Monday, November 12, 2007


We've all been taught that you can't compare apples and oranges. They are as different as... well, a Rembrandt drawing and a Disney cartoon.

Some of those differences may be significant, but many of them are simply propaganda from press agents, museum curators and bankers. Let's investigate.

Here is a herd of wonderful elephants:

Heinrich Kley's elephants courting


Disney studio's "Pink Elephants on Parade"

Jack Davis, GOP elephant

Jack Davis, study for Time Magazine

You will never see these elephants hanging out together in the same neighborhood; some reside in museums, while others reside in corporate filing cabinets. They were produced by very different hands, centuries apart. They were designed for different purposes and cost vastly different amounts. Yet, these are only questions of pedigree and should not distract the true art lover. As you compare these pictures, you will find we can still judge their most important elements on a level playing field.

A museum curator would faint at the heresy of comparing Rembrandt to Jack Davis, but never let that stop you. Personally I think Davis did a better job than Rembrandt here. His humor is broad, but I also think his drawings of elephants are more insightful and interesting than Rembrandt's drawing.


Diego Fernetti said...

Perhaps true, but probably poor old Rembrandt had a good luck to just one sad elephant (think of all the hard roads it must have traveled to reach northern Europe!) while contemporary artists have plenty of pictures, zoos and circuses with cheerful elephants doing all sorts of posing for us. Rembrant just saw an oddity and recorded it. Wonder what he would have done if he would have found a good excuse to portray an elephant in a well executed picture!

David Apatoff said...

dfernetti, Rembrandt was very impressed by that elephant-- it was his first and only elephant, and it caused a sensation when it toured Europe in Rembrandt's day. There is a Rembrandt etching of Adam and Eve where Rembrandt stuck that same elephant behind them in the garden of Eden.

Anonymous said...

I love em all! But the Jack Davis' are so sweet. Nobody could duplicate his handwriting, that particular slobby freshness... vagabond vaudeville... whether he's drawing an elephant or a potentate. A truly original personality on paper. I could look at his stuff all day.

Thanks for the eyesalves.

Anonymous said...

You have a wonderful Blog.
Jack Davis is so impressing and inspiring!
Thank you very much for posting this in High Res.

RJ said...


This is an interesting comparison, but in this case I think that it really IS a matter of "apples and oranges". I would agree with what dfernetti said above, and as you yourself pointed out, these two drawings were for very different purposes-- sketch vs. finished art, realistic vs. caricature, etc.

I think that most of your regular readers would agree that in many ways, illustration "don't get no respect" as Rodney Dangerfield might have put it. Obviously, there are many, many cases where we could compare various illustrations to pieces hanging in museums, and find the illustrations to be far superior.

To me, your previous post titled "Fine Art vs. Art That's Mighty Fine" said and showed it a lot better by putting Bernie Fuchs up against Kline, Motherwell, and Rauschenberg. I loved that post-- I had never considered that before and I thought that it was a brilliant comparison!

I hope I don't sound too critical of this post-- most of the time I find your comments to be "spot on". It just seems to me that in this case, the way that you are presenting this seems to be just a bit of a stretch.

Overall, I love your blog and have become a regular reader. Keep up the great work!



Jeff Wyatt said...

Good points you've made here. You give a very clear example of how established entrenched attitudes oftentimes leave little room for new and fresh thought and appreciation. I would venture to guess that Rembrandt would have been impressed and possibly influenced by the Davis elephant had he been able to peer through time.


Anonymous said...

Kley's elephants are the best! Rembrandt didn't have much visual experience or reference to work with. Davis' elephants are too anthropomorphized.

See, that's the key. You want some anthropomorphization, but not too much. Kley was a master at this, and not just with elephants.

Plus, his drawing is in pen and ink, and is much simpler than Davis', and I'm a sucker for really good pen and ink work.

Diego Fernetti said...

Hi David!
Sorry to read your answer so late... Yes, now I see the elephant in the bacjkground, I completely missed the first time you posted the image. You have to admit that it resembles a bit of a stale apple, and it has lost all the anatomical correctness of the original sketch. At least one thing is for sure, Rembrandt liked elephants as much as I do (my favourite animal)and how to blame him for that? You have a wonderful blog David, keep up the great posts!