create a lighting plan - all the right things , but how would the results compare ?

The tradeoff for the un-lazy finish vs the imperfect passion of execution ; give me the Frazetta .

Al McLuckie

Laurence John said...

David: "If you look at the parrot close up and in isolation, it looks like a mess, worthy of some of the criticisms that have been leveled against Mowat. If you look at it as part of the total painting, it is one of the elements that transform the picture into true Art with a capital A”

a few strokes in a well observed painting or drawing are enough to suggest (to the viewer) that the understructure of the form is correct. Sargent’s work is filled with such examples but here’s one:

http://media.clarkart.edu/1955.579.jpg

the problem with the Mowat that Ales linked to, is that the understructure of the hand doesn’t look correct. it looks like a deflated rubber hand.

http://shrani.si/f/5/tf/3IhGheoW/mowat-untitled1.jpg

so, you can only be brisk, sketchy - and convincing - if you actually pay close attention to the form of the subject.

‘much discipline and hard work for the appearance of effortlessness’ would be a suitable dictum.

Aleš said...

David said: "For me, that's a common device used by artists, to focus sharply on the center of interest, using hard details to direct our attention, then getting increasingly loose as they get further from that center. "

I agree. But the process of getting increasingly loose should be subordinated to the overall structure of the artwork, so that it retains a sense of harmony and unity. Mowat's problem is not a lack of hard details, what bothers me is that his loose anatomy feels out of balance with the rest of the body/picture. When I was talking about "size of the area between the wrist and knuckles" I was talking about hand's structural relationships that would feel right under the "rules" established by the picture itself.

David said: "Aleš, I thought that, applying the same standard you applied to Mowat you'd have real problems with that particular Frazetta. "

When I said that the painting isn't "lesser art compared to his sketch" I wasn't talking about anatomy, I was replying to your "can be better art than" statement. Artistic expression is formed through many constructive aspects of a work of art, so even if there is a mistake somewhere in the picture, other qualities might still make it powerful and wonderful. So even if his BW sketch doesn't posses obvious anatomical mistakes while the painting does, there are other constructive elements of the painting (that the sketch doesn't posses) that can evoke artistic worth. So I couldn't see the way how you weighted all the aspects and concluded that the sketch is a better art.

I agree tho that there are mistakes in that Frazetta painting. But some of them go easily unnoticed because those mistakes serve the design very intensely. Our glance is diverted from their wrongness by their structural importance to a narrative composition, so those elements feel right even tho they shouldn't. For some time I actually thought there is one of the apemen instead of barbarian's leg on the left. But since I don't believe that the wrongness of some of the mistakes was necessary (the shape, mass and rhythm of those structures was necessary), I would prefer if Frank created the painting without them.

Regarding the specific mistakes: "Conan's barrel chest" doesn't bother me and his "cartoonish" bicep doesn't bother me much either (it's rotation does). I think the visual structure of the image allows for such stylizations, there are other cartoonish things in the picture like the exploding hair style of the apeman that the barbarian holds. "tilt of Conan's head" bothers me a bit and so does the long leg on the left. What bothers me most is the placement of his right hand that is holding the weapon, it feels dislocated in the shoulder. Since the painting is full of fluid body gestures, where the energies organically flow through the anatomical structures, that arm bothers me most because it doesn't sing along as well as other extremities that are placed against the blue sky.

As I said before, I'm not after realism, but I feel that every image creates it's own rules that dictate the way towards a sense of unity and harmony. Some images will allow only comic stylizations, some will allow only academic realism and some will allow both. Some will allow vagueness, other will look unfinished without details.

Aleš said...

I don't know what exactly the rules of Frazetta's painting are, but the lizards tail also doesn't bother me. I know that I expected Lautrec's rider's palm to make sense, maybe because it belongs to the main character in the focus of the picture where every part of his and horses body surrounded by empty white sand evokes a sense of identification, a sense that every part has a purpose to be recognized? Frazetta's creature belongs to an out of focus area which serves to evoke general sensations and impressions. The animal feels right immediately/instinctively because it makes sense as a gesture and a shape, you feel imposing snakeness crawling through the corpses. Only on close inspection you recognize that it is actually a lizard, which is a mistake that doesn't really matter narratively or artistically. Maybe the rule of the image allows for some senseless things (senseless = unidentifiable or even illogical to a certain degree, not unnecessary) because it's fast paced dynamic nature needs things/objects outside the focus of the action to blend and morph among themselves in order to provide some confusion and mistery to the viewer. (narratively the Lautrec's image shows an event that is even faster, but graphically it's not as energetic and dynamic as Frazetta's image). The wrongness of the creature also doesn't have the same nature of unpleasantness as Mowat's or Lautrec's palms do. First because the creature looks like two proper things (lizard and snake) blended together (both look correct on their own), second, because immediately we probably aren't very sure whether it's only one creature (it could be a snake disappearing behind the lizard) and third, because even when we look harder the creature feels correctly wrong (like those photomontages of elephants and apes that look funny but also make sense somehow). Mowat's hands don't feel proper in their vagueness and unspecificity, which makes them an unpleasant mistake.

So, I think that the rule of the Frazetta's image is a dynamic energy of the gestures and the graphic rhythm that serves the narrative (here I'm probably confusing greater aesthetic rules that apply to all images, with the rules that individual image constructs for itself which I had in mind before), so when his factual mistake resides in a graphic structure that fits those rules, the mistakes don't bother me much. Even if I try to focus on mistakes I feel like I'm fighting gravity, there is so much power rushing through the figures that I prefer to let go and let the image take me wherever it wants.

