Monday, July 15, 2013


 "Wildness can be the picture's better part, its physical delight."  -- Gordon Parks
 In the 1960s, American illustration entered a wild, expressive phase.  Many illustrators employed vigorous, slashing strokes to convey the new mood (and speed) of the country.

Bob Peak

These pictures had an energy and virility that still stands out, fifty years later.  Bob Peak was one prominent example of that style, but there were dozens of less well known illustrators who helped to visualize the mood of the '60s.

For example, the talented Harvey Schmidt worked in a similarly robust, vigorous style:


Another talented illustrator, Jim Jonson, made expressive, high velocity illustrations of figures stretched to the max:

Here, Neil Boyle applies this same energetic line to inanimate objects:


The Society of Illustrators annuals from the '60s contain a great deal of art in this dynamic spirit; lots of slashing lines and lightning bolt scribbles back and forth.  In later decades illustration might adopt a more conceptual approach.  Later audiences might grow to prefer a more controlled look.  Yet, these pictures from the '60s retain a potency that is undeniable.

One reason these pictures feel good to look at is because they felt good to make.  They exemplify what Parks called the "physical delight" of picture making-- something that seems less evident in the era of Wacom tablets.

Robert Weaver
Al Parker

Joe Cleary
Like Parks, I believe that the wildness in a picture can be the picture's "better part," and that in the right circumstances it can hold up against anything else a picture has to offer.   


Unknown said...

Nice post. I wonder if Noel Sickles might qualify for the same category. These style remind me of him. Great illustrator and cartoonist.

MORAN said...

It's true computer art doesn't have this effect.

I never heard of Jonson before.

Donald Pittenger said...

Nice times, those -- illustration on "The Eve of Destruction" (a song title from 1965, protesting something other than the slow death of traditional markets for illustrators). Though your examples suggest that Johnson got a little too carried away.

Harvey Schmidt footnote: He did the music for the extremely long-running off-Broadway show "The Fantasticks." With its success he seems to have drifted away from illustration; that's my perception at the time, anyway.

Richard said...

I tried to explain that idea to someone, in relation to why I like Jackson Pollocks paintings, in spite of not being impressed by the actual images themselves.

I explained that his pieces read to me as a record of a "dance", not as an image -- as though a dancer put on some shoes that leaked paint, and then went wild on a dance floor made of canvas. It's fun to look at, at least for a little while, because I can feel the fun that went into making it.

Conversely, I hate hyper-realistic work. Not because I dislike the images produced, but because I imagine the processes that go into making them, and I'm driven to nausea by the very thought.

Could this explain why I rarely meet artists who like hyper-realism?

Is the reason there are so many non-artists impressed by hyper-realism because they simply don't understand what's so mind-numbingly awful about making pictures like that?

How does one then explain competent artists who make hyper-realistic work? Are they just mentally ill?

kev ferrara said...

It's always the feeling that flies under the radar that is most real about a work of art. With hyperrealism, the secret feeling is the fear, timidity, and obsessiveness with which the image is crafted.

The fact is, many artists are full of fear, trapped within their timidity, and they simply can't conquer it.

The great virtue of Bob Peak is that his technical freedom is real. And in looking at his living work, we are given the gift of a secret rush of life.

I can't say the same for the other artists in this post, who are badly faking a 'free" virtuosity, resulting in, for me anyway, a pain akin to looking at the deadest hyper-realist..

David Apatoff said...

Conor Hughes-- Sickles is one of my very favorites. He is, in my opinion, a better draftsman than any of the illustrators in today's post, although he put less sizzle in his work.

MORAN-- Jonson did an award winning series for Sports Illustrated. The interesting thing is, even when he drew a figure standing still, it still had the same great activity and velocity. For Jonson and for others in the '60s, no subject was ever quiescent. A person sitting still and meditating could be jazzed up with broad, jagged strokes and bright colors.

Donald Pittenger-- Exactly right. Like so many other illustrators, Schmidt loved music. He made so much money writing Broadway musicals that he never had to draw or paint again.

Anonymous said...

Kev - I recall back in '78 looking ar a Boris PB cover and laughing outloud . Near the bottom of the painting , under the polish of the rest of the piece , he put in a few "unfinished" strokes - probably trying to imitate how Frazetta would leave an area unfinished , as in the bottom of the 2nd Conan , where the mountain of bodies are suggested by umber gestural sketch lines .
Still , in most cases , I'd rather look at faked looseness as in these samples , than photo finished work .
Al McLuckie

David Apatoff said...

Richard-- I think most viewers, even if they know nothing about art, can intuitively understand the fun, as well as the confidence and the power of these pictures. They recognize the joints and muscles that make these sweeping strokes, and the strong opinions you must possess if you are going to apply lines from the shoulder rather than the wrist. Hyper-realism has its own virtues, but for me it just doesn't have the virility of this kind of work.

