Thursday, May 07, 2009


I got a huge kick out of Steve Brodner's version of Diogenes, the ancient philosopher who carried a lantern through the streets of Athens in broad daylight, searching for an honest man.

This drawing may appear casual, but it is razor sharp-- a highly skilled, witty execution of an intelligent concept.

Brodner's scraggly line perfectly conveys the belching smoke from the grotesque cigar, the monstrous paw holding it, the neck of the gluttonous monster, the porcine nostrils inhaling more than his fair share of oxygen; it would have been easy to overplay or underplay any of these touches but Brodner balanced them just right.

Perhaps his wisest touch of all is the vapid, uncomprehending expression on the face of the man. A heavier hand would have given him a sinister expression, but the more persuasive explanation for the man's offensiveness is his utter lack of concern.

These are the touches of a master story teller with line.


Diego Fernetti said...

I had seen this drawing in a recent interview put online. It impressed me too (as the rest of the drawings on that page). What I love also is the beffuddled expression on Diogenes' face (doesn't he look a bit like Leonardo Da Vinci?) The irregular staring eyes, and the easyness with the two figures are linked by the outstretched arm with the lamp are touchs of great craftmanship.

Matthew Adams said...

fantastic image.

David Apatoff said...

Dfernetti, you are correct. This picture was from Brodner's recent interview on caricature and he was kind enough to give me permission to use it. Normally I try to work from originals but this was so hilarious I just had to use it.

Matthew-- thanks, as you can tell I agree.

Rob Howard said...

I guess that payback is fair play, David.

After I sent you to the intensive care ward with my admission of liking Jeff Koons, I wake up in the same bed that you occupied after seeing this drawing.

The doctors said that I suffered from a sudden overexposure to cliché ... it's like something from the old East Village Other or college magazine with its typical portrayal of the "bloated Capitalist Pig."...[heard off-stage] "cue on bloated capitalist with big cigar, hold the top hat."

I won't comment on the line quality past saying that it's acceptable work for someone using stone implements.

Now back to my more subtle Koons pieces.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, I have a special fondness for drawings that look like they were made with stone implements (as you may have gleaned from my praise for Dubuffet, art brut, children's art, cromagnon art, and art with a "glint of madness.")

I can't stand the work of Gary Panter but I view this as something quite different. No matter how random and stray and childlike Brodner tries to make his line, he can't conceal the fact that he could draw representationally if he wanted to. He had to unlearn the way to draw that hand, just as Picasso or William Steig or Ronald Searle did. I have tried it and it is not easy, but it can be brutally effective. I think you can tell from the way he depicted the legs and the trunk that he has paid his dues.

Surely a man who can tolerate the odious Jeff Koons can find something of merit here to bring him out of the intensive care ward? I have seen lots of capitalists with big cigars, but never one that is lighting his cigar on the lamp of Diogenes and never one with such a frightening countenance.

Austin Kleon said...

Brodner is the f***ing man! If anyone is dumb enough to doubt his drawing abilities, witness his book FREEDOM FRIES

Anonymous said...

Talking about cliché, not only do I find such portraits of "bloated Capitalist Pigs" with big cigars quite insipid, there is also the most disgusting depiction of an ugly capitalist Jew I've seen in years to be found on Mr Brodners Website:
click to enlarge, watch the "Big Chicken" at the bottom.

Anonymous said...

There's also Tom Richmond!

Matthew Adams said...

Subtle Koons? hahahahahaha... oh, you aren't joking?...

How is Koons subtle? Unless you really are joking, in which case your humour is too subtle for me, Rob, and I need to stick to cliche (how do you get the dash above the e?).

Rob Howard said...

Perhaps it's the incipient obviousness of much leftist cartooning that turns me off. Lack of originality seems to come with the territory. In Brodner's case there's the all-to-often dull thud one gets when something doesn't quite ring true. A similar example is the execrable Paul obvious as to have won the Pulitzer Prize several times (along with numerous plagiarists and fabulists).

Brodner pulls no punches when going for the obvious cliché on the cover of his Piece Of The Pie (bloated Capitalist pig with top hat and...are you ready for this stroke of genius...a pie), meant to appeal to the eternal adolescent taste. Nothing there to remotely strain one brain cell, his stuff has all of originality one comes to expect from Marvel comics...a set of well-used symbols, easily recognized in the dark. To mention him in the same breath as Steig or Searle is wrong-headed.

Another lefty, but this time with real power, is Ralph Steadman...he takes the visceral power of Art Brut and refines it with often spectacular pictorial composition. There is no known evidence that Brodner is even familiar with the term. Brodner just doesn't know the language and, as such, has to use a very narrow group of rubber-stamp symbols.

Whether he can draw or not is to simply say that he has mastered one of the rudiments. I can teach anyone how to draw anything from life in six months and anything from imagination in another six. Drawing is a basic skill to art. The fact that so few have mastered it speaks to Art's flypaper-like quality of attracting people with no understanding of the profession. After all, it is taught as though it's a hobby. Even the priesthood isn't as full of fantasy (the deep inner meaning of the soul and other mystical and mysterious attributes) as most non-practitioner's idea of the profession of art. Brodner definitely appeals to such wool-headed notions.

On the other hand, I'm shoulder to shoulder with you on Gary Panter, and for the same reasons I see in Brodner...pretentious and puerile at the same time.

Matthew Adams said...

I don't know about the rest of Brodner's stuff, but this image doesn't strike me as cliche (really, how do you get that dash above the e?). Rob, is it because it is leftist that you don't like it? Is it because he drew the capitalist as a cigar smoking morally dead piece of meat?

One suspects he drew the fat fella that way so that we would recognise him as a capitalist.

Though I do agree with you that Prodner has nothing on Searle and stieg (steadman makes me yawn)

Matthew Adams said...

Oh, and I am not trying to join the pick on Rob crowd, I think Rob usually has interesting things to say, and I think he has earned the right to say them.

Anonymous said...

I share a love of illustration and find this blog a delight. Even the controversial discussions.
This drawing ,to me, is wonderful. Such images seem to capture more in a few lines than any incomprehensible painting.
It resonates Grosz and of course reflects peoples universal politico/banking zeitgeist. Always wanted to use that word.

Rob Howard said...

>>>this image doesn't strike me as cliche (really, how do you get that dash above the e?)<<<

It's one of the advantages of a French wife with an accent acute in her name (Andrée). With Windows, just hold down the ALT key and, using the keypad, type 0233.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, this is only the third occasion (by my tally) that you have strayed inexplicably from your usual path of sound judgment and good taste. The first was of course, Jeff Koons. I viewed that as an anomaly probably resulting from some psychological trauma or youthful experimentation with drugs. The second was the ARC, where a group that did not seem to merit more than an eye roll or a snicker unleashed such a ferocious polemic you might have thought we were talking about the antichrist.Third is your reaction to this little drawing.

I must say, this unpredictability adds an exciting element to your aesthetic topography and keeps me from taking your conclusions for granted. Just when I think I can predict where you are going to come out you surprise me. Perhaps that's good.

As for this particular drawing, we will just have to disagree, but just to clarify:I assume you aren't suggesting that a drawing deserves to have points deducted because it has a lefty message or because it uses recognizable icons?

Also, on the Steig point, I think it was very hard for Brodner to take that hand (for example) and deconstruct it the way that Picasso or Steig (who was a great fan of Picasso) might have, unlearning the bone structure, resisting the temptation to draw fingernails and inventing kind of a mutant claw which seems spot me for this drawing. I don't know how many readers have tried it, but you can't get there by drawing with your eyes closed or shifting the pencil to your left hand.You have to disconnect a lot of muscle memory that has been hard wired by training. I really like the result.

Chad said...

I know its all in the eye of the beholder, but Yuk.I don't see any evidence of great technique or original thought here, in fact it belongs in the same rubbish bin as Gary Panter and his ilk. Sorry, folks.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Matthew and Beetle. I appreciate hearing from you and I share your views on this drawing.

