Monday, November 09, 2009


I love this drawing of a speeding police car.

Note the frenetic lines for the flashing light; the car's shape distorted by speed, with the ballast in the back and the snout lurching forward; and the way the car hovers above the ground, seeming to kick up gravel behind it. I love the line work (including the occasional ink smear). I love the design and the composition. Applying the same standards I apply to a Picasso, I consider this a terrific drawing.

Sophisticated artists who have mastered technical skills sometimes struggle to unlearn those skills. They hope that, by shedding their knowledge of anatomy and perspective and their hardened patterns of perception, they can draw the world with the same freshness as the child who drew that police car.




It's not easy to shed established habits of seeing. The process of dismantling skills-- abandoning assumptions, vanquishing muscle memory and starting from scratch-- can be as difficult as acquiring skills to begin with. You can't rid yourself of your assumptions about the world without first going through the educational process of figuring out where your assumptions end and the real world begins.

Today many prominent illustrators have concluded that technical skill will not take them where they want to go. Instead, they deliberately make their pictures ungainly and disproportionate. They use a primitive line, distorting and simplifying in an effort to simulate a fresh, unschooled perspective.





If an artist deliberately aspires to make pictures that appear awkward, sloppy or uneven, they obviously cannot be judged by traditional standards for technical skill. But what standards should apply? How do we compare a successful drawing by a mature artist with that child's drawing of the police car? Or more importantly, how do we distinguish a successful sloppy, ungainly, disproportionate picture from an unsuccessful one?

One thing is clear: standards for quality still matter-- perhaps more than ever, now that the more objective criteria such as technical facility or physical resemblance are no longer useful.

Some pictures in this genre are truly excellent (for example, I am personally a big fan of William Steig and John Cuneo, and I really like that Picasso picture,
Combat de Centaures). But there are other pictures in this category that I think are wildly unsuccessful.



What makes the good examples so rewarding and the bad examples so unconvincing? For me, design is always a crucial factor. Beyond that, do we measure such pictures by their purity? By their sincerity or authenticity? By the mature concept embodied in the child-like image? At a minimum, the artists who seem most successful at this "newborn" style of art aren't the ones who merely try to mimic children's drawings or who are willfully sloppy, but rather those who recognize and go after the raw, disturbing character of that pre-verbal, non-rational place where (as I've
suggested before) innocent children, raving lunatics and savage beasts all dwell.


Rob Howard said...

I have very mixed feelings on this subject, David. I am fascinated by REAL Art Brut...the work of madmen and primitives. In those examples you posted, there's the same sort of falseness one experiences with suburban kids emulating ghetto kids. No matter how much Junior be axing questions and doing the absurd inner city hand gestures, the reality is that he's a mall rat who has never even been in a real fist fight and come home black and blue.

That's what those illustrations look like...swells slumming. The swells have always gone slumming. Even in the Bourbon court, noble French ladies would dress up as shepherdesses (albeit in beautifully tailored peasant costumes and escape the trappings of that elegant and sophisticated society for the illusion of purity in poverty.

Isn't that what this is all about...faking being mentally ill or unskilled? It's a carry-over from kitsch (kitsch is where people purposely collect and display obviously tacky stuff. The idea is to laugh and chortle up their sleeve and, in essence say..."this isn't what my real taste is all about. this is my social commentary on..." and it trails off into some weak idea)

Again, it's more suburbanites making believe that they have the life experience of a ghetto dweller or madman.

Move along folks...nothing to see here.

Maria said...

This sort of art had never really been my thing. To me, such stylization is simply unnecessary. I liked to see adult drawings when I was a kid, not someone scribbling just as badly as I was. As an adult, I retain the opinion. Sure, I'd give some credit to an artist who can return back to the "sources" so much, but there's a limit. Kudos to him, move along, as Rob Howard said.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, I agree that your point is an important first step in understanding how to evaluate this kind of art. We may all concur that we don't like mere poseurs. But I think there is also work of great value here here, and I suspect that if we take it a few steps further you might soften your absolutist position.

There is a reason that Mark Twain chose to view the adult world through the eyes of an innocent child in Huckleberry Finn. And while I am not a fan of Art Spiegelman's drawing, I give him credit for the concept of handling a subject like Nazi genocide through simplistic drawings of talking mice. The deliberate contrast between child-like form and mature content is a valid and important artistic device that achieves results which cannot be easily duplicated through purely adult technical skills.

Furthermore, I don't know how you would even police a standard such as the one you describe. Can the validity of drawing depend on whether it is was done by someone who is genuinely insane, or genuinely a child? What if I wasn't around to tell you that the police car was drawn by a child? Or what if you did not know Henry Darger's background? Doesn't the art have to stand by itself?

Most importantly, I would be curious to know your thoughts about the work of William Steig, or of Picasso for that matter. Are they also white suburban kids emulating ghetto kids? I know there are people out there who believe that Picasso had no business appropriating the raw power of African art into his paintings, just as Europeans had no business adopting the aesthetic of Japanese woodblock prints or the Egyptian aesthetic from King Tut's tomb. So if your primary concern is cultural imperialism, I can understand saying "you aren't allowed to adopt artistic devices unless you have earned the street cred." But it's never been my impression that art works that way.

If you look at people who do this kind of art well, they combine that child like simplicity (which, let me repeat, is really hard to do convincingly if you haven't tried it) with really smart, thoughtful adult messages that children could never conceive of, so there is genuine cross fertilization going on here. You certainly find that with Dubuffet, Picasso, Steig (an in my opinion, artists such as Cuneo) there is genuine, important, high level thinking going on.

kev ferrara said...

It seems to me the issue you are getting at is the unity of the expression. A unified expression suggests knowledge because it demonstrates coherence and authority in its relation-making. Integrity of drawing, then, only finds significance where it carries the significance of the expression forward. So a good drawing, regardless of style, only needs enough draftsmanship to demonstrate what is significant about the overall expression.

Of course, part of the expression is that it is entertaining too.

And it just so happens that comic exaggeration mitigates the need to be grounded in referenced realism. Comedy can be bad or good and still function as a producer of laughs.

However, for the comic work to be good art, I would say, the exaggeration must have a consistent tone in sympathy with the subject (in order for the picture to continue to manifest a unity of expression). And the exaggeration must, moreover, be based on sensitive observation for the drawing to have integrity. I would say these are are where Panter and Schanzer fall down. And I'm not too keen on the Debuffet on these points either.

These kind of deliberately primitive pictures are innocuous enough that they don't require some kind of defense. Although, still, I often hear how "authentic" such artists are for foregoing draftsmanship in favor of art brut cartooning. I generally counter these arguements by saying it seems pretentious (by definition) for an adult to pretend they are an infant.

Which reminds me, shall I be the first to suggest that your admiration for the first picture might stem from familial ties alone?

David Apatoff said...

Maria, I understand the attraction of technical skill and craftsmanship, and I have said a lot of unkind things on this blog about self-indulgent, "anything goes" art. Neverthless, I think there are real limits to where technical skill can take you. Art becomes more and more refined and precious and precise, and soon you have lost all contact with the earthiness and urgency and vitality that launched art 30,000+ years ago. At a minimum, it is a subject worth exploring in good faith: how do we judge art like this?

sausagehand said...

I think it is helpful to view this work from the position of the artist. The question the artist must ask is: What do I make an image of and how shall I make it?
Obviously making an image that follows in a tradition (either the tradition of the masters or the tradition of the madmen) is to make something derivative. How does the artist avoid simply aping another artist? By coming to his own conclusions about reality, art and its function and, ultimately his self.

