Monday, February 05, 2018

THAT CLEAN, SHARP LOOK (day 2)

Continuing our daily series of artists who draw in a slick, polished style...

Allan Kass drew these1960s illustrations for clients such as Esso Oil Company and Vauxhall automobiles.


Some will object that this was drawn from photo-reference, but there's a reason Esso didn't use a photograph for its ad.  It cost Esso more time and money to commission a drawing, but a photograph would've lacked that snazzy brushwork on the fender and headlights...


...and in a photograph, that asphalt would be solid black, rather than the visible brush strokes which add life to a flat shape. 


Here is his ad for a British Vauxhall car:




Note the nice way Kass has handled those hills with line and tone:


Some more examples of his linework:












This is another example of drawing that is often dismissed today as glib (or perhaps I should say, merely eloquent) at a time when content-- particularly personal, confessional content-- is king.  Some of the crummiest drawing is applauded today if its content passes muster.

Is this an accurate statement of the trade-off?  And if so, is it a worthwhile trade-off? 

More examples to follow.



43 comments:

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

The trees are not that sharply and cleanly drawn...that’s why they work.
Despite the obvious draughtsmanship it’s all quite depressingly vacuous though.
As to the trade off- i’d say that form without content still has form to look at, while content without form cannot be seen; any appreciation of content only is an excercise in abstraction and interpretation; it’s the endgame of giving a comic book protagonist rudimentary features so anyone can project their own personality onto it: giving the entire thing a rudimentary look.

MORAN said...

I've seen that first picture before but never knew who did it. Kass is awesome. Thanks for posting.

Nemo said...

Amazing artwork, but if those are ads for british cars, why is the steering wheel always on the left side?

kev ferrara said...

Not to put too fine a point on it, but work like this is one of the reasons mainstream illustration died. Tracing ices the soul of the work. No matter how loose or expert the rendering on top of that, it can't make the substrate come alive.

I've said it a thousand time; cameras do not capture meaning and they cannot produce meaning. Meaning comes from the imagination.

Paul Sullivan said...

Thanks for this group of excellent illustrations by Allan Kass. This style was extremely popular when I was young. I love this stuff and grew up as a young artist studying this style of ad illustration.

I’d like to pass on some of the origins of this ad illustration style: This style of line plus limited tone was originated for a big advertising overhaul by Chevrolet in the mid 1950s. Fred Ludekens, a great illustrator who had been an art director, was the originator of the look for the illustrations. It was a time when black and white ads were alive and kicking in magazines. At the time newspapers were all black and white and most could not print large black areas successfully. In fact, if the Kass Esso illustrations posted had been done for Chevy in the 50s, the blacktop in the first illustration would have been rendered using the line typical of Ludekens or Stan Galli.

This style allowed Chevy to run a fully coordinated campaign with newspaper ads that were large versions of their magazine ads. This new Chevy look was a total coordinated effort. They even had a special fonts of type designed by Mortimer Leech, Chevy century and Chevy century bold italic. The original ad style was noted for scenic backgrounds with a definite west coast look. The picture design was powerful enough that color illustrations could be used in magazines at times while maintaining the general look.

As the series progressed, Bruce Bromberger, Stan Galli and I’m sure Allan Kass did many of the illustrations. At the time, Kass was working in Detroit for one of the large studios. These Esso ads are a slight variation from the Chevy style in that the automobile is not presented as a feature product. Also there are touches of Fawcett in some of the background brushwork—and there is a definite influence of Briggs in the figures. Briggs was doing work for Detroit at about this time and had a lot of influence. Fuchs was in Detroit at the time—but I think he was an old fan of Briggs for some time.

Thanks again for a great post.

Anonymous said...

I am loving this series, and feeling vindicated by the commentary.

xopxe said...

It's me or there's something odd with the car's perspectives on the first two illustrations?

Anonymous said...

Kev , in terms of "icing the soul" - great phrase - how does the work of Fuchs R.Mckinnis and J.Avati strike you . All tracers , I love their work , but always wondered what a piece by them would look like if they drew the base for the painting freehand .

No way to know of course , but I can't say I'm certain it would be better .

Al Williamson did a freehand drawn Flash Gordon near the end of his career and it was bad - probably due to age .

Al McLuckie

Paul Sullivan said...

xopxe—I think you are right. The left side of the front of the car is too high. It has the appearance of being slightly twisted.