I think if readers follow the link to Mr. Brodner's web site and read his interview on Caricature, they will be impressed by his literate, thoughtful discussion. The drawing I have picked here is was a quick drawing that Brodner did for fun to accompany that interview.

Rob and Chad, I think there may be a very interesting point to be discussed here, as long as we have a thoughtful and mature collection of readers. (I'm sure Mr. Brodner had no idea that his drawing would be used for such a purpose when I asked permission to use it here. All I can say is that I had no idea either, and I apologize.) We have talked before about identifying criteria for quality in "loose" drawing. If a drawing is not representational and therefore has no external criteria for whether it is "right" or "wrong," what criteria do you use for judging it? How do you distingush, in terms that people can discuss reasonably, between the quality of Steig, Brodner and Panter? Personally, I think this little drawing is absolutely hilarious and extremely well drawn. I think the drawing of the mogul type is highly descriptive and brutally effective. Apparently some readers disagree. The trick is to find a vocabulary by which people might reasonably exchange views.

Anonymous said...

This drawing really makes me laugh. I like the premise and I really like the way it's drawn. Is laughter a good enough test?

Matthew Adams said...

Chéérs Rob

Unknown said...

It's a FUN drawing. Drawing can also be fun can it?

Rob Howard said...

David, I grow to appreciate your clarity more and more. I suspect we'd have a grand time these matters over dinner.

In answer to your it's not the lefty stuff. I used to be a lefty when I was a teen, so I know the driving forces (although how they drive an adult is mysterious). Rather, this gets into the very sticky stuff of taste. When questioned, most people think that they have good taste. With all of that good taste I don't know how to account for all of the unrelieved ugliness and visual mediocrity in the world...must be some sort of statement, eh?
The same people do not know that Aesthetics is a branch of Philosophy, not something smeared over an object, like laving on a thick course of putty to disguise the underlying roughness. But taste is not something with which we are born. A great deal is local or ethnic (note the gaudy decorations on buses in so many countries. That wouldn't fly in Western cultures).
Still, there are some areas of taste that seem to be universal. With the exception of Hottentots, the standards of female beauty seem to transcend cultures. Look at the advertisements from various countries and when they show a pretty woman of that culture, she'd pretty to all cultures.

The same with music. While westerners might listen to gamelan music as an interesting oddity, there is doubtless a very western and revered philharmonic in Thailand, playing the Three B's and the rest of the western repertoire. There is no Gamelan Concertgebouw in the European lowlands. The truth is that Beethoven has more weight in all cultures. So does Michelangelo. Hateful as it may seem, all things and all cultures are not created equal. Not by a long shot.

If we accept that, say, the vast amount of modern technology and scientific thinking has not come from the steppes of Outer Mongolia or the fever swamps of Panama, it stands to reason that the same unequal weighting occurs in matters of art.

This brings us to the point at hand...the application of certain standards to works of art. I was recently enjoying a slideshow of marvelous Mayan pottery shown on the WSJ's site (yes, the arch-typical capitalist stogie smokers also have a real love of art). The pieces were breathtaking. They came from a culture we don't understand...using crossed bones and avulsed eyeballs as decorative elements is beyond our understanding, yet the underlying Aesthetic principles were in keeping with the standards by which we judge Poussin, Picasso, the decorations of the Ndebele people and the drawings of Steig. There is an strong thread which becomes more apparent as we cultivate our taste. The operative word is to "cultivate," much as one would cultivate a garden, removing weeds and promoting the desired flowers.

A word about cultivating taste; it is not an unalloyed pleasure. In truth, the person with undeveloped taste will admit more things to his liking. The gaudy buses, the bright-colored plastic on HotWheels, McDonald's are all equal to that Christine Ceiling and that Venus with the nice hooters but without the arms. For him, whatever strikes his fancy is good taste. Obvious this is the guy to whom you bring $24 worth of beads when you do real estate deals.

Now we get into that really sticky area best stated by the justice who stated that he could not precisely define pornography but he knew it when he saw it. It's that sticky, annoying je ne sais quoi that raises it's head here. When I said that the Brodner piece didn't ring true, it was an undefinable quality that is obviously based in everything from weeding through centuries of European art, African art, Asian art, Art Brut, hot wheels and McDonald's logos.

You must understand that if visual art is to have any validity, there are aspects of it that are judged and resolved on a strictly visual basis. They cannot be reduced or translated into words, and this is where the je ne sais quoi comes into play.

That the drawing is obvious, is beyond question. Reducing objects such as the hand, to to its essence is something better left to Picasso. Inaccuracy does not mean reduction to essential form. If that were the case then the happy glove character of Hamburger Helper would fit that category. But the glove works because it is a twice-told tale...a symbol...a cliché (that was for you, Matthew).

Thus I will conclude that it is the paucity of form left by my drive to develop refined taste that does not allow that Brodner drawing past my filters. For those with a broader mesh to their filters, it will go through. As I said, refined taste is very limiting in what it allows. The only good thing I can say about it is, once developed, it allows an languorous epicurean approach to those elevated efforts of our fellow humans.

Last night I enjoyed a meal of exquisite balance and complexity. McDonald's diners would doubtless have found fault with the not-ample portions and unfamiliar ingredients. For me, it was a transporting experience that I kept reliving in conversation.

BTW I am the only known American citizen who has never eaten a McDonald...before you jump to conclusions, I'm still patriotic and, like most Bostonians, I vote early and do my deceased relatives.

Anonymous said...

I'm about to cry!...

Chad said...

There was a time when this was the default style of fashionable alternative/underground comix. I didn't like it then and I like it even less now. It seems to revel in a kind of self-conscious ugliness that says 'Hey look at me I'm so real and edgy', when generally these are guys who never bothered to learn to draw 'properly'.

Matthew Adams said...

Rob, I admire your lone wolf modernist stance against the slobering demonic hordes of postmodernism (ok, maybe a bit dramatic), but this makes it even more surprising that you like Koons, an exampler of postmodernism if ever there was. Or am I applying isms to you that I shouldn't?

At the risk of sounding like a cultural relativist (I'm not), I suspect that your arguments for a culture transcending universal law of beauty and artistic rightness is flawed. Maybe there isn't a Gamelan Concertebouw in the european lowlands due to a distinct lack of asian colonisation in europe. A culture might be suppressed at the higher, more elite levels to please colonial overlords by accepting and assimilating their culture.

Rob Howard said...

>>>Maybe there isn't a Gamelan Concertebouw in the european lowlands due to a distinct lack of asian colonisation in europe. A culture might be suppressed at the higher, more elite levels to please colonial overlords by accepting and assimilating their culture.<<<

That doesn't bear up to close scrutiny if you use China and Japan as examples. That case could be made for Singapore if you didn't have a calendar. The blossoming of serious music didn't start until well after the Brits quit the occurence my Singaporean former student lamented.

Much is made of the horrid effect of colonization on the Disney version of poor, benign folks who were happy wearing loincloths and eating roots and grubs before the evil white Europeans imposed their wills. Doubtless, the practice of suttee would still be praticed in India if the viceroy hadn't erected gallows next to the funeral pyres and promised to use them when next they tossed the widow into the flames to honor her husband.

Only a fool would say that the European colonies in Asia, Africa and India did not result in overall advancement of the population at large. We over-indulged Yanks tend to distance ourselves from reality. As a result, the oft-vicious reality of claw-and-fang Nature is subsumed under our National Geographic view which treats nature as some sacrosanct petting zoo where trees cannot be harvested and critters cannot be hunted and consumed.

Worse, we apply that same petting zoo mentality to of fellow humans around the world...don't touch, we may taint them. Yes, we'll damned well taint our brethren if we bring an Apache Longbow or two to bear against the Janjaweed to prevent murder and rape (ever note how the evil westerners seldom resort to mass rapes as a military tactic?) Nope, can't do that. It would upset the delicate natural balance and affect the local ecology (which thrives on severed limbs).

