Saturday, January 12, 2013


John Cuneo

By the 1950s, the conditions that led to the "golden age of American illustration" had worn thin.

The invention of halftone engraving and quality color reproduction, the rise of deluxe magazines pumped by advertising dollars and an insatiable reading public all created fertile soil for golden age illustrators such as Howard Pyle, Leyendecker, Parrish, Cornwell, Rockwell and hundreds of others.

But in the 1950s, magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Liberty and Life were dying out. Tastes (and advertising revenues) shifted away from print media.  Gone were the well funded illustration campaigns for Arrow shirt collars and Ford automobiles.

As illustrator Austin Briggs recalled:
It was during the fifties that a healthy revolt against the slick, photograph-oriented illustration then in vogue really began to gather adherents.  This revolution was accelerated by the demise of several national periodicals in a losing competition with television for presentation of fictional escapism.  Other floundering publications sought salvation in acquiring a new image-- anything different and strident enough to retain the attention of a wavering public.  These conditions produced an opportunity for the illustrator to be truly creative with a freedom from the restraints of the past never before experienced.
The upcoming show at the Delaware Art Museum begins with this Great Thaw.  Initially, the field of illustration seemed to split into two main categories: illustrators who continued to portray narrative content in the tradition of Howard Pyle or Norman Rockwell, but with bold new styles, and illustrators who worked in a more symbolic and conceptual mode.

To represent this division, I have chosen the work of Bernie Fuchs to convey the first category and the work of Milton Glaser to convey the second category.

In the decades following this initial split, illustration fragmented into a wider variety of applications, functions and styles.  I have selected six great illustrators to represent some of the most important categories:
sequential art-- Mort Drucker
narrative and conceptual art-- Sterling Hundley
character design-- Peter de Seve
animation -- Ralph Eggleston
illustration and gallery painting-- Phil Hale
editorial pen and ink-- Cuneo
For each of these eight master artists, the show will present a number of splendid original works.

Ralph Eggleston was production designer on the brilliant Pixar film, Wall-E



AR said...

Wall-E is nothing but super slick treacle. Gimme a break.

David Apatoff said...

AR-- That's what people said about Norman Rockwell for decades. Personally, I find the first half of Wall-E to be humor on a level with Chaplin. But beyond Wall-E, Ralph Eggleston was a pioneering creative force at Pixar behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo and other gems. Perhaps you are one of those illustration fans who is not comfortable with digital animation. I promise you, there will be just as many digital animation fans who won't be able to understand why I am wasting their time with old school analog painters. My hope is that by mixing them up together, we can all learn something.

AR said...

I agree with those people about Rockwell. Loads of talent will never save you if all you care about is appealing to the lowest common denominator. I'm one of those people who don't care what medium the message comes in as long as the message has substance. Nothing of the sort is to be found in anything by Pixar. I see it all as half a step above that Kincaid guy.

Rockwell may have done work with political resonance but no matter how well painted it is, he was still just pandering to whatever was popular at the time. Whether it's truly justified or not is beside the point. I prefer Leyendecker, who while he may have been just as guilty as Rockwell in terms of pandering, at least had a more individualistic style. Pixar and all that digital animation stuff just reeks of commodification to me. I see no strong individual vision there, just more of the ongoing Disneyfication and Times Squarification of the world.

Speaking of Leyendecker, there's a good exhibit of his work up at the National Arts Club in New York. I haven't heard mention of it anywhere on the net. It's up until the nineteenth of this month.

James Gurney said...

AR, Thanks for the tip about the Leyendecker show. I can't believe I walked by the entrance of the National Arts Club on Friday without knowing about it. Drat! I put an announcement about it on my GurneyJourney blog.

David: Bravo for taking on the challenge of presenting a slice of what Illustration has become a century after Pyle. It's tough to reduce the wide field to 8 artists, but you've done it. Some of Pyle's artistic DNA is in each one of these masters, and hopefully in us all. It's fun to imagine how Pyle would have regarded our current visual and entertainment landscape.

To AR's valid point, the "corporatization" and "commodification" of art is the bane of our times, hard for any individual working artist to reach beyond.

David Apatoff said...

AR-- I think you underestimate Rockwell's content. This is a common failure amongst the fine arts community, which begrudges Rockwell his popular, unwashed audience (see for example Blake Gopnik's smug and superficial review for the Washington Post of Rockwell's show at the Smithsonian). The illustration community, on the other hand, tends to have less of an attitude problem (which is one reason illustration has been a more relevant art form in recent years).

