Saturday, April 14, 2018

ONE LOVELY DRAWING, part 57

I love this very cool drawing of a tyrannosaurus rex by Ike, age 6.


I spotted it at an art exhibition at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

In response to my most recent post of a drawing by Ronald Searle, various commenters wrote:
I think that is the most important in any drawing, draw what we feel instead of what we see, connections and relationship instead of objects
 [B]rilliant! He draws the way the old man FEELS rather than the way he LOOKS.    
Ike may not be an experienced professional artist like Searle, yet he has done a wonderful job of drawing what he feels.  Get a load of those teeth! Unlike the standard "lightning bolt" line most people use as a shortcut for drawing teeth, Ike has lovingly outlined each tooth separately.  Each tooth has its own unique, scary shape.

Ike couldn't fit this many teeth in his picture if he was constrained like an adult by the conventional proportions of a T-Rex.  Because his patterns of perception haven't hardened yet, he was able to unhinge the jaw and expand the mouth to make it as big as the entire rest of the dinosaur.  It appears that when he wanted still more teeth,  he added a third row above the dinosaur's head.  Ike is a creative artist with strong priorities.

And it doesn't end there. Not content to draw the dinosaur's body with a simple contour line the way many people would, Ike intuitively draws a jagged body like the roar of a thunder lizard shown on an oscilloscope (or the shock to your nervous system when you see a dinosaur coming toward you).



Psychologists tell us that children's drawings exaggerate shapes in ways that reveal the child's inner feelings about their subject.  There is a purity to this kind of imagination, which is what causes artists such as Picasso, Dubuffet, Klee and Steinberg to forsake technical skill and struggle to recall the stem cells of art.


50 comments:

MORAN said...

Awesome teeth. Go Ike!

Anonymous said...

Sweet drawing. I've never seen Searle draw teeth that good.

JSL

Laurence John said...

David: "There is a purity to this kind of imagination, which is what causes artists such as Picasso, Dubuffet, Klee and Steinberg to forsake technical skill and struggle to recall the stem cells of art”

the danger with this line of thinking is that it paints childhood art as some sort of garden of eden; a ‘pure’ state which then becomes tainted by too much thought and sophistication as we grow out of it and learn more about the outside world. even if that were true in some sense, the idea that you could go back to that state when you choose (un-learn your way back to it) is disingenuous, and mostly leads to adults pretending to think like kids.

there’s even a fancy term for it: ‘faux naîf’.

i’m not saying that adults can’t utilise aggressive wonkiness in their drawing, or crude simplification, without some success. Searle and Steadman are both examples of that. but consciously using expressive crudeness isn’t the same thing as actually going back to that child-like state (even if the artist or critic tries to convince the viewer that that is what they’ve achieved).

cranberries said...

I love every part of this drawing because each line communicates with absolute clarity Ike's pure commitment to his idea of the T Rex. We don't have to wonder what part of the dino captures his interest. We don't have to ask ourselves what his point of view is or how he was feeling when he drew it. You will find artists of more experience and perhaps more patience, but you will never find an artist of any age with more buoyant joy in drawing, more complete identification with his subject, more connection between image and feeling. Plus, the composition, the placement of the dino on the page, the size and position and lettering of the artist's name -- all just right. Ike, if the dinosaur could see that drawing, he'd be very proud. Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

I LIKE IKE !

Maybe if he keeps at it he will learn skills that are to be respected and admired . Maybe his work will be boringly competent , or have that mixture of high craft with the inner spark of feeling projecting through .

In addition to the artists David mentioned that worked at recapturing that spark - without falling into that dangerous and disingenuous trap of returning to a childlike mind set of shitting their diapers - James Wyeth comes to mind . He evolved from an impeccable level of craft over the past 15 20 years , to a seemingly simpler application of his knowledge .

I believe one can learn craft and hopefully never lose what makes Ike's drawing so likable , or at least recapture it as some artists do .

Al McLuckie

Tom said...

"There is a purity to this kind of imagination, which is what causes artists such as Picasso, Dubuffet, Klee and Steinberg to forsake technical skill and struggle to recall the stem cells of art."

It seems like false dichotomy David. And artist develops skills to free his expression, so that he becomes unhindered by the "how" and the same energy that runs through his hand is the same energy that runs through the child's hand. A skilled brush stroke will be much more interesting however as it take in a broader, grander view of things. Is a child's hand more sincere then a master's hand?

You seemed to think "technical skill," is something added or it is something anyone can be taught, as if it is somehow separate from expression. Technical skill actually brings one closer to the stem cells of art, it doesn't take you away from it. Is a young tree more pure then an old tree?

It's a fun drawing and I get your point, but it seems like your positing some sort of imagined art paradise. I would much prefer the off hand pastel landscape drawings of Alfred Sisley that seemed to be drawn almost with nothing or the fishing boats of Sorolla or a flower painting by Manet which really seem to arrived on their canvases fully formed without effort. What is the Latin saying, "ars est celare artem," or the Greek saying, 'Art is long, life is short."

David Apatoff said...


MORAN and JSL-- Thanks. Now that I think about it, I can't recall ever seeing Searle draw teeth as cool as I think these are.

Laurence John and Tom-- I agree with some of your points, and I've certainly argued in the past that technical skill can, under the proper circumstances, set free our expression. (http://illustrationart.blogspot.com/2012/08/magic-that-believes-itself.html ) However, I don't think you give enough credit to the other side of the equation. I don't worry too much about whether a pure child-like state of "art paradise" really exists; remember, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes contrasted civilization with a hypothetical "state of nature" as a valuable tool for understanding the pros and cons of civilization.

My point-- which I think has been recognized widely across many centuries and many disciplines, is that layers of training and technical skill can dampen creativity and squelch emotional veracity.

Successive generations of academic painters refined their tools and techniques so eventually artists were able to execute lifeless works with dazzling craftsmanship. Today major art museums sag under the weight of gilt-framed canvases painted with skill but devoid of vitality, originality, spontaneity or authenticity. Such labored art was, in the words of Shakespeare, "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought."

As civilization aged, great artists such as Turner or Degas or Gauguin recognized that this process of repeated refinement was heading for a bad end (and besides, where do you go after Bouguereau?) They broke free from the academy's stultifying formulae and prescriptions in favor of more emotionally satisfying solutions (such as Rousseau's attempts to embrace a primitive, childlike approach). Several of these artists, such as Picasso, Dubuffet and Klee who I mentioned in this post, tried to view the world through the fresh eyes of a child.