Dubuffet's work is noteworthy because he created art that made an excellent case for his philosophy. This is much more than can be said about children's drawing or folk painters or schizophrenics. Certainly, Dubuffet valued their work but, unlike the schizos, he approached it from a completely rational standpoint and made art that was based upon that primitive art but was in no way stylistically derived from it. Sure, Dubuffet followed in the long tradition of viewing rationality as the enemy of art but if you read his essays on art you will find that his position on art is based upon solid reasoning. It is only through that reason that he is able to arrive at his unique and fascinating art, the likes of which you won't find in the work of a naive artist.

After all, a child's drawing isn't a bad tracing of a photographic image but an abstraction of the structural features of an object. Abstraction requires thinking and rationality. The more intelligent the artist the more clever and worthwhile the abstraction and therefore the more interesting and noteworthy the artwork. The drawing of the police car is funny and enjoyable to look at because it presents a recognisable image that is based upon a simplistic abstraction that is carried out in a sloppy manner but I would much prefer to look at one of Dubuffet's drawings of cars. Dubuffet's abstraction of reality is much more complex and interesting than the child's because dubuffet's mental powers are much more complex and interesting than the child's.

People always want to say a drawing or painting is good or bad. I think those are incorrect terms to use on art. Art should be judged on the creativity and originality of the abstraction.

Rob Howard said...

Where were you people when I needed good excuses? You guys are great at creative excuse making and, I assume that you actually believe that there's a way to pick up a turd by the clean end.

David Apatoff said...

Kev, unity of expression is all well and good, but some of my favorite art is open ended art, art that is at least partially out of control (or that at least leaves room to exploit mother nature's accidents). I assume you aren't one of those who believes that "control" is an unqualified good in a picture.

It is quite possible that familial ties have blurred my vision on the drawing of the police car, but I could just as easily make the same point with some of the other (non-familial) children's art that I have posted in the past. Or with art brut, for that matter. I think the problem you have with that argument is that the people who don't care for the police car drawing also don't care for Dubuffet. They also hated the child-like Steve Brodner drawing I posted a while ago, and apparently don't like Steig or Picasso either. With that kind of blanket rejection, I think familial ties get lost in the crowd.

My main interest in writing this post was to ask: there is good child-like art and bad child-like art; what principled basis do you have for distinguishing one from the other? Of course, if you disagree with me that there is such a thing as good child-like art, then you have saved yourself the entire conundrum.

Anonymous said...

You guys are a bunch of dinosaurs. Is there anything you like that was done after WW II?

David Apatoff said...

Andrew, sounds like I have hit upon another Dubuffet fan. I find his radical, insightful essays to be brilliant (as well as beautiful) and I am delighted that somebody is still reading them. For me, your comments raise the question of the proper role that an underlying philosophy should play in our appreaciation of an art object. You say, "It is only through that reason that he is able to arrive at his unique and fascinating art, the likes of which you won't find in the work of a naive artist." If you look just at the physical drawing with no knowledge of the underlying philosophy, I wonder if you could still draw the same distinction. If you check out some of Dubuffet's other drawings (in vols. 12-15 of his wonderful catalogue raisonne) I think you will find drawings that are light and slender and very similar in nature to this police car. (although I like Dubuffet's cars too.)

Rob-- Now, now... you can run but you cannot hide. If you want to dismiss Picasso and Dubuffet and Steig as "turds," what about Saul Steinberg? Sooner or later I'm going name an artist who you will have to address on the merits.

Laurence John said...

"there is good child-like art and bad child-like art; what principled basis do you have for distinguishing one from the other? "

the Blitt, Cuneo and Ciardiello aren't child-like or sloppy. they're clearly done by people who can draw 'technically well'.

the Panter and Schanzer are just sloppily,lazily drawn and show little or no formal ability.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence-- I share your reaction to the Panter and Schanzer drawings, and I would very much like to share your reaction on Blitt, Cuneo and Ciardiello as well because I like what they do. But if the distinction can be explained as simply as drawing "technically well," it nevertheless seems to be in a way that some people who normally respect technically well drawn pictures cannot discern. Besides (as I keep repeating) it is not easy for people who draw technically well to draw like these artists. It usually comes out looking quite artificial.

Laurence John said...

some people didn't get Thelonious Monk either and thought he couldn't play. as you know it takes much formal discipline to achieve the effect of apparent casualness. there are also many pretenders who have no skill whatsoever and play the 'crude' angle. as usual it's up to the individual to discern the good from the fake. but i don't think there's a tried and tested formula to verify either.

Wynne Reynolds said...

I believe there is successful child-like art and unsuccessful. Just as all forms of art have their successes and failures. If you are one to lump styles together and say "I hate impressionist art" - or contemporary art or photography or whatever - then you are limiting yourself and not trying to ask the question of what makes a piece successful.

Fortunately or unfortunately art is subjective. You can choose to check your prejudice at the door and dip your feet in the pool, who knows, you might just find you can appreciate something out of your comfort zone.

So the question is good - what makes this style of art successful to you? Or a particular drawing? Does it hit a spot inside and make you go ahhhh or does it make you go urrrg. I feel this same way about artists who create very skilled drawings - some are ahhh and some are urrg. I cannot always tell you why.

kev ferrara said...

I think I already answered your question, David.... To draw well is to draw significantly with respect to the overall expression. "Control" is just one creative dial among many that may help tune in the expression. The same goes for "Chance."

But presiding over accidents, it must be acknowledged, is still a form of control that an artist brings to bear on his work.

Ineffective or insignificant accidents don't make the light of day. Only the effective and significant accidents trot themselves out of the studio for approval.

A child, on the other hand, is just drawing.

It is interesting to note that Panter and Shanzer (who together form the Panzer division of bad art) seem to be straining in their badness. And this strain shines through and ruins the fun they're trying to manifest. The perfect freedom of the child's drawing makes an informative contrast.

MORAN said...

Kev Ferrara: "Panter and Shanzer (who together form the Panzer division of bad art)" LOL!You are right!! That police car is ten times better.

Ciardiello and Cuneo are the tops in this style. Not so sure about Blitt. Some of his covers for the New Yorker are clever but fall short artistically. Lynda Barry is funny but is she in the same category?

Rob Howard said...

>>>Sooner or later I'm going name an artist who you will have to address on the merits.<<<

David, you casnnot fault me for patience, as I wait in (relative) quiet. I know that you will excuse me if I feel that not everyone who claims to be an artist has the purest of intentions. While Picasso may well have been the most creative artist of all time, he was also a game-player extraordinaire. That he was cynical and misanthrpic is beyond question. That he was known to pull off blatent examples of abuse of his reputation are well documented.

As with the vast gulf between those who are on the stage and those who are in the audience, the belief in purity of motive exists almost exclusively from the audience. Everyone stage-side, from performer to grip is jaded and does not share the same wide-eyed belief in some aesthetic tooth-fairy dispensing purity of expression.

The point of illusion-making is to get the ticket-holders to actually believe that turds can fly and smell like lilacs. The reality is that it's just a stage trick and they don't really fly or smell sweet. That's what you have been told and the sales pitch was good enough to affect your eyes and nose.

As Richard Pryor said about purveyors of such illusion, they bully you with GroupThink by saying..."who are you gonna believe, me or your two lyin' eyes?" Most people want to be part of the in crowd so they consider waiting in the rain for tickets to be a sign of intellectual achievement and a sign that they are unlike the rest of the herd waiting in the queue.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, I am perfectly prepared to believe there is larceny in the heart of every artist from Picasso to Michelangelo. In fact, I'll go you one better-- rather than assume there is "a vast gulf between those who are on the stage and those who are in the audience," I believe that impure motives pervade both groups as surely as the echo of the big bang pervades all matter in the universe.

I'm not sure why any of that affects your answer to the question of whether it is artistically useful and valid for established artists (such as Steinberg, Picasso, Dubuffet, Steig, etc.) to put aside technical skills and try to draw with unschooled eyes. If all art is "illusion-making to get the ticket-holders to actually believe that turds can fly," then that is not unique to the artists I am discussing here. I vote that we put that aside as a constant and focus instead on variables such as what makes an individual picture more or less successful.