In the fourth panel, the front bumper is a little too low on the left side. I think some things like this are not noticed as much in a full color illustration. In line art like this, details can standout more. Cars are not easy—especially if you are altering them some, lowering them slightly, making them longer looking etc. At that time, most car ad illustration—even as part of a larger picture—was done by specialists, car illustrators.

Tom said...

In the first drawing it looks like the front left tire is turning and the right front tire is running straight ahead. Maybe it is turning with the right tire but it's hard to tell if the white lines on the left front tire represent the tire's tread or it's hubcap. There also might be a little too much exposure of the right side headlights medial plane causing it to jut forward. In the fourth one i think its the ground plane of the dock, either its titled (of course the car would be titled with the dock then instead of against it) or there is not enough air in the driver's side front tire You feel like the dock and the underside side of the car are going to crash into each other, in other words the plane of the dock doesn't feel parallel to the horizontal planes of the car.

I like the illustrations they feel cool confident and causal. It is probably because of photography but a lot of illustration of this period really opened up the depth of the picture plane, that feeling of looking into the picture instead of across the picture from side to side. It gives the pictures a nice pleasurable feel.

But I agree with Kev's assessment,

"Tracing ices the soul of the work. No matter how loose or expert the rendering on top of that, it can't make the substrate come alive."

The picture with the English Coast, (or the more I look it also feels like the coast of Southern France, especially the shape of the rock formation in the distance with the trees below it), feels like a 1950's color photo from National Geographic. The line work in the landscape drawing only feels alive because it was drawn by a human hand it feels like motion without gesture or intent. The rockiness and the off center incline roof on the distance and highest on the page house really looks like the houses one sees on the hills of Aix-en-Provence.

It's one nice thing about old pictures, they my have painted imaginary scenes but they gather "information," from their actual 3d experience of the world.

One only has too look at the Alex Raymond's drawing to feel the difference in the quality of draughtsmanship when the artist is motivated by his own feelings about the forms he has actual experienced and seen. The weight in the breasts the clarity of the value arrangement, the contrast between folds (complexity) and simple empty blank spaces of the pelvis and the front plane of the shoulders and breasts, creates an easily followed rhythm and beautiful shapes. The two S curves that create the triangle shape of her front foot, finishes the rhythm with a wonderful grace and light touch. There is no question about perspective in the drawing, as there is in the car illustrations, and the flat plane of the door and the floor only further accentuate the figures grace.

Now your going to tell me he draw the girl from a photo, right David?;)

Tom said...

PS The Female figure by Raymond remains me a lot of the female figures that Daniel Chester French sculpted on his Dupont Circle fountain in DC. You feel like you can run your hand over the surface of the drawing without running into any award parts.

Donald Pittenger said...

Nemo -- This is conjecture 'cause I'm halfway out the door to do stuff. What I don't know is for what market those illustrations were created. But it would make some sense if the target were the USA or Canada and the ad agency wanted to make an imported mid-range UK car seem more upscale (using a visual BBC accent, so to speak) in veddy veddy toff English settings.

So we find the car in such settings, but the Vauxhall has the left-hand drive a reader would find at the local car dealer's lot.

Alan Hartley said...

Got to love the idyllic imagery of Britain, that does exist as seen here, but isn't really typical of Britain as a whole.

Tom said...

"Now your going to tell me he draw the girl from a photo, right David?;)"
Sorry "drew."

David Apatoff said...

Paul Sullivan and Donald Pittenger-- I love these kinds of comments; Paul's lesson on the history of the specialized illustrations for auto ads and Donald's encyclopedic expertise in car designs provide real information about an important part of the illustration world.

I agree that Ludekens was one of the greats-- his simplified, high contrast style is long overdue for a second look and appreciation. It's amazing how many of the top illustrators (such as Ludekens, Briggs and Fawcett) were doing car ads in the 1950s. As part of the back story, Allan Kass went to work in Detroit for Art Group, the studio formed by Bernie Fuchs and other independent artists when they set off on their own. You're right, Fuchs admired Briggs very much, and Briggs became like a father figure to Fuchs. Later, car illustration became more specialized but at the beginning illustrators like Fuchs painted the cars as well as the backgrounds.

Those Vauxhall car ads are from American magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post. So perhaps they were adapting a British car for the American market.

Nemo-- Thanks, eagle eye-- I didn't even notice the steering wheel on the wrong side. Good catch!

David Apatoff said...