Kev Ferrara-- shortly after this style became popular in the 1960s, artists began to express concern about the issue you flagged-- artists "badly faking a 'free" virtuosity." My quote by Gordon Parks comes from a 1960s essay where he complains, "now is the time of the copyists, of the sensationalists, of those who care more for a picture's oddness than they do for its meaning; of those who talk of being different yet lack the true reasons for being different." He criticized artists "aiming at the world with nothing but wildness in their aiming." And in truth, there were a lot of artists in the 1960s who could find work just with bold, diagonal lines and psychedelic colors.

I would not say that about "the other artists in this post." Harvey Schmidt was an important and influential artist who won a lot of awards in the '60s. Robert Weaver, Al Parker-- I don't think they were "badly faking a free virtuosity," but I'm happy to discuss.

kev ferrara said...

Al, I think I've seen that "nod to looseness" on many of his pictures. I used to laugh at all his stuff, for lots of different reasons (barbarians with waxed chests in Mr. Olympia poses, the art directors who had no problem with that, and all the young boys who lapped it up for reasons they would probably be loathe to contemplate). But now it usually just makes me depressed.

Speaking of depressing, David, could there be anything worse than an Al Parker reduced to drawing like a child in order to get work?
I mean, reduced to aping Weaver?

I won't bother to discuss the Weaver effort you've posted, because he's, as you know, important. And once somebody is important, you can't crit them without all the Margaret Dumonts acting out their "well I nevers!"

Jim Jonson's brutally bad serial action, though, truly fakes the cake. That poorly drawn left arm on the long jumper is like an axe buried in my head. And that mass of babble that pretends to be a stop motion animation of the athelete's airborne movements needs to audit an action analysis class, stat.

"Neil Boyle applies this same energetic line to inanimate objects"

Yes he did. The question is why?

The same question can be asked of Schmidt's work: Why the energetic line? Why the rough hewn masses? (You don't really care that Schmidt won awards in the 60s, do you? I certainly don't.)

The Cleary brings up the same question. The guy is a master of his medium, but to what end? Here he's just roughing up an obvious piece of photo ref to the point that we can barely tell what's going on.

Sure Cleary has a nice sense of value and texture and design, but the picture couldn't be any more shallow if it were the original photograph run through a xerox machine six times. So what was he thinking? I mean, besides the obvious: to make the work "photographically accurate," in that" Bob Peak style," and out the door as quickly as humanly possible?

This frenetic quality was applied and applied to every sort of picture that came along, romance, drag races, football, domestic scenes, children playing, pictures about civil rights, chess, courtroom cases, portraits, elections, and on and on ... may as well have been a photoshop filter for all the depth of thought or imagination behind its use. If you want to see the destruction of mainstream illustration as a viable art form, look no further than scribble tracing over photographs. Quick, easy, fashionable and a sure-fire money-maker! Now that's Art!!

अर्जुन said...

I second Kev!

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- You're a hard man, but let's have at it.

First, let me agree with your last paragraph. If you look through the Society of Illustrators annuals from the 60s, you see the trend begin with a few talented artists who started the dynamic scribbling on a fairly selective basis, but it quickly caught on to become a dominant style. It was a quick and easy to jazz up the sedentary images of the 1950s. But as early as 1964, Gordon Parks understood your point and was complaining that "copyists" were misapplying that form of abstraction, usually at the behest of art directors who were all demanding something "way-out." Parks wrote, "Let [your picture] be charged with the atmosphere of its own true making, whether it be stilling in quiet or burning of violence." So Parks and I both appreciate your point.

But I do think there is more to be appreciated here. The first is a broader cultural point: in the 60s (the opening of the space age, the ferment of the civil rights movement, JFK, the Beatles, wild changes in fashion, drugs, political unrest over Vietnam,etc., etc.) sub-atomic particles seemed to be abuzz, and that infused these pictures. Illustrations that stood still seemed hopelessly outdated. Agreed, some ways of making a picture jump were better than others, but I think the tone of the '60s work was conspicuously different from the tone in later decades, and not necessarily worse.

Talking about specific artists may be helpful:

You write: "'Neil Boyle applies this same energetic line to inanimate objects' Yes he did. The question is why?"

There are at least two good answers, and you already know them both. At the same time that Boyle did his drawing, Aretha Franklin was applying her gospel style and soul screams to commercials for Pepsi, while Ray Charles was doing the same for Coke. You can ask, "is that really the appropriate style for a soft drink commercial?" but the bottom line is that sponsors knew people liked it and would pay attention to the message that way. Good luck fighting that.