Anonymous said...

where is that dude that bashes rob?!

...childrens drawings come from a purer, spontaneous, experimental place.
mama, daddy, and/or school mess it up.
adults can only revisit that place with drugs.

many times i have watched a 5 year old "ruin" a masterpiece with some mud or "a few more clouds".

adult artist should just stick to the grownup stuff.

David Apatoff said...

D.H. (anonymous)-- "adult artist should just stick to the grownup stuff."

You could be right about this, but I can't resist asking if you're sure where to draw the line between childish and "grownup stuff." If artists draw this way simply because they yearn to return to simpler times, I agree with your point. But someone like Dubuffet draws these childish looking figures while writing scorching manifestoes about how museums are all obsolete and churches should all be abolished and how the art of insane people is just as great as the art of the greatest "genius." Not exactly children's fare. Or if you follow the link back to Cuneo's web site, you will find extremely smart, psychologically complex, sexually explicit drawings. Again, real "grownup stuff" despite the lines he uses to portray it.

kev ferrara said...

Manifestos are hallucinogenics.

The statement that artists have larceny in their hearts, rather than delight, is completely tendentious. Good work cannot be done without delight, only serviceable work can be done this way. And appreciators do not collect petty larcenies.

Fans know, unconsciously, what is at the core of the work they love. If art has any value at all, it is that it communicates, as eliot said, before it is understood... to those who are receptive to its unconscious message. The only person fooled into thinking that theft has value is the thief himself.

Carnifex said...

it seems to me the good ones have to actually restrain themselves to fewer marks,and pick out the most important lines to convey _exactly_ what they want; while the bad ones just lack more information that could be used to greater effect.
i think this is often visible in cartoon characters...people who know what they are doing have much livelier,"better" characters than others who are just starting out and f.ex. lack the anatomical knowledge.

MORAN said...

David, I followed your link to Cuneo's website and I don't think your example here is a fair representation of his work. His personal art on his web page is great stuff and you are right, very smart and interesting. I see what you mean. You should have used some of those examples.

Rob Howard said...

>>>where is that dude that bashes rob?!<<<

It became apparent, even to him, that he was acting like a jilted girlfriend.

My son found an website in which someone was devoted to putting my head on Hitler's body. My son was in paroxysms of laughter as he described the amount of effort spent to fuel that obsessive behavior.

As I said about's a helluva place for a recovering misanthrope. I can only shake my head at humorless people like that. As soon as I have the Rob-as-Hitler-website I'll post it.

Rob Howard said...

>>> focus instead on variables such as what makes an individual picture more or less successful.<<<

David, I'm not sure that there's much to learn from variables except to indulge in that fashionable wool-gathering known as (are you ready for this pile of gas?) Chaos Theory.

Variables are just that and trying to formulate a usable approach from variables is like trying to make a science of luck. Sure, there's always the Nathan Detroit and Nicely-Nicely touts (or the more respectably dressed touts) who claim..."I got a horse right here, his name is Paul Revere," but the reality is he's more often wrong than right.

So looking at serendipity (after all, we never see how many drawings have to be thrown away until all of the variables dribble together to make something presentable) is unlikely to ever yield a METHOD with which a consistenly excellent products is made.

What you're dealing with when you enter into studying variables is the same sort of concept of a infinite number of monkeys and typewriters being able to write everything in the library (providing that we have an infinite numbe of editors with scissors and paste taking a whole word and pasting it next to another whole word.

It's something of jejune form of speculation one experiences when smoking wacky tobbacky.

Rob Howard said...

>>>And appreciators do not collect petty larcenies.<<<

I love who you make these pronunciamentoes with a religious certaintity. It's like being present and the New (and Improved) Testament is being written. Oh that you could be that sure with a brush.

kev ferrara said...

What a ball you must have, Hitler.

Rob Howard said...

>>>What a ball you must have, Hitler.<<<

It appears that you have been waiting for a good opportunity to use that line, Kev. If you first heard it when I did, you've had it archived for quite a while.

Congratulations on your recycling efforts. It has got to feel good to empty out that old joke closet.

David Apatoff said...

Wynne Reynolds-- thanks for writing, that's exactly where I am (although I think we can overstate the subjectivity of art-- as long as we do it with humility, I think there are a number of elements of art that we can discuss rationally, comparing features, applying common standards and learning from each other. That's kind of the justification for this blog.)

Moran-- I agree with you, particularly about Cuneo who for some reason strikes me as particularly funny.

Kev-- I guess manifestoes became more important to art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the concept began to become more important than the execution. There are some terrific manifestoes out there from Kandinsky, Klee, the futurists, etc. They are literate, challenging and fun to read. Of course, there are a lot of crackpots too. Whether they are all "hallucinogenics," I don't know but I would say that many of them seem to be post hoc rationalizations for art that the artist already created inutitively.

Carnifex, I share the value that you place on economy of line. I think it is a hard lesson for artists to keep in mind.

Rob-- "David, I'm not sure that there's much to learn from variables"

Rob, when I talk about variables, I mean the factors that differ from picture to picture that cause one picture to be good and another picture to be not so good. If you want to claim that "Everyone stage-side, from performer to grip is jaded" then that is a constant underlying all art and it should have no impact on what makes an individual pictures good or bad. I don't want to fight about whether everyone in the art business is a black hearted rogue, but I have boundless energy for sharpening my instincts and perceptions about which of those variables matter, and why.

kev ferrara said...

I meant hallucinogenics in the sense that the manifestos are attempts to alter the viewer's viewpoint. Given the cloudy rationales and purple prose that goes into such feverish apologetics, they generally shouldn't be swallowed.

The futurist manifesto was a fun read, I agree.

Rob Howard said...

David, the problem with variables is that you end up stating what something is not, and that is the keystone of kitsch...this is not really my taste (I'm so far above this). The problem with that what-it-is-not reductio is the inevitable absurdum at the end.

More to the point would be the duplicable methods that produce consistent results. Starting with the variables leads to logical fallacies such as the person who cites the exceptional character who, despite bad methods occasionally pulls it out. Citing that exception does nothing because the vast majority of people using that bad method invariably fail.

The Jesuit in me makes me steer away from obvious logical fallacies and the milieu in which they froth and bubble.

As I said...nothing to see, folks...move along.

Wynne Reynolds said...

Evaluating 'childlike' art 101:

My son(11) came home with a drawing he was assigned to do in class yesterday. (A scene from Warriors Don't Cry by Melba Patillo Beals) I was furious at what I knew what a drawing he had taken five minutes to do while he messed around with his buddies. I had him work on a more detailed and "serious" drawing. When he was finished I looked at both works and perhaps because of this blog, I reevaluated each.

His first was a quick sketch in red pen, a landscape of a lady on her porch, trees, sky, stars - you felt how alone she was. In the second she is up close, you see the grim look on her face and she is boxed in by the porch railings. Both would be rated 'childlike' but there was a simplicity of message in the first that was very different from the detail of the second. What an eye opener.

Step back . . . take another look . . . don't move along too quickly.

Cedric Pervannes said...

>>>What a ball you must have, Hitler.<<<

Actually, if I'm not mistaken, this isn't just the "easy joke" it looks like at shallow glance.

One, it can mean, "what fun you must have acting like a megalomanaical ass."

Two, it can mean "what nerve you have putting others' work down."

and thirdly is the obvious joke about Hitler's testicular lack.

Which means, dear fellow, you were on the receiving end of a triple entendre.

It hardly can be so that Mr. Ferrara prepared that line in the unlikely event that these three meanings would all apply in a single post.

Man up. You've been bested.

Unknown said...

