Saturday, May 01, 2021

REAL LINES, part 2

Every beginning art student is taught to draw volume using rounded lines that follow the form:


Yet when Robert Fawcett drew cylindrical columns...


Whoa!  What the heck is this???


Did Fawcett miss that art class?  I don't think so.  He seemed quite proficient in other respects: 


But somehow, as Fawcett developed as an artist, he decided there were better ways to draw volume than lots of repetitive fine lines.  He used loops and swirls and drybrush that even went against the form, yet it always ended up looking all right in the end.  

Some of the other great illustrators seem to have reached the same conclusion, outgrowing those uniform lines in favor of lines with more character and variety.  Were they right?  Well, let's take a look.  

We should start by recognizing that many talented illustrators used the "thousands of fine lines" technique to express form. 

Norman Lindsay:



 

Frank Frazetta:




Lee Conrey:




There's a lot to admire in this technique, but ask yourself, "What exactly am I admiring?" The level of physical effort? the technical skill in controlling so many fine lines?  The energy suggested by all that activity?  Then ask yourself whether there are more admirable things to admire about drawing.

Take for example the case of Austin Briggs.  Like many other artists,  Briggs started out drawing thousands of fine lines wrapping around his subject matter.  By the age of 20 Briggs was already successful drawing in this style for top magazines such as Colliers



But after a few years Briggs became disenchanted with what he perceived as the limitations of this type of drawing, which he said exhibited "only energy" but not true quality.  


He quit working as an artist altogether and resolved to start over, taking the time to learn "honest" drawing. 
I set about learning to draw, which I never could do before, despite the fact that some of my illustrations had been more or less acceptable. I really didn't know the craft of my profession.  I think I had imagination then but I really didn't know how to use it. 
At the end of his re-education, Briggs threw out 98% of his lines, but devoted the same level of attention to the few lines that remained.  Nothing was done on automatic pilot.  Each line became more thoughtful and expressive.   Lo and behold, those lines turned out to be every bit as successful at conveying rounded forms.


Compare the following two illustrations by Briggs of the same subject, before and after his conversion:  




Briggs abandoned the duplicative lines whose only role was to reinforce the line to their right or left.  He became more selective about the lines he chose to emphasize and he found ways other than repetition to emphasize them.  And just like the mature Robert Fawcett, whose drybrush swirls we witnessed at the beginning, Briggs became less concerned about staying within the lines:




Alex Raymond is another example of an artist who started out using those fine lines wrapped around the form:



But after thousands of drawings, Raymond came to view the potential of a line more broadly:


 

Now those are what I call "real lines."

Neither technique has a monopoly on quality.  There are good and bad examples on both sides.  But it's a mistake to assume that artists who draw with a thousand fine lines work harder.   Instead, they often remind me of Abraham Lincoln's story of the preacher who said, "I could write shorter sermons but when I get started I'm too lazy to stop.”


101 comments:

Xombiekat said...

That's really interesting. And it does feel like a representation of the movement from classic illustration to the styles developing during the "golden age of illustration". The intricate hatching being replaced often times by the more "graphic" approach of guys like Parrish, Beckhoff, Hassall that precedes the "Ligne claire" style of illustration and cartooning, focusing on line contouring over volumetric gray toning. Now when you see classic rendering like that it feels like an homage to turn of the century drawing, like in the case of Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of Mark Twain's apology when writing to a friend: "Sorry the letter's long—I didn't have time to make it shorter."

xopxe said...

I always associated the "thousand lines" style to engravings and etchings, where to my eye they where just as occupied, if not more, with conveying light and shadow and value. And the values depicted must be consistent with the forms expressed, so the skill is found in how elegantly lines express both properties simultaneously. You know, the dramatic Doré stuff.

But yes, there is something in using the line to convey form without having to explain in detailed form how the light wraps it.

David Apatoff said...

Xombiekat-- Good point. There was a whole era of illustration that moved away from the intricate hatching style, so that Frazetta was branded "out of touch." Yet there were always individual artists such as Wrightson who loved that style and held onto it. It was usually a popular style with the public, for the reasons discussed in this post.

Yes, Parrish and Beckhoff showed what could be done with a cleaner style, and a generation after the Briggs generation, an even more clean, more simplified, flatter style (Potter, Peak, etc.) became popular on the road to ligne claire. But it hasn't all been a one way trajectory away from overworked, complex drawings toward simplification and lucidity. The great draftsmen of Briggs' generation-- Sickles, Fawcett, Parker, Fuchs-- used fewer lines, but the lines they used were more complex in different ways-- rich, lush lines, lines with a rough edge or a charcoal texture or an ink splash- their goal was a sensitivity of line that was the opposite of ligne claire.

Anonymous-- That really does apply. Drawing a hundred identical lines in a row is light labor compared to making artistic choices.

xopxe-- Agreed, in the era of wood engraving those lines were the only way to create tone. I think that's largely how Franklin Booth used them (in the previous post), but I don't think that's how they're being used in today's examples. As talented as those 19th century wood engravers were, and as dramatic as that Doré stuff was, I don't think they could've created the lines of a Lindsay or Frazetta by carving them out of wood. Those are the light and elegant lines of ink on paper, and while part of their curvature does suggest shadows from a light source, there are far too many lines wrapping all the way around the figure or other forms.

xopxe said...

Just a comment, Doré etchings weren't wood but "aguafuerte" (don't know in English): zinc plate, covered in wax,and the wax is scratched with a needle. Then you submerge the plate in acid, and the uncovered zinc is dissolved. This allowed for ridiculously fine line work.
As a curiosity, in the Arts et Metiers museum un Paris there's exposed a special machine used to trace parallel lines and do cross hatching.

Ignacio Noé said...

Very interesting, excellent article.

xopxe said...

aguante la fierro

chris bennett said...

An artist's plastic 'handwriting' is attuned to their sense of form. So there is nothing inherently 'more expressive' in either scribbly marks or tidy marks. The difference lies between an empirical 'searching out' of form and space on the one hand and a methodical constructive approach on the other. The problem (expressive disconnect between content and execution) only arises when an artist's means of formal expression is at odds with their haptic temperament.

kev ferrara said...

I don’t know where you found that horribly shaded cylinder. But it is bad.

Many may not know, given your post, that Golden Age Illustrators were, in fact, not trained to round the form in this way. Rather, they were taught variations on Bargue’s and Bridgman’s construction methods which generally cut across form. (Some commercial art schools may have taught the graded line method for certain kinds of graphic or technical illustration for line engraving or scratchboard. Most illustrators who use the method are self-taught.)