The second reason for what Boyle did is a significant artistic reason. If there is any excuse for hiring an illustrator rather than a photographer to get an image of industrial equipment, it's because the illustrator can give inert metal a more interesting, imaginative, more topical look. Don't you think Boyle has done that here? He has made these rocket exhausts look even more huge and powerful and alive. He has invested inanimate objects with the thrust of their intended use. In the 1930s, Leslie Ragan painted pictures of industrial vehicles in an art deco style. You could easily ask, "why should Ragan invest equipment with stylized, celestial clouds and a streamlined look?" I think that's what illustrators are supposed to do, and it doesn't offend me.


Baroque said...

I am so impressed! nice post! and I so admired illustration. We should know that, most of the famous painters were starting art career as a illustrator.

David Apatoff said...


Kev Ferrara and now अर्जुन-- As for the other artists, I think you're being a little too facile in the way you dismiss some hard working (and even important) illustrators.

I think that Weaver was often a rude, insufferable blowhard, and not quite as talented as his worshippers make him out to be, but that doesn't mean he didn't do some excellent, influential work (or that the brush strokes in this picture aren't a good example of the wildness that I'm trying to describe).

As for Al Parker, it's difficult to think of a 20th century illustrator with more breadth. He moved on to new styles long before his old ones began to show signs of wear, and I respect that. I would say that his effort reproduced here was not his most successful experiment of the '60s, but it was certainly in keeping with the times (and not, I would say, aping Weaver). Do you think it was a better fate for Leyendecker to remain wedded to his style his whole life long? As Rockwell said after attending Leyendecker's lonely funeral, "Joe had been the most famous illustrator in America. Then the Post had dropped him; the advertising agencies had dropped him; the public had forgotten him. He had died in obscurity."It's not such a clear choice, is it?

As for Harvey Schmidt, I have talked with a number of illustrators from the 60s who described the influence of Schmidt's bold, innovative work. His art career ended prematurely because he turned to Broadway, but it was very successful while it lasted. For example, I think that first figure drawing is a very good example of what I'm talking about. When in the long history of figure drawing do you recall seeing a figure ramped up and shot from a cannon the way Schmidt has done? The distortion of the figure, the foreshortening of the torso, the raw lines of that leg and ass -- those are hardly typical artistic choices.

buty online said...

Good post, great illustrator!

kev ferrara said...

David, if your argument is that the energetic, nervous-hand quality of much 1960s work is better than the sullen digital embalming that goes on nowadays, then we are in agreement. But that is an artificially narrow range by which to judge whether any artwork is good or bad. Which is also to say that “broader cultural points” hold no meaning with respect to whether an artwork is good or bad. Yeah, okay, artists need to make a living. We all know that. In what era didn’t that apply? Allen Tupper True wrote this in 1912:

“Such virtue as the arts possess appear in spite of the conditions under which they live. These art editors, mid-wives of genius, would (before any jury of high-minded thinkers) be convicted of malpractice in 99 out of every 100 cases they handle.”

The virtue of the work you are championing is that it has an energetic surface that is more interesting than a dull one. That is, you like an edgy performance to a smooth one, Iggy Pop to Andy Williams. (Surface effects being the performance of a picture.) But what of the composition? I mean, if art is just acting or performance, then what of the author? Andy Williams sings Moon River smooth as silk, but he didn’t write it. He rendered it. It is his rendition. The method of rendering a work of art is mostly a stylistic one, the emotive quality of the rendering a measure of the acting ability of the renderer. This is the same for a crooner as a painter as an actor. But the meaning of the work they are rendering is built into the structure, into the song, into the composition. It doesn’t sit on the surface. You can’t sing Moon River without Ray Mancini composing the heart of it. Moon River is the song, it isn’t the rendition. “Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn” wasn’t an improvised line. It was a well-rendered line sung from the script. And yes, it is important to give aesthetic life to the surface of a work, but unless the understructure has aesthetic life, the rendering on top of it has no reason to exist.

This point seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way. There once was a time when people talked of music by the composer. With the rise of popular media, with the rise of photography to capture the surfaces of things, where fame is the currency and hormonal teens are the golden goose, talk is nearly always only of the performer, the star. Which is to say, the renderer of the artwork. The packaged surface that sells the soap.

If Aretha Franklin sings her heart out for coca cola, she’s just falsified the idea of her “singing her heart out,” hasn’t she? It must be all surface-level performance, unless she really feels that deeply about a hunk of metal with four wheels and a horn. Aretha ably demonstrates that rendering, her art, is mostly a form of salesmanship. No matter how edgy or “emotional” it seems to be on the surface. And the same goes for all these edgy surface scribblers from the halcyon illustration field of the 1960s.

So the question arises, are we here to talk about Illustration Salesmanship or Illustration Art?

Sometimes I get confused.


अर्जुन said...

"In the 1930s, Leslie Ragan painted pictures of industrial vehicles"

That looks like art for a 1950's BUDD ad …gaffes like that undercut your academic standing.

kev ferrara said...

gaffes like that undercut your academic standing.

