Friday, June 22, 2018

ART, TRUTH AND ACCURACY

Not accurately drawn, but true:

That phase of a relationship where nothing fits and everything gets in the way and your feet are just too darn big.

On the other hand, accurately drawn but not true:

Artist Jon McNaughton uses realism to portray lies

Water, drawn as accurately as anyone could:

William Motta


Yet, Monet's treatment of water required the artist to look beyond accuracy, and seems even more true:




Two illustrations of foreboding houses.  It's obvious which one is more accurate, but which feels more true?

             


Art is no place to get lazy.

Meaningful truth in art is not a solid, and sometimes not even a liquid.

A picture's resemblance to what you see when you look out the window, or even into a mirror, can be a good starting place but it is only a starting place.



Thursday, June 14, 2018

THE SECOND COMING OF FLOWERS

In his essay, How Flowers Changed the World, famed anthropologist Loren Eisley described the first coming of flowers, 100 million years ago:
Once upon a time there were no flowers at all.... only the cold dark monotonous green of a world whose plant life possessed no other color.
Alice Hargrave
Somewhere, just a short time before the close of the age of reptiles, there occurred a soundless violent explosion. It lasted millions of years, but it was an explosion, nevertheless. It marked the emergence of the angiosperms--the flowering plants.... Flowers changed the face of the planet. Without them, the world we know--even man himself--would never have existed. 
Eisley explains that, in addition to covering the world with beautiful colors, the seeds from flowering plants created superior sources of energy which fueled new species with faster metabolisms and higher functioning brains: 
The agile brain of the warm-blooded birds and mammals demands a high oxygen consumption and food in concentrated forms, or the creatures cannot long sustain themselves. It was the rise of the flowering plants that provided that energy and changed the nature of the living world.
 That was the first coming of flowers.

Once upon a time people lived without pictures in their daily lives.  Yes, there were a few select murals and paintings in palaces and temples, but people had no posters, prints, calendars, illustrated books or other pictures in their homes or workplaces or on their streets. From the beginning of the world until a few hundred years ago, people lived essentially without images.  

Then slowly another "soundless, violent explosion" occurred. The industrial revolution began in Great Britain in the second half of the 18th century and it brought new methods of paper-making and reproduction techniques that made volume printing possible. Signs, billboards and posters began to pop up on public streets.

Henry Sumner Watson 
Bigger and faster steam-powered presses, lithography, new systems of distribution, color reproduction, etc. combined with new prosperity from mass audiences to spread images around the earth.  Just as flowers transformed the plant world with colors and shapes, pictures transformed the human made world.

Harry Grant Dart
This transformation of our environment with bits of aesthetic meaning took place in what geologists would consider a blink of an eye.

 

The trasformation is far from complete.  Today images continue to proliferate at an increasing rate.  Hundreds of web sites such as pinterest, flickr and deviantart are dense with pictures accessible to anyone in high rez form with the push of a button.  Now images not only move, they're interactive and created by artificial intelligence.

The significance of these two great transformations is more than merely aesthetic.  Just as flowering plants provided concentrated fuel that helped brains advance, I suspect the democratization of pictures  affects minds with content, nuance, imagination and diversity in more digestible forms than words could do. Just as modern graphic design proved successful in stimulating new forms of consumer demand, images can stimulate a wide range of activity.

In view of what happened last time, who can say where it will lead?

Saturday, June 02, 2018

NICK MEGLIN (1935-2018)

My dear friend, Nick Meglin, died this morning.  For nearly 50 years Nick was the loving heart of MAD magazine and a tireless advocate for its astonishing stable of talent.  The following are some of Nick's classic cover ideas for MAD.





But Nick led a much broader life, full of professional accomplishment in varied areas (he was member of the Dramatist Guild, ASCAP, the Writers Guild of America, and the National Cartoonist Society).

The best way to summarize Nick may be with this story:

Last week Nick took me to the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. With all the knowledge and sophistication of an experienced museum curator, he escorted me from piece to piece, explaining what made Rodin great, citing details from Rodin's life and pointing out subtle features of his bronze casting technique.  Then, as we were leaving he spotted Rodin's The Burghers of Calais  across the Courtyard.  With all the knowledge and sophistication of an 8 week old puppy, he went over to pose pretending to return a rude hand gesture from one of the Burghers.

"Meh"
As his sweetheart (and the most patient woman in the world) Linda Maloof snapped his photo, Nick explained that wherever he encountered The Burghers of Calais around the world, he had to get a picture of himself responding to that Burgher.  The joke never got tired for him.

I say that Nick was my friend, but Nick was everybody's friend.  If you ever read a copy of MAD Magazine or one of Nick's many books or if you ever took one of his art classes at the School of Visual Arts or if you ever went to one of his musical plays, or even if you just believed in decency and humility and kindness, or appreciated a good insult, you were a friend of Nick's.   He was a joyful and remarkable man, warm, funny and expansive.  Everyone gravitated to him.

Nick (far right), Sergio Aragones and Sam Viviano cracking each other up on a panel last week at the National Cartoonists Society convention.
Nick was generous teaching me about illustrators.  He seemed to know personally every illustrator of the past 60 years and he worked with many excellent artists at MAD; his memory was extraordinary and his taste was impeccable.

In recent years he began passing along to me his dusty files of tearsheets and clippings, like a relay racer passing a baton to the next generation.  He knew he wouldn't have time to write all of the books and articles that remained within him, and he expected me to do my share to honor and preserve the talent we both admired.

I told him several times I wanted to sit down and tape record him for two weeks, but he always had something more pressing-- and funnier-- to do.  It would have been a great service to the history of illustration and comic art.  Now I'll never have that chance.  Farewell, my friend.