R. Ineke and Kev Ferrara-- you both seem to sense something about the Kass drawings that is less satisfying than the Raymond drawings from the previous post. Ibrahim calls these "depressingly vacuous" and Kev believes they are based on tracing which "ices the soul." I prefer the Raymond drawings myself, yet I still think these are good drawings, and I struggle to find a reliable, objective distinction.

Ibrahim, our conclusions are not that different but I remain unsatisfied with the path you seem to take to arrive there, and the certainty of your conclusions in the wake of a process that many would see as subjective. (In other words, "vacuous" is a conclusion that I might share if I shared your intuition-- a term you used as we discussed Mowat-- but if I didn't share that intuition, we are reduced to your acronym, YESIOYD.) This is something I struggle with in an effort to keep myself honest. Many years ago philosopher Frank Sibley wrote a famous paper entitled "Aesthetic Concepts" in which he argues that in order to support our application of an aesthetic term (which reflects our personal judgment and taste) we often rely upon other aesthetic terms (which in turn, also reflect our personal judgment and taste.) And even when we are able to cite more objective, non-aesthetic support-- for example, "curving or angular lines," there is no list of non-aesthetic terms which are logically sufficient to compel the use of an aesthetic term; there always has to be an exercise of personal taste or sensibility. I don't want to take us back to our Mowat discussion, but in the spirit of bridging the subjectivity gap, can you elaborate on what you find "depressingly vacuous" about these drawings?

Kev Ferrara-- ah, the "tracing" argument returns. As I think you'd agree, "tracing," despite its offensive aroma in the nostrils of those who are disenchanted to discover how magicians perform their tricks, is not a single practice. If you look at the Famous Artists School training materials, it's clear that great illustrators of the 1950s used tracing paper or balopticons all the time to advance their own earlier versions of their own work without starting from scratch, much the way that Photoshop users rely on layers. Is that much different than Leyendecker working from a grid? Then of course there are artists who are talented photographers, setting up the first part of their image through artistic photography and then continuing the drawing process from there (just as many Photoshop users start with a drawing by hand and complete the process digitally. There are few more blatant tracers than Maxfield Parrish; would you say that his work ices the soul? Then there were rough tracers of photographs such as Toulouse Lautrec and Cezanne. Icers? There are certainly aspects of the Kass drawings that are too heavily photographic , but would you say the same about details such as those mountains? (cont.)

David Apatoff said...

(cont.)
Your reference to "icing" reminds me of a parallel I believe is relevant to our current exploration of a "clean, sharp style." In the 1960s, singers such as Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin transformed popular music by introducing the sound of "soul" music. Soul music was supposed to reflect the pain of an oppressed people and gospel traditions. It was supposed to be more real and sincere and earthy, and it shocked people with sounds like "soul screams." A couple of years later, Charles and Franklin were using their full soul music techniques when singing Coca-Cola jingles in Christmas commercials. And I said to myself "Gee you can use these same tools to sing about anything, regardless of content." Perhaps Kass is doing the same thing, applying quality drawing techniques in the service of causes that may be unworthy. And that may be what people resent most about the drawing we're discussing this week-- the seeming inauthenticity of the subject matter. a

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

" in the spirit of bridging the subjectivity gap, can you elaborate on what you find "depressingly vacuous" about these drawings?"

Well, you just made that easier and more difficult by your Soul/Coca-Cola comparison, David.
The thing is, the subject matter of these drawings is not inauthentic at all; these are lively scenes, lively depicted. Their problem, to me, is on the one hand they are quite literally "full of themselves" & themselves only, like i remarked about Frazetta earlier, while on the other hand, all they 'mean' or 'stand in for' is 'Esso.' The trees are selling us 'Esso', the composition and craftsmanship are selling us 'Esso.' Everything in it is a cypher for the desirability of 'Esso.'

Of course, much the same thing might be said of the Sistine Chapel or the Ghent altarpiece;
mere pieces of propaganda which the artist managed to elevate by his craft, but at least what is to be conveyed in those examples partakes of something in the human spirit which-well, which recognizes there is a human spirit to begin with.

To make a far-fetched ( maybe not ) comparison: if i were, in whatever perilous situation, to save your life because of my innate respect for human life, that would ( wouldn't it? ) be somehow 'better' ( for me ) than to have saved you because, say, you are a paying customer of my business.

The third way would be to save you without thinking, without reason. A lot of masterful drawing happens on that level i think ( YESIOID, on the artist's part ), and if that is true, then in a way the cause which the drawing is welded to ( commercialism, 'Art') is of no consequence, & so the vacuity i see is merely a politicized projection by me.