Yeesh. We're just having a chat here. Cut the man some slack.

David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन wrote: "gaffes like that undercut your academic standing."

It should be quite apparent that I have no academic standing whatsoever. That is the sole source of my claim to artistic credibility.

Ragan certainly painted locomotives and other industrial scenes in the 1930s and 1940s in an art deco, streamlined style. They look marvelous, check them out.

Kev Ferrara-- Greetings from ComicCon.

You write, "are we here to talk about Illustration Salesmanship or Illustration Art?"

I'm not sure the two are totally separable, and that's one of the things I like about illustration. At the extremes, yes, I agree that we don't want shallow, inappropriate styles misapplied to content, but on the other hand illustration always has to "sell" to target audiences, to persuade and make itself appealing and comprehensible to readers or consumers. The demotic language of illustration is what saves the field from many of the pitfalls of gallery art today.

I agree that if Aretha Franklin takes the styles and the tools she uses to sing gospel songs and applies them to Pepsi, it loses some of its quality and importance. (Some people thought it was impure and insincere of Ray Charles to take the tools of gospel music and apply them to secular songs about romance and heartbreak). But it still communicated the message (even "Pepsi is good") so that it resonated with listeners far more than a traditional song.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, A beautifully written comment with wonderful insights, (7/17/2013 12:43 PM). In a previous post you mentioned “Breaking Home Ties”, when commenting on Cunningham along the same lines. “Breaking Home Ties” is an incredible illustration on many levels and is an example of illustration art as you put it, as well a piece of art aside from all commercial purposes. It's a very high standard to hold the entire subject of illustration to without consideration of deadlines.

David recently mentioned a very good illustrator Thomas Fluharty who does paintings for the Weekly Standard covers. In one of his videos he mentioned sometimes delivering paintings in just 24 hours. Such wild deadlines leave little time for the kind of contemplation and study required of the great Rockwell piece. To do the best one can with the the task at hand is enough to ask and becomes the measure.

Speed lines aren't the most sophisticated way of creating motion, but these frenzied and wandering lines were part of an attempt to bring a reportage feeling to editorial illustration, which was apart of the suddenness of news and revolutionary freedom of the era as David mentioned.

Later in the 70s era when everyone was copying Fuchs, Cunningham came along and did a series of postage stamps for the Olympics which were incredibly fresh with a looseness not associated with postage stamps. I still have a set of them as 8x10" prints issued by the post office.

Sometimes credit is due for anyone who can distinguish themselves from the room full of copycats and stand with the most unique in an overcrowded era. That said, some miss illustration as a charcoal or pencil drawing as well as murals or month long deadlines. But I enjoy the era because there was just so much work for so many illustrators and in publishing, so many things done in line drawings.

Tom said...

What no mention of abstract expressionism, with all this slashing and frenzied energy?

Richard said...

Tom said...
What no mention of abstract expressionism, with all this slashing and frenzied energy?


David, Would love to hear you opine on abstract expressionism.

kev ferrara said...

Expressionism, you mean. Expressionism has a really wild surface, but it still kinda looks like the thing its supposed to look like. Abstract Expressionism is visual gibberish.

The 1900 era German and French Avante-Garde influence on the New Wave 50s-60s illustrators was huge. I mean, if you had seen
this or this
in the 1960s, they would fit right in, except they were done in like 1909.

(Schiele, Kokoschka, respectively)

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell-- agreed on all counts. Especially on the point that line work played an increased role in illustration of the 60s. That could be a whole additional reason why I, for one, am so smitten by that style.

Tom and Richard-- I agree that abstract expressionism made a very positive contribution to illustration art of the 1960s-- not just in the example of the cathartic violence of action painting, but in the example of freedom; the abstract expressionists did not wait for permission to do what they did, they simply took it.

I figured I had already jabbered enough on this topic and did not want to repeat myself, but if you go to

you'll see some 60s illustrations that I think are first cousin to abstract expressionism. Also, if you want my views on abstract expressionism generally, I showed some of my favorite abstract expressionist work here:

Kev Ferrara-- I agree with you about influence, especially on the influence of Schiele. I believe Peak openly admitted that Schiele was a huge influence, and it would have done him no good to deny it.

But I also believe that Tom and Richard got it right about the role of abstract expressionism (and not just expressionism). As suggested on one of my posts listed above, I think that Motherwell, Kline and others contributed to the illustration of the 60s..

अर्जुन said...

"Especially on the point that line work played an increased role in illustration of the 60s. That could be a whole additional reason why I, for one, am so smitten by that style."

A question, who drew this?

Yodels anyone?

Richard said...

Oh, sorry David, I must've missed those somehow.

Abstract Expressionism is visual gibberish.

Hahaha, oh kev...

Richard said...
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Richard said...


you vant we turn dis into yodelink thread?

kev ferrara said...