Neuroscience teaches us that our brains have two parallel paths for guiding our behavior: When we first experience a challenging new situation, we process it with the higher-order deliberative part of our brain (in our frontal and prefrontal lobes). All options are on the table, and we summon up maximum creativity and cognition to deal with an unknown phenomenon. However, once we've handled that same task several times, it no longer requires creative choices so our brain is able to delegate the responsibility to the repetitive, lower-order automated part of the brain. For example, Yale neurologist Dr. Eliezer Sternberg writes that "the complex activity of driving a car requires vision, touch and exquisite motor control. But it can become mostly unconscious when the driver takes the same route day after day."

Once an artist such as Al Williamson or Wally Wood has drawn a tyrannosaurus rex a hundred times, the template is firmly established in their minds. The repetitive function part of their brain simply follows the formula and they get paid. They are past the stage where they could ever again conceive of including a third row of teeth. I'm not saying this happens to all artists, but to enough that many artists find value in trying to go back and look at the world through new eyes. Note Peter de Seve's recent discussion of this issue at http://illustrationart.blogspot.com/2018/02/the-collectors-eye-peter-de-seve.html .


David Apatoff said...

cranberries-- I agree about "Ike's pure commitment to his idea." Mere enthusiasm is not always enough to save a drawing, but here I find the connection between "image and feeling" irresistible. Ike is clearly very impressed with those teeth and he gives them free artistic reign. I laughed out loud when I saw this drawing in the show.

Al McLuckie-- Thanks, I will have to check out the more recent work of James Wyeth. He was such a precocious talent, I wondered where he would take his ability. Around the time of his Nureyev drawings and his Jimmy Carter portrait for Time Magazine, I became disenchanted because it seemed that he didn't have it in him to equal his grandfather or his father. I've kept one eye on his work ever since, and he's done a few things I like but if he's doing new and interesting work, it's time for a fresh look.

Tom said...

Hi David
Ramana Maharshi said something along the same lines, once someone tells a child that a bird is called a bird the child will never "see" it again. I think Martin Heidegger attempts to get the same point across in his essay on Van Gogh's painting of a pair of shoes, but I read that a long time ago.

"My point--which I think has been recognized widely across many centuries and many disciplines, is that layers of training and technical skill can dampen creativity and squelch emotional veracity."

I agree with that but much of academic training was stultifying with little attention directed to aesthetic comprehension. Skill became a polishing an a copying. Interestedly China has taken that exact approach, in it's insistent on training and discipline in the handling of the brush because such training will in the end bring spontoneity into being. Art is seen much more as a reconciling of what appear at first contridicatory outlooks.

The world is always fresh and now. It seems it is not our eyes but our thought that clouds and hide its wonder.

kev ferrara said...

The distortion in this drawing can just as easily be due to accident or incompetence as expressive intent. What one viewer interprets as ferocious exuberance might just as well be due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Reading meaning and intent into accidental configurations is the way of superstition and madness. The difference between an accidental configuration that seems like a signal and one that is actually a signal is also a crucial point to drill down on. Without understanding the distinction there, do we understand art at all?

Equally important; the difference between a wail in the night and a work of art is in how the emotional content is embedded in symbolic and referential context, and just how that organization is provided for the audience.

Just because you enjoy the funny way somebody accidentally falls down a stairs, doesn't make it art.

-----

Countless great artists bridged the divide between expertise in drawing/painting and great expressive creativity. You seem to insist through continual tactical arguing that artists are either dead academics rote-learned into an early expressive grave, or a free-spirited wild child bubbling over with innocent creative wonderfulness.

This is yet another binary, tribal straw man type argument. It is part of your continued attempt to justify primitivism or cartoons as equal to the likes of Sorolla, Titian, Wyeth, Everett, Vuillard, Brangwyn, Waugh, Fechin, Rembrandt, Klimt, Pyle, Arthur Mathews, Booth, Solomon, Rountree, Inness, and so on. Your need to believe that pleasant fiction does not make it so. (And I'm sure I love cartoons and totem poles just as much as you do.)

Richard said...

The learned skill itself won't turn an interestingly-souled human being into a left-brained art automaton. However, the culture that obsesses over certain types of learned skill to exclusion will usually create a filtering effect that keeps weird people out.

That filter selects against the "right-brain" types: the neurotic, the intuitive, the wishy-washy, the spiritual, the ADHD, the dreamer, the hedonistic, the child-like, the naive, the wealthy fop, the extroverted.

It has a forcing effect, that drives over-representation by the "left-brain" types: the mechanically inclined, the graphical, the careful, the middle class, M.C. Escher fans, the low-wit workhorse, artists who use erasers, the critic's artist, and so on.

I happen to prefer the former type of defectives to the latter type of squares. While I may fawn over the technical skill of the latter type of brain, they don’t give me the emotional material that I’m looking for in the visual arts. I’ll take some poorly done folk art by a god-delirious church marm to yet another well-rendered drawing of Super Guy. But it takes all kinds.


I happen to agree with Kev that the child’s third row and scratchy line came by way of accident, but I think he’s under-estimating how much of what makes great artists hum comes by way of accident.

The difference between a competent draftsman and a master artist is the degree to which they can give into and ride the waves of accident.

That the child’s art comes fully loaded with accident doesn’t bother me one bit. On the contrary, accident is where the most interesting content of art comes from. That's when the human artist's muscle memory and theory get out of the way, and the gods and ghosts get involved.


That's where style comes from. Style is the curated accident -- an accident made, liked, and repeated. A bit of intentional incompetence.

My four year old’s drawings come jam packed with what in older artists might be called “style”.

I don’t confuse these things for style, I know this is the first time that accident was made. He’s four. He's a style generating machine.

But that these are the seminal accidents (yikes, am I oversharing?) shouldn’t detract from the aesthetic experience that those peculiarities of the drawing create.


Anyway. While we’re looking at kids’ drawings, I can’t help but share (proud parent style).

https://i.imgur.com/AcTOpgz.jpg (Another third-row of teeth for you.)
https://i.imgur.com/WDrnoLY.jpg
https://i.imgur.com/IqZXXGK.jpg (It’s a wine glass.)
https://i.imgur.com/qb5Q0Dl.jpg

Cheers

Richard said...
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Richard said...
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David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "The distortion in this drawing can just as easily be due to accident or incompetence as expressive intent. What one viewer interprets as ferocious exuberance might just as well be due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Reading meaning and intent into accidental configurations is the way of superstition and madness."

It's true that we don't really know what Ike intended with those teeth. (In fact, I contacted Sarah Lawrence College to ask them to check with Ike about those marks along the top of the picture and he didn't remember why he did them. He did, however, proudly point out the teeth in the mouth.) We can't really know if the ancient cave painters intended the things that we read into their paintings, or if the ancient Greek mind was really subtle enough to come up with the double meanings we see in their philosophical dramas, or even whether 19th century painters intended all the symbolism we "find" in their paintings. That uncertainty is what we live with any time we try to transcend literalism. And yet, transcend it we must. Oscar Wilde wrote that art that is "too intelligible" necessarily fails: "The one thing not worth looking at is the obvious." So all I can suggest is that we bring a little humility and a lot of energy with us when we undertake to make sense of pictures.