We really have heads full of wool when it comes to the reality of western influence. I for one, sing Hooray For Bollywood! That burgeoning creative force would never have come about in pre-colonial India. Don't forget that the inventive Chinese marveled at clocks brought by western traders. Those traders were non-plussed because the Chinese had invented clocks but, as was there wont when an emperor died, destroyed all of the technology and writing of that era to honor his memory. The westernizing influence has been the impetus for them to preserve the fruits of their creativity. They also have cracking good philharmonia throughout the nation and, we in turn have thousands of storefront kung-fu parlors in every strip mall.

As a citizen of a former colony, I can only look to the many cultural gifts left by our former overlords and, like the Indians, Asians and Africans, thank them for imparting their pommy bits on us.

Matthew Adams said...

I actually agree with you about colonisation for the most part. I was just trying to deflate your argument about universal ideals in regards to beauty and music (and art in general, and the illustration featured in this post in particular).

My own ideas, especially about reletivity/absolutes in art are in constant state of flux. I find these discussions quite interesting and useful, so thanks for your comments Rob, and your rather interesting posts David.

David Apatoff said...

I have been traveling on business and gave up trying to post responses to this dialogue using my blackberry on an airport runway. Now I am back, and will be able to reply to some of these comments as soon as I have taken care of a few things. However, there are two quick points I'd like to make before the discussion strays much farther afield.

First, as we use Mr. Brodner's drawing as the launching pad for a discussion of global theories of cultural dominance and hierarchies of value, I just want to say that I really do think his picture is "one lovely drawing" and thank him for letting me reproduce it here. I think it is praiseworthy in form, content and attitude, and I apologize for getting him into this.

Second, Rob I have to distance myself from your comment, "there are some areas of taste that seem to be universal. With the exception of Hottentots, the standards of female beauty seem to transcend cultures. Look at the advertisements from various countries and when they show a pretty woman of that culture, she's pretty to all cultures." It doesn't take a lot of courage to antagonize the male philosophers that hang around here, but if you are going to start preaching a single universal standard for female beauty you are either extremely brave or out of your everlovin' mind. I admit that I was surprised, while traveling in Beijing, to see advertisements with nordic blonde models on the sides of buses. But even the men in my college dorm could not agree on a universal standard for female beauty, and if they could, you can bet they had the good sense never to say such a thing out loud, knowing it would only invite questions from the women in their lives about how they measure against this supposedly monolithic standard. Does Andree know that you are running around espousing such reckless views?

When I am ready to wrap up this blog, I may write a post about feminine pulchritude but for now I wish to assure all of my female readers that I am only writing about art and Rob Howard is on his own.

Anonymous said...

I followed the link back to Brodner's web site. He is one smart dude. I like that drawing a lot. Very funny!

Paul F.

Chad said...

OK, I checked out Mr Brodner's site and I'm bound to say the stuff there gives a much better view of his talents and thinking.I'm not sure I would have chosen this illo to demonstrate his style ( and I stand by my original comments on that ) but I can see he IS a man with a vision of things, which you have to respect.

Chad said...

Can I just say, that facial beauty,in it's conventional sense does have a mathematical basis of proportionality that that crosses ethnicity; so the evenly proportioned chinese face, say Jet Li is more generically attractive than Jackie Chan or Brad Pitt over Quentin Tarantino (sorry for my choice of exemplars!). That's not to say that certain anomolies of proportion can actually add to beauty and make it more unique and less bland. So this is about proportions and not ethnicity ok!

Rob Howard said...

Yep, it's all about proportions. That's an artistic thing. The ethnic thing is something that politicians and ward heelers are interested in. I'm an artist not a social engineer. I also tell the truth. Pygmies are generally shorter than Watusi. Nothing denigrating in noticing that difference although it borders political incorrectness because it leads to other obvious comparisons and, as anyone who has read Vonnegut's short story, Harrison Bergeron, has learned, the future belongs to those forced into egalitarian sameness.

The regular features on those we consider beautiful do translate into widely held standards. Perhaps not among the beauty judges in a college dorm (and we know how skilled they are at Aesthetics) but among people who put their money (lots of their money) where their mouths are...advertisers. Thus, the pretty girl enjoying the taste of Wicky Wappy on a poster in Botswana shares standards of beauty similar to Cindy Crawford selling a beauty product in Vogue.

The secret that may have escaped the dorm mates are those of regular proportions. Any artist worth his keep has to know this. If you look at graffiti in the subway, one thing is apparent...primitive drawing always errs on the side of ugliness. You'd thing the Law of Averages would be at play and an occasional slip into beauty is possible, but NO! Unskilled people ALWAYS make ugly drawings. It takes real skill and knowledge to make a person look beautiful.

Andrée knows that I harbor such radical ideas. So do the people who commission my portraits. I make look like it's a good hair day and that's what being an artist is all about. Not lying, just finding the elements that are the most visually pleasing. This is a basic skill that Brodner has shown himself incapable of doing. In that way his work is more in keeping with the subway graffiti portraits. Ugliness comes naturally to most people...just look at the walls in public places and the work coming out of prisons and lunatic asylums (I prefer that to Mental Health Clinic).

Just clear,trained eyes at work. Sorry that I don't tell the sort of lies people want to hear or see. After all, who is to say that Brodner's hatchet jobs are more truthful than my portraits of elegant ladies? It's a really warped view of humanity that insists that ugliness is consonat with truth.

Rob Howard said...

Completely off-subject is this amusing quote from Robert Stacy McCain (no relation to John)..."Being Notorious Is Not the Same as Being Famous, But It's Better Than Being Anonymous."

peacay said...

---it is razor sharp---I totally agree and the deployment of what is being dismissed by some as a cliché in the form of our corporate animal is a modern iconograph in the service of the narrative. One can wax lyrical until the end of time about the usage of this figure as proof that the artistic style is somehow flawed or of lesser quality, but it is because of our instant familiarity with the fat businessman/cigar trope that the artist is able to convey so much in the context of the historical story. He is, of course, ridiculing the notion that an "honest man" and "profit movtive" can coexist. You are welcome to take it as a left/right thesis, but I think it is more suggestive of "blind" profiteering as the antithesis of morality (very topical too!).

---but the more persuasive explanation for the man's offensiveness is his utter lack of concern.---I would have said that it's the lack of awareness rather than concern. Something positive has entered his orbit and he is so myopic that he doesn't even realise that he is exploiting it in the all-quenching pursuit of $$$. *He says, 2c spent*
Thanks David, as always.

David Apatoff said...

There has been so much covered in recent comments, I think the only focused way to respond is to subdivide the dialogue into a series of shorter responses on different subjects.

First, I'd like to react to the notion that "the standards of female beauty seem to transcend cultures." I fully agree that a beautiful woman can be beautiful cross-culturally (although I am not sure why we are restricting this to female beauty; I suspect the same could be said of males). And I have also heard the view that symmetry and proportion are keys to the universal standards of beauty.

But just as obviously, tastes vary between cultures and even within a single culture over time. Why does Frazetta draw large butts, R. Crumb draw immense legs and Bill Ward draw huge breasts? Each has an ideal of beauty that others might consider distorted and unnatural. Based on sales, lots of men apparently agree with Olivia's ideal of beauty-- skinny, airbrushed polyethylene horrors, devoid of all freckles, laugh lines or humanity. Sometimes taste in beauty changes with fashion; a society that once worshipped an ample figured Marilyn Monroe was swooning over Twiggy ten years later. Some of these preferences probably have biological roots; the cromagnon sculptor of the Willendorf venus lived in an era when women were prized for their sturdy, child bearing capabilities. Some of them are social: during the plague years in Europe, the preference seemed to shift decidedly to fair skin.

I don't deny that there are archetypes out there that apply to many people most of the time, but I also think the evidence shows there is no one stop shopping when it comes to female beauty. Let a thousand flowers bloom!