One lovely drawing. I dunno...would we watch a ballerina that lacked grace and pirouetted across the stage with the thump, thump of a 5 year old? How long can we tolerate the banging drums and the clinking keys of discord from the little toy drums and piano? But somehow the visual arts are different, and instead of screaming "Eeek, my eyes!" when confronted with un-art, we tolerate the abuse and make it some sort of intellectual game, a topic not only of discussion but of profitable pursuit.

Lefteris C said...

I don't think you can talk about art and say it is "good" or "bad", such objective terms don't apply, but rather if you personally like it or not. What I find most irritating about modern art is that people no longer let it speak for itself. One simply shouldn't have to read a book about an artist, just look at his work and decide if he likes it or not.

Rob Howard said...

>>>Man up. <<<

It's amusing to receive lessons in manhood from someone too timid to reveal their real identity.

What next, lessons in art?

Rob Howard said...

Happy Veteran's Day to..."We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."

Wynne Reynolds said...

I just want to clarify my point if my post seemed irrelevant.

Once I was able to get past my prejudice about how the sketch was created, I was able to see the intention of the sketch and appreciate what the message was.

Just trying not to judge. I'm not a fan of that particular piece by Steig on a gut level but at the same time I think it's tremendously successful.

Cedric Pervannes said...

>>>>What next, lessons in art?<<<<<

Art lesson #1: Be HUMBLE...

David Apatoff said...

Wynne Reynolds-- "I just want to clarify my point if my post seemed irrelevant." Wynne, are you kidding? I've got other people here debating about Hitler's testicle. Your comment was one of the most relevant I've received in the past few days.

LCG-- "How long can we tolerate the banging drums and the clinking keys of discord from the little toy drums and piano? But somehow the visual arts are different." LCG, I have two reactions-- the first is that if you have listened to John Cage or watched avant garde theatre, you will have heard plenty of dischordant clanking and random banging from other art forms. Second, I guess at heart I don't think that much of this art is really childish. I think that Laurence John got it exactly right-- The difference between Cuneo and Ciardiello on one hand and Panter and Schanzer on the other is that Cuneo and Ciardiello are really very good technical artists, even when they adopt the mannerisms of children or naive painters. I would personally draw a bright line between the quality of the two groups. If Laurence John doesn't have the right explanation, I would welcome thoughts from others on what the right explanation is.

Lefteris-- as some others have discussed above, there is a lot of subjectivity in the system. I agree with you in that sense, but ultimately, my prejudice is that we have to be able to say whether we find a piece of art good or bad, and to account for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Oh gawd! Has the insidious influence of American Idol hit the art world now? Where any non-talent who feels they have talent demand their 15 seconds of fame....

Anonymous said...

Well, i really don't know much about art (and english is not my first language) but here are my 2 cents. In this kind of "child-like" art, no matter how much the artist tries to simulate the sloppiness of children's drawings, there's always things that give away whether they truly know what they are doing or not; whether they have already mastered reproducing reality on paper to be able to efficiently deconstruct it. For example, on the Picasso drawing, the centaurs have genitals (people never draw genitals on animals), on the Steig drawing, the way the legs are bended. They are complete, with toes and bended at the knees in a realistic (if childish) manner. On the Cuneo drawing, the face of moon or the right hand of the runner. Now look at the Panther drawing, the shadows on the background, on the horizon to the right they magically dissapear, which tells me even he wasn't sure how to fill the background, so he just drew a lot of lines (in comparison to Cuneo's, where the shadowing on the upper right end exactly where the drawing ends. They way I see it, there's always this little details in the drawings of the masters that let you see that they aren't completley eschewing their knowledge, just simplifying it.

Rob Howard said...

>>>there is a lot of subjectivity in the system. I agree with you in that sense, but ultimately, my prejudice is that we have to be able to say whether we find a piece of art good or bad, and to account for ourselves.<<<

Yep, it's the viewers who define what's good art or not. Using that metric, Thomas Kinkade is superior to Velazquez. Using that measure, medical treatment should be done by a vote from what the hoi polloi "feel" is right. Landing a Mars vehicle and don't know where to put it...shucks, just go with the personal feelings of those who have only a brief education in astrophysics.

Linda's point is well taken -- why is the judgment of art subject to different rules. Again, David, you prove my point by pointing to the single "success" in noise-making as proof that all noise-making deserves a fair listen. Any idea of what that logical fallacy is called?

Wynne Reynolds said...

OK, Rob - Now you're running yourself in circles. Thomas Kinkade is painting right at his level and not slumming it. Is his work superior to Steig or any of the other artists David mentioned? Where is the line? Are you the one who gets to decide what hangs in peoples homes? In galleries? I don't value Kinkade but does that mean my neighbor can't hang her commemorative plates in her home?

Last night I was at a chamber music concert. There was a modern composition, written last year, bookended by two old and well loved composers - can't find the program but one was Schumann. The modern composer was challenging to listen to. I guess that's why they bookended her. But the fourth movement was terrific - like jazz played by violin, cello, and piano. A lot of people would have called it noise and yes, it did deserve a fair listen.

That's how we get somewhere else. Other wise we'd be looking at the same picture over and over.

And your statement about Mars landers sounds like education is all that's valuable. Again the circles. Artist who get educations often need to unlearn to get anywhere with their work.

It's becoming hard to tell if you are serious with your circular logic. Thomas Kinkade is educated in art - there is your NASA scientist.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous X (I wish you anonymouses would leave some kind of distinguishing name or number-- it would be so much easier for people to respond to your points): "Oh gawd! Has the insidious influence of American Idol hit the art world now? Where any non-talent who feels they have talent demand their 15 seconds of fame...." I think the insidious influence of American Idol hit the art world long ago, with the growth of the celebrity artist in the US post World War II. But I don't think that is what we are witnessing in the examples I have shown here. Most of these artists (with the exception of Picasso who was identified as a child prodigy) labored for decades and are still far from what anyone outside the illustration field would acknowledge as "fame."

Anonymous Y, perhaps it helps that English is not your first language because I agree with much of what you say. You can really tell the difference between artists who arrived at a childish style by way of skill and discipline and those who did not. (As for those tell tale details you noted, Dorothy Sayers once wrote, it is extremely difficult for an intelligent man to pretend to be stupid.")

Rob, I have argued here in the past (and I still firmly believe) that judging art requires us to steer a path between scylla and charybdis, and we will never find permanent comfort at either extreme. For every example you offer of why the rabble should not define what is good in art, I can give you a counter-example of why the "experts" should not be entrusted with that decision either. The hoi polloi like Kinkade? So what? The museum directors and gallery owners love Jenny Holzer. There are a lot of PhDs in art history running around blind to the qualities in illustration or comic art but swooning over the kind of performance art where the artist sits on a stage and pours ketchup on herself. I'll wager that on a different day, you would be arguing that the viewers have more common sense about the quality of art than those effete academics or larcenous galley owners.

Rob Howard said...

>>>I'll wager that on a different day, you would be arguing that the viewers have more common sense about the quality of art than those effete academics or larcenous galley owners.<<<

You know me too well, David. I endeavor to allot equal time to all sides with my misanthropy.

There are very few characters with whom I agree more than Puck, when he said..."What fools these mortals be." I'm always amused when one of my fellow talking monkeys puts on airs and tries to hide the fact that he'll do anything for a banana from the teacher.

theory_of_me said...

David Apatoff: "I'll wager that on a different day, you would be arguing that the viewers have more common sense about the quality of art than those effete academics or larcenous galley owners."

Spot on, David. Rob likes to switch the position he takes on an issue whenever it suits him in order to make it look like he's winning an argument. It's a really cheap trick, probably something he picked up from the Jesuits.

Art is not science. That's why we don't leave medical treatments or space exploration to the whims of the "hoi polloi". Rob would probably acknowledge this in another discussion on another day in order to fool people into thinking he has a valid point. Anyone who's argued with a woman will be familiar with this sort of tactic. The difference is that a woman will often do it mid-sentence, something Rob is savvy enough to avoid.