Hahaha, oh kev...

If you think you understand something about visual semiotics that I don't, let's hear it.

Richard said...

You said yourself that that which can be said in any non-visual media is not a fitting topic for art, or at least you quoted someone who did.

That seems to contradict the very idea of visual semiotics, as a visual semiotics would require a referent, and that referent shouldn't be of the same stuff as it's sign, because then they are merely distinct utterances, not actual communication.

So, for visual semiosis to make any sense at all then implies that the vision must refer to something non-visual, and therefore, not a fitting topic for art given your own non-sensical system.

In the end, your system of aesthetics, to be generous, seems to really be a constant moving of the goal post, such that you deny anything is a fitting subject for art, "not aesthetic", but where that aesthetics is, what it is, is not in any way established in your system. In fact, it can't be strongly established, because your system at base relies on the fact you won't put your foot down anywhere on aesthetics, so that you can constantly move the goal post to fit your own taste and prejudices. If you did put a point on it the floor would collapse -- hence your disappearing theory of aesthetics which is super important but none of us are allowed to hear it.

kev ferrara said...

Richard, it's clear that you are repeating the same conversational pattern from last time out. I won't be giving you the benefit of the doubt again.

Fyi, there is no "my aesthetics" there is just aesthetics, a two thousand year old project to figure out how the mind experiences symbolic information. Since semiotics is really a branch of aesthetics, the same point applies to semiotics (although it was only singled out as a distinct discipline somewhat recently.)

kev ferrara said...

Yeesh, you're right... What a godawful silly quote. But why are you getting your information from wikipedia? And why are you dumping it here? All you are proving is that wikipedia is written ad hoc by self-selected dweeb bots, which everybody already knows..

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kev ferrara said...

Let's leave aside the buffoonery of academics and their acolytes... Are you saying that how pictures mean has no relevance to understanding Art? That would be a rather extraordinary belief, it seems to me.

Also, how would you know semiotics is trivial and fruitless if you aren't an artist?

Anonymous said...
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kev ferrara said...
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kev ferrara said...

How pictures mean is the height of academic buffoonery.

Your rhetoric always brings more fog than clarity. Can you just answer straight.

Are you saying that how pictures mean has no relevance to understanding Art?

Or are you saying that the methods Academics (that you have encountered) try to go about understanding how Art means are jejune or ineffective?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I am saying that at its essence visual art is a visual phenomenon, and that semiotics, while quite useful analytically for linguistics at its essence, is and can never be more than of limited value for visual ART analysis. The moment semiotics makes progress and penetration into the visual essence of art is the moment it ceases to be semiotics and becomes akin to Gestalt psychology.

kev ferrara said...

Let me quickly run through the reasons I am in disagreement.

I think you are ignoring the extent to which all visual phenomena is processed by the mind. We, in fact, do more processing of visual phenomena than any other kinds of input. And that processing, like all processing, is conceptual, meaning that it is symbolic; we aren’t processing reality, we are modelling it in, for want of a better term, “mentalese.” Definitionally, then, visual perceptions are brought by the mind into semiosis. That Art is already entirely composed of symbols in grammatical relations means the process of converting aesthetic perceptions into conceptions is that much smoother. (One of the main reasons why art is so “heightened” compared to reality.)

Yet no true understanding comes unless the specific is integrated into the general understanding. The meaning of a syllable is grounded in a word. A word in a sentence. A sentence in a paragraph. A paragraph in a composition. A composition in a worldview. Or else no understanding is had. The specific only finds meaning in the general.

Thus all cognition, including the experience of art, must be both semiotic and gestalt. Semiotic is more linearly relational, gestalt is wholistic. But these are really distinctions without a difference, because relations are understood as units of meaning (significant in their wholeness) and gestalts are a totality of networked relations, which is to say, woven of linear information strings. Any gestalt meaning must be built of smaller modules of meaning, each of which in turn are built of smaller modules still, down to the level of the mark or the syllable. Given the questions of how one apprehends gestalts, and just what one is apprehending in comprehending gestalts, the investigation must alway return to semiotics, the modular content of the gestalt. Thus the semiotic and the gestalt are entirely interpenetrative.

Of course there is much more to say about this, hundreds of pages, in fact. And there may be some definitional issues. For instance, the definition of cognition may be a problem, as some don’t believe in unconscious or intuitive cognition. While I think it is inescapably the core of human thought. And the definition of concept I use comes from the latter half of the 19th century, as I understandn its use by symbolists, pragmatists, and artists.

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kev ferrara said...

Why would you call them "grammatical relations" and make no mention of spatial relations?

Grammatical relations refers in a more general way to all those relations that have significance in a visual work. This includes spatial relations and relations of shape, yes, but also relations of value, linear relations, color relations, narrative relations, locational relations, relations between patterns or textures, rhythmic relations, relations of contrast, etc.