But i'm not sure i buy that.

The way i see it, the only value the people depicted have is in their affirmation of 'Esso.' Their 'humanity' which in other works of art might serve to emhasize 'grace'or 'spirit' or, heck, 'the emptiness of existence' here serves only 'Esso.'
There is a sense that this drawing is in effect a piece of writing, where every passage spells 'Esso.' It is perhaps not vacuous at all- in a way it is utterly perfect; but only in an area so minute and exclusive, that it cannot bear the weight of any other meaning except its own very limited one placed on it . The drawing cannot be considered on any artistic merit because it was consciously placed by its maker in a context that functions without such considerations.

I am as much sorry that i keep returning to these inquantifiable elements as i am interested in finding out how to talk sensibly about these elements, for i think they are essential, if to not good art, then at least to practicing art well.

kev ferrara said...

The presence of an Esso sign surely does not contaminate everything else in a picture by some kind of evil magic spell. Asserting that it does is a perfect example of not experiencing the picture on its own merits in its own language; as an aesthetic complex of interwoven visual meanings, but as a piece of literature to be read through a certain political filter.

What if the Esso logo was changed to the word "Love"? Would that materially alter the artwork?

kev ferrara said...

its offensive aroma in the nostrils of those who are disenchanted to discover how magicians perform their tricks

Who are you talking about? Possibly... Senior Strawman?

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

I am not, of course, asserting that the Esso sign ‘contaminates by evil magic spell’, i am suggesting that the artist, by accepting the assignment from Esso, in a certain measure has placed his work outside of consideration as ‘aesthetic complex of interwoven visual meanings.’ The fact that it is an advertisement is part and parcel of its merits.

...i don’t really have a political angle that i approach this from. Nothing could be farther from my mind here.

kev ferrara said...

i am suggesting that the artist, by accepting the assignment from Esso, in a certain measure has placed his work outside of consideration as ‘aesthetic complex of interwoven visual meanings.’ The fact that it is an advertisement is part and parcel of its merits.

...i don’t really have a political angle that i approach this from. Nothing could be farther from my mind here.


What you are saying is exactly the political angle. You are not judging the work on its intrinsic merits. You are instead declaring that the work must be set aside; disallowed from normal artistic consideration, based wholly on a particular extrinsic factor; namely the commercial origin of the art. Which is the leftist anti-bourgeois view which began getting traction in the culture early in the last century.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

Yes, it’s nice drawing ( although the perspective is somewhat skewered, as has been pointed out ), in the service of selling Esso. That’s not extrinsic, that’s how it came into being. It would not have existed without the assignment from the company. If that is extrinsic, by the same token all artistic intention is extrinsic. In fact, if you go that route even skill and craft are extrinsic because they are not located in the drawing itself, so then what are we talking about?

Please, Kev, however much we disagree, can we be courteous enough as to not relegate one another to readymade political categories? Some things i write here may find overlap with ‘leftist anti-bourgeois’ views, but the suggestion that that’s exactly my angle i find hard to square with what i know of my own persuasions and origins. Only leftist anti-bourgeois i know are deeply and comfortably bourgeois. At my end of the political spectrum, fashion of any kind, even the ideological, is a luxury far above my station.

kev ferrara said...

Ibrahim,

I'm not saying you have to like the drawings. I certainly don't. I think they are merely photographs masquerading as drawings.

What I am saying is that the critical standpoint by which you are judging these pictures is the leftist anti-bourgeois standpoint, which was developed more than 100 years ago. This does not mean that you necessarily agree with the foundation of that perspective, its origins as a political program. My guess was, given what you were writing, that you had taken the standpoint on without knowing where it came from or its meaning. (This is the great problem with ideologues gaining the cultural means to spread their message: their propaganda memes become "common knowledge" and people become infected by them without knowing their origins or implications/teleology.)

Yet you continue to suggest that a commercial assignment is a magical contaminant that inevitably ends up intrinsic to the work of art. Somehow. Again, let's imagine the ESSO sign says, instead, LOVE. Let's imagine as well that you didn't know these works had a commercial origins. Only now you can evaluate the works on their intrinsic merits.

David Apatoff said...

Nemo-- good catch. I'm always amazed by what people pick up in these images that I never noticed.

MORAN-- Glad you like them. I think Allan Kass was a talented draftsman who never really got his due. These images are all scans of tearsheets that were bequeathed to me by old timers who were professional cartoonists and illustrators in the '60s. Several of them thought that Kass was worthy of attention, but he hit his stride just as photography began clobbering the illustration field in earnest. I think magazine readers looked at the craftsmanship of these drawings, and the "snap" that Kass added to a photograph, and enjoyed them in a way that audiences no longer do.