Anyway, early Alex Raymond – your clearest bad example of this type of graded line shading did not actually go to art school. Maybe that’s why it took him until 1950 to actually learn to draw; 20 years after he entered the business.

He was influenced by Matt Clark’s dry brush work and I think probably by Hal Foster’s feathering too. Took him a long time to see past the technique to the good drawing beneath in both those artists. By 1950 he was probably looking at Fawcett, Sickles, and Briggs; the fashions of the day.

kev ferrara said...


The well-known Frazetta masterpiece you’ve posted is obviously full of great drawing, energy and flow which should not be lumped in with Raymond’s early, bluffed-yet-slick work. (Nor does it compare with the Conrey, which is also amateurish artistically, or the other bad works you posted to 'make your point'.)

Here’s a better shot of the Frazetta in the original, where the brushwork isn’t artificially blunted by poor reproduction.

I don’t have time or inclination to explain everything Frazetta’s doing in that image, but I think anybody can see - plain as day - more than words can deny.

As with Booth’s work, to think of the Frazetta only as a technical achievement is blinkered. Frazetta's technique has an effect that conditions the fields of the image, which marry with the aesthetic expression, ideas and movement to create a unity.

The piece is full of life at its core and from the start; painted as well as drawn simultaneously and at one with the idea and pictorial belief. Virtuosity in service of imagination.

The technique is not put on to jazz up the given lines. Like growling the melodies of a songbook standard as a substitute for deeper emotional experience. Frazetta actually performs the scene as he crafts it. Something Fawcett can only fake with his surface-level intelligence.

kev ferrara said...

Compare the sheer celebratory vivacity of the Norman Lindsay piece with Fawcett’s joyless, airless, dirge.

Is the Fawcett picture supposed to be good simply because the Poirot face is good and that figure is accurate to the model? What is this, a life drawing class at the Slade?

Fawcett was more concerned about capturing the girl’s dress fabric lying on the model stand as it appeared in the photograph – techno-academicism for its own sake - than he was fixing her awkward legs so they not only looked sensible and clear but also as if they were actually contacting the stone surface he was supposedly depicting. Her feet seem to be dangling through the gazebo floor, simply because, one assumes, they were dangling off the model stand in real life when the reference photo was struck. (Shows how vacuous his haptic imagination is.).

Actually having consistent lighting between his figures and the gazebo structure also seems to have slipped his mind.

I get it; he was a draftsman, not a painter. But where was his basic figural imagination?

Why the difference in the width of her forearms? Obviously their size difference was caused by photographic distortion; a near-to-the-subject camera exaggerating the perspective. Why didn’t Fawcett fix that? Did he even notice anything was wrong in the context of the perspective set by the two left hand columns?

I guess he had the facts the camera machine told him were the facts regarding that female figure. So rather than imagining the scene as if real, and re-considering the size relationship of those arms at twenty feet into the picture to make a coherent reality, he just set down the facts. But what was he thinking about?

Maybe ‘lines’?

It reminds me of what is said about Hollywood executives choosing which movies to greenlight. They keep selecting sequels over daring, heartfelt and original works because at least they can justify the decision based on past results. The decisions don't need to be right; they don't need to succeed for the company or the artform. They just need to not be obviously wrong.

kev ferrara said...

Growl that photo ref!

Richard said...

Briggs traces.

David Apatoff said...

xopxe wrote: "Doré etchings weren't wood but "aguafuerte" (don't know in English): zinc plate, covered in wax,and the wax is scratched with a needle. Then you submerge the plate in acid, and the uncovered zinc is dissolved. This allowed for ridiculously fine line work."

This intrigued me because I always wondered how Doré managed to produce so much beautiful work in such a short time. I took a look at Malan's detailed biography of Doré; Malan says: "Doré did over 8000 wood engravings, 1000 lithographs, 700 zinc engravings, 70 steel engravings and 50 etchings." According to Malan, most of Doré's most notable works (Dante's Divine Comedy, Don Quixote, Paradise Lost, etc.) were wood engravings, especially after Doré assembled his own stable of favorite wood engravers at the publisher Hachette, like H. Pisan whose name often appears along with Doré's in the corner of many of his images.

Having said that, I'd be interested in learning more about aguante la fierro. I can find precious little about it on the internet. How does it differ from a traditional etching? And is the image reversed, like a traditional etching?

David Apatoff said...

Richard wrote: "Briggs traces."

Not sure what you mean by that. If you mean literally that he traces, that's obviously not true, as nothing that he could possibly trace looked like his drawings. If you mean that he uses photo reference just like Cezanne, Van Gogh, Degas, Gauguin, Toulouse Lautrec, Eakins, Mucha, Brangwyn, Frazetta, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell and yes, Fawcett, that's obviously true but an illustrator would be foolhardy to ignore photography and fail to make the best use of it. Briggs was quite open about what he thought photography was good for and what it wasn't (unlike Frazetta, Fawcett and Rockwell who dissembled about their use of photographs). Briggs wrote thoughtfully on the subject and I commend his writings to you.

Kev Ferrara wrote: "Here’s a better shot of the Frazetta in the original, where the brushwork isn’t artificially blunted by poor reproduction."

Thanks, I took my version from the official Frazetta family site ("the Frazetta Girls") but I agree that yours is much better and I always want to use the best possible version.

I didn't feel it was necessary to say in order to make the point of this blog post, but I think this Frazetta drawing is decidedly mediocre, hardly worth all the puffing and panting that produced it. Your better version of the image does nothing to persuade me otherwise. You seem to think that I was trying to denigrate Frazetta's drawing by lumping it together with Lindsay's and Conrey's, but I honestly thought the drawings were three of a kind. (The only distinguishing factor was that Frazetta's composition was the most simple minded of the three). That doesn't mean Frazetta wasn't brilliant, it just means that I don't view this drawing as one of his successes, for the reasons that are the subject of this post: too many fine lines, not enough artistic judgment. I'm pressed for time right now but I'll be back with what I hope is a worthy attempt to explain the reasoning behind my view.

xopxe said...

Wow, some of the plates of Don Quixote and Paradise Lost seems huge, had no idea those were wood engravings. That's pretty amazing. But yeah, there was a lot of talented people doing the technical work as it was a big industry, from illustrated books to engraved reproductions of famous paintings.

Another example of interest for a more modern use of many lines with engravings and litography is Goya.

On the "aguante la fierro", sorry, it was a interjection of surprise when I saw the name of Ignacio Noé in the comments. Fierro was a legendary Argentinian comics magazine from the 80s, and he was on many of back covers.

kev ferrara said...