In the case of Ike, it is possible that he painstakingly drew each one of those sharp teeth separately, and made them five times bigger than they would normally be, and devoted more effort to them than any other part of the picture, out of sheer "accident or incompetence." It's possible. But for guidance at moments like this I like to return to the words of the great Damon Runyon: " It may be that the race is not always to the swift, but that is the best way to bet."

Also, to be clear, I wouldn't say that primitivism or cartoons are "equal to the likes of Sorolla, Titian, Wyeth, Everett," etc. I would instead say that they are better at some valid artistic activities and worse at others. When Austin Briggs, who carefully mastered representational oil painting, decided to fulfill a job with a "rough" drawing done with a simple litho crayon, it was because he thought it was the best solution for that job. It wasn't because he was lazy (he did dozens of preliminary drawings) and it wasn't because the client wouldn't pay for a more elaborate job(multinational clients such as American Airlines paid him well to serve on their corporate advisory board to oversee their advertising campaigns). But when he did those spontaneous looking drawings with the rough edge for TV Guide and other advertisers, they were hugely successful.

While I share your basic instinct that it is important to stand at the barricades of civilization to defend "the difference between a wail in the night and a work of art," civilization never created a fairer flower than Goethe and he insisted, "The shudder of awe is humanity's highest faculty."

Tom: I foreswore reading Heidegger years ago; he just required too much effort for the return on my investment. But you've intrigued me with that essay about Van Gogh's shoes. I'll have to dig it out.

"The world is always fresh and now. It seems it is not our eyes but our thought that clouds and hide its wonder."

Fortunate is the person with a passport to travel back and forth between the two domains. Complex thoughts help us unpack civilization's most elegant constructs and make the best advantage of symbolic thinking, yet losing that "fresh and now" perspective on the world almost seems like too much to bear. They say that Einstein and Picasso were both able to retain their childlike sense of wonder while dealing with the most complex thoughts.

Laurence John said...

Richard, the comment you deleted that said something about 'childhood art being enjoyable because of the honest incompetence of the child’ (as oppose to the faked incompetence of the adult) was pretty close to the truth. we respond to children’s drawings with an ‘awwww isn’t it cute’ emotion because the vulnerability, naivety, candour and charm that children possess anyway is inherent in the drawing. as adults, almost everything about children makes us feel protective, so that includes feeling bad about criticising their drawings (it also feels inappropriate to critique a child’s drawing for the reason above: because of the honesty of the incompetence, and the limited ability).

as for adults who pretend to draw in a child-like way, or who view everything through an infantilised filter; i can definitely remember a time when cutesy illustration wasn’t everywhere. now it’s a tidal wave of twee. it seems to have kicked off roughly around the late 90s, and went crazy in the early 2000s. i get the psychology of it; in a scary and uncertain world it’s comforting to create a manageable, safe, children’s picture book version of reality wherein you’re in control, everything is pretty and de-sexed, and even ugly, unpleasant things are reduced to scary-cute monsters.


the fine art world also, wasn’t obsessed with this modern day ‘everyone can have a go in our craft workshop, and there’s no right or wrong, you’re just expressing your inner self’ thing until recently. i met a middle-aged woman who makes abstract art because she ‘just likes the colours and shapes’ (they were very bright colours and simple shapes). i feel guilty even thinking there’s something wrong with that (as i would in not liking a child’s painting). i know a successful male artist who does sub-Picasso, sub-Matisse, large scale, very crudely drawn (but tastefully coloured) paintings in oil. what’s interesting is how they tick the middle class ‘avant garde’ box, but they’re also pretty, decorative and completely neutered at the same time.

modernism, so much to answer for.

kev ferrara said...

Enjoyed that, Laurence. I really believe that high modernism, to begin with, was an effort at intellectually justifiable twee-escapism by a certain kind of bookish, over-sensitive class. One of the reasons Aesthetic philosophy went to rot in the 20th century was because it became solely a means of satisfying that consumer base, rather than getting at any kind of truth about art. So powerful were they at persuading the masses, that simply pointing out the obvious -- that most modern art is graphic designs, cartooning, and basic tests of aesthetic forces -- still elicits audible gasps from an audience.

I too am responding to Richard's ghost post...

Art is mostly improvisational. To develop work, artists improvise from imagination, improvise extensively at the sketch stage, and then, more nerve-wrackingly, during the creation of the final product. The only other way to develop material is curatorially… by hunting around in life for a subject to sit in front of, by taking photos, through found reference, or by collecting abstract patterns or objects and using them as the basis for developing images (Mario Cooper’s beautiful late watercolors had much inspiration from his textile collection.)

The great difference between improvising live in front of an audience and improvising in the laboratory of the studio is that with the latter case one may produce countless improvisations, one after another, and then select between the best with deliberation. While, in the hothouse of a live peformance, a jazz musician, say, must rely on instrumental virtuosity, knowledge of the chord changes and which notes work within them, basic courage, a need for approval from a crowd, and pre-fab “licks.” As well as great improv tricks like, “if you make a mistake, play it twice.” A strategy which immediately makes bald error in live performance seem purposeful and radically creative in an edgy way.

In other words this “immediate ownership” of the live error is a method by which the “accident” is transformed into “improvisation.” There is always a way to harmonize accidents, if they have some value, into the key of a work.

True accidents during live performance, however, like a drum kit falling over, or a giant glob of black ink pooling over a drawing, can’t really be incorporated artfully.

Orson Welles once characterized the directing process as “presiding over accidents.” Of course, this was more a piece of wisdom about the proper mindset during art-making, than an actual recipe for auteurship. Nothing good gets done without tremendous consciousness and conscientiousness brought to bear. But with so much under one’s control, every minor thing that slips by becomes magnified. And one needs to keep the obsessiveness of perfectionism under strict control.

kev ferrara said...

civilization never created a fairer flower than Goethe and he insisted, "The shudder of awe is humanity's highest faculty."

Forgive me if I disagree with Goethe on this point. I rather think that humanity's highest faculty is the ability to concentrate on a seemingly intractable, but crucial, problem in the midst of bewildering chaos, mass tragedy, and widespread panic, and see it through to fruition.

Richard said...

I deleted that comment because I had decided it was silly. I don’t fault Mark Twain for making Huck Finn talk like a child, nor Jim like a slave. I ought not fault the visual artist who does his version of the same. Creating a work in a voice which isn’t your own isn’t disingenuous, it’s just a basic tool in any artform. That we have too many works in children’s voices is a cultural issue, but making works in children’s voices shouldn’t be verboten.


