Thursday, April 14, 2005


Great artists, writers and cultural leaders are often able to discern real quality in the popular arts. Some are not even afraid to talk about it:

Vincent Van Gogh: Before he became a painter, Van Gogh aspired to be a magazine illustrator. He praised the quality of illustrations in magazines such as Graphic, Illustrated London News, L'Illustration, and Harper's Weekly, and clipped out their drawings, which he pasted in portfolios for further study. UCLA art professor Albert Boime quotes Van Gogh's correspondence on this topic: "[Van Gogh] declared: 'I would like to go to London with portfolio and visit the editors and managers of the illustrated journals-also get information about the different processes-a double-page spread allows for broader style.' That he fully intended to specialize in magazine illustration is seen in his hopeful observation that magazine editors would welcome 'somebody who considers making illustrations his specialty.'"

Willem De Kooning: The darling of the abstract expressionist crowd came to America to find work as a commercial artist, abandoning Europe which was then the bastion of traditional gallery art. De Kooning said he was not concerned about the stigma of commercial art. He just knew that America was a place you could get ahead if you worked hard. He later turned from commercial art to house painting when he found that house painting paid more (at that time, $9 per day).

John Updike: a major fan of cartoon art, he collected comic strips from the newspapers, wrote fan letters to comic strip artists and collected their originals. He tried unsuccessfully to become a cartoonist, and later settled for being a writer. But to this day, he says "whatever crispness and animation my writing has, I credit the cartoonist manque." (Hogan's Alley No. 3, p.125)

Ad Reinhart: the famous abstract painter was a newspaper cartoonist in the 1940s and 1950s for the New York newspaper PM. (NYT December 21, 2003).

Michael Chabon, pulitzer prize winning novelist who now works in comic books, described the attraction as follows: "High art and low art, children's reading and adult's reading, the margins of trash and quality....comic books have always been border straddling, even, fundamentally, between words and pictures. There's something stimulating about hanging out at the borders there." (NYT March 17,2004)

Gilbert Seldes, one of the country's most prominent literary and art critic pronounced the comic strip Krazy Kat to be “the most amusing and fantastic and satisfactory work of art produced in America today.” The poet E.E. Cummings wrote an essay praising the art of Krazy Kat and describing the strip as a “living ideal” superior to “mere reality.” Other fans included the painters Joan Miro and Willem de Kooning as well as authors Jack Kerouac and Gertrude Stein.


Anonymous said...

With Reference to the Illustrated London I understand - Not all artists were offered work both Degas and Van Gogh were turned down as "not suitable" see

Anonymous said...

Very interesting information David.
The lines between illustrator and painter are often blurred. There is many more examples of commercial illustrators turned fine artists like Winslow Homer, Andy Warhol and many of today's living contemporary artists.It was fascinating to learn that Van Gogh had interest in illustration. I would think that the great illustrator N.C. Wyeth was definitly considered a great painter by the fine artist painters of his time. I'm sure he got their attention. If you look at his original illustrations for books and forget about what the artwork was intended for as far as publishing can see a master painter that matches up with the best the world had to offer and still does.

Anonymous said...

Although N.C. Wyeth was a seminal inspiration for my attempted/failed career as an illustrator he was pretty much a wash as a fine artist in the context of our culture at large. I feel certain that he was not taken seriously nor has he much place in the "history of fine art". N.C.s towering original achievements take their stand well within the borders of illustration. That is no devaluation, hierarchical placement is invalid. No doubt as far as I'm concerned he did some damn fine still lives, landscapes, etc. Andrew stands firmly in the fine art worlds tossing a nod or crumb as he fancies in the direction of illustration but making no consequential contribution to the field.

Does anyone find anything of value in my posts or do I come off as a self important masturbator?