If you can appreciate Leyendecker, you're halfway there. I would recommend to you Milton Glaser's interview on the genius of Rockwell's content. I would also urge you to remember, on the subject of pandering, that Shakespeare made a living filling the Globe Theater with illiterate peasants who loved his lurid stories of sex and violence. If you truly want to witness pandering to the lowest common denominator, go to the Miami Basel Art show and watch today's top fine artists pandering to investment bankers and Russian oligarchs.

As for your point about content being the only important thing, you and I will have to disagree on that. For me, the marriage of form and content is one of the loveliest dances of art. Disqualifying art because of its content is a dangerous standard. Some people even hold a grudge against your friend, Leyendecker because of his politically incorrect subject matter. If you're going to go down that road, I think you need to keep a very open minded notion of "content." Monet did a whole series of paintings whose subject was nothing more than the changing light on haystacks. Rockwell did a painting of A Day In The Life of a Boy about the changing light on a boy. You might despise the sentimentality of what the boy is doing, but if you treat light as the subject matter, I think Rockwell does a better job than Monet.

As for Pixar, I urge you to come to the show and give it another chance. I have previously written on this blog about the challenges of a medium such as animated feature film which requires hundreds of creative people, technicians and corporations (See for example, my post on Carter Goodrich) but if you let the inquiry end there, rather than dealing with those challenges, you miss out on some of the most interesting, vivid, important illustrated story telling today.

The Delaware show would be laughably incomplete without digital animation. I will be writing about Ralph shortly, and let's see if I can convince you.

Matt Jones said...

Great to see you recognizing animation design. Working at Pixar I've gotten to know Ralph well and treasure time spent in conversation with him- a human encyclopedia of film production design, live action and animated. Animation production designers are rarely considered equal to their live-action counterparts (if ever), especially around awards season. The work put into designing the worlds of animated films FAR exceeds that of a live-action film (remember EVERYTHING must be built from scratch including the performers.) But it's not just quantity-the quality of any Pixar production design is amongst the best of the year-look at the world of the mid century/60s pop world of the Incredibles, the Parisian streets of Ratatouille, the Venezuelan jungle of Up etc. Wall-E was the first to replicate live-action camera lenses; depth of field etc. Look at the atmospheric particles and lighting-that's what helped make the world so rich. The detail they incorporate is staggering. Not many people realize that the area Wall-E 'lives in' in the first act is based on the Bay Area devoid of water. Every detail in these films is there to support and impart STORY.
As production designer Ralph commands a team of gifted artists; character designers and location/prop designers who all function amazingly as one unit to create these worlds. I hope they can get more recognition in the future amongst their live-action peers. Animated films are always amongst the biggest earners of any given year ut the film-makers remain anonymous. Ralph is one of the best.

Matt Jones said...

Here is a good example of the Pixar Art Dept.'s contribution to the films:

David Apatoff said...

James Gurney-- Thanks, james. Coming from you, that means a great deal. It was of course extremely difficult to reduce my selection to eight artists, and there are many other artists who could easily have been included, but I feel certain this will be a meaningful and illuminating collection of art.

One of the lessons I learned from dealing with these artists, each of whom became successful, is that each had to pay a significant price to protect his art, whether from "corporatization" or from the other pressures that have affected artists since the days of Pyle.

Matt J-- Thanks for your eye witness contribution. I will be writing about each of these artists and about my reasons for choosing them. I hope you will chime in again on my post devoted to Ralph.

Because animated films are such a team effort, it was especially difficult to identify individual artists worthy of inclusion in this group of 8. Ralph didn't make it any easier; he kept insisting that the total Pixar team was seamlessly responsible for the projects I asked about. But Ralph's name was repeatedly singled out in my discussions with knowledgeable animation artists.

MORAN said...

AR, first you said you only care about about whether the message has substance. Then you said Leyendecker's message was as guilty of pandering as Rockwell's but that you like Leyendecker anyway because of his "style." You should wait for your brain to catch up with your opinion.

chuck pyle said...

I am delighted to see that art for animation is given its due, David. So much creativity and illustrative storytelling goes into this medium. Many, many of my grads go straight into concept art for film or games as it is the medium of choice, both for creativity and audience share, as well as great paying jobs. Not that print is dead, nor are ebooks the only answer but it is where creatives merge animation and still art to sell the idea to a generation that expects everything to move, respond, and make noise. Anyone in print ignores that to its peril, long term.
I am saddened by AR's comment on pandering. If his argument is to be sustained, then anyone getting paid to create something stands tarred with the same brush. I wear, as do most illustrators, my tar proudly. To be able to communicate, and to have what ones says RESONATE with a mass audience (high or low) requires great understanding, empathy, and skill. I guess that high art is entirely self satisfying and not tied to making a living. Good luck!