Aleš said...

David wrote: "And most of all, since you disapprove of the fact that Mowat drew a "realistically executed face" which is stylistically incompatible with his "zombie hand": Frazetta has three or four realistically executed bad guys which look similarly incompatible with the broad unfocused smears in that quadrant. With the exception of those three or four bad guys, I think this entire painting is a tribute to what you and Kev are calling "bluffed anatomy."

I don't see a problem. I didn't complain about the fact that there are unfocused aspects of Mowat's images. As I explained the incompatibleness of the zombie hand: "the palm on the floor doesn't evoke the same sense of solid form, it doesn't evoke the subtlety of the other hand gesture, it doesn't belong to the same rhythmic pattern of the body, it's shape is out of tune." It's not about the lack of focus, it's about the structure of the unfocused form. So regarding Frazetta: when his unfocused shapes and forms contain the correct facts it's ok because the style of his image allows the unfocused shapes and smears. When his unfocused shapes and forms contain the wrong facts (the long leg on the left) I consider it a mistake but I'm not bothered as much because the shape of the leg works so well within the design of the image.
I think the style of Mowat's image allows him to draw the hand as an unfocused shape too (the hand's shape has to follow a degree of realism that the whole body dictates tho), he just fails at inserting the unfocused shape with proper information that would make it suggestive of the truth of the hand. It's about the "understructure of the form" as Laurence said.

I think you are still confusing bluffed anatomy and vague execution. Like Kev said in previous debate there is a difference between informed and bluffed. They can both be vaguely, unrealistically executed. Kev said "My issue is really much more generally about suggestion, and its necessary foundation in knowledge and specificity. As Harvey Dunn said to his students, "You can paint it as loose as you want, so long as you know exactly what it is."" When you climb across the Mowat's drawing of the female body, over the waist, breasts, nicely constructed head, you drop down on the shoulders and lower your gaze on the palms you feel like you just witnessed some withered stumps that are about to die. The Conan's elongated leg on the left is factually wrong but it doesn't feel like Frank ran out of knowledge, the leg still seems informed to me. You can sense that Frazetta knew the truth of the leg, he just distorted it for a purpose. (I wish achieved that purpose with a proper leg tho)

chris bennett said...

While I agree that Mowat does do a little 'bluffing' in his otherwise very good illustrations, I find it odd that Frazetta's image should be held up as a paradigm of artistic virtue. I say this because it clearly, to my eyes at least, owes much (whether consciously or not) to Gericault's 'Raft of Medusa' and, when directly compared to this masterpiece hanging in London's National Gallery, is shown up for what what it is; a light weight parody of history painting. And as a result Frazetta's image, like so much of his work, gives me the cheesy whiff of bombast.

Anonymous said...

I don't get the same whiff , and have stood before both paintings . Raft is a little bigger than the Frazetta piece , but if they were hung side by side , I bet there would be a crowd around the Frazetta - maybe they would be snorting derisively or maybe not .

In the Frazetta museum , Franks son told me that two italian art critiques visited and were stunned by his work , muttering "Michaelangelo ". For what it's worth .

Looking at Raft in person is awe-inspiring , yet , the figures look like a posed tableau of models - theres a stillness to it like a recreation of extinct animals in a history museum . I love the piece , but comparing it to Franks overnight creation doesn't diminish my opinion of either artist.

Al McLuckie

kev ferrara said...

If I have the "who cried during the Rothko Experience™" story wrong, I am sorry about that error in fact. I didn't search back due to time constraints.

But the point of my riposte still stands: To dismiss the inherent reality and importance of catharsis through resonant art as mere mental illness is scientism at its worst. What is the greater purpose of art if not to purge our souls, sometimes painfully, but always aesthetically, of ignorance, confusion, and sorrow?

The analytical difference between the person who cries at the color red (or at a single note of a flugelhorn), versus one who weeps in front a narrative painting of some complexity (or at a symphony) cannot be divorced from the analysis of how simple aesthetic stimulus differs linguistically from dedicated complexes of aesthetic stimuli, and how such differences produce different qualities and magnitudes of effect and meaning on individuals in the normal distribution of aesthetic sensitivity.

______

Regarding "bombast" - what is Raft of the Medusa? A work of humility? All art is rhetorical. Frazetta's Indomitable is a work of living metaphor. The references it makes to genre are immaterial to that. The truths of experience can be mapped to any narrative domain; realistic, idealized, or fantastic, human, animal, alien, or plant; essences can be mapped to any substance. An important function of genre itself, it seems to me, is to allow revivifications of old drinks with new infusions of spirit. (Also to disguise truths in times of ideological repression of speech, in order that they can slip through under the radar of censors.)

If one can't ascertain meaning beneath visual rhetoric (and I mean rhetoric in its original poetic sense, not the pejorative meaning it now holds colloquially) the problem may be in the translator rather than the message. I'm not saying that's necessarily due to a lack of capacity. Sometimes it's an antipathy to the genre, the artist's style, or even - let's list it out - the artist's competence, class, success, personality, fans, critics, or even politics. A lot can get in the way of the experience of art.

As far as Indomitable being some kind of rip off of Raft of the Medusa, I see that as evidently contrary to observation. I have hundreds of Epic Tragic paintings on my hard drive that have writhing massed bodies cresting at a lone figure, some from before Géricault was born, all with the same degree of similarity, roughly. It hardly makes sense to turn that into an accusation. Looking through the broad history of art, irrefutable veins of pictorial similarity run throughout. Scholars of mythography have already laid the foundation, academically, for the study of such patterns.

kev ferrara said...