And when you call someone like Rob on their obvious contradictions, they'll either ignore it or claim it's evidence of what a complex and sophisticated person he is. Pretty amusing, isn't it?

StimmeDesHerzens said...

RE You guys are great at creative excuse making and, I assume that you actually believe that there's a way to pick up a turd by the clean end.
Rob, i don't even have to understand half of the great conversation on art that goes on here courtesy of my favorite writer D; to still enjoy this spot because of your.... particular skill ...

Shakespeare's Repo Man said...

>>>>>I'm always amused when one of my fellow talking monkeys puts on airs...<<<<

Are you self-aware AT ALL???

You put on so much air you can float in a parade.

Incidentally, Puck also found humor in "those things that befall preposterously," while taking issue with those who "confound oath on oath," ...descriptions that apply quite well to your oafish verbosity and self-contradicting claims, respectively.

To legitamately align yourself with Puck, first stop acting like a Bottom.

Laurence John said...


(can't believe that one hasn't cropped up on this thread yet)

LCG... dance, theatre, literature, music DO have their own modern primitives causing the same kind of debate.

Rob Howard said...

All of this is part and parcel of the PC tendency to never, ever make a value judgment. Indeed, to be judged as judgmental is a pejorative term.

In a society where everything, every race, every gender, every creed, every religion must be equal, it's entirely consistent that every scribble is accorded meaning and equality.

Form this not-very-Promethean view, it is apparent that we have trash cans for a reason. Indeed, the unspoken thing about out huge landfills is that some things are not as worthy as others. Yet when some artiste dumps some semblance of a landfill into a gallery, we are conditioned to look it it serious (if even for a while) to afford it the the fair go. After all, we musn't ever be judgmental and say what it is because that's a prohibited word among the bourgeoisie.

So we applaud at the Emperor's New Turd, trying to not be seen as holding our noses. That would be cause for instant dismissal from that group of thinkers who are curiously homogenized and convinced that they are individual thinkers. It's that sort of societal blindness that allows subliminal messages to be so effective and operate with impunity.

Laurence John said...

in a meritocracy everyone's work DOES have the right to be judged on its own merits. if you, the viewer, don't like what you see then you are free to look away and champion the work of others. i don't see how you can set up 'quality police'.

anyway, there is loads of opposition to the latest art fads. but it doesn't stop them being popular too, nor should it. how, realistically, could you persuade the fans of Panter (for example) who have bought his books and originals that he is in fact a 3rd rate artist and not worthy of their adulation ?

Wynne Reynolds said...

The idea is give it a try and then make up your own mind. Assuming you have one. If you need to be told what to like then follow the crowd.

The reason I am willing to try new things is the wonder of the human mind. Why would you put a turd in a can and call it art?

I recently saw Hirst's medicine cupboard or whatever he called it - ug - I think it's stupid - I have that right. But do I have the right to tell you not to like it?

I also am open minded enough to look at his new paintings and judge them on their own merit and not say be stopped by a prejudice.

Also, it's just plain fun to have something to hate. It's human. I love to hate Dan Brown's books. But there's no denying millions love him. I don't get it. But I get much enjoyment from others who hate his work, too. How boring life would be without the Dan Browns and Piero Manzonis.

And yes, I wonder why artists I deem great don't get shows - or books or contracts - and artists I hate get them . . .

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

PS - I think it's too bad that theory_of_me has to insult Rob with the age old "you throw like a girl". Have we not gotten past that?

kev ferrara said...

>>>>I think it's stupid - I have that right. But do I have the right to tell you not to like it? <<<

Actually you do have the right to tell people not to like it. And they, in turn, have a right not to listen to you if they don't want to.

Free speech includes the right to politic... to try to convince others of one's opinion in order to change society to better suit one's own proclivities.

Free will also allows us to prejudge without consideration of merit, historicity, publicity, or anything else that can be used to sell a work to us. That is, we are free to hang up before the salesman has time to make his pitch.

But, of course, you are free to try to convince people that they shouldn't prejudge or hang up on the salesman before hearing the pitch. You can also try to convince the public that it "owes" every artist a fair hearing. But if you have the public's ear long enough to present that case, that time would be better spent directly selling your own work.

Rob Howard said...

Laurence, I am hardly advocating a Quality Police. That is the purview of our current administration in Washington. I am far from being like them. I do, however, believe in standards...especially published standards. In this country we have a variety of trade organization that have agreed upon standards. You might hold building, plumbing and electrical inspectors to be a Quality Police, but that would be a stretch.

For those who have made a study of the undergirdings of Art (not just the names to drop) they know that there is a rich literature devoted to the cultivation of taste and the benchmarks thereof. That does not mean to emulate the artistes at ARC and the irrational (and damned mean-spirited) self-blinded acolytes at the Rational Painting forum who are hopelessly mired in the past. There's plenty of flexibility for change and growth.

Jay Hambidge wrote extensively on the exquisite balanced design in Greek pottery and links between phyllotaxis in nature and to Fibonacci's equiangular spiral and Golden Section. These are the results of very carefully made personal observations that were passed on and amplified upon by later observers. This, then is a visual lexicon and, as with all lexicons, adheres to rules and does not admit random and nonsensical babbling or erudite sounding con-men telling you that you're seeing one thing while your eyes see another.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- "how, realistically, could you persuade the fans of Panter (for example) who have bought his books and originals that he is in fact a 3rd rate artist and not worthy of their adulation?"

This is a question I had to come to grips with early in this blog. I believe there is a great deal of subjectivity in the appreciation of art, and I give everyone their own zone of artistic privacy because I recognize that art is an interactive process, combining the artist's object with whatever subjective elements the viewer might bring to it. People should be able to indulge whatever private prejudices and fantasies they have in the comfort of their own home.

But those who wish to assert extravagant claims in a public forum on behalf of an artist had better be prepared to defend their position using clear, thoughtful language that is comprehensible to (if not persuasive to) their fellow human beings.

I have ridiculed artists such as Panter or Chris Ware because of the ravings of their lunatic fan base rather than out of animosity toward the artists themselves. Museums annoint these artists "Masters of Comic Art" and publish lavish art books containing insights such as:

"I don't think anyone in any visual medium is making art that is more elevating."

"Ware is capable of creating beauty anywhere and always. Ware's work, in this way, is also quite like Bach's."

"There's glory there. We look at his work and we think of words like sumptuous and exacting and rhapsodic."

"His use of the page is unparalleled."

Despite the subjectivity of much art, we can safely say that by clear, objective and scientifically provable standards such people are blithering idiots. I firmly believe it is a public service to say so out loud.

In answer to your question, I do not think this observation will persuade these people that the object of their art crush is "not worthy of their adulation," but I do stand with William Blake who said, "When I tell any truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those who do." History is littered with forgotten and under appreciated artists who worked like dogs and produced beautiful art. I feel I am paying a small tribute to their effort by standing up for standards and letting even a little air out of some of the bloviating gasbags who lack both the energy to educate themselves and the taste to draw distinctions.

kev ferrara said...

Dr. Howard,

(The following is to be read in a haughty accent)

These math-based schemes you discuss are grammars, not lexicons. Which is why they have innate rules for usage, as all templates do.

A lexicon, on the other hand, is just a collection of vocabulary items, which, of course, may be plugged into waiting grammatic templates.

The idea that such math schemes can act as a basis for judging the quality of art seems reductionist in the extreme... Like saying, a girl is only pretty if she looks like Michelle Pfeiffer.

That horrendous work can be made based on these same schemes, only further dismisses them as foundational to great art.

Of course, such schemes can contribute to a masterpiece, as all masterpieces require an intense degree of order. But masterpieces can certainly be made without strictly adhering to some pre-determined formula (by which I mean that a work may find, in process, its own unique scheme of masterful unity )

Furthermore, considering that the vast majority of great and accomplished talents never published their secrets, it seems detrimental to artistic growth to over-rely on "published standards."