Anonymous-- Like H.L. Mencken, around here we try to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

David Apatoff said...

Alan Hartley-- Yes, idyllic versions of English hamlets, and idyllic versions of sports cars and idyllic versions of the good looking, young, healthy rich people who drive them. Ain't commercial illustration wonderful? But I think that may be a large part of why audiences today don't respond well to these drawings. The pretty content, congruent with the pretty style of drawing, is viewed as inauthentic.

Tom-- does "award parts" mean what I think it does? That's a new expression for me. I don't know how often Raymond used photographs (sometimes he used live models). I know that his assistant, and later his replacement on Flash Gordon, Austin Briggs, used to take photo reference by posing with his wife in their underwear in the back yard. They had a picnic table which substituted for all kinds of vehicles, mountains, rocket ships, etc. and one prop pistol which Briggs held. Think about that the next time you see a Briggs Flash Gordon.

Kev Ferrara-- Sorry if it seems like I'm looking for a straw man, it wasn't intentional. I would agree that you usually have a very practical, functional attitude toward the creation of pictures and don't get disappointed if the curtain is pulled back and the magician's secrets are revealed. In these moments, you seem to feel that the end result is self-legitimizing, that whatever it takes to produce an excellent work of art-- including labor saving shortcuts-- is OK. But sometimes you have your "Stendahl's syndrome" moments when you start speaking in tongues about Dunn or Frazetta or Everett or Sorolla-- and then the magic and the muse and god given talent become key. In these moments, you sometimes talk about "tracers" and "photo-reference" and Photoshop as if the very procedures are betrayals, despite the fact that many talented illustrators from the Famous Artists School used such practical aids on daily basis to increase their efficiency and make more money. Don't get me wrong, I think it's kinda nice that you get all transported by the poetry of art and levitate off the ground, but sometimes that seems to make you unforgiving about the nuts and bolts manufacturing process behind some pretty good pictures.

So, putting strawmen aside, I am genuinely curious: do you consider "tracers" such as Maxfield Parrish soulless? And if not, how do we draw the line between Kass (who I agree is no Maxfield Parrish) and Parrish?

xopxe said...

If that drawing said LOVE it would be a stupid drawing. I'd look at it and think that the author is either dim, or a surrealist.

All art is manipulation. Now, what I'm being manipulated for with that ESSO ad? Some ad agency pitch-speak pushed to a CEO or whatever... It's all so fucking depressing.

OTOH, I do am a southamerican leftist, so what do I know.

Tom said...

Awkward-one should not be posting to a blog when your boss is walking into the office.

kev ferrara said...

Okay, I'll grant that maybe "love" was too charged a word and too out of place. Let's change it to "Park" instead.

xopxe said...

I'm torn between "Uh, nice drawing of trees, and a car, i guess. Everybody is cool"
and
"WHAT THE HELL IS DOING THAT PARK SIGN IN DEAD CENTER? WHY DID THE ARTIST PUT IT THERE? WHAT DOES IT MEAN???? ...Oooooh I get it. It's meaningless and it's shoved into your face: 'Park' is the brand of something."

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

"What I am saying is that the critical standpoint by which you are judging these pictures is the leftist anti-bourgeois standpoint, which was developed more than 100 years ago. This does not mean that you necessarily agree with the foundation of that perspective, its origins as a political program. My guess was, given what you were writing, that you had taken the standpoint on without knowing where it came from or its meaning. (This is the great problem with ideologues gaining the cultural means to spread their message: their propaganda memes become "common knowledge" and people become infected by them without knowing their origins or implications/teleology.) "

I know what my standpoint means, thank you, but here's the thing:
i will be a good little Platonist and agree, if only for argument's sake, that Idea precedes Form - what i haven't seen you prove yet, is that these Ideas come pre-labeled ( 'left', 'right' &c ). In fact, telling me about the origin of an idea within the larger framework of history & society does not disprove that idea or provides a counterargument to it. Your own idea that my idea is a political stance is surely no less a political stance?