"everything is pretty and de-sexed, and even ugly, unpleasant things are reduced to scary-cute monsters"
Really? I'd say it's just the opposite. I'd say that everything is made ugly because pretty things give us challenging sentiments, while also being overtly sexualized, so that it can play off of our baser instincts to hold our attentions.


"the fine art world also, wasn’t obsessed with this modern day ‘everyone can have a go in our craft workshop, and there’s no right or wrong, you’re just expressing your inner self’ thing until recently."

I'm not exactly sure who the Fine Art world is, per se, but I think that people of the past were plenty indulgent of amateurs who made art for fun. Particularly in the extremely rare circumstance that said amateur was both a middle-aged woman and not one of the ruling class.

The fact that we don't have much of a professional artist class anymore doesn't mean that every amateur ought now answer to the level of critique as would have a professional of the past. Let the little old ladies and so forth do their thing.

If we have any intention of building a visual culture where the multitude of the public are visually literate enough to make what the past would have considered great art, we can't get there by attacking the visually illiterate's attempts at stringing together their first sentences. You have to encourage a child as they learn to speak, while also modestly demonstrating proper speech yourself.

Proper speech will sell itself in time. One need to shut down the democratizing forces in art just because they haven’t enough faith in the strength of art to let the little old illiterate ladies do their thing.

Richard said...

*One need not shut down

Richard said...

And towards that democratizing force bringing the visually illiterate masses into the fold; we should expect as a result that those masses will prefer works which are themselves visually illiterate.

This is true in music, where the influx of the musically illiterate into the market drove that market towards illiterate musical forms.

It’s true in literature, where the illiterate masses drove the market towards 3rd grade writing levels.

In politics, Trump got elected, in part, because he speaks like the masses. They can understand him.

The answer isn’t to try to put the democratizing cat back in the bag. The age of aristocracy is over. The answer is to slowly, over generations, demonstrate better styles of communication to educate the masses to speak at the level the aristocracy once did. The answer is The Foundation, not The Reaction.

David Apatoff said...

Richard-- Loved your son's drawings. Is that a Harry Potter style lightning bolt we're seeing on the forehead of that first drawing?

"artists who use erasers"???

"I happen to agree with Kev that the child’s third row and scratchy line came by way of accident, but I think he’s under-estimating how much of what makes great artists hum comes by way of accident. "

I am a bit uncertain about how far Kev's attitude toward accidents extends; he is obviously a big fan of control and deliberate actions, and I am too. But I have previously cited the story about Andrew Wyeth who spent spent several days laboring on a tightly rendered, very deliberate painting, recognized that he had asserted too much control, so he picked up a pot of brown paint and splattered it across the length of the painting, Jackson Pollock style, then fled the scene before he could meddle with whatever accidents nature and hydrology had committed.

Let me echo what Laurence John and Kev said: I'm sorry that you chose to delete your prior comments, I thought they were both worthy of discussion. I never delete any comments from readers. People are free to retract their own comments (especially if they rethink something they've written in anger and have a more moderate way to make the same point). But sometimes I see a comment I'd like to address just before I get on an international flight and by the time I get back on line, the comment has been retracted by the author. That can be disappointing to me and others.

Laurence John-- I mostly agree with what you've written, but to be clear I don't think we praise children's art solely to go softer on them because of their vulnerability and naiveté. I think that a lot of children's art is truly good, measured by objective standards (to the extent we can find any). I think it is imaginative and joyful, I think its auto-plasticism is clever and persuasive, and as Peter de Seve wrote about his daughter's valentine in my recent blog post, "I know it’s a cliché to want to draw like a child, but honestly, look at the sheer inventiveness and variety in every heart on that page!" I do like the lack of guile in children's art (just as I disfavor "adults who pretend to draw in a child-like way, or who view everything through an infantilised filter" for their guile and their cowardly efforts to be judged by a softer standard.)

I generally join in your indictment of much of modernism (and have repeatedly ridiculed the New Yorker's covers for the same kind of dishonesty and laziness). However, I think that separating wheat from chaff is ultimately a little subtler than that. How do you feel, for example, about the work of James Thurber? I've already gone on the record with my belief that Saul Steinberg and Dubuffet are both brilliant. There are "children’s picture book versions of reality" that are really quite strange and interesting-- Sendak and Geisel, for example-- and extremely simple drawings for children (by artists such as Charles Schulz) that I find quite nice. Distinguishing the laudable from the dismal requires us to stay on our toes.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "Forgive me if I disagree with Goethe on this point. I rather think that humanity's highest faculty is the ability to concentrate on a seemingly intractable, but crucial, problem in the midst of bewildering chaos, mass tragedy, and widespread panic, and see it through to fruition."

Ah, yes, but where does it all end? Goethe wrote in an era when recorded history had become so long and people knew so much and truth had become so subjective that the "modern sensitive hero" had become paralyzed by concentrating on seemingly intractable but crucial problems. Goethe's Werther, Shakespeare's Hamlet, Dostoevsky's Underground Man, Joyce's portrait of the artist-- these were all psychological studies in vacillation, in weighing alternatives interminably. That's why Hamlet found his life "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought" and in desperation, ended it. Is it any wonder that cultures desperate for fresh air turned back to spontaneity and primitivism and brutalism? Franz Kline's action painting was like a prison break. Adolph Gottlieb's bursts hit you right between the eyes. As I suggested to Tom (above) there are genuine rewards to unpacking civilization's most elegant constructs and appreciating layers of symbolic thinking-- it's a great job for reference librarians-- but that rules out the kind of pictures that hit you like an orgasm at first glance. That rules out rock n' roll, and nobody yet has ever bet successfully against rock n' roll. I don't see high culture offering rewards any time soon that are sufficient to persuade us to give up our orgasms.

Richard said...

>> "artists who use erasers"

> ???

Maybe it's not a popular sentiment here? But I viscerally hate erasers. They steal all the life out of my line (and those accidents I spoke of reverently).

I prefer to setup my lightbox and do another drawing atop the previous, making iterations over it until I've gotten to what I wanted, but also retained the freshness of the moment. Maybe a better artist than I can use an eraser and still keep that immediacy of a drawing done tout d’un coup, but I can't fathom how.

David Apatoff said...

Tom-- in light of recent comments from others I wanted to circle back to your reference to "the Greek saying, 'Art is long, life is short.'"

The more complex and profound version of that quote comes from Achilles in the Iliad: "Who the hell wants glory that will live forever if I have to give up the immediate pleasures of life?" The answer wasn't at all obvious to Achilles, and the unanswered question still burns brightly today: is long art is worth more than a short life? ( http://illustrationart.blogspot.com/2010/10/when-artist-falls-in-forest-and-no-one.html ).