(This should answer your second question too.)

kev ferrara said...

We are trying to understand each other. You asked about the usage of a word. I further elaborated on its meaning, (as I have learned to use it), in order that you better understand me.

The use of the word "Grammar" (or its synonyms) in Art goes back a long way. You can read it often in 19th century texts, in lecture notes, artists' letters, design journals, etc. It pops up in various forms. But it must be understood that, because the world of Art isn't staffed with writers, particularly during its heyday, how Art is or was talked about tends to be much more idiosyncratic to each practitioner than how writing or speaking is talked about. This cannot be helped. The value is in the understanding, not the words.

Now that you have a better understanding of what I mean by the word "grammar", you should have a better understanding of the meaning of the prior post, where I shared a number of ideas related to the question at hand in direct opposition to your stated understanding.

Sidharth Chaturvedi said...

etc, etc

I'm pretty sure that a lot of the point there is that there's more to semiotics than what little from the 20th century of it that you've read is. That seems to be recurring theme here- you're sticking to arguments based on a very narrow set of knowledge, and when it's pointed out that there's a lot more to be learned than you're aware of, you fall back on snark. You've all but declared at the end of your last post that you're not actually interested in having a discussion, so why on Earth are you bothering?

kev ferrara said...

Hey Sid!

Yes, the fact is that in the 20th century the discipline of Semiotics was dominated by Saussure, whose emphasis was decidedly on text. The philosophical sloppiness and myopia of Saussure's take on signs and meaning is the reason for much academic gibberish in the field.

Meanwhile, Charles Sanders Peirce's ideas about Semiotics, which were much more comprehensive and rigorous from the start, languished (along with his reputation).

As Saussure's semiotics were increasingly found wanting, Peirce's ideas, slowly filtering back in, were incorporated ad hoc into the field, resulting in contradictions. The more Peirce was brought in, the more Saussure's version of Semiotics seemed wholly inadequate.

Now there is a worldwide revolution for Peircean ideas of all sorts, including his Semiotics. Saussure's version only hangs on because so many Academics have already been immersed in it, and it has rooted into so-called "intellectual" culture. Also because Academics in the humanities are really just culture fans. They generally aren't brilliant, insightful people., except in the rarest of cases. So they just go along repeating what they have been taught, regardless of whether it actually makes sense or not.

In fact, I spoke with a very eloquent academic about Peirce and Saussure a few months ago, and was horrified to find that the academic had rejected Peirce's Semiotics because it was too difficult for her to understand! (Another proof that surface eloquence is evidence of nothing.)

Peirce's 1903 version is his best expressed, but his later version, which is still being pieced together from his notes by scholars, seems more comprehensive.

Incidentally, the above post completely ignores the fact that semiotics (almost never called that, of course) has always been a necessary part of the composition of art.All talk of poesis is really talk of semiotics.

P.S. Sid, a short note about a knight painting; the farther one goes back in space, the less grit, detail, contrast, sharp pointy edges, and form there is in the elements. Refraction dulls all distinctions but the most general. In particular this goes for clouds. Clouds should be treated very simply and abstractly; reduce grit, detail, contrast, texture, volumetric form, etc. This will prevent the far distance from competing with the foreground figure.

Best wishes,

Sidharth Chaturvedi said...

Hi Kev!

Thanks for the feedback on the knight, that makes sense. I'll go back in and rework some of that stuff, still have a few weeks before it goes on show. And I need to revisit those hands anyway.

That's... not surprising at all to hear about academics and Peirce. I'd honestly never heard of him until a few months ago, from your posts. I've been very... very... very slowly going through a little book of his papers, trying to absorb what I can. The bits of semiotics- the parts I can understand- do make sense, and I can easily see how it works into art as well, since the talk of how we perceive symbols is never just confined to text. I don't understand it nearly enough to try to test it out yet, so there's a ways to go.

Which is why I read a lot of the discussion here (and on, back when it was actually functioning) and absorb what I can, but won't say "I agree" just yet. That would be dishonest ;). But it makes sense and, at least for me, it's easy to separate from the babble.

Incidentally, the more I'm learning about painting through practice, and the more annoyed I get with the deadness of a lot of the fantasy illustration I do for work, the easier it's becoming to see that inner life (or lack of it) in pictures that you and others have talked about so much. Separating the work that comes from a truthful place, vs. the mannered stuff (which is the subject of the arguments in this post). It's nice to know there's an actual grammar to it, even if we don't think about it while working.



Sidharth Chaturvedi said...