AR said...

MORAN: I said I preferred Leyendecker because his style was more individualistic. When you try to draw the line between form and content you will inevitably come to the point where the line necessarily becomes blurred. At this point it's wise to define what it is exactly that makes something stand out as more valuable in terms of either form or content. You will find that the main ingredient is always the spirit of the individual. Quality of content is forged by the individual's search for something that resonates with truth. Quality of form is created the same way, it doesn't rely on anything that came before it because it strikes directly at the source of all inspiration. To the degree that either Rockwell or Leyendecker do this, I find more to appreciate in terms of individuality in the latter.

David: I don't underestimate Rockwell's content. Compared to Leyendecker, he seems to have refined the content of his pictures to a higher degree. The problem is that he refined it in the direction of something like an episode of Leave it to Beaver or some other popular trash, with all the technical expertise that comes with selling garbage like that to a mass audience. Seeing this, I'm glad Leyendecker never bothered to go in that direction and remained more "superficial" in his work. Rockwell comes off as moralistic, even preachy and propagandist. Getting your sense of morality from an artist is never a good idea so I will always ignore that aspect of Rockwell (and Leyendecker). This leaves me with only the quality of the paint to appreciate and for that I'll take Leyendecker.

The changing quality of light on haystacks or little boys may be interesting for its own sake but I think it's pretty obvious that ideas about life (not color theory, etc.) are what really change the world and are what people live and die for whether they know it or not. You can have the most brilliantly executed painting of something as mundane as a carrot and people will notice it but it won't have much of an effect outside the art world. But a strong idea about existence itself even crudely expressed will have people from all fields up in arms huffing and puffing if it can be broadcast efficiently enough.

This is why I'm not impressed by your dragging of Shakespeare into this. Shakespeare started out as entertainment for the rabble and ended up as a safe and dependable cottage industry for dry and gutless academicians to flip over repeatedly like a precious fossil for hundreds of years. There is nothing terribly profound about Shakespeare. Every once in a while I'll meet someone who has been educated into thinking highly of Shakespeare and I'll ask them what was the most profound thing ever suggested by him. I usually get something about the world being a stage or there being more in heaven and earth than in someone's philosophy. Then I just stifle a yawn, or not depending on how I feel that day.

AR said...

Chuck Pyle: "If his argument is to be sustained, then anyone getting paid to create something stands tarred with the same brush."

That's not necessarily true although the way the world works, you stand to make the most money by appealing to people with the lowest expectations. This may be fine if you're a plumber or a cab driver but taking this attitude as an artist leaves you with all the crap that makes up 99.9% of illustration and probably everything at Miami Basel, as David mentioned. I know even plumbers and cab drivers have standards but I think art necessarily comes with a much higher standard. Its purported goal is more far-reaching after all.

"To be able to communicate, and to have what ones says RESONATE with a mass audience (high or low) requires great understanding, empathy, and skill."

The mass audience never wants anything more than simple entertainment, something to distract it from the challenges of being alive. That's why mass audiences are so easily and readily amused around the clock every single day of the week. Does that really require "great" understanding or is it just the following of tried and true routine?

"I guess that high art is entirely self satisfying and not tied to making a living."

It isn't. Nothing is ever entirely self-satisfying and to make art, someone out there, not necessarily the artist has to be making a living somehow.

James Gurney said...

AR, Don't underestimate the "mass audience." I have noticed that ordinary folks are often more sophisticated and demanding than the "high culture" audience, the reverse of what you suggest.

Consider the ordinary people--regular hard working people like you or me--who happen to care about movies. (I know, as you say, not everyone cares, some just want "simple entertainment," and Hollywood delivers plenty of that.)

But do you remember the huge amount of argument back and forth that was poured into the comment strings of movie fan sites about the recent problems with the Prometheus film? The debates that I remember reading and hearing around the water cooler were pretty involved and passionate, and dealt with issues of life and death and transformation as well as craft and technique.

It was the same thing for Rockwell and Fawcett and their contemporaries, who received hundreds of letters critiquing each one of their magazine covers.

Compare that to the audience at a typical "high culture" contemporary music concert, where no matter whether the music is inspired or awful, there's often no discussion in the lobby, no variation in applause. Musicians at such concerts have lamented that the audience seems to be listening dutifully rather than critically, and they wish they reacted more. Perhaps this is because our system of art education conditions people to doubt their own basic responses to art.

Donald Pittenger said...