As an aside, I believe that many men started down the path toward becoming artists because they liked the notion of drawing females, and in particular drawing females that were customized to the male's own personal standard of beauty. The god-like power to create images meant you didn't have to rely on the Miss America pageant or Playboy magazine for somebody's assembly line notion of beauty. They didn't do it consciously, but lots of adolescent boys designed their own dream girl with the emphasis they chose to put on eyes or hair or rumps as they drew. The power to create your own Aphrodite, even if only on paper, is reason enough to become an artist.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous, thanks for the referral to Tom Richmond's web site. I share Richmond's enthusiasm for Mort Drucker, and found Drucker's portrait of Richmond quite superb. That page where readers sent in their caricatures of Richmond was also quite funny.

Austin, I like your enthusiasm.

Chad, thanks for writing. I did not mean to suggest that this one drawing was representative of Brodner's larger body of work-- it is, after all, just "one lovely drawing"-- but I am glad you checked out his web site and got a larger sample. The toughest thing here, in my opinion, is to contrast Brodner and Panter. This drawing has a lot of loose, flailing lines similar to Panter's yet I think this is a terrific drawing and I can't stand Panter. I do understand why you draw the connection, and I agree it is incumbent upon those of us who say there is a major difference to be able to articulate that difference.

David Apatoff said...

Matthew, one of these days I am going to do a post about Jeff Koons just to see what Rob has to say for himself. I hope when that day comes you will participate actively!

Beetle, I hadn't thought about the Grosz connection, but that's a good point.

Anonymous and Gringo, "fun" counts for a lot where I come from.

Peacay, you are absolutely right. "Awareness" is a far better word.

Chad said...

I think Frazetta and Crumb and Ward are airing prediledtions related to sexual preference rather than textbook concepts of 'attractiveness'. Which is a whole different ball game!
My thought about Drucker was that he was not only incredibly influential but also very original in sustaining a likeness over 2 or 3 pages of continuity. Is that correct?

David Apatoff said...

Rob, I concede all that you say about the importance of refined taste; I agree that a sophisticated palate can heighten experiences and enable us to savor the nuances in a meal that others wolf down or skip over. But that's not the whole story. Robert Fawcett, one of my artistic heroes, writes about the importance of vulgarity in art:

"[T]he creative act in art involves a kind of courage which good taste might easily modify. It almost seems as if the creative impulse involves a large ingredient of vulgarity to be a vital statement. In drawing, an excess of what we think of as good taste can only result in an anemic product, while the more vulgar statement... is invariably stimulating."

I think you can see that philosophy in action in Fawcett's art; he may draw period pictures of men in suits occupying English drawing rooms, but these civilized tableaux retain a vitality because of his violent, anarchistic line. His subject matter may be elegant and refined but his pen smashes things down to the subatomic particle level rebuilds them.

You write that your refined taste "does not allow that Brodner drawing past my filters." On the one hand, I agree that a set of filters is a lifetime's work; filters define a person and, if you develop them properly, are something to be quite proud of. On the other hand, I think the cleaning and maintenace of those filters requires us to be mindful of what those smaller and smaller openings are filtering out. If we don't regularly challenge what our filters tell us, and even subject them to creative destruction, we could end up captives of a very rareified but anemic diet.

in a prior debate with a commenter, I wrote in defense of vulgarity and sprinkled the discussion with particularly raw quotes from Chaucer and Shakespeare, and noted that Beethoven came from the far edge, disrupting the elegant structure and order of the classical period in music. With you I don't have to walk through any of that stuff because you know it already. So I can cut right to the chase: how does your view reconcile aristocratic refinement with revolutionary passion? The latter is messy and coarse and most of it is junk, but it is also indispensable in the life cycle of culture.

I argued in my previous exchange, vulgar art flourishes even without defenders for the best of all possible reasons: because its potency commands an audience. It is robust art in a great cultural tradition. Some of the best ideas start from just outside the borders of good taste, wearing a little too much rouge, and we should not be so quick to take offense.

David Apatoff said...

Chad, if you can draw a line between "attraction" and "sexual preference," I would be very, very, very interested in what you have to say. If you think that a global standard for beauty can be linked to "proportionality," then I assume you are not just talking about large eyes or a high forehead; you must be talking about the proportion of legs to body, or waist to hips, right?

I agree with you that Drucker's ability to sustain a likeness over several pages, from different angles, in different lighting, is a truly remarkable talent. It's not the wildly creative part of his genius, but it is nevertheless a part.

Chad said...

David, having drawn hundreds of pages of continuity art you'll have to take my word for how bloody difficult it is sustaining a likeness, especially drawing the face in different emotions.I don't care how he inks hair or draws ties without the faces you got nuthin.
I'm assuming that when you see the statue of the Venus de Milo you are not fighting to suppress a 'boner' -sorry- you can appreciate beauty without linking it to sexual appeal. I hope.

António Araújo said...

David, there are statistical studies that show a strong preference for certain facial proportions. Of course you can find exceptions, we are humans and all you can state in psichology are statistical truths.

The studies I know personally are on the american population, but I heard that smaller studies seem to show cross-cultural agreement. I'm sure you can find results on the web. And as Rob stated, really advertisers should know best.

But you are right in one thing, within those basins of statistical preference there is space for a lot of variation, from twiggy to Marylin and beyond, even without considering outliers.

But you do have some very clear results: some people are beautiful anywhere and at any time (though their precise rank my oscilate) and some are ugly anywhere and antime.

That is to say: as far as beauty goes, absolutes may be relative but relativity is certainly not absolute :)

Matthew Adams said...

Advertisers have great skill in telling us what is attractive, which is reason enough to create ugliness.

If you do a post on Koons, David, it won't be just me jumping into the fray I think. Rob will have to hold back the hordes singlehandedly, but he seems to have broard enough shoulders to handle it (im not too sure how broard shoulders hold back the hordes, unless they are employed to keep shut the gates of civilisation?).

Matthew Adams said...

There is an old song with the title My Coon is a Lobster (yes, like many old things it isn't very pc). It seems right (and maybe too obvious) to change the title to My Koon is a Lobster.

Mark said...

As a quick comment, Frazetta has said on a couple of occasions, publicly the he prefers thinner athletic women as a personal preference but when it comes to his work, women with more dynamic contrasting shapes work for him better. Sometimes it's just artistic license.

To the blog post I much prefer a more energetic line with some energy then something too linear. Often this can be messy or grotesque but so be it. If it gets a reaction from the viewer then it has done it's job.

António Araújo said...

>Advertisers have great skill in >telling us what is attractive

Though that is usually stated I have the impression that advertisers are more apt at finding the natural weak spots of the common man than at actually creating them. Why would they bother? They are economic and go for the easier route. They do sell things nobody needs, but not needing is not the same as not wanting. I am immune to most advertising, but I am the kind of guy that doesn't even own a TV, so they don't care anyway - their game is a valid one, aimed at the majority.

> which >is reason enough to create ugliness.

a valid thought if you are interested in that kind of opposition, for whatever reason, be it artistic or political. That doesn't change the fact that if you instead - or concurrently - are interested in understanding the normal human concept of beauty, the normal human psichology, and its applications to art, you should do well to respect and use the knowledge they certainly have acquired and tested far more diligently and reliably than any psichology department. I am interested in knowledge of reality, I don't really care where ir comes from or whether I like the answer or not, as long as it is verifiably true.

Chad said...

If you accept the theory of natural selection you are also buying in to a notion that there is some natural hierarchy of attractiveness within any race; be it strength, intelligence or beauty. And for these concepts to actually work we all need to be able to identify them instinctively.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, of the multiple interesting issues raised in your comments, the one issue that is probably least susceptible to discussion through snippets on a blog is your discussion of colonization and the relative merits of different cultures. Neverthless, let's at least have a go.

You say, "Only a fool would say that the European colonies in Asia, Africa and India did not result in overall advancement of the population at large." OK then, I won't say it. But let's take a closer look at the way in which those populations advanced. As far as I can tell, they were aided more by the western scientific method and tradition of empiricism than the boundless excellence of western art and culture.