I think this Frazetta drawing is decidedly mediocre... I honestly thought the drawings were three of a kind.... I'll be back with what I hope is a worthy attempt to explain the reasoning behind my view.

I believe I already understand your "reasoning". Obviously works of art stand on their own merits, and effect us as they will and as we are able to receive them. What can more words do? You can't dent my love and appreciation of the work, you can't make me unlearn what I know about how it works, and I know from experience that I can't explain anything about aesthetic effects to somebody who doesn't already feel them intuitively. We're at loggerheads.

So at this point I'm probably more interested in others' opinions of the piece.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in David's opinion of the piece even if Kev isn't.

JSL

Matthew Adams said...

This might be an age thing, as in what we are used to, but as much as I admire Norman Lindsay's work, it always leaves me with the sensation of discovering a hair in my soup. Frazetta is better, but not by much. Still end up trying to spit out imaginary hairs. But that Fawcett drawing, David, is not helping your argument here. I like Fawcett and generally agree with you, but this drawing is kinda dead, rote, half hearted.

kev ferrara said...

I'm interested in David's opinion of the piece even if Kev isn't. - JSL

JSL - What about your opinion? I'd be interested in hearing it.

kev ferrara said...

Still end up trying to spit out imaginary hairs.

Do you really feel that? Or is that just hyperbole?

Do the feathered strokes not coalesce for you into groups - rather they remain singular lines?

chris bennett said...

I prefer the Lindsay to the Frazetta by a short whisker...
Although the Frazetta is a superior composition by way of focus, the hatching describing the forms of the musculature and also the spaces between is somewhat dislocated, sufficing only as an impression rather than a continuous plastic weave. The formal passages of the Lindsay, on the other hand (apart from some of the heads) are more fluid and integrated, more satisfyingly melodic in their music.
Lindsay: Good quality music towards a 'not quite' resolved finale.
Frazetta: 'Not quite' good quality music towards a resolved finale.

On another day I might give it to the Frazetta, but today I'm in a softer mood...

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- I understand and agree with your first two sentences. I start to lose you with your third sentence. Specifically, I don't understand your binary choice ("an empirical 'searching out' of form and space on the one hand and a methodical constructive approach on the other"). Aren't there a dozen other possibilities nestled in there somewhere? A nonmethodical constructive approach? A deconstructive approach (which Picasso claimed was his method)? Is there a non-empirical way of "searching out form and space"? If by "form and space" you mean elements in the realm of the five senses that are perceived by our senses, that would suggest that it is by definition empirical, although a sculptor such as Henry Moore melds elements of observable, empirical "fact" with purely imagined plastic elements, suggesting there must be way stations between these choices. Is your binary distinction really trying to get to the difference between representational and non-representational approaches? By the time I get to your fourth sentence, I admit to being mystified by what you mean by "haptic temperament." I even looked up "haptic" in three different places. I don't mean to be thick, can you help me out?

xopxe wrote: "Another example of interest for a more modern use of many lines with engravings and litography is Goya."

Goya is an interesting and helpful example, I think. He employed a lot of lines, certainly, and because of the nature of etching they were mostly of a uniform width. Yet, I don't think he fell into the trap of Lindsay, Frazetta and Conrey, who lined up row after row of parallel lines marching in lockstep like soldiers. His lines were far more conscious and meaningful, they had more character and had a far more powerful result, especially when he added aquatint, burrin, drypoint and all the other elements that distinguished his work. Rembrandt too used a lot of lines the width of an etching needle, yet his 100 guilder print is an astonishing masterpiece with great velvety depth.

Thanks for clearing up"aguante la fierro," I thought you were just circling back to clarify "aguafuerte." I, too, am impressed with the work of Mr. Noé and very pleased that he stops by.

Ignacio Noé-- Thanks for your comment, I respect your work and am very pleased to see you stop by.

David Apatoff said...

Matthew Adams wrote: "it always leaves me with the sensation of discovering a hair in my soup..."

I love that turn of phrase (without regard to whichever artist it applies to)

Matthew Adams also wrote: "I like Fawcett and generally agree with you, but this drawing is kinda dead, rote, half hearted."

This is not my favorite Fawcett either; it's probably the worst of his Hercule Poirot illustrations. I picked it solely because it isolates a way of drawing a cylinder that breaks the basic rule that that all beginning art students (as well as Lindsay, Frazetta and Conrey) use. Rather than play it safe with a thousand little lines, Fawcett did what he does so well, embraced anarchy with those counter-intuitive dry brush swirls, and still made it look right.

Having said that, this Fawcett drawing was singled out by Francis Marshall in his book, Magazine Illustration, for its excellence. He commented on Fawcett's typical "astringent perfection of draughtsmanship" and noted, "There is, as you see, great detail and an almost photographic finish-- yet his work is in no sense like a photograph." Marshall included this drawing as an example to show readers the staging of a sophisticated illustration: "note the use of the pillars and how the perspective of their bases leads the eye to the man's figure, and the sense of depth given by the pillar in the background...." It was also used in the Famous Artists School materials as a way of helping students notice subtleties of composition and atmospheric perspective that might escape the attention of students raised on fine lines in girlie pictures.

Richard said...

> “ If you mean literally that he traces, that's obviously not true, as nothing that he could possibly trace looked like his drawings.”

I mean that I think he had a habit of taking photographs and then tracing them, not just that he utilized photographic reference. Particularly for small spot illustrations.

The kinds of mistakes you see him make are of the variety I’ve only seen in the work of people tracing — where the measurements are accurate but the anatomy has been misunderstood, the fullness of the form entirely lost, no editing being made to make the thing read more clearly, no actual drawing having been done — merely converting photograph to a kind of unopinionated line work.

For example, I am convinced that Nurse and Child drawing was a literal tracing, not merely a bad copy, of a photograph.

And I’m not aware of a work of his which couldn’t have been traced from one or several photographs. His work has no style, caricature, opinion of any kind. If he didn’t trace, he might as well have, because he’s given us nothing more than a photograph would have (or quite a bit less).

I never understand why he gets included with such fine illustrators, like the others in this post.

David Apatoff said...

Richard wrote: "I never understand why [Briggs] gets included with such fine illustrators, like the others in this post."