But that's not where we are yet; first, i repeat a previous statement, in lieu of a reply from you:
" It would not have existed without the assignment from the company. If that is extrinsic, by the same token all artistic intention is extrinsic. In fact, if you go that route even skill and craft are extrinsic because they are not located in the drawing itself, so then what are we talking about? "

Of course, there is this:

"Somehow. Again, let's imagine the ESSO sign says, instead, LOVE. Let's imagine as well that you didn't know these works had a commercial origins. Only now you can evaluate the works on their intrinsic merit"

But to that i would say i'd still be evaluating it based on a framework of knowledge external to the drawing; i have seen mountains, and seen mountains depicted, so i can say how this particular mountain is drawn &c &c
Where does that leave intrinsic merit?


kev ferrara said...

Your own idea that my idea is a political stance is surely no less a political stance?

No. This is like saying that only thieves can notice greed. Or that all moralists are necessarily pornographers. There are neutral standpoints.

It would not have existed without the assignment from the company. If that is extrinsic, by the same token all artistic intention is extrinsic.

No, but I’ll need to explain a bit to make my point clear.

The answer to both questions lies in the presence of Form in Art. And composition. And the ability to convey meaning through the composition of orchestrated sensation, Form being the quantum of this effort. (This is the realm of Aesthetics - the science of what is sensed and imagined). Intrinsic Artistic Intention is revealed at this plastic level; in that meanings have been coded into the work itself through the crafting of line, shapes, colors, patterns, etc. This kind of expressive material, collectively presenting a gestalt sensation, is the "first impact" we get from art. Which only then redounds, as an experience, to the objective reference with which it synthesizes after we fall from its spell... which only then resonates or not with the viewer’s experience.

And the evidence of the universality of this feature of art, signifying formality let’s call it, traces back to ancient linguistic abilities common to all human tribes; that of pictograph, hieroglyph, graphic relation, visual archetype, visual myth, and so on.

kev ferrara said...

But to that i would say i'd still be evaluating it based on a framework of knowledge external to the drawing; i have seen mountains, and seen mountains depicted, so i can say how this particular mountain is drawn &c &c
Where does that leave intrinsic merit?


To reiterate for emphasis: Reference is not the aspect of art that is alive with aesthetic force. As I mentioned above, that is the layer of form; the aesthetic layer. The orchestrated sensual meanings expressed therein redound to the surface reference (that which we recognize through our conscious intellectual faculties). The multiple complex ways in which the plastic forming distorts objective mimesis *is* meaning; the very reason why there is so much strangeness to great art. (Of course, the organization of sub-meanings into gestalt meanings must itself be sensible; there is significant form in that graphic relationship too.)

The modernist attack on reference preceded "purely abstract" art. Ruskin and Whistler went to court over it. The high modernists eventually decried reference as wholly alien to the plastic arts; as a grotesque literary intrusion into a pristine graphic domain. This is, of course, mere ideological bleating because literature and poetry only function as artforms because of a substrate of form.

In that light, prior to "abstract expressionism" the visual poets of 19th century figured out an optimal solution; to poetify everything possible in a work of art through abstraction and suggestion, in order that as much of the meaning of the work as possible was conveyed wholly through aesthetic means, without resort to literal signaling which engages the conscious intellect. The more an artwork is built from the ground up with suggestive aesthetic force, converting every noun into its component verbs (good teaching tells artists to draw what a thing does (or its spirit), rather than what it looks like as a static object.) the more the work of art functions as its own referent; as its own reality. In such pictures, we remain in aesthetic arrest the longest because the need to be conscious of the symbolic level in order to ascertain meaning is at its least pressing.

kev ferrara said...

David “Dik Brown is as good as Titian” Apatoff,

I’ve probably made my point already on this, but I’ll take the example of Ray Charles. Let’s say that his classic recording of Georgia On My Mind was used in a coke commercial. Does it suddenly become not great? The answer I would say is no, because its greatness is intrinsic.

But, as we’ve all seen, an experience of a work of art can be compromised by extrinsic factors. Leaving aside the corrosive ideological earworms critics deposit in us, the best picture ever painted can be compromised simply by a dumb hanging. For example, one of my favorite’s, Everett’s Peter Parrot picture, was wedged into a corner and set against a ruddy red wall color at the Kelly collection show at the Dahesh in NYC, such that you couldn’t even look at it face-on without sticking your elbow into a painting on the near wall. A stunning diamond can become ordinary if not set with taste. But it can also be reset to reflect its true brilliance; its inherent value. That this is so actually proves that inherent quality exists.

kev ferrara said...

Regarding Degas, I think it is clear he used photo reference now and then. From the few photos that we have, in comparison to the end result, I see significant changes. Being able to draw as he can, I therefore don’t agree that he traced.