The scientific revolution gave us the industrial revolution which in turn begat the technological revolution, bringing with it a lifestyle that everyone around the world craves. Western medicine, transportation, agricultural science, communications, electric power and other developments bestowed clear tangible benefits, but these were the fruits of Pythagoras and Archimedes and Francis Bacon, not western artists and writers. If you are correct that western art forms now dominate most of the world, I suspect it is in part because they arrived as a package deal with western technology.

People working in the humanities love to extrapolate from the sciences; ever since the Enlightenment, they stare longingly at the showy spoils of science and search for ways to claim scientific certainty and legitimacy for fundamentally value laden disciplines that cannot be quantified and measured objectively, such as ethics, religion, or art. It's why Kant tried to find a rational basis for morals and it's why religious fundamentalists now call their faith "intelligent design."

You do not fall into this trap, but you do say, "If we accept that, say, the vast amount of modern technology and scientific thinking has not come from the steppes of Outer Mongolia or the fever swamps of Panama, it stands to reason that the same unequal weighting occurs in matters of art." As a child of Francis Bacon, I invoke the scientific method and require that you first show me why science and art are not apples and oranges. Or to flip your comparison another way, If we accept that McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken have successfully conquered the world by appealing to the lowest common denominator, does it stand to reason that Beethoven conquered the world the same way? I am guessing you would hasten to disconnect the two.

Even in the area of science and technology, which seems like your one sure bet, I think the jury is still out on your premise that the colonial west brought advancement to the population at large. World War I shocked the world by showing us with poison gas and tanks what happens when science and technology enhance our ability to wage war. The Nazis further shocked the world by showing how science and technology could be applied to exterminate millions of human beings. So far, I agree with you that despite the abuses of colonialism, India and Pakistan are better off for the gift of colonial science. But now India and Pakistan both have nukes. I hope ten years from now we can still perform the same cost/benefit analysis and reach the same conclusion, but it is possible to envision a future where they-- and we all-- would have been better off if they were "wearing loincloths and eating roots and grubs."

This is a complex area and it is impossible to discuss it intelligently in a medium that allows me about as much room as a bumper sticker. It's kind of guaranteed to make me sound like a racist or a moron. But I wanted to at least raise these basic hesitations for your reaction.

With respect to your point about the art itself-- Michelangelo etc.-- I think the west has offered some good things and some mighty bad things. I simply can't argue about Beethoven. I do think he is a universally uplifting experience. (I decided long ago that if as a result of a lifetime of work I could produce anything as wonderful as his 5th piano concerto, my whole life would be a glorious success. I'm not there yet). But I think that through much of the 20th century, western art has nudged fine arts in the direction of decadence, self-indulgence and irrelevance. Are you so convinced that it is an advancement for art to be removed from everyday life, from the functional craft of beautifully designed boxes and weapons and shoes and masks and totem objects with religious significance, and instead hung on a wall at a remote institution where investment bankers pay obscene amounts of money for the glamour of owning it and PhDs explain why it is good? Is art more life enhancing and relevant if it is integrated into daily life, into tools and clothes and and shrines and work routines, or is it better off as something held at arm's length as performance art and "happenings" videotaped and appraised by critics? There are a number of cultures that produced a lot of beautiful work without ever having a word for "art."

I don't know the answer to these questions, but I suggest that the answer may be a little less obvious than it might first appear.

David Apatoff said...

Mark: You have previously shown yourself to be an astute observer of the arts. Are you seriously telling me that you don't believe Frazetta has a healthy fixation with the female posterior??? If you look in the Fenner books and see Frazetta's personal paintings (including the one that looks suspiciously like a nude of Ellie on all fours with her bottom presented to the viewer) Frazetta could swear on a stack of bibles that he doesn't like bountiful rear ends on women and I would just laugh. Sir Mix-a-lot could learn something from Frazetta. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

Mark said...

Hey I never said he didn't like big butts! I'll just say that if you've ever seen pictures of his wife, she is the exact physical opposite of what he chooses to portray in his work. I was just trying to point out that artistic preference has a role here.

António Araújo said...

>I suspect it is in part because they >arrived as a package deal with western >technology.

David, the japanese, for instance, are notorious at separating the parts of the package and taking what they want. Their national mindset would have no trouble separating the two and discarding the artistic part if it didn't appeal to them. In fact, there was a time when japan closed itself to the west and you couldn't have works of art from the west legally, and the likes of Hokusai risked themselves quite a bit to get their hands on the smuggled stuff.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, Omwo, Matthew and others-- The last element of this metaphysical gabfest that I would like to address is the discussion about ugliness and beauty in art. Those words can mean such widely divergent things, it's hard to agree or disagree, but as a general matter I think it's fair to say that "beauty" in art declined in value over the years because it came to be viewed as synthetic or even dishonest. Socialist realism created a lot of superficially beautiful pictures of healthy peasants working in nature, but they were just propaganda covering up a nightmarish reality. The Nazis generated a lot of beautiful pictures too, of aryan knights and furled banners. The people who saw the "ugly" side of life were the ones who were not so easily duped; George Grosz's pictures were filled with the corruption and putrefaction that he saw all around him. Eugene O'Neil's plays, such as "Long Day's Journey Into Night," displayed the truly ugly side of humanity, and he was anything but "unskilled." Can ugliness be conveyed beautifully?

António Araújo said...

>Can ugliness be conveyed beautifully?

Certainly. The other stuff I was talking about has no implications on that one way or another.

António Araújo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew Adams said...

Im not sure if ugliness can be portrayed beautifully. I suspect it has more to do with our perception of what we are portraying. I think we can pick out what is beautiful in what is considered ugly, i.e the beauty in an old woman, though age is considered ugly, or the beauty in an old rusty warehouse , though decay is considered ugly. Though sometimes I think (worry?) this has more to do with abstract composition then it has to do with any integral beauty of the person/thing. When I look at an old tin and brick warehouse that is falling down, I often feel the same sense of peace and joy as looking at a beautiful landscape, and in fact there is some perverse side of me that prefers the decaying warehouse. Yet I wonder if this is because I see it with an artist's eye, and I am picking out the elements in it that would look nice in a drawing.

When it comes to Grosz, he tended to bring out what was ugly in society, and then made it more ugly so that we would really notice it. There is the beauty of truth in it, and I love his work, but there is not a lot of it I can call beautiful (though i can certianly pick out elements of his line which is beautiful).

I actuallly don't think there is a really simple answer.

I think simplifying beauty down to set of universal golden means is as bad as the nationalistic simplification practised by the Nazis.

Yet, when I look at a beautiful building like the Taj Mahal, I almost think that Rob is right, and that there at least is a universaly beautiful building.

Stephen Worth said...

Can ugliness be conveyed beautifully?One word... Goya.

If you haven't seen Robert Hughes' "Goya: Crazy Like A Genius" yet, put it on your Netflix queue.

Rob Howard said...