That Frazetta piece is a masterpiece . I believe he did most or all of it in one sitting , in a heightened state of creative intensity .If someone bought the original and paid Boris or Michael Whelan to touch it up - improve the parts where Frazetta was "lazy" , and they conscientiously rendered all the lizards scales with a little highlight on them , and tightened up the figures at the base , I don't think it would be a masterpiece anymore . Especially if Boris added butterfly wings to the lizard and tattoos on Conan.

Very well said! And funny too!

kev ferrara said...

a few strokes in a well observed painting or drawing are enough to suggest (to the viewer) that the understructure of the form is correct. Sargent’s work is filled with such examples (...) the problem with the Mowat that Ales linked to, is that the understructure of the hand doesn’t look correct. (...) so, you can only be brisk, sketchy - and convincing - if you actually pay close attention to the form of the subject.(...) ‘much discipline and hard work for the appearance of effortlessness’ would be a suitable dictum.

Yes, well said! Sargent is a strong example of the idea that authentic abstraction comes from knowledge, not from the wrist, or whimsy, or temperament, or stylistic convention. Sargent also beautifully demonstrates how abstraction nests within abstraction, specific truth within general truth. This is where the impetus of fine art or illustration goes beyond cartooning, becoming exponentially more difficult to execute the more it delves into multiple visual levels of meaning.

kev ferrara said...

Mowat's problem is not a lack of hard details, what bothers me is that his loose anatomy feels out of balance with the rest of the body/picture. When I was talking about "size of the area between the wrist and knuckles" I was talking about hand's structural relationships that would feel right under the "rules" established by the picture itself.

I'd put it like this: No matter how an artist abstracts things or suggests them through silhouetting or massing or lost and found edges, etc, proportion still lurks. Proportion is an inherently subliminal feature of art that permeates it at all levels. It is one of the hidden truths of realistic artwork that one's increasing sensitivity becomes attuned to. Ask any drawing teacher. It's the great bugaboo. Because very little of it is visible.

I use a tent metaphor of masses or silhouettes to teach the relationship of suggestion to proportion; the taut canvas is the flat value and the details are are the stakes that hold it down and taut. If we put the stakes in the wrong places, the tent shape distorts and looks wrong. If we put too many stakes down, not only will the waste of labor and materials disturb visitors, but the odds of accidentally pinning down the door flap so that nobody can even enter the damn thing is very high.

kev ferrara said...

Point: Every work of art is by necessity full of distortion. Otherwise it will have nothing to say.

Cartoons are full of distortion and the more the better because blatancy is half the fun.

But distortion becomes a huge problem in more realistic work. The question there becomes does the higher purpose of the distortion, which equates to the meaning of its effect, overmatch the "uncanny valley" problem of the distortion itself. In other words, does the strangeness add more value than it subtracts.

Tom said...

Is the Frazetta 16 feet tall and 24 feet wide? (the Gericult is) And he did a painting that big in one night?


The serpent neck looks like a piece of lumber, that is a 2 by 4, and as the top plane approaches the neck, Frzaetta doesn't seem to know how to end it as the plane approaches the head so he just leaves it off. The side plane becomes a serve right angle asserting itself into the lizard's head like a board. Which is only accentuated by the strong value contrast he places on it.

Unlike all the French pictures David posted, there is no clearly established ground plane in Frazetta's picture. I think Conan's back leg is long because Frazetta may not have run out of anatomical knowledge as Ales wrote, but his knowledge of how objects relate to a horizontal surface is weak (and an incline plane is just a tilted horizontal plane). All the other figures legs look like their in mud unless the figure is in the air, cut of from sight just below the knee. Granted from the reproduction its hard to make out the bottom figure. I would think a figure's, or any objects relation to ground plane would precede in aesthetic importance the knowledge of artistic anatomy.

The extended right arm of the main figure is at 90 degrees or greater to the side plane of his body, holding such an excessive amount of weight while fully extended to my eye is exhausting (visually and aesthetically). It my be perfect for a book cover or a magazine cover but on a vertical wall it would just be fatiguing and annoying. Like the Caryitad head's and bodies supporting all the weight of the entablature of the porch of Erechitheion.

Brevity of execution is the manifestation of an artist understanding. One can never be quick, succinct and precise until one comprehends exactly what relations of things he wants to establish in his drawing. In fact it seems to me, it is the execution, how will I draw it, that is the most demanding part of art and it takes the most mental effort. And it's the part that makes a picture so satisfying to look at.

Anonymous said...

16x20 inches , not feet for the Frazetta . If you don't completely discount the possibility of time travel , Gericault could very well have gone to 1974 and seen Indomitable and taken inspiration from it.

kev ferrara said...

The serpent neck looks like a piece of lumber

No it doesn't.

there is no clearly established ground plane in Frazetta's picture.

It's a hill, not a ground plane. And there is no mandate to clarify relationships that are already obvious. Once the relationship is signified to the degree necessary, there is not need to refine further.

his knowledge of how objects relate to a horizontal surface is weak

It's not a horizontal surface and this an absurd claim in the larger context of his body of work.

The straight arm is straight for a reason. That's called good composing.

I would agree that the left shoulder-bicep combination is weird and the left leg seems long. I wish he had been able to achieve more accuracy there while still beating his deadline and retaining the vivacity. But I'm not going to "throw her out of bed" so to speak. Every garden has a snake. The music of the thing is still great. It sings while most art is mute.