Re James Gurney: Art education does its share of damage. And then there's the media pile-on of praise for stuff that most people find strange and often enough repugnant.

For example, the Seattle Art Museum just completed a fancy show dealing with art by women from the Centre Pompidou. There were some nice items from around the 1920s, but most of the show was modernist contributions dealing with vaginas and all the expected socio-political trappings. My wife, who is not deeply into art, thought the exhibition was awful. I simply walked at a rapid pace through the modernist part, knowing what would be there.

Of course the local press lauded the exhibit to the skies. One has to be pretty strong-minded and self-assured to hold one's beliefs when all the supposed experts take the opposite point of view.

David Apatoff said...

Chuck Pyle-- I certainly agree with you. I think we will need to review our understanding of artistic excellence to better appreciate the contribution of animation artists. In the Delaware show we will have color scripts by Eggleston that show how he designed the movement of color and scenes in movies through time. Rembrandt never had to do anything like that, yet the task required the same kind of taste, sense of color, design, composition, etc. that Rembrandt applied.

AR-- Well, if you think "There is nothing terribly profound about Shakespeare" and that Monet's "color theory" is insignificant, I suppose it's hard for me to object that you don't think much of Norman Rockwell either.

James Gurney-- I think we could all agree on examples of extreme bad taste on both sides of the spectrum; there are plenty of examples of tacky taste from "the masses," just as there is an abundance of bad taste on the part of wealthy collectors. For that matter, there is bad taste on the part of the corporate clients who commission illustrations and on the part of government committees that commission public works. But for me, the "ordinary people" who make up the audience for illustration play a crucial role in keeping illustration art grounded. If we look at the path of so-called "fine art" over the past 30 years, I think the absence of any such grounding has made it self-obsessed, decadent and irrelevant. Whatever its other weaknesses, illustration has been kept more relevant by its responsiveness to the mass market.

Tom said...

I may be missing something but there is no change of light "in the a day in the life of a boy," only  changes  of situations.

AR said...

Tom, I can't find a good reproduction but it looks like the light starts out and ends being more blue than in the middle sequences which are more orange. Big deal, eh?

AR said...

James Gurney: I may sound like I'm really down on the "masses" but only to the degree that they remain avid consumers of popular entertainment and other forms of mind-rotting trash. I have no problem admitting that there really isn't anywhere else for the next revolution to come from than from the ranks of the non-elite. Anyone who expects anything of substance to come from politicians or high ranking academics is a fool. Only non-indoctrinated, plain-spoken, self-educated outsiders have the freedom of thought necessary to dare think up new and substantial approaches to life. But it becomes less likely to come to any fruition if we keep shoving overrated pretentious fluff like Shakespeare down their throats, or constantly expose them to gutless and toothless super slick sentimental pap like Wall-E when they are still very young.

James Gurney said...

David and AR, I have to grant both of you your very well made points. I guess where I end up on the "wisdom of the masses" question is this: The only practical view for an artist to take is to assume that the audience is going to be smart and demanding. Because expecting any less is going to lead to art that is a failed self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the end the artist has to please himself and herself, and hope an adequate constituency will form around those instincts to keep them doing it. Not all great art is popular, and not all popular art is great, but all professional art has its level of engagement with market considerations (including and especially gallery art and movies). My hat is off to artists who succeed in working collectively within a corporate entertainment environment to produce something great, and I for one think Pixar has done it in many of their movies.

David Apatoff said...

Tom and AR-- My apologies. The Rockwell painting I meant was "A Day In The Life Of A Girl," not "A Day In The Life of a Boy." (That's what happens when you update a blog from the LA airport on a business trip, using a blackberry). To see the subtlety of Rockwell's treatment of light across 22 separate little vignettes, it helps to view the original (sometimes on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum) but you can see the picture and what I wrote about it at:

David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger-- I would be interested in your view on why so many major, decentralized social institutions (such as art education, media and museums) would converge around that kind of work.

James Gurney-- I think the approach you describe is a very sensible way to maintain personal standards of excellence in a world where survival inevitably requires some form of compromise. Robert Fawcett cautioned against lowering our standards to whatever our tasteless audience is wiling to buy:

The argument that "it won't be appreciated anyway" may be true, but in the end this attitude does infinitely more harm to the artist than to his client.

AR-- you seem to have so many angry opinions about Pixar, Rockwell, Monet, Shakespeare, academics, politicians, the masses, etc., I wondered whether there was a category of humanity that could escape your wrath. I see now that "Only non-indoctrinated, plain-spoken, self-educated outsiders have the freedom of thought necessary to dare think up new and substantial approaches to life." I believe that was the philosophy espoused by the Unabomber, wasn't it?