David, I’ve long suspected that you and I would enjoy entertaining each other over dinner, so whenever your travels take you to Boston, please try to make arrangements that we can expand on these discussions. I agree that the bumpersticker quality of online exchanges often renders discussion down to percussion and concussion. However, I feel that it’s less the function of the medium than being emblematic of this current age of mankind (I resolutely resist multi-tasking, or as it is known in clinical parlance, Attention Deficit Disorder).
A number of issues you bring up are worth expanding upon. Others are a bit too obvious, such as citing the occasional bad examples of Western culture. While it’s fashionable to think of colonization as an unalloyed destruction of marvelously Doric lands where the lion laid with the lamb, a cursory glance at what was wrought upon this land when it was colonized should turn the argument. We backwoodsmen, trappeurs, second sons, adventurers and dirt farmers…the also-rans and castoffs of Europe inherited the glowing Age of Enlightenment and, making native variations in the reading of it, produced a successful nation unlike that ever seen. The student clearly surpassed the master.
Whilst not all colonies enjoyed similar successes, the vast, vast majority saw greatly improved daily lives ranging from the adoption of a steel plow all the way to institutions of higher learning.
As a society based on technology, our default position s to look through the lens of Science and even subject unlikely areas of life such as Art, Love, Poetry and Spirituality to being measured by the inappropriate yardstick of scientific proofs. Self-help books and nostrums to the contrary, a scientific approach is unlikely to help your children love and respect you. Yet there currently exist children who look upon their parents with deep love and true (not instilled) respect. When was the last time that you overhead a kid bragging about his Dad? Those qualities and attributes fall well outside the measurements of science (although, given some grant money, you may be assured that some people will turn it into a study with the appropriate publish-or-perish findings).
But discussions of comparative cultures is neither here nor there. Just as some races are taller and more gracile, like the elegant Watusi, an equally ineluctable fact is that some cultures have produced far more to advance mankind than have others. Yes, they also made mistakes. So what? The bottom line is just that, the bottom line…the sum total, and the reality is that western culture has come to dominate the world, not because we produce endless hordes of screaming warriors bent on destruction, but because what westerners have produced is so attractive and obviously worthwhile that it makes good sense to put up with their funny accents and awful food in order to get the electric pump that will irrigate the village and bring prosperity. It’s also good to bear in mind that most emerging cultures adhere to the old actor’s dictum…”It’s not so much that I get the part, as it is that you don’t get the part.” That nasty attitude dispels when poverty transmogrifies into prosperity…very few wealthy people mug you in an alleyway.
What is interesting to me (and proves my long-held belief that illustration is a much higher calling than we have led ourselves to believe) is how these discussions (minus the anonymous concussions and percussions) often lead into somewhat philosophical areas. So when you ask…” are you so convinced that it is an advancement for art to be removed from everyday life, from the functional craft of beautifully designed boxes and weapons and shoes and masks and totem objects with religious significance, and instead hung on a wall,” you’re bringing coal to Newcastle with me because, if nothing else, I am an applied artist. Virtually everything I have done for the past four decades has been fulfilling a commission. I have only recently become interested in gallery shows, but that’s just another marketing venue for me, not a burning desire to allow some inner genie out so that, finally, the world will understand me. I could care less.
If stranded on an island with no hope of ever seeing another human (not a disagreeable prospect for a misanthrope) I would immediately turn my effort toward decorating. That is, making everything beautiful to look at. However, I doubt that I’d paint pictures as I now do – as a form of communication. As it is, I have the advantage of being able to collect the work of fellow humans who excel in making beautifully designed boxes and weapons and shoes and masks and totem objects with religious significance. It’s important to me to have beautiful stuff around me.
My wife, Andrée, is frequently invited to speak at those big seminars for hopeful artists. At one, sponsored by HOW magazine, she spoke to the importance of the environment on the artist (I believe Pasteur’s dying word were something like le milieu c’est tout). If the artist worked in a studio with sprayed grafitti on the walls, rap blasting from the speakers and stains from The Special Sauce dotting his legible T-shirt, it is unlikely in the extreme that he will produce a serene Zen-like image. However, he is likely to produce a powerful poster for the next WrestleMania.

The milieu sets the tone and the wise artist sets the milieu. There are cultural milieus that are antithetical to the production of elevated art. Producing art of any worth in the heart of scam-a-minute Lagos, Nigeria (…a wealthy relative had died and left 295 million American dollars for you…) is unlikely. And what else sets the creative milieu? Attitude. Much of this fashionable and jejune nihilism masquerades as irony and most of the practitioners wouldn’t know real irony if it bit them on the arse.
As you may have noticed, this reply starts out with the larger scope and narrows down, like a funnel, and here is where the velocity picks up. How can you possibly think that, while other cultures have prospered from western technology, the same cannot be said for western art. Have you ever been to a country where western (American) style legible T-shirts were not in abundance? I just saw pictures of some Willigamam-Wallalua bushmen wearing t-shirts with some helluva cute saying printed on them…in English. Okay, so that’s not high art, nor is advertising but one would have to be blind to America, and the West’s, most pervasive art form…movies. Those kids running the online scams in Lagos lined up to see the last Batman movie. Movies are an art form that saturates and envelops the audience. The effect of paintings…any paintings, is small beer compared to movies.
Coming in at a close second are western-produced TV commercials. Oh, did I fail to mention comic books as an art form and how that distinctly American form (sure, there was probably some Serbian who first produced sequential panels in a book, but so what). The American form spread and because of astounding western cartoonists (especially a whole school of Spanish and French artists…is there anyone like Jean Giraud [Moebius]) and you’ll find people tryingto read graphic novels from the swaying back of a camel.
The view into the fantasy of western life (all California women are blonde, have long legs and 2% body fat) is more powerful than any colonizing that’s gone before…and it’s done without having to set foot in the affected countries. So the art forms that we limit ourselves to…gallery and museum stuff, have little effect whereas the commercial stuff, the movies, TV ads and comic books are easily as powerful in forming an impression of western life as is the latest computer or air conditioner.
So stop thinking in terms of Science being the sine qua non of what we have to offer. We’re much more than technicians and inventors…we make art that pulls in millions a day at the box office. That’s real influence on a global scale.

BTW Koons Rools!

Rob Howard said...

>>When it comes to Grosz, he tended to bring out what was ugly in society, and then made it more ugly so that we would really notice it. There is the beauty of truth in it, and I love his work, but there is not a lot of it I can call beautiful (though i can certianly pick out elements of his line which is beautiful).<<<

Let's not overlook the many large erections that kept popping up in Grosz's "social commentary." Perhaps the old Little Blue Book collections of crudely drawn pornography (who knew that Olive Oyle looked like that with her clothes off?) were also social commentary about the little guy getting screwed by a big, turgid government.

So, what about all of the flat-out porn that Grosz did (they guys never even took off their hats)? How is this a reflection by a sensitive artist on the state of affairs during the Weimar days? For every drawing we misconstrue as some masterpiece of social commentary was another piece of porn...not symbolic porn...just good old steamy, sweaty porn that did not have the redeeming artistic values of Schiele.

There's plenty of Grosz drawings around. Of course they have been edited to make the point that he was a powerful anti-Nazi. Funny how we buy into our preconceived comfortable notions.

A little art history goes a long way in dispelling the wool from our minds.

Matthew Adams said...

Prehaps you should dispell the flock of sheep from your own mind, before dispelling the wool from your brother's mind.

To deny the social commentry aspect of Grosz's work is... like denying the earth is round. Sure as hell Grosz did porn, but he also did works like Vorsich, nicht stolpern, and Aus eigner Kraft.

kenmeyerjr said...

Wow, David...maybe you and Rob should do your own version of My Dinner With Andre? You could both discuss Frazetta, Koons, Panter and anyone else that comes up...sounds like a winner!

I had been getting Brodner's posts during the election and they were always entertaining and usually incredibly well drawn. The one you show here, as much as I like Brodner, does seem a little slapdash...but still better than most could do. The guy is damn good, that's for sure.

Jack Ruttan said...

I have to say I'm not a Steve Brodner fan. He's a bit like Gerald Scarfe to me, in that he unleashes so much bile on his minor characters you wonder what he's going to do with someone truly despicable, and then it's disappointing.

But Dave, you're allowed your quirks! I enjoy this debate.

Just skimming the comments, and someone was complaining about the lousiness of "left-wing cartoons." Come on: The Masses, Bill Mauldin.... just to start. I'm sorry -- the best cartoonists have been on the side of the underdog.

What's (who's) a good right-wing cartoon(ist)? Little Orphan Annie? Al Capp? Anyhow, hope the guy got set straight somewhere I didn't read.

David Apatoff said...

Jack, the politics of art is a whole different pandora's box, but absolutelty fascinating. I am a big fan of Harold Gray and won't hear him slandered, but if you want another example of a great right wing cartoonist, I offer you Jeff MacNelly. Walt Disney was certainly right wing (although a different kind of cartoonist). And Frazetta was a comic artist more than a cartoonist, but his politics are hilariously right wing-- real simple minded Rush Limbaugh stuff. He is a brilliant artist, but when he opens his mouth to talk politics it's hard to keep from laughing.