PS: I realize I'm leaving myself open by saying Peirce's semiotics applies to art "as well." Bad wording. What I'm taking away from it is that it seems like a comprehensive look at how our brains interpret sensation as symbols, with which we build other symbols, and our worldview from. Sort of. I'm still muddy on the idea of Firsts. Anyway, what I'm gathering is that art is built on the use of a lot of the symbols we use, which is why great art is such a direct, concise thing whose meaning we intuit so fast. And text is a more indirect (but not inferior, obviously) use of our same symbol-reading mechanism. Do I have that right?

kev ferrara said...

Sid, That sounds about right.

I would strongly recommend against you getting involved in thinking about semiotics just yet. When F.R. Gruger was in school he said he went through a rigorous training in how to compose pictures. And only after he learned how to compose pictures was any of the meaning of composition explained to him by his instructors. He probably really didn't get a handle on composing symbolically/poetically until decades into his career.

Stick to learning to draw and paint and designing strong images. Keep pushing your ability to pre-visualize your images. Keep learning how to use reference to make your vision happen, preventing reference from luring you into photo-realistic deadness. Etc. Work more on keeping dark and light separate/distinct in your forms. Keep the art that you love in front of your eyeballs and think about how the images work, why they look good, and particularly how the values are organized. I think right now, drawing, painting and value organization are your biggest concerns. Also, don't skimp on drawing things that requires a ruler and compass. Especially if you plan on doing sci-fi. Have you gotten Jim Gurney's art how-to books yet?

Really liked that recent charcoal drawing you posted, btw. Even with the cut off arms and legs.


Sidharth Chaturvedi said...

Will do! Yeah, I have Gurney's books. Admittedly, I'm still trying to conquer the... ah, lazy factor with the ruler and compass type work. But yes, more drawing and painting. The pre-visualizing is still by far the hardest thing to tackle in my work, but also the most rewarding, on the rare occasion that it works, somewhat. Thanks about the drawing! Odd cropping indeed, but also the first time in months that I've gotten to do something that's not related to work.

Duly noted about semiotics. Worry not, I gave up trying to "construct" images out of rules back when someone at school started teaching Hambridge. It's more reading for fun right now. And I've still got that email handy, reminding me not to get too much into the symbolic until the academic stuff is mastered.

photo restoration said...

Stunning illustration design arts collection here. Absolutely great presentation here !!

Tom said...

I  think Kev gets to the heart of it on these illustrations.

"Speaking of depressing, David, could there be anything worse than an Al Parker reduced to drawing like a child in order to get work?"

Maybe as the content of mass marketing became more and more meaningless the reflection of any values that did not a line with keeping the viewer outwardly focus on desires he did not even knew he had, needed to be eliminated. The flourish of these drawings  and lack of structure reflects an intention to excite or is it an attempt to convince through frenzy activity that something meaningful must be happening and you should pay attention.

 A quick sketch by a master never drifts off into incoherence nor do they trace or just copy what they don't understand.  What gives a gesture it's power is the artist understanding of what they are drawing . The frenzy of activity and crude handling in these drawings seems capricious an arbitrary. As if the artist is in such a rush to get your attention that they  can not even considered the development of what they are doing.  Which is the opposite affect of  what impresses most about a master's sketch or gesture; their clarity of  understanding while employing  a minimal of means.

 In the work of earlier illustrators there was much to be enjoyed in the picture itself, a viewer could spend some time with it and he would find much  to delight in.   These  pictures on the other hand don't seem to want you to real look at them, their sole purpose being to create some sort of hazy  mood while the pictures themselves only get nastier the longer do look.

Tom said...

Kev said
"I think you are ignoring the extent to which all visual phenomena is processed by the mind. We, in fact, do more processing of visual phenomena than any other kinds of input. And that processing, like all processing, is conceptual, meaning that it is symbolic; we aren’t processing reality, we are modelling it in, for want of a better term, “mentalese.” "

But Kev, where does the world end and the mind begin? Where do your thoughts come from?  Aren't we the same as the visual world, don't we all come from the same source? "Processing it," and "modeling it," sound like some sort of goal orient activity, maybe we are just delighting in reality.

kev ferrara said...

Tom, always a pleasure to read your thoughts.

I think you are exactly correct in noting that the purpose of these frenetic rendering styles is to excite, merely. Though not nearly as obnoxiously as, say, the experience of walking into a modern dance club with electronic display and audio fireworks bursting at every moment, the basic intent seems identical. It's a youthful energy, with a chance a carelessness. Which is a good selling atmosphere.

(I don't think the question of meaning enters into it.)

What gives a gesture it's power is the artist's understanding of what they are drawing.

Perfectly put. But I would add that art itself is given its power by understanding. The experience of a picture's effect is the totality of what the artist has appreciated and successfully communicated through it.

"Processing it," and "modeling it," sound like some sort of goal orient activity, maybe we are just delighting in reality.

By processing, I mean our minds perform many visual goal-oriented activities reflexively, habitually. . Our eyes are constantly matching similars in order to focus. We constantly analogize, differentiate, categorize and dismiss visual phenomena. We are perfectly aware of all the qualia of everything we see around us, each visual texture and substance having other kinds of knowledge associated with it.