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

Kev,

I said cheesy bombast.
And I compared the Frazetta to the Gericault because they are of the same genre. The fact that 'Indomitable' might have been painted for modern commercial reasons and depicts a bunch of fantastical mythic-type tribesmen engaged in mortal struggle and 'The Raft of Medusa' was painted for the 19th century Salon with a prospect of sale to a wealthy industrialist and depicts ship-wrecked sailors hailing their rescue, makes no difference.

So I'm not talking about hierarchies of genre as a means to disparage the Frazetta.
I use the comparison to be specific about what I consider to be a far, far superior work of art involved in the same area of aesthetic purpose. Sure the Gericault is bombastic, theatrical, overbearing. But it is not cheesy. Because its means are appropriate to its purpose. When the purpose falls short of the means, it becomes something of a fart.

So why do I think that 'Indomitable' falls short of its purpose?
Believe it or not it is for the same sort of reason that the Mowats don't quite get there, which is why I've brought this up.
In the Frazetta there is clumsiness and awkwardness rendering the anatomy in the pursuit of heightened effect, and this immediately slows things down so that my first impression is a rather wooden tableau of 'fight poses'. On top of which they are set against a sky whose obvious diagonal cloud movement shouts out 'compositional device' rather than working its magic behind the scenes so-to-speak. I can't help but see just a heap of melodramatic posturing body-builders re-enacting some mythic event.

Now, the Gericault could so easily have fallen into the same pit. In fact it almost does. But it doesn't. Why? Because, unlike the Frazetta it is not a one-note idea set against a one-note lighting effect built on a one-note compositional idea. (this would be OK if I did not keep hearing what a masterpiece it was) By contrast, in 'The Raft of Medusa' the heaving mass of bodies is counterpointed by the tiny ship on the horizon which to our delight is noticed just a moment's delay from our first impression. The dark almost monochrome mass of exhausted bodies is set against the shifting light of hope on the horizon. I sense the damp wind in the tattered sail pushing them against the elements towards their salvation. The makeshift rigging is taught, literally drawing the awakening vigour in their spent muscles - so these necessary plastic diagonals are not overtly imposed as composition (like so many elements in the Frazetta) but are organic to the situation. I could go on, but I'll finish up mentioning the crowing figure, the one hailing the ship. There is so much more contained in it than a bloke about to whack another bloke.

kev ferrara said...

Chris,

I like the overall composition and orchestration of Raft of the Medusa very much but I find it full of figural histrionics and awkwardness, and quite mannered. It is flyswatted, the color is dead, and there is very little real world observation to the sky, water, or atmosphere. Even the wet wood of the raft is unobservant. And the thinking man at the edge of the boat is implausibly disconnected from the reality of the situation. It feels like an allegory struggling to be a reality.

I agree that it's one of the worlds great masterpieces. But it still sucks.

#shitalloversomebodysfavoritepaintings

Laurence John said...

Chris,

i broadly agree with your assessment of the Frazetta and ‘Raft of the Medusa’, but i also recognise Al’s (and Kev's) feeling when he says "yet, the figures look like a posed tableau of models - theres a stillness to it like a recreation of extinct animals in a history museum”... i spoke ages ago of how i believe the ‘uncanny valley’ effect (normally used to talk about realistic CGI and robots) exists in painting too; the closer you take a painting toward ‘realistic’ the more anything even slightly ‘off’ starts to be highlighted, to the point that the image can feel creepy, and the characters look like mannequins. the effect is clear in some of Meredith Frampton’s work:

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/images/work/T/T13/T13032_10.jpg

… there’s a bit of that going on in ‘Raft’, not that the paint-surface is too hyper-real (like the Frampton) but in the unconvincing, stagey poses and facial expressions.

to Frazetta’s credit, he doesn’t fall into this problem because the paint handling is (usually) energetic, and never laboured or over-worked.

having said that, i would have bought a book on Frazetta by now, and be willing to overlook the axe-swinging ‘bombastic’ content (which turns me off) if there was enough going on in the purely formal, painterly areas of his work to interest me. but there just isn’t. the ‘hot content’ wins out over the form every time. i find it near impossible to isolate a beautiful abstract passage of paint for it’s own sake in a Frazetta in the way i can with ease in a Sargent or Zorn.

Anonymous said...

Buy a second hand FF book and look harder - his abstractions within the composition are one of his strong points .

Pile of posed bodybuilders ? I think there can be a tendency due to the subject matter for Frazetta to get lumped with Boris , who began as a Frazetta imitator , using bodybuilder poses from magazines as warriors - an utter perversion of what Frazetta depicted with an interpretation of of a functional athletic dynamic (non Hogarthian) figure .

When those FF covers came out there had been nothing like it for 50 yrs. They created the genre and term sword and sorcery , which annoyed Frazetta - being referred to as a part of a "school" that his imitators and he belonged to , when his work created the need for the term to be coined .

I can't think of a classical painter who can interconnect form and shadow of figures as organically as Frazetta is able . Godmakers , the original Reign of Wizardry , several Conan pieces - there is none of the frozen taxidermy posed and rendered tableau effect .

Al McLuckie

kev ferrara said...

i spoke ages ago of how i believe the ‘uncanny valley’ effect (normally used to talk about realistic CGI and robots) exists in painting too;

Ah, I must have pinched it from you. All due credit.

chris bennett said...

Al, Kev, Tom and Laurence,

I agree with all the points you make against the Gericault, I've felt the same things about it for years and I'll even add one of my own; it looks like its taking place in the studio and superimposed outdoors.