I think Chaucer's lament was much more realistic than those crazy glory-seeking Greeks: "The lyf so short, the craft so long to learne..."

Richard said...

>"Who the hell wants glory that will live forever if I have to give up the immediate pleasures of life?"

Making art isn't giving up one immediate pleasure in exchange for the possibility of a future pleasure.

You're giving one immediate pleasure in exchange for another: the contemplation of the possibility of glory, or the contemplation of the importance or making art, or if you're really boring about the whole thing, the contemplation of your own picturemaking.

It's not at all obvious that humans have enough free will to do something which is not itself the thing that they most want to do.

kev ferrara said...

David,

I'm a little confused by your argument. Are you comparing Modern Art to a bunch of ejaculate?

Ah, yes, but where does it all end?

As far as we know, there is no end.

Generally, the point of solving a problem is to forestall or alleviate suffering in the short and medium term. We are always paving the road in front of us as we walk, so we can see what's coming up next without stumbling ass over tea kettle. Shudders of awe didn't decipher glucagon's role in metabolism. And it won't uncover inflammation's role in depression.

Speaking of depression, you are sounding increasingly troubled from down in your postmodern well. You keep circling back to the grand meaninglessness of it all. What is this, college?

Since this entire blog is dedicated to the works of people who spent huge chunks of their short "lyfe" alone in a room, in dedication to a dying art form -- one that has given you countless hours of enjoyment or respite -- it seems odd to hear you argue that they were wasting their time.

Or are you merely arguing that anybody trying to do anything more than create throwaway entertainments is wasting their time? Really, in the grand scheme of it all, who isn't wasting their time trying to do important, thoughtful work? Engineers? Scientists? Doctors? Why bother, right? We're all gonna die, the sun's going to go out, and so on. A level of analysis - if we take it back a few hundred years -- which would put you and your family into a level of hellish poverty you've only encountered in books. Then you would find meaning indeed in the legacy higher virtue and values have built up around you.

Furthermore, none of your favorite orgasmic art would exist if not for the greats who came before who paved the way with deeper thought and far lasting innovation. I love rock and roll. But I'll trade you ten thousand Johnny Rottens and Joey Ramones for a single George Gershwin not dying at 39. Think of the children; if our culture no longer makes real artists, who will supply the hacks of a hundred years hence with their ideas?

Laurence John said...

David: “ How do you feel, for example, about the work of James Thurber? I've already gone on the record with my belief that Saul Steinberg and Dubuffet are both brilliant. There are "children’s picture book versions of reality" that are really quite strange and interesting-- Sendak and Geisel, for example-- and extremely simple drawings for children (by artists such as Charles Schulz) that I find quite nice.”

I’m not a fan of Thurber’s style. Steinberg’s work is witty and graphic, though again, the drawing style doesn’t interest me. Dubuffet is a good example of the kind of pseudo-primitive that was thrown up in the wake of Picasso; a theoriser who is neither insane nor an untutored primitive, but pretends to draw like both. i’m afraid i find his work risible.

don’t misunderstand me; when i said "children’s picture book versions of reality” i wasn’t referring to actual books for children. i’m talking about the kind of hipster-twee world by adults for adults featuring characters with animal heads etc, or animated adverts for car insurance that look like they’re made for five year olds.

Tom said...

David said, “The more complex and profound version of that quote comes from Achilles in the Iliad: "Who the hell wants glory that will live forever if I have to give up the immediate pleasures of life?" The answer wasn't at all obvious to Achilles, and the unanswered question still burns brightly today: is long art is worth more than a short life? ”

Sorry David but I kinda feel like your creating another false dichotomy. It just doesn’t ring true to me. Choosing pleasure or glory is so far from reality. How many people have chosen a life of pleasure and are still unhappy? How many people have found glory without seeking it? Choosing to do what you love is not missing out on life. And how can anyone who is alive miss out on life?

No matter what kind of life one chooses, life will still present it’s challenges (it’s unhappiness) If one does things for glory, or some sort of perceived reward the feeling of, “is this all their is’” sets in. There are only two ways to be unhappy, not getting what you want and getting what you want.

What is the point of making art if your only goal is too have people talk about you or remember you? Such a small outlook will only produce small work. If you choose to be an artist instead feeling compelled to draw and paint you are probably on the wrong track. Using one thing to get another seems like a confused plan. To me that would really be giving up the pleasure of life.

Richard said...

> "What is the point of making art if your only goal is too have people talk about you or remember you?"

David didn't say that was one's only goal.

But there's scarcely a fine artist alive who doesn't have, at least somewhere deep down, awareness that it is possible that making art can grant one glory. That awareness will effect the way you react to the work, even if some form of glory is not your explicit goal in making that art.

And more, I'd argue that it is this awareness which gives many artists the drive to practice a bit more, polish a bit more, work a bit harder, than they would if their only desire was making pictures in that moment.

Maybe they're not thinking "glory", but merely "making it", but it's all roughly the same sort of thing.

If the Art making was exclusively an end in and of itself, then the thesis in Ars Longa wouldn't make any sense. It wouldn't be long at all, if there's no where you're trying to get to. That it is long would imply a goal beyond the immediate satisfaction of picture making in any given moment.

Tom said...

"And more, I'd argue that it is this awareness which gives many artists the drive to practice a bit more, polish a bit more, work a bit harder, than they would if their only desire was making pictures in that moment. "

That's true Richard. Never underestimate our competitive nature. I was responding more to the extreme choice and drama of either a life of pleasure or a life of glory and no fun. Fear and desire are the great motivators without doubt.


"That awareness will effect the way you react to the work, even if some form of glory is not your explicit goal in making that art."

I'm not quite sure what you mean, but awareness isn't concern with our thoughts. Maybe one thinks in making art I will find glory, or I will succeed in life and that becomes one's motivation but as soon as you pick up your pencil you discover how far your thoughts are from reality. One's ineptitude becomes humbling. Art isn't just about the thing we are making, it is a great teacher, that seems to want you to develop an appreciation for what is here right now, then to being a vehicle for your personal glory or success.

"If the Art making was exclusively an end in and of itself, then the thesis in Ars Longa wouldn't make any sense."

One doesn't really know the goal. It fact believing one knows the goal can be the problem. How many times have you found the answer to something that wasn't at all what you expected or things did not fit into your idea of how it should be done. How many times have you ignore your intuition only to see it was right in the end?

Maybe what is meant is the depth of the world is great and our time here is short which to me doesn't necessarily imply a goal.









Richard said...

> “Maybe what is meant is the depth of the world is great and our time here is short which to me doesn't necessarily imply a goal. “

Hmm, you might be right actually.

Referring back to the original text, it appears that Hippocrates means that we only have a little bit of time in this life to learn when to force a patient to puke – it’s not really about glory at all.