I'll offer you three reasons:

1.) He was at the pinnacle of every popular medium platform of his era: In the golden age of comic strips, he drew Flash Gordon and Secret Agent X-9. When the pulp magazine market exploded he was a primary artist for Bluebook and other top pulps. When illustrated magazines were at their zenith he became a cover artist and regular contributor to the biggest, the Saturday Evening Post, as well as other top magazines. As movies became dominant he was called upon to work on Things to Come and other classics. In advertising art, his clients were some of the top companies in the world. When it comes to teaching art, Briggs was a founding "famous artist" for the Famous Artists School, which was once the most successful art school in America. You might say that all these different platforms were wrong to choose Briggs, but they did, and in a highly competitive market. It's hard to think of another artist who dominated in such a diverse array of categories.

2.) I can't think of another artist (possibly Al Parker) who played a more important role in the 1950s breaking up the old Norman Rockwell orthodoxy and paving the way for the hot illustrators of the 1960s, such as Bob Peak and Bernie Fuchs. His palette, his brush strokes, his loose designs, his inventiveness all made it easier for the next generation. There were fringe forces in the '50s such as Push Pin and Robert Weaver, but Briggs was mainstream and his impact was mainstream.

3.) Most important to me personally, more than any other illustrator he led the Renaissance in pencil drawing for finished illustrations. His drawings for TV Guide ads were viewed as revolutionary, but long before that his full page pencil and charcoal drawings for Cosmopolitan and other magazines who had been using full color oil paintings for decades opened a lot of eyes to the potential of linework. He was the springboard for Fuchs and Peak in the 1960s.

Matthew Adams said...

They remain singular, while knowing I should be seeing them coalesce. It's not really htperbole, I always thought Norman's woman looked furry while knowing I should be seeing them as smoothed skin.

But I can enjoy good pixel art and not worry about the bumps, so I think there is more to do with what I am used to and acquired taste.

chris bennett said...

Specifically, I don't understand your binary choice ("an empirical 'searching out' of form and space on the one hand and a methodical constructive approach on the other"). Aren't there a dozen other possibilities nestled in there somewhere?

Yes David, there are, my lack of clarity is at fault here. I should have said "An artist's plastic 'handwriting' is attuned to their sense of form, and this can be thought of as occupying a temperamental spectrum in which an empirical 'searching out' of form and space is at one extreme and a methodical constructive approach is at the other, with every combination/mixture of these in between".

Thus I largely agree with you that:

If by "form and space" you mean elements in the realm of the five senses that are perceived by our senses, that would suggest that it is by definition empirical..."

Although I disagree on a technical point about:

...although a sculptor such as Henry Moore melds elements of observable, empirical "fact" with purely imagined plastic elements, suggesting there must be way stations between these choices.

The best of Henry Moore's sculptures achieve their effect by virtue of maintaining a self-consistent distance/tension between what their plastic elements imply and what they are as explicit abstractions. It is only in the weaker work that this 'distance/tension' between plastic implication and plastic 'fact' becomes inconsistent and therefore aesthetically disrupted, resulting in feelings of awkwardness, perversity or weirdness when beholding it.

...I admit to being mystified by what you mean by "haptic temperament." I even looked up "haptic" in three different places. I don't mean to be thick, can you help me out?

Well, my fourth sentence; "...expressive disconnect between content and execution only arises when an artist's means of formal expression is at odds with their haptic temperament." relates to what I have just said about the principle operating in the sculptures of Henry Moore (or any sculpture at all). So if I give an example of "haptic temperament" with regard to Henry Moore, I will hopefully make my meaning a little clearer:

Moore's haptic temperament was one that overtly translated the observable world in terms of the sensations of our embodied physicality. Of course, all artists do this to varying degrees, but Moore is an example of it pushed to an extreme. Hence his reclining women put one in mind of landscape, and landscape put him in mind of reclining women. The world is manifestly articulated as a body. It is no accident that much of his work resembles bones.
And thinking of bones... Cezanne's 'haptic temperament', for example, was that of a dog exploratorily sniffing through the undergrowth.

David Apatoff said...

PS to Richard-- I think you and I must define the word "tracing" differenty. Perhaps the concept wouldn't have the same stigma for you if artists such as Frazetta hadn't spun lies about their own use of photographs.

Recently Frazetta's granddaughter was asked about Frazetta's ability to work without photos. She responded: "So that was another urban legend. Over the years he claimed he never used photo references, but yeah, that’s a lie. [Not just ] in his early years when he was doing comics and working for Al Capp [but later] like in the early ‘90s and… the mid-’80s where we actually would find the drawing. And then I found a picture of my grandma that matched the exact drawing. So we’re going to publish those one day just because I think it’s just important to tell the truth about an artist and that’s how you propel a legacy. You have to, you have to give truth, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using photographs."

If you read the memoirs of artists who aren't afraid to discuss the use of photography candidly (for example, Norman Rockwell) you find that there are a variety of important reasons for using photographs that have nothing to do with a failure to master fundamental drawing skills. The logistical advantages in cost and convenience of models, the artistic advantages of being able to capture angles, positions and distances that could not be achieved with live models in the studio; the benefits of not having to own dozens of costumes piled up in your studio the way Howard Pyle did; the pressure from art directors and clients to respond to modern, tighter deadlines that Leyendecker never faced... again and again, you can read about artists who thoroughly learned traditional drawing skills but who, midway through their careers, adapted to the pressures of modernity while still maintaining high quality.

I know that some fans feel personally betrayed to discover that great artists used photography. Jesse Kowalski, a curator at the Norman Rockwell Museum recently said, "Norman Rockwell… he couldn’t paint anything without the use of photography," which could be the most ignorant statement in the history of illustration. It seems similarly peculiar to me when people attack Briggs (who quit his job as an illustrator mid-career to go back and re-learn the fundamentals) or Fawcett (who had a classical education in figure drawing at the Slade school, who continued to draw live from the model every week after he became one of the most successful illustrators in America, and whose figure drawing was the subject of an entire book by Howard Munce) for being unable to draw without photography. That generation did more old fashioned drawing than almost any illustrator working today, and when they chose to use photography it was with a wide perspective.

David Apatoff said...

PPS to Richard-- I meant to add that, when it comes to Briggs' drawing of the baby and the nurse, look at the broad soft stroke for the back of the nurse's head, which sets a boundary but doesn't distract your eye from the hard lines at the center of the action. Contrast the thin, hard line of the nurse's profile with the broader line under her jaw suggesting depth and shadow. (How many thin lines would Lindsay, Frazetta and Conrey would use to make that same point?) Contrast the lines on the nurse's face with the much thicker charcoal or crayon profile of the baby-- you'd think that a small baby would be drawn with smaller, subtler lines, but that thick forehead and back of the head accentuate the disproportionate size of the baby's head. Compare the beautifully sensitive lines of the baby's face-- a depiction far superior to any of Leyendecker's babies, despite the fact that Leyendecker used live models. When it comes to drawing hair, Lindsay/Frazetta/Conrey seem to favor the Durer approach of drawing every single hair. This is also the approach of the camera, capturing every hair. But I think most great artists after Durer tended to believe that was a waste of time and preferred Briggs' solution with the nurse's hair, here: summarizing hair masses with lights, darks and a few suggestive lines.