I don't recall saying it was a masterpiece but I did say it was a far, far superior work of art to the Frazetta which, according to my score card, has even more points against it. So I'm awarding the green blazer to the Frenchman.

Tom said...

The serpent neck looks like a piece of lumber

"No it doesn't."

Yes it does ;)

"It's a hill, not a ground plane. And there is no mandate to clarify relationships that are already obvious. Once the relationship is signified to the degree necessary, there is not need to refine further."

I think I wrote, "(and an incline plane is just a tilted horizontal plane)." Why is there a little sky hole, a blue negative space below Conon's left leg, where has it planted his foot on the ground? I guess those marks, or smudges to the right of the blue negative space could be his foot with out an ankle, but now we are back in to Mowart's domain not Gericult's, where the criticism of excessive limb length and bluff drawing come into play.

I wasn't talking about refining but stating a fundamental fact, what is the foot exact relationship to the plane it is standing on. How the artist states that fact is up to him, with the utmost brevity or the greatest detail but it relationship must be understood by the viewer.

"It's not a horizontal surface and this an absurd claim in the larger context of his body of work."

The larger context of the work is the frame which always implies the larger context of all pictures the horizontal and the vertical, we would not know a plane was inclined without the horizontal.

Like Chris wrote Gericault's painting looks like a studio painting. It's staged, and it feels like a raft on a stage in the theater. Like the Lautrec, with the horses legs simultaneously extended in the front and the back to convey to the viewer a horse at full speed, its a convention. But not all cultures see the business of art as making things look like they look. Gericualt's insistence on clarity of form and its relationship to space it occupies is where it's power lies. Like Poussin he has created is a scupltural group. Like Degas there is strong feeling for, a love of polished form. There no confusion in the execution of the work Maybe it's clarity above excitement.

As Degas remarked about Sargent"s brush work, as being, "overwrought."






Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

Blogger ate post, i think. 2nd attempt.

The axe of the topmost barbarian ( is that our boy Conan? ) seems to nearly drop from his hand , ready to fall on his own ( already weirdly flattened ) head. The speed-lines on the axe's end suggest a movement that the raised arm does not convey at all. The side-ways falling figure covering its face with its hands is well done - with dynamism from the contortion and the direction in contrast to the general composition - and the shadows in the figure above it are deep and lively, which can't be said of the ridiculous swathe of black growing downwards out of Conan's armpit.

That said, it hardly seems fair to compare a picture made for reproduction -or at least with techniques most appropriate to reproduction- to a picture made to stand in front of.

What they have in common is that each uses certain poses and a certain style as shorthand for drama and movement, but these modes of shorthand are far from interchangeable. A century separates them. Each is of their time and medium.

However, to see the difference ( in approach and quality ) clearly, just compare the way of painting the back of the shipwrecked figure in the Géricault to the back of that right figure in Frazetta's body sandwich pyramid...

Laurence John said...

Tom: "But not all cultures see the business of art as making things look like they look”

of course, and Géricault’s ‘Raft’ is a product of the heightened dramatics of Romantic painting (ca 1819) plus his natural limitations as a painter. i’m sure though that the shortcomings we’ve mentioned above weren’t intentional, and that he wasn’t deliberately trying to make it look like a staged diorama.

the paradox of the ‘uncanny valley’ effect is that artworks that stylise, reduce and omit information are usually easier for the viewer to ‘enter’ and believe in than works which go for a high level of realism. few people have trouble believing in the drawings of Mort Drucker, Ronald Searle or Bill Watterson, even though they’re just line on white paper. the brain clearly finds it rewarding to fill in the blanks and the more a picture approaches ‘reality’ the more the brain has to nitpick over and say ‘ that bit doesn’t look right’.

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

The axe of the topmost barbarian ( is that our boy Conan? ) seems to nearly drop from his hand , ready to fall on his own ( already weirdly flattened ) head. The speed-lines on the axe's end suggest a movement that the raised arm does not convey at all.

Yes, that's one of the first things that jumped out at me when I saw this. So I'll take the opportunity to list some specific marks against 'Indomitable'.

Conan's head is the focal point of the picture yet the understanding of how its volume appears in foreshortening is frankly amateurish in that it is little more than features stuck on a cylinder. The same goes for the flimsy drawing of his arm and hand holding the axe, which looks like a cardboard protest placard on a stick. And Conan's rib cage is an oversized lump as if he's got a third bicep down there.

The Gericault colour is indeed dead, but the colour in this looks enamelled and sickly; like it's painted on the flesh rather than making the flesh. Garish in fact, and cheesy.

The guy being held by the throat with his shock of hair silhouetted against the sky looking like a swatted fly is comic in its effect; he looks like he's being electrocuted - which means I can't look at that serpent on the opposite side without thinking it's a wayward pylon cable.

And why did I compare it to the Gericault among all the other images of entangled figures out there? At the bottom left of the Raft of Medusa is a body whose legs are hooked over the pyramid of wreckage that is their lifeboat. It is almost exactly the same pose and at the same angle as a body forming a diagonal to the left of the Frazetta.

chris bennett said...

And look how that drowned body anchoring the Gericault leads up that pyramid to its apex in the man vigorously hailing their rescue; despair and hope at each end of a tipping diagonal.
And what is this pose used for in the Frazetta? As a way of decorating one of its monotonous compositional zig-zags.

kev ferrara said...

and an incline plane is just a tilted horizontal plane

A hill isn't just an inclined plane.

#noitisnt

kev ferrara said...