"Life is short, and art long; the crisis fleeting; experience perilous, and decision difficult. The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants, and externals cooperate.
In disorders of the bowels and vomitings, occurring spontaneously, if the matters purged be such as ought to be purged, they do good, and are well borne; but if not, the contrary. And so artificial evacuations, if they consist of such matters as should be evacuated, do good, and are well borne; but if not, the contrary. One, then, ought to look to the country, the season, the age, and the diseases in which they are proper or not."

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

The relationship to risk is what distinguishes the artistic efforts of children from those of adults. Unlike the adult artist the child has no edit bell ringing in its head. Why is the edit bell necessary? Well, isn't it what defines us as moral beings?

David Apatoff said...

Richard wrote: "It's not at all obvious that humans have enough free will to do something which is not itself the thing that they most want to do."

It's not at all obvious that humans know with certitude what they most want to do.

Tom wrote: "It just doesn’t ring true to me. Choosing pleasure or glory is so far from reality.... What is the point of making art if your only goal is too have people talk about you or remember you? Such a small outlook will only produce small work."

Tom, much of this line of discussion is in response to your Greek quote, "'Art is long, life is short." Now I'm puzzled by how you interpret your quote. Choosing pleasure or glory-- living for the moment or sublimating and suffering for the long term result-- is the dilemma all around us (including you) every day. People choose between risking their lives fighting for their country under the most difficult conditions, or staying home and drinking beer in comfort. Students choose between doing their homework or playing video games. Illustrators choose between paying the terrible price for high standards (working all night, starting over again, wracking their brains for inspiration or doing a passable job so they can get to a ball game.) It has always been a central issue for humanity, dating back before the Iliad in which Achilles agonized over the same dichotomy of pleasure and glory: "Two fates bear me on to the day of my death. If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy my journey back home is gone, but my glory never dies. If I voyage back to the home I love, my pride, my glory dies, true, but the life that's left me will be long."

I'm also puzzled by your point about people talking about you after you're dead-- that seems to be our only consolation prize short of immortality, and immortality is not an option: having people remember that we were here once, and that we did something impressive. Why do you think artists sign their work?

Kev Ferrara-- You are welcome to propound a definition of art which excludes pictures which make us awash in immediate, sensory reactions (wall sized images of shimmering colors, spasms of slashing brush strokes); pictures which involve an element of mistake or chance; pictures that invite us to find subliminal connections and meaning in accidental configurations; art from the arrangement of found objects that subsequently disappear back into nature (such as Andy Goldsworthy's leaf or ice works). I recognize that all of these would be precluded by your singular, monolithic definition of art which values deliberate, conscious actions based on sustained concentration on a seemingly intractable, but crucial, problem. I believe I understand the appeal of your narrow definition, and I agree its internal consistency certainly makes art a more tidy affair.

However, as I've previously mentioned on this blog, I prefer Lionello Venturi's broader definition: " What ultimately matters in art is not the canvas, the hue of oil or tempera, the anatomical structure and all the other measurable items, but its contribution to our life, its suggestions to our sensations, feeling and imagination." I derive much from skilled art which is developed and perceived in the layered, controlled stages you seem to espouse, but I feel I can also benefit from the broader forms of art described above. Because its boundaries are more amorphous, It requires more conscious attention but it is NOT the same as the meaningless whirlwind of post modernism.

kev ferrara said...

pictures which make us awash in immediate, sensory reactions

Who is "us" exactly? Me and you and everybody else around too? The whole world?

Which pictures would you propose make me, and everybody else, "awash" in such experiences as you have enumerated?

Rothko? (No.)

Pollock? (Not at all.)

Dubuffet? (Cartoon graphic wallpaper? not here, thank you.)

Twombly? (Kindergarten scribble? Don't think so.)

I recognize that all of these would be precluded by your singular, monolithic definition of art which values deliberate, conscious actions based on sustained concentration on a seemingly intractable, but crucial, problem

You are conflating two different arguments. My argument for why "a shudder of awe" is not the highest faculty of humanity is because it doesn't get anything done. That was a separate issue. Sorry for the confusion.

My view of what constitutes art does not necessitate "consciousness" -- whatever that might mean. A supremely talented artist "in the zone" - governed almost purely by trained and natural instinct -- will surely create much better work than the most intellectually trained technician. Art must build out from the risk of improvisation, the fruit of imagination, and intellection can't get us there; it lacks the access to those soulful realms.

But whether working from consciousness or intuition, the linguistic structure of the end product must be distinguishable from the proverbial cry in the night; a point you've recently seemed to agree with.

What ultimately matters in art is not the canvas, the hue of oil or tempera, the anatomical structure and all the other measurable items, but its contribution to our life, its suggestions to our sensations, feeling and imagination."

Well, yes, sure.

But who said anything about "measurement?" I'm all about quality, not quantity. Artistic structure, in particular, is a crucially qualitative matter (alas, of great difficulty to explain in any other way but through countless demonstrations.)

However, qualities do add up. Don't they? Or more accurately, the qualities of great art resound and resonate with one another, ultimately expressing something more than their sum. (If the qualities of a work don't alight against one another, something's surely off about the work.)

And yes, the contribution of anything to life is its value. I'm all for that kind of pragmatic approach. But there are contributions, and then there are contributions. Writing "I love You" on a piece of toast with a blowtorch isn't in the same qualitative or quantitative league as Mucha's Slav Epic. The question of why that is so goes to the heart of what actually constitutes a "contribution" as distinct from mere attention seeking noise.

Richard said...

> "It's not at all obvious that humans know with certitude what they most want to do."

Only those things humans know with certitude that they want are candidates for those things that they most want. If they don't know with certitude that they want something, then they definitionally don't yet want it.

Out of those things that they know that they want in a moment, it becomes instantly clear to the operating function of the human what that thing is that they most want.

That is true even if that thing that they want is to sit and think about whether or not there may be something else that they might want more if only they determined to want it.

Richard said...

> "Which pictures would you propose make me, and everybody else, "awash" in such experiences as you have enumerated?"

That's an interesting line of argument given the unpopularity of the artists you've expressed partiality to.


> "My argument for why 'a shudder of awe' is not the highest faculty of humanity is because it doesn't get anything done."

It doesn't need to get anything done because it's the end, not the means. The highest, and really only, end there is.

Tom said...

David said
"Now I'm puzzled by how you interpret your quote. Choosing pleasure or glory-- living for the moment or sublimating and suffering for the long term result-- is the dilemma all around us (including you) every day."


That was a response to the Achilles quote which I didn't feel related to the "art is long, and life is short" which feels more appreciative and less ego driven. It seems to me Achilles is saying I can choose glory or I can choose a comfortable life.