Donald Pittenger said...

David, I don't know for sure why the herd has that mentality. It might make for an interesting (but expensive, due to data collection costs) research project.

Based on my own past experiences (a less costly but surely profound form of research), I suspect much of mainstream establishment opinion is based on real and perhaps mostly imagined peer pressure of the kind many of us experienced during out misguided youth.

That is, if that's what all those smart, influential people seem to believe, then by golly so should I. Especially if I want to be invited to the next gallery show opening party.

AR said...

"the Unabomber"

I'll take his manifesto over anything by Pixar any day of the week. He's obviously a smart guy who cared about authenticity to such a degree that it drove him nuts. But that's the risk we all must take for daring to have such high ideals. Some people just can't ignore reality long enough to produce the next crowd-pleasing, money making hit for the zombified masses. Pixar movies and pretty much everything produced by movie studios of today are just our version of technically perfect yet mind-numbingly bland 19th century academic painting. I used to make that comparison only with the crap we see from the fine art world but it's obviously happening in the world of popular entertainment as well. Why wouldn't it? It's all produced by the same decadent society.

अर्जुन said...

Everything's Coming Up Roses

Tom said...

"Everything's coming up roses" has the same feel as the Duchess of Cambridge portrait, but the artist's handling of form is better understood.

James Gurney said...

From Shakespeare to Rockwell to the Unabomber to the Dutchess--wow, haven't we traveled!

David, I have a question that's more on the topic of your post, based on Matt's comment: From a curatorial point of view, how did you deal with Ralph's E's work compared to that of the other artists in your exhibition? Do you present it as the work of an individual or as a part of a team? Because surely any piece you show by him, even if it entirely from his individual hand, partakes of the labor of many other uncredited artists, who may have shaped the story or the character design or the rendering, etc. That issue raises all sorts of interesting implications, and I'll be looking forward to seeing how you deal with it in your upcoming post.

David Apatoff said...

James Gurney-- Excellent issue. It took a long time and a lot of questions to settle on an individual artist in a collective category such as animation. (By the way, Peter de Seve is also in animation, but he does character design in pencil, which is then incorporated into video by digital animators).

Some people might reasonably conclude the artists in this show can't be measured by the same yardstick. That may turn out to be true, but I think it at least makes sense to explore a common standard by tracing their genetic code back to their common ancestor Pyle.

Ralph personally did the eight pieces in the show-- color scripts and concept drawings, some done with traditional materials and some done digitally. Ralph describes his role as creative oversight of the unified look and mood of the story, including the colors, lighting and special effects, and I think Ralph (and the others) can be evaluated based on how successfully they have achieved their own goals. So while Howard Pyle might have focused on the composition and design of a static picture, Ralph focuses on the cumulative composition and design of a collection of pictures moving through time. I think both jobs require taste and judgment, although most of Ralph's pictures look more like preliminary sketches than traditional finished artwork. To show how this turns out, we have videos of the finished parts of the movie implementing Ralph's drawings.

अर्जुन -- ???

Tom-- That was quite some painting, wasn't it?

kev ferrara said...


Who are your favorite artists, and favorite artworks?

Are you yourself an artist?

AR said...

I've had so many favorite artists over the years and I've looked at their work so obsessively that my brain stopped responding to them from sheer overexposure. Lately I've been getting into weird "outsiderish" type art. Some of the stuff on still looks cool to me. Also, I find typing "bad photography" into Google can sometimes dig up images that I find utterly poetic, but of course, it's all subjective.

An acquaintance of mine makes paintings I find interesting. Her website is She has more stuff on her Facebook page.

And yes, I doodle from time to time, not as much as I tell myself I'd like to though.

Oh, and Saul Steinberg.

Joss said...

Do you have any suggestions for finding the
Milton Glaser interview on the genius of Rockwell's content that you mentioned above?

Sounds like a good read.

Untitled said...

Dear David,

I recently got the Heinrich Kley books edited by Joe Procopio!
Great collection. All the way in India they are so much more valuable.

I could not find any description of media and size of the artwork. Can you suggest where i could write to Joe? I looked on the net but no luck. Have posted to a blog comment of his and will see if he responds. In case you have seen any of the art in that book in real life and in person and recall the approximate dimensions could you be so kind as to let me know the sizes of a few drawings? I am really curious to see how large the original is to understand how he fitted in so many details, how small did he work or how large???
Do post a blog on Kley again. I cant seem to search your archives easily...
Best wishes,
Amitabh ( or "Untitled" as my blogger name )

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