And lastly, ARC and Rational Painting are greatly benefiting from the publicity you give them.

अर्जुन said...

Some ideas/concepts/points of view are best expressed with this "voice". Why should it be quelled? Should not an arranger use the proper instrument for an orchestration. Does the world need a harmonica?

recommended, somewhat relevant viewing-Orson Welles' "F for Fake".

Wynne Reynolds said...

"Actually you do have the right to tell people not to like it."

Agreed. I guess I'm just not interested in telling people what to think. Even as it pertains to my own art - love or leave it. Maybe that's why I'm not Damien Hirst . . . If they ask my opinion that's a different story.

I am not telling anyone to be non-judgmental. it's inherently human and, as I said, a whole lot of fun. (But then, I did read a Dan Brown before passing judgment - but I won't read another!)

Sales pitches are a whole different kettle of fish . . . that's someone trying to tell me what to think.

I TRY to keep an open mind. And am interested in discussions such as David's initial question.

Hmmm - "Despite the subjectivity of much art, we can safely say that by clear, objective and scientifically provable standards such people are blithering idiots. I firmly believe it is a public service to say so out loud."


I guess I got off onto a whole tolerance bent, I suppose a knee-jerk reaction to Rob. I still think it's a good idea to look before you leap.

"When I tell any truth . . . " Good one Blake! Thanks for that, David.

kev ferrara said...

Btw, Wynne, I also could only read about 2 pages of Duh Vinci Code. The point at which the priest is reaching up, saying "must tell.... someone...before... blacking... out..." that's when the book hit the round file from the free throw line.


Tom said...

Hi David

It seems like every artist wants to draw effortlessly whether they’re just beginning or if they have had years of severe training. I don't think because you are a lunatic, a savage, a child or a banker that you haves special access to spirit, to the pre-verbal or whatever you want to call it, we all come from the same thing. Touching into that non-verbal state is available to everyone. When you do touch into it you can not help but see the world afresh, "abandoning all assumptions “ whether you are a child or ninety, whether you are skilled or not. I have seen Tintoretto drawings that are drawn with the same effortless line as a child.
Chinese brush painters go through serve training to express themselves effortlessly, so there is "no hindrance in the mind.” and nothing can impede what they want to express.
I think your design idea nails it. Nature designs beautifully, it is just the way it does things. Matisse’s ink drawings of Nice are about as minimalist as a drawing can be, but where he places his marks just brings the paper to life.
I don't know if I believe the preverbal state is "disturbing", it seems like when our mind starts dominating the natural flow of life and art then things start becoming truly disturbing and raw. A lunatic seems like someone who is dominated by thought not someone who is in a pre verbal state. That is why the work is raw and often inaccessible it is trapped in thought. (It often has writing all over it) I think much of modern art is mind dominated and that why it often needs someone to justify and defend and explain for us it.
Nature does not justify, it is silent. It seems to me that the best art work clears or empties one’s mind from thought which is usually self center and points to the richness of the world and really great art seems to be a deep appreciation for what is. Of course there are all kinds of drawing for all kinds of purposes so it seems one has to remember that when making judgments.
Dekooning had a pretty good definition of what constitutes a great artist, consistency. And I always like ancient Greek or Roman saying, “The art of learning is to conceal learning.”

Rob Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Howard said...

>>>These math-based schemes you discuss are grammars, not lexicons.<<<


Why do you always inject your pronunciamentoes with anesthaesia. I know that you are incapable of using laughing gas but I usually get to this point and ....Zzzzzz.

Could you please do a rewrite and make it interesting? I know that you are completely incapable of wit and cleverness, but at least pare it down to a few salient sentences.

I am reminded of the teacher who had someone like you pass in a paper and wrote at the top..."I am returning a perfectly good piece of typing paper on which someone has scrawled gibberish."

Ah, and infinite number of monkeys and typewriters...*yawn*

Rob Howard said...

>>> I have seen Tintoretto drawings that are drawn with the same effortless line as a child.<<<

Tom, I have yet to see a child draw without a great deal of effort. Children grasp the tool like a cudgle rather than with ease and grace, and every line is done with difficulty not ease.

Children do not handle a baseball or bat with ease. Most have difficulty with eating utensils and the same can be said for their ease in drawing. All children in all countries make labored drawings. The nearest I have seen to ease and grace happened at age 13 with Durer, Rubens and Ingres.

theory_of_me said...

David Apatoff: "we can safely say that by clear, objective and scientifically provable standards such people are blithering idiots. I firmly believe it is a public service to say so out loud."

David, exactly how does one use scientific methods to prove that someone's entirely subjective, personal aesthetic reaction to Bach is nothing like their entirely subjective, personal aesthetic reaction to Chris Ware? How do you use science to prove that someone isn't experiencing a type of emotional "elevation" by looking at something that appeals to their aesthetic sensibilities?

I agree with you about Chris Ware, his work does nothing for me but your notion that science can prove us correct about his work is ridiculous. I also agree that you are doing a public service by voicing your opinion so loudly. It's always convenient when the foolish announce their presence to everyone.

kev ferrara said...

>>Rob Howard: Yawn... zzzz ...boring...<<

Personally, I've never found learning boring. I'm surprised that you insist on dismissing information that corrects your misapprehensions or conceptions which fall outside your current paradigms. These items, to me, tend to be of the greatest (rather than the least) interest.

If you want to yawn at anything, yawn at your own rigid conformities.

Better yet, question them.

Ra said...

I love this kind of art. Give me that beautiful police car (or the Dubbufet, or the Steig) in a heartbeat over the meticulously crafted work that I've seen from Rob and others. I'm sorry that so few of you seem to be able to respond to the image that is David's chosen lovely drawing, and instead respond to the idea of the value of this genre of art as it may or may not interact with the Art World. Or, for that matter, who made it- an insane person? a child? a skilled career artist? Who cares? This is what I would put on MY wall.

Theory_of_Me, I think you're taking David too literally. Even if you're not, how much better to be a fool than a misogynist.

theory_of_me said...

Ra: "I think you're taking David too literally. Even if you're not, how much better to be a fool than a misogynist."

Well, since David brought up science, I think it's best to take the point he was trying to make literally. I don't see much use for poetic interpretations of claims made about the scientific method.

And, this will probably sound crazy to you but I'm not a misogynist. I hate ignorance and both sexes are thoroughly ignorant, it just happens to be the case that throughout history the male sex has shown itself to be slightly less ignorant. It's an ugly claim but it's an even uglier truth.

Wynne Reynolds said...

My 11 year old walked in when I was reading this and took great umbrage at Rob's statement that children grasp tools like cudgels. I said I thought he meant when they were small and my son still insisted that he has always drawn with ease.

Some children make labored drawings and some draw easily - just like adults. I think the point is that children tend to be less critical of themselves until they learn otherwise.

My nephew stopped drawing when he was eight until I bought a fantastic children's book called "Pish posh, Hieronymous Bosch" He saw that one doesn't always have to draw what's real or draw 'correctly' to create an image that means something.

So perhaps we are talking about attempting to draw without preconceived notions of what is correct. More likely we're talking about if the artist achieved the desired effect and/or if we appreciate the effect achieved. Two very different issues that get muddled because it is often hard to be objective when it comes to art.

Rob, are you talking about ease and grace or skill when referring to Durer, Rubens and Ingres at 13?

theory_of_me said...

Wynne Reynolds: "More likely we're talking about if the artist achieved the desired effect and/or if we appreciate the effect achieved."

I think that's part of the significant difference between authentic madmen/artists and professional artists who are merely trying to mimic the look of madness in their art. We can't be very sure if madmen have a desired effect in mind before they set out to create a work. They are also more likely to not care if anyone besides them (or even they themselves) appreciates it once it's done. I don't think anyone knew Henry Darger was an artist before he died, for example. Their intent is very different from that of a professional artist or illustrator who is clearly always playing to an audience. I think this also applies to artwork by children; they tend to be more selfish.