Frazetta's body sandwich pyramid

Now ^this^ is a funny critique.

#bonmotdown

kev ferrara said...

a fundamental fact, what is the foot exact relationship to the plane it is standing on. How the artist states that fact is up to him, with the utmost brevity or the greatest detail but it relationship must be understood by the viewer.

Because there are hierarchies of experience in art, there are hierarchies of understanding. Each level of which can be addressed through different paradigms of abstraction according to the aesthetic philosophy being practiced. We cannot critique Frazetta's sense of that by Gericault's or vice versa. Both are effective in their own way at conveying their meanings at their own scales and through their own sensibilities.

What we can critique is Frazetta by Frazetta's paradigms and Gericault by Gericault's paradigms. Which has nothing to do with what they or their critics say, but with what they seem to be attempting to express through paint. That is; what is suggested of their intention by the work itself (to people who are sensitive to that kind of thing.)

And it is this implied ethic that must be contrasted with their results. The important factor in critique being whether they have failed in some significant way to achieve those implied aims in such a way that all the picture's other virtues and offers - which form its unified force complex of aesthetic meaning - are cancelled out. Or maybe it is better to consider this question: Do the failures of the picture mar the experience of it within a reasonable timescale. (Because, of course, with time and a sufficiently opposed standpoint, no picture is safe from critique. A sufficiently oppositional state of mind can destroy any chance at all of a fresh, intuitive read.)

This timescale point is one key then. As is our ability to note intention within the work after the period of "aesthetic arrest" is over. As is our ability to note the failures in context of the intention.

There is also the issue of noting intentions within the work that aren't aesthetic. Such inaesthetic intentions will always be detractions.

With all of Mowat's work, the movement from aesthetic arrest to falling out of the spell to perceiving aesthetic and inaesthetic intentions to noting contradictions within that game was seconds.

With Indomitable and Raft of the Medusa, it took me a long while to bother to notice the "problems" because I was too busy enjoying the experience of the picture. And all those errors I've noticed in each work still disappear from my mind when I view those works afresh. The pictures have powerful effects and very much keep pulling the viewer back into their spell. So in my view both pass the various tests laid out above.

Anybody who disagrees with me is a total idiot.

Anonymous said...

Chris Lawrence and Ibrahim , I'm honestly just curious - do you like , in a general sense , Frazetta's work ?

Al McLuckie

kev ferrara said...

An interesting example of an artwork that has its own set of aesthetic rules and then nails everything according to those rules is this Hirschfeld illustration of comedienne Fanny Brice; circa1930s.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

Al mcLuckie:
I do like Frazetta's work; i wish contemporary illustrators had half his flair & gusto. I also wish it did more than just praise machismo and violence ( as i wrote earlier, Jeffrey Catherine Jones took basically the same visual language & managed to convey so much more with it ).
What good is liking something though? I don't 'like' Bernard Krigstein's art for instance- but it's good & it taught me things.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

& another thing: isn't the Raft famous for its discolouration due to varnish &c.? Useless talking about its colour then

kev ferrara said...

I also wish it did more than just praise machismo and violence

*poof*

Your wish has been granted. Now all that remains is for you to see beyond your presumptions. To see beyond genre, beyond reference, beyond poetry as merely "praise." Get Nureyev. Get Orchestral. Get Jungian.

kev ferrara said...

Today in Maoism: http://manchesterartgallery.org/blog/presenting-the-female-body-challenging-a-victorian-fantasy/

chris bennett said...

Chris Lawrence and Ibrahim , I'm honestly just curious - do you like , in a general sense , Frazetta's work ?

My familiarity with Frazetta's work doesn't go beyond the occasional encounter with it online and my possessing a few books which I casually flipped through when I first bought them some years back. I haven't picked them up since. So I cannot claim to know it very well at all. But what I do know of it I generally find exciting and punchy to look at and a few of the paintings are very arresting indeed. But personally speaking, even in the arresting ones, I can find no depth much deeper than the display of their subject. Which is not a criticism of the subject. I mean. What's deep about a bowl of peaches? Chardin shows me. What's deep about a lady wearing medieval costume sitting in a boat on grey day? Waterhouse shows me. What's deep about a mound of men having a scrap or a guy sitting on a horse wearing a helmet with big horns? Frazetta doesn't show me. He shows others maybe, but not this total idiot. ;)

chris bennett said...

Actually, I agree with Kev's point about genre. I just can't share his belief that Frazetta's spells are magic.

chris bennett said...

Today in Maoism: http://manchesterartgallery.org/blog/presenting-the-female-body-challenging-a-victorian-fantasy/

Now that's really pissed me off! ;)

Laurence John said...

Al: "Chris, Laurence and Ibrahim , I'm honestly just curious - do you like , in a general sense , Frazetta's work ?”

see my comment above RE form and content (why i’ve never been inclined to buy a book on him).

i’ll add: his work reminds me of being about 11 and seeing glimpses of female nudity in images on posters for heavy metal bands and feeling a sense of excitement. i absolutely think that his work taps into the fantasies of early adolescent males, and a lot of his fanbase first saw his work when they were that age, in the more innocent, pre-internet days of the 60s and 70s.

his work is pulpy, often gaudy, fantasy art, powerfully done - no question - despite occasional gaffs. there’s nothing to be ashamed of in liking such work. heck, i’ve got the H J Ward book (published by the Illustrated Press) and you can’t get much pulpier than that ! i don’t feel the need though, to try and elevate it to the status of ‘great’ art.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

"Your wish has been granted. Now all that remains is for you to see beyond your presumptions. To see beyond genre, beyond reference, beyond poetry as merely "praise." Get Nureyev. Get Orchestral. Get Jungian."