"I'm also puzzled by your point about people talking about you after you're idea that seems to be our only consolation prize short of immortality, and immortality is not an option:"

A consolation prize for what, not living for ever? Now David "who" needs a "consolation prize" and "who," will be there to enjoy it?

David Apatoff said...

Richard wrote, "Referring back to the original text, it appears that Hippocrates means that we only have a little bit of time in this life to learn when to force a patient to puke – it’s not really about glory at all."

Holy smoke! You mean someone actually did their homework and checked out the real text??? What are you trying to do, give this blog a bad reputation?

Your effort inspired me to take a look myself, and I see that a number of post-Hippocratic authors, such as Shakespeare or Seneca, used variations on the phrase to suggest our original interpretation, that our art outlives us. Perhaps my favorite version was from Randall Jarrell: "ART IS LONG AND CRITICS ARE THE INSECTS OF A DAY."

chris bennett-- or, the alternative explanation is that adults have the wrong edit bell ringing in their head, the edit bell of hypocrisy and duplicity and adult vices, while children are open and innocent and straightforward.

Kev Ferrara wrote: "Writing "I love You" on a piece of toast with a blowtorch isn't in the same qualitative or quantitative league as Mucha's Slav Epic."

It is to my wife.

"Which pictures would you propose make me, and everybody else, "awash" in such experiences as you have enumerated?"

As a reminder, this point goes back to my argument that art which requires a mature appreciation of technique and layered content and symbolic thinking, while richly rewarding, by definition cannot hit the viewer with the same immediate sensory impact as art which is designed for a spontaneous result. It's like the difference between Bach's Sonata in A major for flute and harpsichord on the one hand, and a glorious trumpet blast on the other hand. They're just different. Art that washes over me? Standing in front of Motherwell's
immense "Elegy" at the National Gallery or Gottlieb's large "primeval" at the art institute, or certain Frankenthaler or Olitski or Ellsworth Kelly. But I never intended to say it has to wash over everybody. Don't feel bad if your nerve endings are too insensitive or your emotions are too pinched for that kind of feeling.

Richard wrote: "It doesn't need to get anything done because it's the end, not the means."

Yes!

kev ferrara said...

That's an interesting line of argument given the unpopularity of the artists you've expressed partiality to.

A major point of the argument is that people have variable responses to art. There is a significant minority of people who cannot tolerate any kind of intensity whatsoever and will become emotional over the color red or a triangle or three crossed lines done in pastel. Such hypersensitive people cannot be the benchmark of quality in art. Otherwise, there's no point to making any kind of aesthetic organization at all. Because such people will respond to just about any aesthetic signal as if it were a masterpiece.

It seems only a shuffle step away from going gaga for red triangles to going coo coo for Rothko, Frankenthaler or Ellsworth Kelly or the rest of those graphic designers. (Motherwell I give more credit to. At least he understands basic pictorial forces and how they generate tension.) None of it is much different than a Rorschach ink blot test. Or childhood scribble (see Twombly).

Again, there seems to be some kind of hypersensitivity with strong responses to this stuff; maybe an immaturity of sensibility involved in people who get "orgasmic" over these kinds of primitive works. Maybe such hyper-responders grew up quite bookish and isolated, and so never developed the callouses against bald and basic emotionalism which would allow them to see beneath the loud surfaces to the vacuity within. (It would be very interesting to do a sociological study on the kind of people who respond to this kind of design work. Versus people who respond to something with more orchestrated meaning.)

I once had a sit down with an editor of Art in America... one of the premier international venues for contemporary art. He had just written an article on Picasso. During our lunch we touched on everything from Van Dyke to Warhol and Basquiat. Tellingly, the fellow spoke entirely in ready made thoughts plucked from the critical canon. Any pushback on any point he asserted, and he short-circuited instantly, and changed the subject. I seemed to panic him with every question. He started sweating profusely. After a while, I think, we both knew the other knew that he literally could not conduct original cerebration. He had a considerable artistic vocabulary. But he couldn't think at all. It was pathetic.

But not rare. I've had a thousand conversations of the exact same nature with "intellectuals" in the culture vulture milieu in and around New York. In hip galleries, museums, coffee shops, auction houses. After too many years of facing the same phenomena, I was forced to conclude what many already have already said; these people don't know anything. They all just obey the zeitgeist, or the current canon, or fashion, or the correct critic, or "important" magazine. They're intellectual herd animals. And, as far as I can tell, they all followed the tails in front of them over the cliff of credulity into the abyss of bullshit 50 plus years ago. And they don't even know how to build a ladder to get themselves out. (Which, maybe, is just why the humanities is dying out.)

kev ferrara said...

Sorry for the length here... The larger point is that there is something more to art than hype. Something more than popularity, or intellectual explanation, favorable criticism, being in current fashion, gavel prices, traveling shows, and so on. Popularity doesn't affect the quality of a work of art. Otherwise Thomas Kinkaide would be in the Louvre. And critical acclaim doesn't make a damn bit of difference either. Except to people who can't think for themselves. There is something structural about Art, particularly great art, that makes it unique as a form of communication. And this intrinsic complex of aesthetic qualities is impervious to outside forces.

Nevertheless, back to your point, the people who know and feel real quality do pay handsomely for the work of the artists I mentioned. Klimt, Wyeth, Fechin, Rembrandt, Rockwell.. all go for millions of dollars. The greatest works by many others I've mentioned simply don't come up for sale. To be popular among an actually discerning crowd is surely popularity enough.

chris bennett said...

David:

or, the alternative explanation is that adults have the wrong edit bell ringing in their head, the edit bell of hypocrisy and duplicity and adult vices, while children are open and innocent and straightforward.

Surely the condition of being 'open and innocent' is by definition the state before one's editing of experience.

I would say that composing is the structuring of edited suggested experience. This is as true for an episode of the Sopranos as it is for the Mona Lisa. Suggestion without structure is only statement, and this is all that young children's drawings are; Ike telling us that a T Rex's teeth are big. The content communicated by art is not what is suggested but how it is ordered to instil its meaningfulness.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

"There is a purity to this kind of imagination, which is what causes artists such as Picasso, Dubuffet, Klee and Steinberg to forsake technical skill and struggle to recall the stem cells of art."

This yearning for primitivity can just as well be interpreted as an act of dishonesty and denial. There is no escape from the surplus of consciousness which has forced our hands to sublimate the horror of existence into works of art(ifice). The Eden of childhood cannot be accessed by the adult mind - and even attempting to break this iron law of our tortured brain's biology by simply thinking it so is a fairly obvious Schopenhauerian aesthetic coping mechanism. Once advanced self-awareness kicks in, our play with mud and sticks must be made meaningful. Somehow.

kev ferrara said...