Most of the examples David provided for this topic look far too mindful and considerate of the intended audience to be as fresh and interesting in the same way that the work of authentic madmen can be. I can easily imagine the illustrations being done in a more traditional style without them looking odd or changing the meaning very much. The Linda Barry piece is a little tougher to imagine that way, but I don't think she's trying to look crazy or naive, that's just how she draws.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, Einbildungskraft, Wynne and others: well, this discussion surely earns the trophy as the most coprologic yet. I generally steer clear of excrement as a rhetorical device, but this week it has been invoked with wings, in cans, with a lilac scent, with a clean handle, and in other manifestations. I assume you keep returning to this theme in reference to Freud's theories of excrement and creativity in children.

kev ferrara said...

I agree David. Lately, the use of scatalogical tropes does seem to be increasing excrementally...

However, Wynne wasn't being rhetorical when he mentioned Manzoni's Merda d'Artista. (You probably knew that already, though.) If only he were!

Rob Howard said...

>>>Rob, are you talking about ease and grace or skill when referring to Durer, Rubens and Ingres at 13?<<<

Obviously their skills were outstanding at that age and their early training taught them to handle the implements properly.

Look at those who evidently had to be been cruelly forced with whips and sharpened prods to learn correct penmanship with this past generation of writers who have not yet discovered an opposable thumb, but forunately are so much more intellectually and emotionally advanced.

Obviously, early training has a great deal to do with moving away from the chimp's approach to handling tools ( I have an example posted in Cennini Forum of today's common approach to holding a pen, which I call the "monkey fist"). Grace, skill and ease...they're all part of a package deal. Whether someone can convince themselves that they are drawing with ease and grace has more to do with suggestibility than reality. It's for others to comment on the grace of your line, not you. The Mac has enabled people with near-simian skills to achieve a degree of grace they never could otherwise.

Rob Howard said...

>>> I assume you keep returning to this theme in reference to Freud's theories of excrement and creativity in children.<<< Naah, summer's end puts most of us in a shitty mood.

Let's rouse those great Rabelasian characters of Gargantua and Pantagruel and inject some humor into the dour and dull proceedings.

Readers, friends, if you turn these pages
Put your prejudice aside,
For, really, there's nothing here that's outrageous,
Nothing sick, or bad — or contagious.
Not that I sit here glowing with pride
For my book: all you'll find is laughter:
That's all the glory my heart is after,
Seeing how sorrow eats you, defeats you.
I'd rather write about laughing than crying,
For laughter makes men human, and courageous.


I think that most of us would prefer My Dinner With Francois than to endure My Dinner With Kev (even if he is oblique in speaking of his leavings).

Anonymous said...

Your obsession with Kev is pretty creepy, Rob.

The custom around here, just in case you forgot, is that when you pretend to speak for "most of us" you speak for none of us.

Have you really spent the last 15 years of your life staring at a computer screen and pretending you're the life of the party?

While in actuality, earning a reputation as one of the most tedious and obnoxious trolls on the net?

How's that going, tiger?

Can you even stand up anymore?


Anonymous said...

>>Your obsession with Kev is pretty creepy, Rob.<<

check the mirror, girly.

Rob Howard said...

That *yawn* bit deflates 'em every time.

As for my "Kev obsession" it's more a concern with the way unproven opinions from unpublished art mavens has fed into making this mediocre period in art. I believe that we have just as many talented young artists as there were in the Renaissance. Unlike those times, they are being taught and advised by people with little practical experience...people who live in their heads from information they've been told or read, rather than working it out for themselves and testing in the field.

By repeating what others say without actually testing it, we get books with glaring fundamental flaws, distributed and treated like sacred bibles. Ralph Mayer's books are like that...about 25% bad, or near-bad information (my friend Robert Doak claims the percentage of unproved garbage is even higher).

Kev is emblematic of a character we came up with for a corporate film about the effect on morale and progress these “experts” have in a large corporation. They are never passionate about anyone’s ideas. They never greet another person’s ideas with unqualified encouragement. In truth, they listen for flaws and immediately greet them with…”yeah, but…” For the film we dubbed that character The Yubbut.

Go back and read every one of Kev's responses and see if he was ever in unqualified agreement with anyone else's statements. Nope.

If you were to make the statement, “water is clear and wet.” Kev would COUNTER with some sophomoric diatribe about how muddy water is not clear and according to leading scientists, water is not nearly as wet as alcohol…blah, blah, blah. Ask yourself what the purpose of that constantly eroding approach is. Kev’s knowledge is not such that he has had any publisher knocking at his door to publish the wit (nonexistent) and wisdom of Kev Ferrara. The purpose of Kev’s approach is to lower the stature of the speaker with his “yubbuts.”

I defy anyone to find many positive statements by Kev that are not immediately followed with a yubbut designed to lower the stature of the writer. Aside from lacking any semblance of wit and humor, what is glaringly absent is real field knowledge based on experiments and direct observation. Nope, he just offers retreads of what other say. I have never, ever seen anything that would pass for encouragement. That’s a mean and niggardly approach to life.

But what do I know? I’m just an old farm-boy who never finished college ( I got into an Ivy school but ran out of money and scholarships and had to leave). In truth, I never even finished art school. In my second year, I had so much freelance work that I had to decide if I wanted to be a professional artist or an art student. Dropping out before completing the full terms left me woefully inadequate at artsy parties where they dropped names from great heights.

I doubt Kev was beset by freelance clients when in school. He was able to enjoy the benefits of a leisurely art education. No sweaty bullpens with hardcore working pros for our boy. Nope, just a chance to repeat what he’d been taught in school by non-working artists who had a degree or two. That lack of working knowledge is passed on and manages to suck the spirit out of so many art …students who ended up storing a portfolio in the closet and going out to get a “real” job. It takes years of continuous drubbing to drive the spirit out of an artist, but they manage to do just that. There are readers who identify with this slow stultification

Kew is simply emblematic of that mentality. Kev took his own personality traits and melded them with the sameness learned while kneeling at the feet of the non-pros teaching school. It’s that gallimaufry of untried information and a misanthropy that makes me look like Mother Theresa that’s just simmering in wait for the right publisher. Perhaps we can look forward to Art Appreciation For You Stupid Dummies in the future.

I’ll keep checking with Amazon.

Rob Howard said...

>>>David, exactly how does one use scientific methods to prove that someone's entirely subjective, personal aesthetic reaction to Bach is nothing like their entirely subjective, personal aesthetic reaction to Chris Ware? <<<

By the drool on their shirt front.

Charon said...

Rob Howard (a.k.a. Stix),

I think your last over-long post about Kev from 5:00 AM pretty much defines crazy troll stalker.

Did you take all Saturday night to write that little feverish screed?

Oh, you did, didn't you?

Just because it turned out you didn't know the difference between a lexicon and a grammar?


kev ferrara said...

No, "Charon", I think this blog is on pacific time. So 5:00 AM = 8:00 AM

The rest of your post seems about right, however.

Its great fun coming here to see Rob's foaming personal attacks against me.

A real pleasure.

kev ferrara said...

Sorry to double post, but this really sticks in my craw.

Not exactly a pleasant series of entries to wake up to on a Sunday morning.

So, I wanted to say this to people who might be reading who don't get what's going on.

Mr. Howard does not know me at all. He lives in New England. I live in New York.

The nonsense he is writing about me comes from his imagination -- apparently he thinks I am a liar and he has ESP -- and amounts to a disgraceful smear attempt.

David, how do you feel hosting these smears under the banner of your blog?


theory_of_me said...

Rob Howard: "Go back and read every one of Kev's responses and see if he was ever in unqualified agreement with anyone else's statements. Nope."