As i said, i like Frazetta. Frazetta's okay. Don't understand why i am expected to love it as much as you do, Kev.

And Jung - it's unfair to blame Jung for the association, but i'm a bit averse to Joseph Campbell and to where he's taken the Jungian archetypes. Pretty much ruined Jung for me with its focus on practical applicability. The Hero With A Thousand Faces On The Commute Train Into the City Each Morning. Campbell's a lot like Frazetta, i guess.

Btw, i hope it wasn't my remark about machismo & violence that made you post that link to the Waterhouse painting controversy. I am as much amazed at such practices as i suppose you are.

Laurence John said...


Today in Maoism: http://manchesterartgallery.org/blog/presenting-the-female-body-challenging-a-victorian-fantasy/

wow… a black female artist and her 'drag artist' collaborators remove a Waterhouse painting in an attempt to open a discussion on ‘gender trouble’… you can’t make this shit up. it’s like a Chris Morris satire.

on an optimistic note, i think the meteoric arrival of Jordan Peterson is proving to be a galvanising moment for people who have had enough of this nonsense, but weren’t able to articulate why, and / or felt browbeaten into remaining silent.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

Didn't know she was black.
Don't see why that would matter.

Laurence John said...

"Don't see why that would matter.”

because it ticks the boxes of the PC curators of the gallery; race, gender, gender-fluidity all neatly covered. this is a PC event, so the gallery chose the right person to front it. next, they’ll move onto anything in the gallery which depicts persons with historical links to the slave trade, because such depictions might, supposedly, offend black people. if you’re ok with the airbrushing of history then it doesn’t matter.

kev ferrara said...

Laurence,

I agree very much about Jordan Peterson. Eric Weinstein's discussion of media manipulation of mass opinion is also important, imo, especially with all the lying about Peterson's positions and the attempts to stigmatize him in the lowest way. Weinstein's toolkit for "unspinning" the news and detecting and explaining stigmatization attempts is something I hope gets scaled up.

This was my response to the Waterhouse "event" as a "chance for conversation"...

The real conversation to be had is that many of our culture's most precious treasures are now in the controlling hands of leftist ideologues who only see culture as struggles for power and in binary oppression/oppressor relationships.

This "disappearing act" is, in a way, a show of force; the postmodernists are demonstrating that they now control the "oppressive" "patriarchal" art they hate, and they will do with it as they please. This act is, as well, designed to send a chill through the art world about what is allowable in depiction.

Definitionally, postmodernists don't believe in talent, intrinsic quality, free speech, beauty, meaning, or individual achievement. The only interest they have in our great cultural institutions or our greatest cultural achievements are as pawns to sacrifice to their ideological pursuits. They will take away our art to teach us THEIR lessons. Rather than letting the art speak for itself, the art is being forced to speak for them.

Thus... this is a hostage situation.

kev ferrara said...


By the way, the Museum is deleting oppositional comments on the page I linked to.

Controlling the narrative is an absolute constant with these people.

kev ferrara said...

Addenda:

"The removal itself is an artistic act and will feature in a solo show by the artist Sonia Boyce which opens in March."

kev ferrara said...

As i said, i like Frazetta. Frazetta's okay. Don't understand why i am expected to love it as much as you do, Kev.

Ibrahim,

I think you misunderstand me. I know I can't control you and I wouldn't want to. Respectfully, what I believe I am trying to do is "uncontrol" you. I am trying to offer you a way around your expressed intellectual reservations, which I believe are of a character which will block the unencumbered aesthetic experience of Frazetta's work. There is a lot of richness beyond the veil of dismissive critical language you have draped over him. For example, depiction does not equal "praise." That is simply false; the product of an obsessively political mindset. What is praised in Art, by Art, is Truth.

And Jung - it's unfair to blame Jung for the association, but i'm a bit averse to Joseph Campbell and to where he's taken the Jungian archetypes. Pretty much ruined Jung for me with its focus on practical applicability.

The symbolic orchestration of form, the patterns of such across time, and our ability to understand such through the intuition; these may be the deepest wells we have through which to peer into the essential heart of human nature and consciousness. This study is still in its infancy. If Campbell "ruined" that amazing mystery for you, throw out Campbell. Throw out Jung too, if you want. But, I would urge you, don't throw out Form itself. For Form is the substrate of the archetypes.

Btw, i hope it wasn't my remark about machismo & violence that made you post that link to the Waterhouse painting controversy. I am as much amazed at such practices as i suppose you are.

In some measure it was. The link is your critique of Frazetta's work based on its "masculine" subject matter. Frazetta's best imagistic work is no more about "machismo & violence" than Waterhouse's work is about "sexism" "othering the female" or "the patriarchy." Both sets of assertions are socio-political and ideological, rather than artistic, standpoints. I see it as all-of-a-piece and stemming from Heidegger and the "critical theorists" who sought/seek to gain control of discussions of art and culture. Because controlling the terms of the discussion is the best way for an ideology - which is always inferior to the complexity of reality - to win the day. And each "win" is part of the ultimate aim to instantiate control over culture; control over art; control even over thought itself. In order to, you know, bring about the bloody Totalitarian Utopia.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

"...unencumbered aesthetic experience of Frazetta's work."
Again, just because i don't like it as much as you do, doesn't mean i am somehow 'blocked'from perceiving its full aesthetic breadth. I can see the poetry of it, it's just not my metre.
Depiction is not praise: agreed. Hope i'm not being described as 'obsessively political' there.