There have been fascinating studies of patients who recover sight after decades of complete blindness. They simply can't make sense of the visual world. It bewilders them.

Which is one way of pointing out that there is so much to learn about the visual world, and we all have internalized so much visual knowledge (learned before we could even talk), that our moment by moment conceptual visual understanding and visual processing is almost completely taken for granted, even though it practically dominates our lives. Because it came into our brains before we could talk, we all seem to think it wasn't learned. But, I would argue that the visual is our first learned language, and our most essential language. And I think this is borne out by the discoveries of cognitive science.

I'm not sure where you are going with your other question about where the world ends and where the mind begins, whether you are talking cybernetics or phenomology or somatics or Rupert Sheldrake or what. ;)

Sean Farrell said...

The Al Parker wasn't just part of the 1960s in general, it was also part of an auto racing craze of the era, reaching its height with Steve McQueen's movie LeMans. I think Coby Whitmore had taken up the sport and the Sports Car Club of America was very popular along with MG's, Spiders, Sunbeams and other two seat sports cars raced locally by amateurs. The speed lines are in contrast to the old world architecture representing their enduring quality in time verses the rude interruption of the fleeting formula one race. This appears to be the meaning of the picture.

Matthew Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kev ferrara said...

Matthew Adams, presumptuous comments from start to finish. Mind your own self first, mate.

Richard said...


I think you're right that there is some of that going on in David's posts, and I must admit that I like that about them, sometimes in spite of myself.

A lot of the people that come here like that about this blog as well, and at this point, the culture of this blog is such that I don't think there is anything David could post that wouldn't cause an argument.

Matthew Adams said...

Reading my comments in the light of day I would have to agree with you Kev.

David, I apologise for my comments, and have removed them for being...silly.

David Apatoff said...

Matthew Adams, Tom, Kev Ferrara and Richard--

You have each questioned the value of some of these pictures, or at least questioned whether I have offered them to provoke a debate. I was interested in your comments but while I was traveling for the past week I didn't think my schedule or my mobile internet access were up to the task of sorting out or engaging your comments. I'm home now and would like to offer the following reactions:

Even if "The frenzy of activity and crude handling in these drawings seems capricious and arbitrary," it is not arbitrary so long as we are able to distinguish between successful and unsuccessful examples of this style. The fact that some pieces work and some do not means that these cannot be arbitrary. One of the things we discover when trying to understand what makes for a "successful" spontaneous scribble is that it often takes a lot of planning and practice to look spontaneous. Some time ago I wrote about a Bob Peak drawing where, when you looked at the original, you could tell he had subtly mapped out with light pencil lines where the frenzied lines should begin and end, and what direction they should take. He mapped those lines based on the results of several preliminary studies. (

Part of the strength that I admire in these pictures derives from their moment in history. Illustration could not continue on the path that Rockwell handed down to Dohanos, Clymer, Falter, Hughes, Prins, etc.; with each additional decade of refinement, that look became more costive. That trail was leading to "death by civilization." So I applaud the creative destruction and cultural rebirth of the late '50s and early '60s. I acknowledge that any time we leap from the end of something old and exhausted to the beginning of something new, we are going to end up with some pictures that don't hold up well in hindsight. But an offsetting benefit from these moments of cultural transition is a wonderful confidence-- and even joy-- that is hard to find in work by artists who are still worshiping the old gods. Perhaps it is the joy of an artist freed from the burdens of precedent, like a kid escaping out the door at recess. Perhaps it is the potency or virility of artists who have taken control and no longer have to ask permission. Whatever it is, that energy infuses the art of the pioneer illustrators from the late '50s and '60s and I think such pictures have an unmistakable appeal. I have similar reactions to the first bursts of energy in abstract expressionism and action painting. It doesn't even matter to me that much of the newly invented "freedom" proves to be illusory, or that the chains of precedent are really still there. It doesn't matter to me that abstract expressionism ultimately led to a dead end. The faith, enthusiasm and clear conscience of those early years showed up in the work and resides there still.

We can debate how much value to assign to this attribute. We can discuss it using sophisticated vocabularies and historical references, but my point is that there is a natural, intuitive allure to a picture painted heedless and from the shoulder, and I'm glad I am not immune to that allure. You can tell me that these scribbles break the rules; I subscribe to those rules until some artist comes along with a self-justifying picture. Talbot Mundy wrote about how the Khyber pass was no place for diplomats and rules:

Men boast in the hills when they ought to pray;
For the wind blows lusty, and the blood runs red,
And law lies belly upwards for a man to wreak his fancy on it.

marek said...

un peintre a découvrir
Albert Clouard ,

Hugo said...



This is such a really great work.Love the post.