My point is that these were are all artistic choices by Briggs and were not "traced" from a photograph.

Laurence John said...

David: "My point is that these were are all artistic choices by Briggs and were not "traced" from a photograph"

I agree with Richard that the image of the nurse and baby looks like it was drawn over a photo or projected image (by whatever means).

There is always a degree of realism that using photo-ref brings to the drawn image, even when the drawing - over the photo - is casually sketchy (see 'rotoscoped' animation in various loose styles).

This highlights an obvious difference between it (the nurse and baby drawing) and the Lindsay, Frazetta, Conrey, early Briggs, and Raymond; it's fairly easy to get a candid, reportage-like photo of an everyday moment (such as the nurse and baby), but near impossible to get a snapshot of a much more fantastical, dramatic / imaginative scene such as the Lindsay.

You could, of course, spend a long, costly time setting up a photo-shoot of lots of semi-naked, posed, levitating models to use as photo-ref for a fantastical illustration, but would the end result be better because of the added degree of realism of the camera's eye, or would the imagined fantasy world of the illustrator actually be constrained, or even deadened by it ?

kev ferrara said...

They remain singular, while knowing I should be seeing them coalesce. It's not really hyperbole, I always thought Norman's woman looked furry while knowing I should be seeing them as smoothed skin.

But I can enjoy good pixel art and not worry about the bumps, so I think there is more to do with what I am used to and acquired taste.


That's an interesting possibility. Although, I've never met anybody who didn't get this kind of rendering instantly. I suppose, as well as taste being affected, some aesthetic sensibilities can be disabled through certain habits.

You say you enjoy pixel art. I'm assuming you've spent a lot of time playing video games and being on the computer. Would you say you've spent a great deal of your life indoors looking at screens or reading? Also, do you have nearsightedness issues?

kev ferrara said...

Frazetta's points about photography use are often misinterpreted.

Yes Frazetta used reference. Examples of Frazetta's photographs of himself and his wife used as reference for his work were presented in the Frazetta's own publications. Reference pictures for EC stories were presented in EC fan publications. Frazetta was a self-proclaimed camera nut who talked of how much he learned by just looking through the viewfinder of his favorite Canon. There was no secret about any of this for the mildly curious.

At the same time, Frazetta was also an absolute genius at conjuring figures from his own imagination. There are countless eyewitness accounts to him drawing and painting completely out of his imagination. Some of his greatest and most famous works too. And Frazetta worked hard to understand anatomy both functionally and sculpturally in order to bolster that unique talent.

Because Frazetta was so good at Imaginative pre-visualization (He often spent a week or more dreaming his great works before starting to execute them), was such a good draftsman, and was a hell of an athlete himself, he, more than most, understood the problems of photo-reliance and the stiffness it causes. He talked of artists who gathered together and patted themselves on the backs for pictures built *obviously* of photo reference, without regard for the reality of the picture; without regard for Howard Pyle's philosophy of "Imaginative Projection" (which guided his work and most of the great Golden Agers he appreciated.) He obviously had a distaste for artworks built ploddingly by worker bees.

As Laurence suggested above, all the photographs in the world can't get an untalented or unimaginative artist's figures to move like those of a Lindsay or Frazetta.

And photographs are available to everybody; to every artist. The technology is ubiquitous and nearly free at this point. So the attempt to diminish Frazetta by pointing out he used photographs - which he admitted he used - is just picayune carping. The easiest way to stop a naysayer in their tracks is simply to say, "You, dear sir, have all the photography in the world at your disposal. Have at it. Go ahead and try to get that Frazetta-effect in your work if you think the answer lies in the camera. Try to develop a coherent imagistic composition one referenced figure at a time."

One finds quite often that the artists who compulsively criticize Frazetta are stricken by jealousy and resentment. And this blinds them to the simple truth that he was simply far more talented than they are. It's a tough pill for many to swallow.

To the dark, dark side: Frazetta, like most artists, understood the lowness of 'swiping.' Essentially stealing/copying a photo or figure because it is easy and 'right' and "who cares" for the deadline looms. On a few occasions Frazetta himself "swiped" - though not often. A prone figure in one of his Conan paintings being the clearest example. And, now and again he would self-mythologize; over-emphasizing his imaginative abilities and underplaying his use of the camera and reference.

Yes, he was flawed. A flawed man among all us angels.

MORAN said...

Jesse Kowalski, a curator at the Norman Rockwell Museum recently said, "Norman Rockwell… he couldn’t paint anything without the use of photography,"

wotta asshole.

xopxe said...

Oooooooh, pixel art. Here goes a young russian woman artist, Kev must hate this:

https://www.instagram.com/6vcr/

Disclaimer, I'm myopic from age 9, before ever seeing a computer or a color TV set.

Matthew Adams said...

I have spent a lot of time playing computer games and reading, but I also spent plenty of time outdoors as a kid. I grew up in that liminal time in the 80's/90's where kids roamed freely between sessions on the nintendo. I also grew up in Springwood, Blue Mountains, very close to where Norman Lindsay lived, and outdoors there meant following creeks and exploring canyons and hiding beneath ferns. My eyesight has been very good till about a year ago, focusing on small text now takes a lot more effort, but distant objects are still good.

My first introduction to Norman Lindsay, like a lot of children back then in Australia, was The Magic Pudding, the illustrations for that being much less feathery, and does not prepare you for his other drawings.

I did grow up on a steady diet of Rodney Matthews and Roger Dean art, airbrushed and cartoony and a far cry from the thousands of lines technique Frazetta and Lindsay.

kev ferrara said...

Oooooooh, pixel art. Here goes a young russian woman artist, Kev must hate this: https://www.instagram.com/6vcr/

I don't hate that. (It takes a lot to make me hate something. I mostly hate false claims about art, rather than any particular work. Plus the ideologies, emotions, or ignorances that cause people to make false claims about art.)