Maxfield Parrish is a different story. I think it is self-evident that Parrish’s figures can be stiff looking due to his use of photographs. I think this is the cause of the whiff of kitsch that his lesser work can produce. But even though his photo-tracing often hurts the expression of his figures, for what he is after in terms of color luminosity and decorativeness, the flatness of his photographs is actually helpful to him.

But in the overall, the more important fact is that Parrish isn’t “composing from the photograph” by any stretch (or lack thereof) of the imagination. He isn’t capturing his idea, or even capturing the armature of his idea, and then trying to make something of it at the easel. There’s nothing “found” about it, not even in his figures.

Rather, it is quite clear that, in terms of his figures, he is expending a great deal of effort ensuring that the silhouettes in his photographs conform precisely to his preconceived compositional ideas, which include his geometric underpinnings. He isn’t just picking a few loose-looking shots out of a 20 shot contact sheet and projecting them up. He isn’t projecting up scrap for his backgrounds. In other words, he’s isn’t fingerpainting; swimming around in search of an idea. Rather he is very much coming from an imaginative place, clearly pursuing a uniquely meaningful controlling idea in each piece; each piece in keeping with his overall vision of his own personal imagined world, which is quite extraordinary.

Kass’s “Artistic Vision”, if you want to call it that, is to trace a photograph so it looks like Robert Fawcett may have done it. It’s hard not to be negative about that kind of ambition.

kev ferrara said...

But sometimes you have your "Stendahl's syndrome" moments when you start speaking in tongues about Dunn or Frazetta or Everett or Sorolla…

I won’t apologize for being exuberant about great work. I think I can defend the reaction as well; aesthetically, narratively, linguistically, as each is put in service of aesthetic arrest and catharsis.

Yet I do agree, having an emotional reaction to art is quite problematic. Catharsis by Art, after all, is surely madness: The guy who wept in front of that Frazetta painting should have been carted away. And my reaction to Everett’s Peter Parrot painting surely means I’m due for a thorough checkup as well. However, the really worrisome sorts, the real sociopaths, are the ones who cry at Beethoven’s 6th. Those dudes need to be locked up pronto.

-- and then the magic and the muse and god given talent become key.

Anybody who actually believes that talent does not exist, is delusional. The only legitimate reason for denying talent, in my view, is to get students into such a dedicated work ethic, that whatever talent they have gets maximized. In other words, denying talent for the students’ own good, so they don’t rely on it solely, which is a route to failure.

The postmodernist denial of talent (or other kinds of differences in capabilities), on the other hand, is ideological brainwashing. It is no accident that people who become obsessed with politics, i.e. the postmodernist types, never develop skills at anything real or worthwhile. And so they lash out and tear down in lieu of the much more painful and protracted process of lashing in (addressing the nasty dopamine addiction of ideological possession), and then building up.

David Apatoff said...

xopxe-- I don't disagree that "all art is manipulation," at least in the sense that it is the willful creation of an illusion. I suppose that some types of manipulation are for worthier causes than others. Perhaps that gets to the heart of this week's series: are we allowed to focus on just the technique of manipulation (for example, the manual dexterity of the artist, the quality of the linework, the design, the composition) without simultaneously passing judgment on the normative content of the manipulation?

Many of the soap opera strips featured in this series of posts have lame stories (just like the fiction in women's magazines that were illustrated by Bob Peak, Bernie Fuchs and Mark English... just like some of the science fiction illustrated by Frazetta.) Similarly, many of the ads in this week's posts were done exclusively for pay, on behalf of products the artist never tried and which enlarge our carbon footprint and hasten climate change. Compare this type of normative content with the books illustrated by Alison Bechdel or Roz Chast which are touching and smart and true. What do we make of the fact that Bechdel and Chast are mediocre artists (at best) while the artists featured on this blog this week are consummate draftsmen? Can we separate the form from the content in art? Rodin seemed to think so: "There should be no argument in regard to morality in art. There is no morality in nature."

Tom said...
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Tom said...

Well David Hegel agreed with you. Well that is what they taught me in school. According to Hegel, Greek sculptures no longer exist in the world that give them their meaning and content. So for us the sculptures are like beautiful fruit, having fallen from the tree that give it, it’s impetus. So the viewer today is free to find their own meaning in the work, or to see the beauty of the work without the need to understand their once very specific meanings.