I agree with you that the best cartoonists through history have tended to have a subversive streak: Oliphant, Searle, Daumier, Szyk, Walt Kelly, Grosz, Scarfe, Kollwitz, as well as the bullpens of most satirical magazines, such as Simplicissimus (home of the great Heinrich Kley), Jugend, MAD and others.

Why is that? Perhaps left wing dictatorships are just more effective at stifling cartoonists, but I don't think so.

Jack Ruttan said...

Wouldn't want to slander Harold Gray, because I enjoy his storytelling. He will creep me out occasionally though, with his sadism, just like Chester Gould in "Dick Tracy."

McNelly I found more "centrist," in an American way, a bit like Herblock and imitators. Frazetta's politics might be wingnut, but his world of barbarians is so far removed from ours. Maybe Frank Miller and his version of Batman.

When I think of right wing, I think of "Mallard Fillmore," or the people who draw obvious stereotypes, and then complain about "political correctness" when others squawk. Happily, few cartoonists lecture. R. Crumb does, Al Capp did, and so does Dave Sim.

Even those Men's mags of the 50s and Reader's Digest were pretty political.

It's a fine line. Popeye or Mickey Mouse had a point of view (thinking of my "Smithsonian Comics Collection".) They'd be much more boring without, or trying to appeal to a biggest common denominator.

Walt Kelly is one of my illustrator heroes. Him and Dr. Seuss. You can say a lot of edgy stuff through cute animals.

Dictatorships of any stripe can't tolerate those "pictures." (like Tammany Hall vs. Thomas Nast) That's why I'm dismayed at the decimation of political cartooning, just when it's most needed. (but think of the effect that images, like that Obama poster, still have to move people! )

David Apatoff said...

Rob, I had to smile at your reaction to my offering up the old standards, World War I and the Nazi death camps. Many would argue that WWI was the point when the sun finally set on the age of reason, causing western culture to recoil into the arms of surrealism and other more virulent forms of noncognitivism. Yet, you seem undaunted and dismiss such watersheds as "the occasional bad examples of Western culture." We can keep going with examples, if you'd like: the gulag archipelago, the cultural revolution and the khmer rouge were all products of a 100% European ideology, born, bred and patented in the west by historians, academics and utopians from Jules Michelet, Robert Owen and Charles Fourier to those fun loving Germans, Marx and Engels. That seems to be a perfect example of your point about great western ideas finding fertile soil around the world. Unfortunately, at least 40 million souls perished in the 20th century alone as a result.

And we haven't even come to the worst potential legacy of colonialism: what are Pakistan and North Korea going to do with the "gifts" of Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer? That problem may yet dwarf all "the occasional bad examples" of the 20th century combined. Perhaps you and I will be the ones wearing loincloths and eating roots and grubs, eh?

I agree with you that colonization was not the unalloyed destruction of marvelously Doric lands where the lion laid with the lamb. In fact, I grant you that life in most of those countries was often nasty, brutish and short, and that colonization dramatically raised the standard of living for most of those populations. Those countries that were most effective in purging the residue of colonialism now seem to live with the greatest superstition and darkness.

I also agree with you that "the bottom line is just that, the bottom line…the sum total," but now you're going to have to explain to me how your balance sheet weighs a better quality of life for the many against the genocide of 40 million, or even 100 million, in the killing fields and the gulags and the death camps. Sure there was wanton home grown slaughter before the colonial overlords showed up, but it seems that prometheus from the west has raised the ante several times over.

One area where I will gladly and wholeheartedly join with you is your point about applied art. There are clearly downsides to having a client or an art director second guessing the artwork they are paying for. And if you are designing or decorating shoes or a box, you can bet their function will impose compromises in form and imagination. But those limitations and disadvantages seem to help us by rescuing us from the self-indulgent, decadent, nonsensical crap in which we seem inclined to wallow if left alone too long. It is occasionally worth giving up the facade of divine artistic inspiration for the chance to be useful again.

Rob Howard said...

>>>…World War I and the Nazi death camps…. the gulag archipelago, the cultural revolution and the khmer rouge were all products of a 100% European ideology, born, bred and patented in the west by historians, academics and utopians from Jules Michelet, Robert Owen and Charles Fourier to those fun loving Germans, Marx and Engels. the "gifts" of Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer? …the genocide of 40 million, or even 100 million, in the killing fields and the gulags and the death camps…<<<

Phew!!! I can only say that I am absolutely bemused and don't know how to respond or scrape any of that off the wall. What that barrage of loosely related cultural jeremiads sparked to mind were long dormant memories of a warped youth.
I try to put the horror behind me but, by age 5 my parents had concluded that I had grown fat and lazy with too much of the good life and, being legally prevented from sending me off to be raised by wolves they did the next best thing...they packed me off to the Jesuits before my sixth birthday And there I remained in their care until I graduated their version of junior high school. The horror, the horror!

As I say, I try to bury those memories along with that damnable Latin, Greek and Hebrew, but your flurry of word salad brought the horror rushing back with a vengeance...especially the horror of the Jebbies insistence on logical constructs (along with learning the the French and Polish notational systems that Wm. Buckley was famously jotting down as his guests were to be hoist on their own petard).

All of that came back with a rush...along with the damnable Latin...argumentum ad crumenem, a dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter, argumentum ad misericordiam, a few red herrings and the ever popular post hoc ergo propter hoc. I tell you, I was beset by Latin phrases...even silly ones like the Hogwarts motto Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus, which you, in effect, did by tickling awake this sleeping dragon.

I'm still shaking from the experience. How could you pack that many logical fallacies in one paragraph? Yikes!

David Apatoff said...

Rob-- Hah! My word salad will have been worthwhile if it does no more than enable me to claim on my epitaph, "he reduced Rob Howard to saying, 'I don't know how to respond.'"

We could continue our escalation of examples ("You're going to dismiss World War I and the Nazi holocaust as merely 'a few bad examples?' Well, chew on a little gulag archipelago....")but I think the overall point, on which I hope we can both agree, is that any philosophy of the world that can fit in a nutshell belongs in one.

It is difficult enough to chart the cause and effect from the spread of western technology (where you at least have a patent system clocking who invented what, where and when). But when you start drawing conclusions about the cause and effect of ideals, styles and tastes, you'll have a hard time proving to a jury that the colonial benefits of orderly civil government were definitely "caused" by western ideas, while the horrors of Marxism were definitely not. (Not that I want to discourage you from trying, as it is sure to be entertaining. I am not greedy-- I have had my moment in the sun, confounding you to the point where you didn't know how to respond. I didn't expect it to last forever.)

Or, we could save it for that dinner.

kev ferrara said...

Is this actually a meaningful joke? Or just a witty one?

I like Brodner's art a great deal, even though I often detest the simple mindedness of populist politics. A cynical snark is not erudition, rather it is often just a mask over the lack of it. And I think his addled wholly-encased-in-the-partisan-bubble education was, and is, actually received directly from television, which is a scary thought when you realize how he is setting about trying to form the opinions of the masses. Having said that, everybody's entitled to their opinions and I do find his caricatures to be awe-inspiring and hilarious sometimes.

Leaving that aside, I'm not quite sure there is any kind of deep joke here. Because there is no great analogy here. In what way are fat cats metaphorically "lighting their cigars" by the torch-lights of those in search of an honest man? Who are these people in search of an honest man? College kids? The News Media? Mr. Brodner himself? (A partisan like Mr. Brodner believes that which he is told. Which can have no relationship to the truth at all. Of course, a partisan always thinks their the very fount of Pravda, their select source unimpeachable, but nevermind.)

So, if these are the people being represented, possibly, in the person of diogenes, what is their torch light a symbol of? The internet? The pen? I really don't know because the metaphoric connection doesn't map properly. The only actual analogy is that the Fat Cats are oblivious or utterly disinterested or even contemptuous of the symbolic light that come from diogenes' torch. But in what sense is that true? Again, who is Diogenes representing? And if we can't figure out who he is representing, this actually isn't a very good piece of communication. The use of "lighting his cigar on the torch" imagery actually implies a deeper bit of significance that isn't there.