I find the auto-abstractions done through computation (pixelation) or other mechanical means (cameras) fascinating, actually. It demonstrates something very deep about the nature of abstraction, and the necessary factors involved in order to cause "representation". The kinds of pixelation demonstrated in those works, is only a robotic version of what was being taught at the Cape Cod school in 1920.

kev ferrara said...

Thanks Matthew,

All that is quite interesting. I'm sure there are other instances where the same faculty in you that prevents the coalescing of distinct lines into a field effect - which makes you prefer the smoothly rendered or blank/outlined - causes other tastes as well.

I wonder what you think of Andrew Wyeth and Nicolai Fechin. Versus, say, Dave Stevens and Adam Hughes.

kev ferrara said...

Jesse Kowalski, a curator at the Norman Rockwell Museum recently said, "Norman Rockwell… he couldn’t paint anything without the use of photography," which could be the most ignorant statement in the history of illustration.

What a nightmare. The Rockwell Museum has so many good and sweet people involved. But from the moment it went up, it was also staffed with resentful and ignorant postmodern radicals who reflexively slander Rockwell, or who unconditionally believe slander about him.

Chris James said...

For a while I've suspected that Frazetta had been pulling a sort of sleight of hand when it came to the question of photo reference and how much or little he used. Th discussion was always in the context of his paintings. And indeed I wouldn't be surprised if he used as little as he claimed for those. This is because I suspect the bulk of the reference he did use was during his comics career. For there is a degree of naturalism, accuracy, and information in some of that work that exceeds his paintings.

I believe it was in the 50s where there was a genre of photo referenced comics, Rip Kirby being one of the more well known examples. Frazetta's romance comics in particular have a similar look and style yo these types of comics. Combine a great, if not photographic, memory with a few years of doing panel after panel of reference backed work, and it's not difficult at all to believe he used scant references for his more famous work in paint.

Just a theory. And the quality of the final work is what matters, and it speaks for itself.

xopxe said...

Auto-abstraction, cameras and robotic art? Kev, yo do not actually know how pixel art is made, do you?

Chris James said...

In the beginning, I was as enamored with the Canaveral Tarzan drawings as anyone else. But now most of them are a little too strokey for my taste. The best among them is the one with the tiger and the girl. His touch on that is among the deftest of any ink work I've seen.

But I tend to find the styles of the Lord of the rings portfolio illustrations and City by the Sea to be most to my liking. The proportion between blacks, white space, hatching,and contour lines, in the best of those drawings/panels, is just right. To a point where it's almost unreal that someone could get it so quintessentially right. If it's not clear what I mean by that, I can elaborate later. It's a bear to write substantial commentary on a phone.

kev ferrara said...

Auto-abstraction, cameras and robotic art? Kev, yo do not actually know how pixel art is made, do you?

I was talking about different things using those terms, trying to get at my meaning.

By 'robotic' I meant the use of the pixel square as the constant, basic unit of abstraction.

Whereas the best hand done suggestive artwork has a very wide variety of abstraction types and at least four scales of abstraction.

al mcluckie said...

I think Kev articulated Frazetta's use of photography very well - as usual . In the one time I was in their home , I spent about 4 hours talking to Ellie and looking through his work - from his explicitly erotic work to studies and life drawings . Saw a pack of black and white shots from an idiotic movie ( The Barbarian Brothers ) that Frank was going to do the poster for . And when asked if he used photos she said only for the shadows , and not for every single figure .

I believe that he used them in a different way than Boris did , or Fuchs or Briggs etc. did when he did use them . I would bet there was no tracing in any way in the manner of most illustrators . I think he looked at them for a guide , then did all or most of the rough/final work without checking the reference . Briggs etc worked from the projection or overlay and imitated the casual roughness of true freehand work , varied the line in ways , used various tools etc . I don't believe any of them would relish sitting next to Frazetta with a blank sheet or canvas and produce a figure(s) from scratch .

Having said that , I still love Fawcett Briggs and company . Speaking of true lines , from life and no tracing , google image Sherrie Mcgraw drawings . I know Briggs could draw without tracing , maybe it was expedient for assignments but there is always something missing in the result from using the safety net .

Al McLuckie


David Apatoff said...

In my next career as a psychiatrist, I'm going to develop a diagnostic tool based on the way patients react to the use of photo reference. As far as I can tell from the above comments, if an artist whom you favor uses photos it's a natural, harmless process. If an artist whom you disfavor uses photos, it's deplorable tracing. We seem to be rooting for opposing soccer teams rather than evaluating the quality of images.

The psychoses responsible for these differences in perception become even cloudier when an artist dissembles about his or her use of photographs. And that's before we even get to the battle over whether the end justifies the means in art.

To repeat: I think Frazetta was often brilliant; I have no problem whatsoever with his use of photography. I'd say he was a little petty in his denials but so was Robert Fawcett.

Similarly, I have no problem whatsoever with Briggs' and Fawcett's use of photography.

All three artists abundantly demonstrated that they'd mastered drawing skills. All three were excellent draftsmen who added significant artistic value to the factual material that photographs provided. People who ignore that are, I'd suggest, too busy rooting for their own team.

Finally, I'd say that much of this debate is grounded on a reality 50 years out of date. Illustrators formerly used a balopticon or another type of projector. (If you believe David Hockney, artists were doing that 300 years ago.) They also improved their original drawings by "tracing" multiple iterations on "tracing paper," a prehistoric version of layers on Photoshop (a process which was openly taught by the Famous Artists School). Today, scanned photos themselves are integrated into a digital paintings, and outright copied for their patterns or textures or color schemes. Their digital DNA is lifted out of the photo with no need for drawing skills; they are revised with a slider bar or some other engineering tool which again requires no drawing skills. This is the bulk of how art is produced today, a partnership between artist and software engineer, and the artist's share of that real estate is all headed in the wrong direction.

Given that reality, some of these jibes about the nature of "tracing" by these three fine draftsmen seem a little anachronistic.

al mcluckie said...

If you make the career switch , I think you would be at the top of your field . I don't mean to "jibe" in my comments , no problem with using reference , just in the way it's used - slavishly or lazily vs interpretively . Briggs nurse illo is great , I just think if he took the time to lightly pencil the rough freehand , then evolve it , there would be yet more quality because he would have had to have made more decisions to get the base proportions correct , more consciousness and human feeling into it .

Sorry , have to ask , what are a couple of Frazetta pieces - oil or drawing - that you feel are exceptional ?

Matthew Adams said...

I had not heard of Nicolai Fechin before today. I would really like to see his work in person.