I don’t know if all art work is, “...the willful creation of an illusion“. It seems like a minor aim. Lot’s of cultural s would look down on such a viewpoint. And I don’t believe all art is manipution. Are all our interactions manipulations?

A house that has lasted hundreds of years, a Toll brothers house, Venice, Italy and Tyson Croners, Virginia all have connations and, “normative content”, in their form. How a form or how a thing is made can not help but reflect value. Where do such expressions as the “real Mckoy,” come from?

‘What do we make of the fact that Bechdel and Chast are mediocre artists (at best) while the artists featured on this blog this week are consummate draftsmen”

A comparison depends upon who or what your comparing doesn’t it? There is a clipped, or cut out affect to the edge of drawen or painted objects in Illustrations that became photo dependent, a brittle flat like shape affect that is not found in the work consummate draughtsman.

Not for arguments sake, but only out of true curiosity I would love to see some drawings from life or from imagination by an artist like Fuchs. I’ve google it but all I seen is photo base drawing.

Here is an interesting program from John Berger 1972, a BCC production called “The Ways or Seeing,” you might get a kick out of it. He discusses a lot of the things you’ve mentioned. Here is the link.

https://youtu.be/0pDE4VX_9Kk

Thanks for taking the time and sharing all the great posts and art work this week!

xopxe said...

Yeah, something like that: the manipulation by the artist trying to bend my mind to instill in it something that is his own. I enjoy that. Sometimes I enjoy receiving the message, say a good horror story, or the impression of a moody weather, or the idealization of the shape of a face, o whathever.

But that is not mandatory. I'm not religious, but I do appreciate some religious art because I understand the urgency to express the importance and greatness of something, and that there are intuitions that can be overwhelming. It does not even matter if the artist believes it himself, but he's working with the stuff we humans are made of. Even when I see art of peoples I do not know or understand, my mind meanders towards the vision of the authors. Did the aztecs/egiptians/greeks see this as beautiful, intimidating, or what? (I have no problem with the romans, because as Chavarría said, every latinoamerican has an intuition of how the roman empire worked and felt) There is a seed in every impressionist painting and xkcd comic, something that justifies it, at least in the mind of the author.

And I do constantly hunt for that "trigger", the driving force, the reason the thing is how it is. When I see one of those Mucha posters I don't believe he cares for Job rolling paper any more than this guy for Esso oil. But for some reason I imagine Mucha doing that same engravings on his own, because that is what he want me to see, that is what is in his head and what he finds worthy of showing. I don't feel the same about that car and threes thing. Unless the author was incredibly bland, something I don't believe. That's why find these drawing somewhat depressing: there actually is a "driving force" behind those drawings, and it is very clearly laid down, and all of it is bullshit. I can parody an publicity pitch pretty nice in spanish, but not in english, but I suppose everyone knows how inane those are. In this case something about freedom, and shared values, and the road as a symbol of confidence in the future, blah blah blah.

And I'm not Rodin, but I'm pretty sure art has absolutely nothing to do with nature, only with human conscience and thus communication.

kev ferrara said...

Similarly, many of the ads in this week's posts were done exclusively for pay, on behalf of products the artist never tried and which enlarge our carbon footprint and hasten climate change.

Do you know how much deforestation was caused by the illustration art form? Billions and billions of sheets of paper went into all those 20th century periodicals, not to mention all the art paper used in the artists' studios. Yet you lament the demise of print and handmade art? Do you not care about our environment? What about the strip mining of all those minerals that went into the creation of pigment for oil, watercolor, gouache, acrylic, and ink? What about all those toxic pollutants, the glues, dyes, petroleum products, etc that were used to create mediums? What about all those innocent animals trapped, tortured and killed to make artist's brushes?

My god, how dare you support illustration art given what it has done to this planet!

#normativeheckling

kev ferrara said...

I don’t know if all art work is, “...the willful creation of an illusion“. It seems like a minor aim. Lot’s of cultural s would look down on such a viewpoint. And I don’t believe all art is manipution. Are all our interactions manipulations?

I agree, "manipulation" is a very negative, reductionist view.

Among all the styles, only Trompe L'oeil art relies solely on illusion for its merit. Which is just why it is bad poetry.

All other kinds of art, particularly if well done, use the aesthetic illusions available in the language in poetic ways in order to express ideas.

alberto said...

Hi Apatoff,

Good afternoon.

I've been reading some of your posts and enjoyed the ecclectic nature of the work and your comments. I thought that you might be interested my new project, www.extinctbirdsproject.com.

Kind regards,
Alberto