Suggestion without structure is only statement.

I agree with everything you're saying Chris, except for the above sentence.

Suggestion, in order to be suggestive, must already possess or manifest a certain kind of structure. Or else it won't be effective in evoking its idea to the mind. The structure is key. Without it, whatever the attempted communication is may suggest nothing at all, or nothing in particular, becoming increasingly vague the more it falls out of whatever grammar and logic would otherwise enable it. Thus, without structure, an attempted suggestion would be moving in the exact opposite direction from the clarity of a statement, toward perfect obscurity.

Statements too, already have a certain kind of structure, or else they wouldn't make sense. To disorder a statement also increasingly pushes it towards vagueness and then, ultimately, to meaninglessness.

Then there is the larger structure of the overall composition. And that demands an even greater degree of sensible organization than the smaller subunits of meaning.

But making a mess of the overall structure may not necessarily destroy any particular substructure's meaning. Saying that it is akin to saying that because a poem wasn't all that well-structured and didn't make much sense, that no particular line in it was actually poetic.

kev ferrara said...

There is a purity to this kind of imagination, which is what causes artists such as Picasso, Dubuffet, Klee and Steinberg to forsake technical skill and struggle to recall the stem cells of art.

It's just more fun to cartoon. It's play. It's stress free. We don't need to pretend that there's any great intellectual purpose to it.

Richard said...

> "It's just more fun to cartoon. It's play. It's stress free."

And it's extremely difficult to do.

If it wasn't we should have rather more competent cartoonists than we do competent painters. Yet, just the opposite is true. An exceedingly small percentage of otherwise accomplished artist will ever be able to do it.

That trend starts as early as childhood. Step into any high school art class or college art program and you'll be lucky to find even one cartoonist out of the multitudes, but maybe 40 young people who can apply the Durer device or sight size and get something that looks reasonably accomplished.

Give those students a semester or two in Bridgman and they'll be able to do constructive anatomy. Have them copy photographs for a few years and you'll have one hundred little Briggses (although perhaps absent his line weight control). Teach them the Carder method and you'll end up with hundreds of well-rendered paintings of Japanese tea pots. Teach them the structure of the fat pads, teach them how to properly sharpen a pencil, before long you can create armies of visual technicians.

Yet in all that time, no matter the number of classes, you shan't produce one more competent cartoonist than you started with.

That's because competence in cartooning requires two exceptionally rare talents --
1. An extremely well-integrated visual instinct, which is a genetic trait.
2. Either the naivety never to have been taught the edifices of the arts, or years of grueling exorcising of that edifice.


And what is the great "intellectual purpose" of these genetic strangers carving away the edifice and accretions of technique?

It’s Frederick Franck’s Zen of Seeing. He borrows from the 7th century Monk Hui-Neng in saying “The meaning of life is to see,” which for the cartoonist is literal fact.

Cartooning is coming back to where we are and living our visual lives without the middleman or moderator of edifice. No one does that more than that mere cartoonist, and no one needs it more than that genetically strange being the cartoonist.

kev ferrara said...

Cartooning is coming back to where we are and living our visual lives without the middleman or moderator of edifice.

Richard,

You have the whole matter backwards.

I think Neal Adams put it correctly when he said, "In order to be a good illustrator, you must first be a good cartoonist."

The move from good cartoonist to good illustrator, the move toward true seeing, is a wrenching experience. It reveals a well of ignorance about the way things really are that only gets deeper as one dives into it. The first step, day one, in any good art class, is the injunction to stop drawing with ready made symbols and to really look at the model. In other words, the first day is about ridding the student of "style." (Also known as bad habits.) The overwhelming majority of art students never really see; never really live in their work either.

Of course Style, the development and use of conventions, is perfectly practical as a substitute for the (exhausting, time-consuming and talent-testing) job of authentic seeing and authentic experience and 'felt' or immersive visual expression. Especially in the case of cartooning, where the point is not to express the shared truth of experience through visual means, (although there are a few exceptions) but to get across thoughts of a high level of abstraction through appealing, minimal, and ready-to-hand means. Cartooning is a simple private glyph vocabulary. To be sure, it takes a very special individual to be that simple and dedicated over the decade required to smooth out the style. The refined naivete that results is one of the secret ingredients.

But it is infinitely harder to hold on to that cartoon playfulness while also learning everything else under the sun, how light works, how the hand looks from unusual angles, how to get figures and objects to sit properly in space, how to make stone feel heavy, how to organize inanimate objects to help express the idea of the picture, how to make the dog's tail look like it's actually wagging, and so on.

Teachers like Bargue, Pyle, Bridgman, Nicolaides, Henri, Dunn, and Calvin Albert, each offer ways, roundabout ways, by which artists could keep in deep touch with the first magic that brought them to art to begin with, while still advancing in quality. What a task it is to imaginatively mature. As one wag put it, it is easy to be talented at 20. Very hard at 50.

Most comic book artists, by necessity, float in the nether region between illustration and cartooning, between observation and convention. I've known several that took over well known cartoon strips. They were usually able to ape the style well enough in short order.

Richard said...

I believe you are confused about what Adams saying.

It's not that one must graduate from cartooning to illustration, but that one cannot graduate. Cartooning is the central fundamental activity of great art.

The qualities you're describing in great art, heavy rocks and wagging tails, are all aspects of the underlying cartoon.

It seems to me that you may be confused about what cartooning actually is. That's not unusual, most theorists confuse copying and applying previous folks' premade simplifications-made-symbol with actual cartooning itself.

To copy someone else's abstractions is no more cartooning than using the Pythagorean theorem makes one a mathematician, or reciting lines of Shakespeare makes one a poet.

Cartoonists are the great abstractors. Anywhere that one uses a readymade eye or method for drawing a muscle group, one is apeing some prior cartoonist -- no matter how realistic our apebrains may think that readymade is, all the way back to the cave of dreams.

Richard said...

*forgotten dreams (chauvet)

kev ferrara said...

Richard,

Adams explained what he meant. Which is that the illustrator must have an expressive soul. And all the realism in the world on top of that can't give it to him if it ain't there to begin with. It must be central to the person. From there, one can build. Or as Howard Pyle said, "If you're not meant to be an artist, all heaven can't help you. If you are meant to be an artist, all hell can't stop you."

On this key necessity we seem to agree.

Where we disagree is on your definition of cartooning. You seem to equate it outright with expressive abstraction. I can't stop you from doing that. But a great many of the expressive abstractions you see in the likes of Fechin, Everett, Brangwyn, Mucha, Inness, Sargent, Wyeth, and Leyendecker, just to name a few... you will never, ever see in anything called "cartooning." I think you don't get this point because you really don't have the kind of familiarity with painting and composing that you have with cartoons. And so your error is natural.