I find Adam Hughes and Dave Stevens work pleasant enough, easily digestable, and find it strange that Dave Stevens gained a reputation as a perfectionist. Like, I don't see much thought going into his work. Which is not to denigrate it, I just hope he also spent time doing other enjoyable things and not just hunched over a desk making sure each line created the right effect.

So basically, I prefer Andrew Wyeth and Nicolai Fechin.

And just started imagining what a Andrew Wyeth cover for Superman would look like, I think I would like to see that.

David Apatoff said...

al mcluckie-- Easy. Top ten in no particular order: Death Dealer, the cover of Creepy #9 (a/k/a Winged Terror), Tanar of Pellucidar, Conan the Conqueror, Conan the Avenger, Swamp Demon, Egyptian Queen (before he messed with it), Creepy 15 (Neanderthal), Rock God, and Back to the Stone Age (a/k/a Mammoth, a far better priapic image than the monolithic Tarzan drawing in this post). For my friends out there, remember my birthday is coming up in September.

Favorite pen and ink drawing: probably the Canaveral drawing of the tiger and the pterodactyls. I love lots of unfinished paintings, preliminary studies and quick sketches but they don't have names I could use to identify them.

kev ferrara said...

strange that Dave Stevens gained a reputation as a perfectionist. Like, I don't see much thought going into his work.

??

His work is full up with aesthetic thought. What other kinds of thought are you looking for?

Saying Stevens' work doesn't have much thought going on in it is like saying that Gil Elvgren's work doesn't have much thought going on in it. Or Bougereau's. Has the perfection of the beauties and surfaces confused the eye so much it cannot appreciate that the perfection of the whole didn't "just happen to happen." Everything good about any work of art, as Stapleton Kearns would say, had to be installed.

Don't look at the inherent quality of the lines, look at their meanings. Look at the way everything relates to everything else.

al mcluckie said...

Jesus ! Those are MY top ten !

Matthew Adams said...

When I look at a Dave Stevens drawing each line is so meticulously crafted it's hard not to look at their inherent quality.

I want to be careful here, I don't have the language yet to explain really what I mean, and I know I can be, or seem to be, disparaging of artists that in all truthfulness I hold in high esteem. Frazetta, Lindsay, Stevens, all are part of a big library of images I've stored haphazardly in my untidy ADHD brain (which might explain why I find a mass of lines confusing?) and they have all influenced my own much poorer art. But they are also big boys and their work is solid enough to withstand my flimsy attacks.

So, despite what I say here about these artist, I have spent many hours looking at their work and enjoying it. And learning from it.

David Apatoff said...

al mcluckie-- Tell you what. I'll take five and you can take five. I'm not greedy.

Matthew Adams said...

But to answer your question Kev, I look at a Dave Stevens picture and yes, everything is thought out, but it also seems that everything he thought about he had already thought about a million times before, and coming to the same conclusion. There appears no growth in his thoughts about aesthetics (at least, none I can see), and I suspect he could have churned out more work at the quality he was already providing (I am basing this on his Rocketeer and Betty Page art, as this is the stuff I know).

Laurence John said...

David: "In my next career as a psychiatrist, I'm going to develop a diagnostic tool based on the way patients react to the use of photo reference"

I think you're missing the reason why people respond negatively to a 'traced' image.

Have you tried drawing over a photographic image with a heavy, dark coloured pencil for yourself ? (i rate the Faber-Castell Polychromos).

It's really not a difficult thing to do for anyone with basic drawing skills. I've done so much tracing over comped photo-ref in my own job (storyboarding and visualising for the advertising world) that feeling enthusiasm for the result by almost anyone is tricky, however nice their line-work is.

David: "We seem to be rooting for opposing soccer teams rather than evaluating the quality of images"

I'm not siding with one artist or another on this topic.

When i look at an image like the Briggs nurse and baby I almost can't see it as just a 'drawing'. I see it as something like 'a photographic image that has been rendered as a spare line drawing'.

I feel the same when I look at an oil painting that shows its obvious photographic source; it's 'a photographic image that has been rendered as an oil painting'.

When I look at Thomas Fluharty's work based on photo-ref I don't feel the same thing, because his characters have been reconfigured from the ground up, into a completely new physical form, even if details have been based on the photo.

Tom said...

Laurence wrote

"There is always a degree of realism that using photo-ref brings to the drawn image, even when the drawing - over the photo - is casually sketchy (see 'rotoscoped' animation in various loose styles).

This highlights an obvious difference between it (the nurse and baby drawing) and the Lindsay, Frazetta, Conrey, early Briggs, and Raymond; it's fairly easy to get a candid, reportage-like photo of an everyday moment (such as the nurse and baby), but near impossible to get a snapshot of a much more fantastical, dramatic / imaginative scene such as the Lindsay."

Well said! It looks like a "snap shot" drawing and the baby looks like it is going to fall right to the floor as the nurse's hands do not appear to make contact with an actually embodied surface. It looks like there is a pocket of air between her foreground hand and the side of the baby. One only has to look at the work of someone like Alfred Ward's civil war on the spot drawings to tell the difference between photo copying and drawing. But that was different age.

Art harnesses the energy of life and directs and drives it to the artist's goal. This energy is felt in the drawing. It's what captures our interest. The traced line almost always feels monotonous, anemic. The line isn't under the influence of the forces of nature, space, gravity and weight. The artist becomes a seismographer traveling an already existing path. The monotony is felt in the final production and quality of the line work itself and it is off putting. One immediately considers the source of the image, things become suspect instead of honest.

David as someone who discusses technology and innovation in the arts a lot, have you consider that the line block printing technique is what contributed to an excessive array of lines in the earlier illustration you posted?


And if you want your drawing to improve immediately!:)

https://neolucida.com/history/childs-play

kev ferrara said...

When i look at an image like the Briggs nurse and baby I almost can't see it as just a 'drawing'. I see it as something like 'a photographic image that has been rendered as a spare line drawing'.

I feel the same when I look at an oil painting that shows its obvious photographic source; it's 'a photographic image that has been rendered as an oil painting'.

When I look at Thomas Fluharty's work based on photo-ref I don't feel the same thing, because his characters have been reconfigured from the ground up, into a completely new physical form, even if details have been based on the photo.


This is exactly my experience and feeling as well.

And this takes us back to these key topics of aesthetic meaning and effect, and just how and why photographs are stillborn with respect to those artistic qualities. Which some of us have been thinking and talking about for a long time.

If the work has the 'accurate' deadness of the photo, if I can immediately pick that out (as many others here are able to do) the photo hasn't been artistically and imaginatively transformed enough. The photo was supposedly brought in as an assistant to the artist, and the artist put the camera, a dumb unfeeling machine, in charge. This is the cheat, not the use of the photo per se.