"...these may be the deepest wells we have through which to peer into the essential heart of human nature and consciousness. This study is still in its infancy. If Campbell "ruined" that amazing mystery for you..."
The mystery to me is human nature's relation to the Divine, and don't worry, Campbell can't ruin that for me.


"In some measure it was. The link is your critique of Frazetta's work based on its "masculine" subject matter. "
Then i think you misunderstand me. I accept that Frazetta's work may not be 'about'masculinity, & that what it's about might well be a moot point, but granted that the artistic standpoints are the important ones, what are these standpoints?
I wasn't aiming to politicize his work by reducing it to an ideological statement; i wanted merely to point out that his artistic vocabulary i've seen used to more ( to my taste ) poetical ends.

kev ferrara said...

Hope i'm not being described as 'obsessively political' there.

I don't know if you are or you are not. But you did say that Frazetta's work "praises" machismo and violence.

"All great art is praise" was originally a John Ruskin line. He intended that in the context of religiosity. The Maoists take it much more literally; "all depiction is endorsement" is how they think of it. So they arrogate control of subject matter in Art in order to control "what gets praise" and "what does not." To Maoists - and all totalitarians are essentially Maoist - no expression is so small as to fall outside ideological control.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

@ Laurence John:

"Don't see why that would matter.”

because it ticks the boxes of the PC curators of the gallery; race, gender, gender-fluidity all neatly covered.

-First off: i do think the removal of the painting is an utterly ridiculous gesture.
I think we agree on that.

However, if you say the curator's colour matters, then you are, in a way, proving her point. It either means you see race first & artistic merit second, and thus embody what she protests against, or it means you see race first & artistic merit second, and thus embody the form that kind of protest often takes. It's a smart way to point out she is guilty of what she purports to fight against, but it also perpetuates it.

Or, more tersely stated: if you think she's more wrong because she's black, i probably can't tell you how wrong you are.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

I don't know if you are or you are not. But you did say that Frazetta's work "praises" machismo and violence.

i did cede you your point didn't i? In the very post you just quoted from.

kev ferrara said...

i did cede you your point didn't i? In the very post you just quoted from.

Yes. I repeated the point again only because it was a predicate for the other, political question you asked... which I then used as a touch off to talk about Ruskin's version of "All art is praise" versus a Maoist's.

In general, please assume that I and others here mean no harm in what we write and forgive our mistakes or presumptions, and we will do the same for you. My guess is, for example, that Laurence is not a racist, even secretly. Yet, because you assumed the possibility that he is, you have charged the air with negative emotion surrounding that question. And now, here I am, trying to back you off that ledge to uncharge the conversation. Which wastes time. Remember: we're all here to have fun.

Laurence John said...


Ibrahim: "However, if you say the curator's colour matters…”

it’s the artist who is black, not ‘the curator’.

the take down of the painting was organised by ‘a gallery team and people associated with the gallery’. if you think that the gallery team’s choice of a black female artist to front the take down was just coincidence then you’re being naive. it’s more PC point scoring for the curatorial team. it would hardly have looked very good if a white, male artist had fronted it would it ? how would that have helped their ‘down with the white western male patriarchy’ agenda ???

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

Oh, i'm having fun.

What's funny is that your ideas about Laurence are just 'guesses' while mine are 'assumptions.'

I do not, in fact, believe that anyone 'is' racist, any more than that they are only a father or epileptic or an ornithologist; no facet of a man's character is enough to describe the entire character with; human nature is far too complex for such simplifications to make sense. Speech, thoughts, behaviour can be racist in character, though. We should be able to name and identify that without it being seen as an attack upon a man's entire person.

Please, Kev, don't instinctively frame me as part of some PC oriented 'group,' like Groucho i wouldn't want to be part of a club that &c &c... My interest is in logic and in seeing it correctly applied, not in ideologies.

And in art! Let's talk about art.
& step away from that ledge together, shall we?

Respectfully,

-I.

Laurence John said...

Kev: : "By the way, the Museum is deleting oppositional comments on the page I linked to. Controlling the narrative is an absolute constant with these people "

thankfully, this hasn't happened in this case. i can see 135 comments (there were about 75 yesterday) and they're about 80% opposing.

kev ferrara said...

Laurence,

They apparently stopped editing the comments early on.

Ibrahim,

I'm with you that we all contain multitudes, and not all of them camera-ready. Personally, I've known many people who have said all sorts of awful things just because they thought they were funny, not because they meant them or would act on them. I don't equate such insensitivity to hatred. I hold the pragmatist definition of belief as "That upon which one is prepared to act." So I don't think that people who merely say awful things necessarily believe them.

Although many people, often insulated in their social strata, have been conditioned to conflate mischief with evil by sensation-peddling media outlets with partisan bents. Which is just why, for example, many comedians are talking about a change in the free speech attitudes among the crowds at their shows. Many top comedians have stopped playing colleges because so many young minds are being "buttoned down" by political correctness. They would rather virtue-signal against a comedian breaking a taboo than actually enjoy the cathartic transgressiveness of the show. Meanwhile, I think I've only personally met one truly vile racist who actually had hate in his heart to the point I thought he would act on his racism.

The reason I "guessed" that Laurence is not a bigot is because I've been talking with him on this blog for five years.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- I see that the Waterhouse painting has been restored to its rightful place. I also see that some of the nearly 900 indignant comments to the museum came from readers of this blog. Sanity has returned, at least in one location.