Actually, I remember one time when this happened. In David's "Finding Personality in a Brick" post, Kev responded to Rob Howard:

"Rob said it perfectly."


David's response was pretty funny:

"Kev, your response gives me hope for the human race. I am going to print it out and sleep with it under my pillow tonight."

A Real Black Person said...

"Faking being mentally ill"
" 'Faking' being unskilled" (yeah.right. The vast majority were told to stop trying to improve. Happens alot in Art School.) But who cares, right? There's a huuuuuuuuugggggggge market for this angsty emo left-wing stuff. Chicks dig it!

I'm sure this is fine and dandy for people indoctrinated into Contemporarty Art, who're told THIS is what's IN and THIS is what's SOPHISTICATED but to the outsiders, people on Main Street, it falls into the catagory of crap. Then again only people who are Educated, who went to expensive schools or work on Wall Street can swallow this stuff.They trade it amongst themselves so it shouldn't bother outsiders but... But... they ask tax payers to subsidize this at "higher education". A lot of the work Apatoff has showed,especially the primative work he dislikes, is just up there with Film Studies and African American Studies as a waste of money spent in higher education where knowledge has become increasingly politicalized.
And this is coming from someone who isn't very conservative .

Laurence John said...

seems it really is impossible to keep a civilized conversation going here without it degenerating into the usual personal insults.

real shame.

Rob Howard said...

>>>seems it really is impossible to keep a civilized conversation going here without it degenerating into the usual personal insults.<<<

So true. Let's talk about Sargent. Everyone loves Sargent. No controversy there. I love Sargent. Don't you love Sargent too?

Ah, a return to the harmony and absolute agreement of truly civilized people.

Hey, wait a minute. I just read what Whistler had to say about Ruskin and Ruskin about Whistler and the libel suit that erupted as a result. Gosh, Laurence, those two went at each other like the Hammers of Hell...and they were so well-dressed, too. How could two well-dressed and intelligent men disagree with each other. How very uncivilized as compared to the sweet checkout girl who wishes everyone to have a nice day and the civilized waiter who waits until you have a mouth full before asking how the meal is.

Oh Heavens save me from uncivilzed people like Ruskin and Whistler and send me to the welcoming arms of the civilized suburban woman at the perfume counter. That's civility at it's most contemporary and suburban best.

Rob Howard said...

>>>Mr. Howard does not know me at all. He lives in New England. I live in New York.<<<

Kev, it's true that I haven't got a set of your fingerprints on file but I do have a mind map that fits you to a T. You do not ever respond. You react. That allows someone else to elicit a predictable reaction. As an unsophisticated hick, I learned how to get wild animals to react to various stimuli. Although each one of them considered themselves a wily and smart individual thinker, they still ended up in my pot.

Getting reactions is particularly easy with humorless critters who take themselves seriously

Manipulative? You betcha.

Matthew Adams said...

David, the drawing of the police car is wonderful, all other police cars, even real ones, are just shadows cast on the cave wall by this one.

Panter's work though makes me want to vomit.

And strangely enough, the word verification today is plati, who was plato's brother, a less succesful philospher who spewed forth platitudes (something I am sure Rob is going to accuse me of with my comment about the police car drawing, but I assure you David is sincerely meant)

kev ferrara said...


Yeah, Rob, acting like an asshole is really manipulative. If you act like an asshole, (Presto!) people get annoyed.

Amazing mind control technique!

The genius of Tony Clifton lives again!

Others can see my responses for themselves... (other than this one, for which I apologize), they are not personal, they go to the question at hand.

Regarding my reactions... On the evidence, it would seem plain that you, Mr. Howard, are the over-reactive nutjob, just like you are the liar, the self-aggrandizer, the pretentious bluffer, the true believer, and all the other epithets you throw around so offensively to distract attention from your madness.

As far as the example you gave... Ruskin v Whistler... that was an exceptional case of those civilized men having a rough dispute. Their trial in no way defeats most people's general sense of what it means to have civilized conversation.

Furthermore the kind of bile you engage in has nothing to do with the dispute between Ruskin and Whistler. So don't flatter yourself.

Furthermore, endless examples can be cited where otherwise civilized men committed atrocities. Yet, atrociousness has NEVER defined civility.

But go ahead, by any and all means, excuse your own behavior. Act like a boor. Use a few big words, a few impressive sounding references, so a few don't catch on. (I apologize if I'm not fooled or intimidated by your bluffs and bluster.)

Yes, go ahead, destroy the conversation. Make everybody unhappy.

And whatever you do, don't apologize for your slanders. Don't correct your lies. Don't admit your errors.

Just hit and run, stick and move, jump and jive...

And the worst part about it is, none of what I've written matters because you'll always post again with another bunch of insults, then enough semi-relevant balderdash so that somebody responds and you seem to be contributing... just kicking up dust to hide within.

This will go on and on, I'm sure. Because, most important of all, you just don't give a shit about anybody but yourself.

And David just doesn't have the time to waste policing this place.

Best blog on the net, down the drain?

kev ferrara said...

David, feel free to delete my last post if you find it in error.

Blob Howard Pizza Delivery said...

One out of every three posts here was vomited forth by the Blob.

Things a bit slow around the studio? Or does the pizza delivery job not start until 6 pm or so?

Of course, it's like that every day. Odd for the so-called "successful" artist to have oh-so much time on his chocolate stained hands.

Blahb blahb blahb blahb blahb!

See you around in a couple of minutes or so, Blobby Robby!

william wray said...

I get your point David, and strive every day to find a balance between my learned skills and emotional stylization. I think some of your examples are ok, but would have tried harder to do examples that prove stylization is more interesting than strict realism. Ironically your Peak bog is a great example of going from realism to stylization with wildly successful results until cheats take the place of stylization. Same thing happened to Chuck Jones and Picasso. They got stylization mixed with drawing so right, but then threw out to much of the drawing and became lazy self- worshiping in breeders of shit.

Caroline said...

I think that there is something amazing about an artist who can draw and paint realistically, who then makes the choice to draw and paint stylistically. This would be akin to Louis Armstrong, who actually had a wonderful singing voice, but choice to use a gruff, stylistic voice instead. It's the platform of excellence that makes the difference between an artist who achieves a great simple or distorted style and one who is simply not good.

I think if you look at the best cartoonists and illustrators of the last two centuries you see this same phenomenon. Again, to bring a jazz saying in, from I believe Oscar Peterson...but I'm not sure.. "You got to know music theory, and then you can ignore it."

slinberg said...

I'm always perplexed when people who aren't members of Rational Painting post personal assessments of it, whether negative or positive.

Rational Painting ( is a serious art forum open to all who want to engage in rational discussion about skilled arts and methods. Anyone who can behave in a civil and reasoned manner is welcome to join. Unlike many other forums, however, we do not tolerate trolls, or anyone who is mean-spirited, combative, or engages in personal attacks for any reason. In this way, we maintain a friendly and knowledgeable site with an extremely high signal-to-noise ratio.

Of course, people whose reputations for aggressive and rude behavior precede them need not apply, but everyone who can behave like an adult is welcome.

Anonymous said...


You make paint for a living, you don't make paintings for a living.

You used to use paint on canvas, but you were an illustrator, not an artist.

I recommend you go back to your paint factory, and leave it to the artists to talk about making art.


Anonymous said...

Rob sure spends a lot of time on his computer. Shouldn't he be off painting or making paints for other people?

But finally Ive found what Rob does at his computer all day. A search on his profile and some googling has shown what Rob does with most of his downtime!

Dull Tool Dim Bulb said...

David? I'm working on a little niche here, Artists and illustrators working in the "vintage sleaze" market in the 1950s and 1960s. Turns out many attented the school of visual arts in NYC, but then again, many sure didn't. Have a look?
Jim Linderman