And I have to say, I'm iffy on the drawing on this one too. I don't feel any light coming out of that torch, which is essential to the telling of the story. And I couldn't even identify what the fat cat was holding or what he was doing on first sight of the picture. I dunno. I just don't think this is one of his better pieces.

Rob Howard said...

Okay, let's get down to some nitty gritty technical stuff...the line work.
First, it's an absolutely mechanical line like a Rapidograph or Pentel would make. The problem with those unvarying lines is that they don't allow any indecision where you go slightly off and then recover. A flexible pen allows you to get away with that sort of recovery (although there are other limitations to that tool). Perhaps the most forgiving of wandering and recovery is a brush.

Where that lack of sureness is very apparent is in a series of long strokes in the front of the jacket.

One of the signs of a bad painter is when they paint the entire picture with one brush. Every strokes is the same width and shape and the overall look is stacatto and boring, as is this drawing. There's so much indecision around the face that it drains away whatever character it might have had in skilled hands...that and the stubbly little pecks and dots (again, all done to the same pen width). The stubble in the hand is gratuitous and frankly thoughtless.

The technical pen has never revealed been the choice of skilled raughtsman and, when dfernetti stated in the initial response that this had touches of great craftsmanship, I suspect those are very private terms like calling the sky doo-doo-ga-ga and trees moopy-boopy...private words that worked well for a kid but we hoped he'd outgrow.

We are going to have to return to common definitions if we are going to communicate. If language becomes so realtivist that this sort of thing is even remotely considered as showing great craftsmanship, civilization may well be lost as we descend into our private forms of autistic relativism...doo-doo-ga-ga?

Matthew Adams said...

I suspect we all understand what dfernetti was saying, and agree or disagree to various degrees with his comment. He thinks it is great craftsmanship, and it is obvious that you don't, Rob. No problem with communication as far as I can see.

Rob Howard said...

Matthew, there is a very big problem that sort of relativism does not address. Indeed, that lack of standards lies at the very heart of relativism. In the egalitarian desire to give every opinion equal weight, you assign equal validity to the opinions of teacher and student and neophyte. It's as if Everyman's unschooled opinion on the technical operation of a complex machine is given equal weight to that of a skilled engineer or mechanic. We see that with cockamamie alternate medical advice being proffered and believed over that of peer review physicians...all because it was seen on Oprah. Our society is being informed by gossips over the electronic clothesline.

Perhaps no other field of human endeavor is so rife with poorly founded personal opinion...with so many ill-educated gossips as is the field of Art. Yes, there's bound to be honest disagreement between peers but the culture of the relativist art world is such as to allow equal weight to those who...if they had to save their lives could not produce work that will remain memorable after the viewer walks away, let alone for a length of time.

The biggest mystery about art is that there are very few mysteries.

Until it declined in skill and art schools became some sort of dumping ground for confused youth who didn't know what to do after high school (most art schools are just holding areas preparatory to the times the students leaving the portfolio in the closet and getting a "real job." In other words, a place to get an MFA in a hobby). That could be why graduates of art schools are unlikeley to ever get work being paid to make art...not teach it to the next generation of unfortunates.

With that as a background and with the pursuit of art spoken of in moralistic and even quasi-religious terms (not artistic terms because most practitioners don't even know the artistic terms and standards), there is little wonder than there's no Renaissance on the immediate horizon. The sad truth is there's not even a Lascaux on the horizon. The sea of artistic mediocrity in which we currently swim (and drown) is directly attributable to a reticence to address art as if there were more to it that ill-founded personal opinion that holds the same weight as views based on real scholarship.

There really are standards based on repeatable effects.

Matthew Adams said...

I actually agree with you Rob. As I said before, I am no cultural relativist, and nor am I a relativist in any general sense (though I am not a modernist either). I believe in absolutes, even in the art field. Brodner is no Rembrandt, Picaso, Searle, and while I liked the drawing, I think dfernetti was maybe being over eager in saying that the picture shows great craftmanship (I think great might be too strong). I also think that when you, Rob, say something, it is worth listening to. You have the experience and education and all the other credentials that point to you having put in the hard yards to know what you are talking about.

I also know enough about my own work that it is always gonna be third rate compared to some of the real pro's out there. Check out my own blog to see what i am experimenting with (whoa... a plug?). It ain't particularly good but I enjoy it. I can't make a living from it (i've tried), but I enjoy illustration, and looking at illustration. I might, I hope, get better at it. What I am trying to say is that I try to hold myself up to certain standards, and in doing so have to hold other illustrators up to those same standards.

Some of these standards are universal i.e. I am not ever going to paint a self portrait of such technical craftsmanship, or personal insight, as a later self portrait by Rembrandt. In fact I am not going to equal early Rembrandt.

I suspect some of these standards are more personal i.e. Edward Lear. I suspect Edward Lear is not high on anyone else's list of top illustrators (except Edward Gorey, who also rather liked edward lear's illustrations). But to me, his nonsense illustrations are what cartoonist should be aspiring to (which suggests of course that i think it should be a universal standard). There is something to his drawings that suggest they were dashed off like some people write letters. There is a pure expresion of his idea. Im not quite sure how to say that any better (and yes, i am aware that it stinks off the moralistic/quasi religious terms you rightly abhore). I think Stieg and Feiffer succeed in achieving the same thing. It isn't as easy as it looks. But this is something I have studied and looked at (and attempted) enough to have a pretty solid grasp of it.

I think the Brodner piece has also succeeded in this. Not to the same level as stieg and others, but it is there.

I haven't mentioned that i am not unschooled. I studied art, with a focus on illustration, at university. I studied under some pretty excacting teachers. One of those teachers was Armin Greder, who, though being a lefty, was no relativist (I would recomend checking out his work). Again, this is to say that I am not approaching this with any relativistic viewpoint. It is informed (at least to some degree) and objective. I might not have all the right terms, but the ideas are there.

emikk said... guys really get into it!

David Apatoff said...

Rob, I agree with you about the huge importance of line, and also with your point that Brodner's drawing was made with a tool that leaves a fairly monotonous line, a line that is inherently less interesting (and has less potential) than one left by a more sensitive tool. I further agree that the long strokes on the front of Diogenes are by far the weakest part of the drawing. All excellent points.

So why do I still like this drawing so much?

Line is important, but drawings can still be interesting even if made with a stick in the earth, or with shoe polish in a prison cell, or sprayed on a concrete wall with spray paint, or rubbed with a clump of colored earth on a cave wall. Despite the lack of sensitivity and variety in their line, these drawings can have an excellence of their own. They might have a great design or a potent message or some other compensating virtue. In this case, I think Brodner's drawing is smart and funny for the reasons I mentioned. Keep in mind that this was not some formal commissioned piece, but one of a series of quick, informal sketches he did on a lark to accompany an interview. I give him props for spontaneity, and also for love of drawing. You and other commenters seem to have become distracted by his "lefty" stereotypes, but I think the better interpretation of this drawing centers on Diogenes; the center of this drawing is the facial expression of the man who is shocked to discover how truth seekers are treated in this society, and what little regard people have for the light he thinks he is shedding. (By the way, I think those feeble little lines from the lantern do an excellent job of conveying how feeble Brodner thinks the light is-- this is not a one way joke at the expense of the capitalist). But I think the viewer is supposed to relate to the expression on the face of Diogenes; there is nothing to relate to in the dull gaze of the lout.

I'm sure you would not write off the different types of drawings I described above just because they don't look like Renaissance drawings. I agree that standards are not an illusion and that unbridled relativism is the path to stupidity, but I also believe that the Renaissance you describe resulted in large part from openness to new ideas and different cultural traditions. People went beyond their orthodoxy; the straightjacket of western biblical tradition, loosened by the great plague and other developments, cross fertilized with ancient Greek philosophical traditions, with islamic influence as a catalyst. With all due respect to the importance of filters, I think that the true Renaissance spirit looks at this drawing to see what things of value might reside there in unconventional form.

Or, in the words of Seneca, "If you judge, investigate."