Saturday, July 13, 2019

R.I.P. MAD MAGAZINE-- POSTSCRIPT

Better than words could convey, this illustration from today's New York Times demonstrates the significance of the passing of the era of MAD:



After a week enjoying examples of the beautiful craftsmanship of the MAD artists, this drawing feels like a nutmeg grater on the eyes.

The fact that such a mishap was selected by the New York Times to illustrate the end of MAD reveals more about today's audiences than perhaps the paper intended.  MAD was irreverent yet it revered good drawing. The "usual gang of idiots" was never the "gang of lazy slobs."  They had high standards, excellent taste and they worked their asses off-- a trifecta that enabled them to clobber dozens of competitors, decade after decade. 

If MAD must depart, perhaps it is partially because audiences such as the NYT readership no longer understand, or even care about, standards in the visual arts.


17 comments:

Sheridan said...

The only intelligence that this piece shows, is that the person that produced it didn't sign it.

Richard said...

I agree that the nyt illo is criminal. But MADs not dead because their art was too good. It’s dead because the writing was profoundly unfunny. If their comedic writing wasn’t so mind numbingly bad, they might still be in business.

kev ferrara said...

This must be the drop quote for the illo...

"Mad's roster of talent was too idiosyncratic to have a house style, but it was all loud: kinetic, expressive, a brand of caricature that's out of fashion these days, when an amateurish D.I.Y aesthetic or dreary minimalism is de rigueur."



Robert Cosgrove said...

Posting this illustration directly above the Druckers would almost be a mugging, if it were not so well-deserved.

zoe said...

Even more maddening since the op-ed author is such a wonderful cartoonist himself.

Tom said...

Maybe high standards are subversive now, David. After reading your post on Mort Drucker, it is truly painful looking at the NYT's illustration. It is so bad it kinda of intriguing. But as far as meaning goes, I have to agree with Duke Ellington, "it don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing"!

vmf said...

It makes sense to get younger artist to do this. I thought the looming, nearing, amorphous, ominous mass in the background of a deranged Alfred E. to be an apt comment on the demise if MAD. Harkham is very good. Actually I though he was "one of the greats", so this post left me a bit confused. This might not be his best work, but I still find it strong.

Aside from that, and this should not redeem the illustration, he edits the beautifully edited Kramer's Ergot, so there's this context in which he is an important person in keeping the comics culture alive, "pushing its boundaries" and whatnot.

Yes, culture changed and a lot of it got flat and uninspired. But Harkham is not part of that.

Tom said...

"I thought the looming, nearing, amorphous, ominous mass..."

it's not a "mass," it's just lines. Which only move across the page. If the background where a mass it would be intelligible and there would be lines that go back into the picture plane.. I can't decide if I'm looking at the ocean, my first reaction, or maybe it's suppose to be a sunset. The only reason I think it could be a sunset is because when something ends in the movies the character walks off into the sunset. If I'm looking at the back of the head of the main character of the picture at least allow me see what has captured his attention. The body under Alfred E is so distorted and out of scale to his head that the only feeling it creates is an incredible sense of a unbalanced awkwardness. The value arrangement just seems to compliment the monotony of the drawing.

These sensations dominate the picture and become the "meaning," of the picture. That "meaning," is there because of the failures of the actual drawing which robs the picture of any other possible significance.

chris bennett said...

Well said Tom.

kev ferrara said...

I thought it was clear that "vmf" was trolling the page, posting deliberately jejune and irritating opinions fishing for a strong reaction.

Richard said...

vmf,

I believe what the other guys are trying to say is that they think if you spend a lot of time looking very carefully at some other art (that they'd be happy to point you to), over enough time, you may realize that Harkham is actually an amateur and not a particularly notable one.

It's kind of like if you came over and told some people that Billie Eilish is one of the greats, and they're talking about Duke Ellington. It just shows that you're not as well acquainted with the visual arts as maybe you had assumed. I hope the snarkiness didn't turn you off from looking at the other great art on David's blog.

vmf said...

It really wasn't meant as trolling (English is my second language, and it feels to me that I write in a stiff/pompous way.. unintended!). I love the blog, It really wasn't meant as an absurd opinion or anything. I didn't even think so many people still read the comments!

I think we might be coming from too different a place. I like contemporary art and all. So it might be an unreconcilable difference.

That said, I think certain criteria like balance, proportion, movement, is not something you apply unscrupulously to all art. Sometimes comparing is the worst think to understand something. I love Ellington AND Xenakis. But would be very careful to compare them. They are not coming from the same place nor speaking the same language even though they are all vibrating air (some more than others). Tom quoted Ellington on the swing thing. I couldn't disagree more.

That said, that NYT Illustration is not a hill I´m willing to die on. I like it, but illustration is not what I think he does best. What I meant is that Harkham, as I see it, is not actively part of the problem. He is not, culturally, a Bilie Eilish. He publishes both CF(not payne) and Ron Embleton. Really, search for Kramers Ergot. Do you think it has an "amateurish D.I.Y aesthetic or dreary minimalism"? As a book, of course, the content of FULL of the dreariest minimal D.I.Yers.

I wrote "actively part of the problem" because, of course, he is IN the problem. We don't have an advertising industry that fosters and support illustrators anymore. Imagine a network paying a staff to do motion lines with a dry brush as Bob Clampett did at 24fps... The world changed, to the worst for anything that takes time and love. Ironically the advertising industry is much to blame. So when I saw that Harkham being singled out as a lazy slob I felt I should intervene (MISTAKE).

After I posted the comment I enjoyed my regret by browsing some old posts. Now, the pleasure I derive from Harkham is very different from the one I get from looking at Briggs. Briggs is amazing.. and while browsing I saw those subtle jabs at Basquiat, de Kooning, etc (not Koons, he deserves to be bashed). So, as I said, it might just be unreconcilable differences.

KomedyKollector said...

This illustration from the New York Times demonstrates the significance of the passing of another era, the cessation of Political and Editorial cartoons and illustration. The NYT doesn't have the spine to take a stand against our growing deadly progressive culture.

kev ferrara said...

What we like is not the same as what is good.

We all have guilty pleasures. Such are “guilty” because we know to indulge in them is to ingest trash, which we know is of little benefit, possibly even harmful to us. Such indulgent acts defy our conscience.

But to feel such guilt at ingesting trash we must first have a conscience, we must first understand that there is a standard to live up to as well as let down; that quality and excellence are real, which we can sense in our souls and bodies enriches us at a deep level.

Conscientious art is art that evidences an engaged creator with elevated personal standards of content, expression, and execution. By elevated I mean elevated well above the low standards and meager talents of the average amateur. One never feels guilty about ingesting what is conscientiously created because it obviously enriches us; allowing us to go forward restored in some faith or other. Anything sensationalistic, slovenly, petulant, slapdash, trifling, ugly, mindless, nihilistic, or meaningless does the opposite to us. To me, these distinctions are the factors involved in taste.

chris bennett said...

Thanks very much for this Kev; you have gone to the root and shaken the tree of a notoriously troublesome distinction - hopefully the falling apples knock some sensibility into those sleeping under it.

MORAN said...

Well said, Kev.

Tom said...

Hi David, I thought you had to see this after your most recent posts!


https://www.reddit.com/r/europe/comments/cfco0o/newest_edition_of_der_spiegel_on_boris_johnson/