To restate: The issue isn't the use of photographs. (How many times does it need to be said?) It isn't a 'cheat' to use a photograph. Photographs are just one tool among many that can be used to achieve the art.

But if the foundation of the art evidently remains the photograph, after all is said and done, the art doesn't have a living soul. Because the photograph has no consciousness; it has nothing to say, nothing to think, nothing to feel; it has no analogies, it feels no relations, it isn't a poet. It's just a capturing of light rays through a pinhole.

While art is the representation of a full thought process aimed at demonstrating, using any visually rhetorical means one can imagine, an intuited imagistic idea.

That some people cannot feel that photographs have no consciousness - contain no thought or heart - makes this a perennial, impossible conversation. And this is, to some degree, understandable.

After all, one sees the giggling baby face and the delighted nurse face, and registers that the nurse is delighted at the giggling baby - and one easily mistakes that for aesthetic emotion. But it isn't. It's just a kind of reportage.

comicstripfan said...

Vis-a-vis Austin Briggs and Alex Raymond cf. Frank Godwin's extensive use of lines (Vignettes of Life, Connie, Rusty Riley).

David Apatoff said...


Laurence John wrote (and others agreed): "It's fairly easy to get a candid, reportage-like photo of an everyday moment (such as the nurse and baby), but near impossible to get a snapshot of a much more fantastical, dramatic / imaginative scene such as the Lindsay."

Actually, if you can bring yourself to look at the "how to paint" books by Boris and Rowena, you can see how even untalented artists take photographs of ordinary models and easily paint them into fantastical scenes of flying robots and winged hotties. When Austin Briggs needed models for the comic strip Flash Gordon, he and his wife would pose in their underwear on a picnic table in the back yard. Depending on whether Flash was riding a horse or commanding a rocket ship, they might turn the picnic table over on its side.

Kev Ferrara wrote: "To restate: The issue isn't the use of photographs. (How many times does it need to be said?)"

Well, I feel that way but apparently Frazetta disagrees with you or he wouldn't deny the use of photographs.

Kev Ferrara also wrote: "the photograph has no consciousness; it has nothing to say, nothing to think, nothing to feel; it has no analogies, it feels no relations, it isn't a poet."

Here I disagree with you. In my view thousands of beautiful, well composed photographs have plenty to say; in fact, they have more profound content and evoke more feeling than Bouguereau's paintings. Photographers such as Sebastião Salgado or Steichen also strike me as more painterly than Bouguereau's glassy paintings. We often say here that an image has to stand on its own, without being propped up by its back story. If we're going to be honest about the way we approach images, give these photographs a fair look, with out being trapped in a web of humanistic nostalgia.

Laurence John wrote: "When i look at an image like the Briggs nurse and baby I almost can't see it as just a 'drawing'. I see it as something like 'a photographic image that has been rendered as a spare line drawing'.

May I ask if you have the same reaction to Fuchs and Peak? They're not trying to fool anyone about their use of photographs.

Laurence John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurence John said...

David: "May I ask if you have the same reaction to Fuchs and Peak? They're not trying to fool anyone about their use of photographs"

Never been a big fan of Peak. Fuchs is such a sensitive and original painter that his painterly qualities are worth looking at despite the obvious debt to photo-ref use.

You'll notice that I didn't go as far as Kev in saying "the photograph ... has nothing to say, nothing to think, nothing to feel". Like you, I also like a lot of photography for it's own sake.

When I said "When i look at an image like the Briggs nurse and baby I almost can't see it as just a 'drawing' "... I'm saying that I view such photo-based illustration work as some sort of hybrid or middle ground between photography and painting or drawing, but it can't (almost by definition) be JUST drawing or painting.

And, the larger point was that photo-ref can impede an artist's imagination if they're trying to visualise an imagined, fantastical scenario.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John wrote: "I view such photo-based illustration work as some sort of hybrid or middle ground between photography and painting or drawing."

Such an interesting identity crisis has been going on between photography and painting for 150 years. The shame and confusion is so powerful that it intimidated even great artists such as Frazetta, Fawcett and Rockwell into concealing their methods, while other artists such as Degas, Lautrec and Fuchs aren't bothered in the least. Uncertain of how to measure quality in this new world, we have the crazed Savonarolas at the Art Renewal Center waving their pitchforks and torches; we have jealous artists condemning the obvious benefits of photo reference as morally unworthy; and we have critics denying that photography can ever be an art form because the photographer doesn't suffer the way the painter does. (Then there are artists who don't enjoy suffering and who say, "the end justifies the means"-- a good picture stands alone, and legitimizes whatever was done to achieve it.)

What kind of "end" justifies the use of photography? That question remains contested real estate in the trench warfare of art. Some people (including some commenting here) argue that if a picture betrays its genomic connection to photography, it fails. I'm uncertain whether their requirement is that the artist contribute such a large percentage of the creativity that the role of the photograph becomes insignificant, or if the requirement is that the artist simply be more adroit at covering up his or her sources.

If we take the long view, I think it's hard to deny that art has been in a partnership with the photographic sciences (what you call "some sort of hybrid or middle ground between photography and painting or drawing") for a long, long time. Like genetically modified organisms (GMOs) it's now almost impossible to separate the gene pool.

Over the past hundred years the role of photographic sciences has become more powerful and more empowering, subtler and more slippery, and more alluring. Look at how quickly photography, then television and then the internet wiped out the vast market for illustrated magazines-- to me that counts as a TKO in the 5th. In the blink of an eye we had Photoshop, which was originally designed as just a photomanip program, never intended as a substitute for paint. Soon zbrush and other powerful technologies lifted the barricades, allowing hordes of mediocre artists in to autotone their work. Today 3D photobash is the industry standard (although some still dissemble about their methods the way that Frazetta and Fawcett did 60 years ago). As photographic tools become subtler, building blocks become harder and harder to detect.

So I'd say yes, most illustrators today (at least, the ones working in animation, gaming and digital painting) are in a partnership with software engineers. I also think it's fair to say that the engineers are advancing at a more rapid clip than the artists, creating tools so powerful that artists haven't fully figured out how to use them yet.

What would Bouguereau do today? Would he hold fast to his traditional techniques? It seems highly unlikely. Bouguereau tailored his paintings to the market; his photo-idealized nudes were painted to suit the taste of wealthy male collectors. (Bouguereau said, ""What do you expect? You have to follow public taste, and the public only buys what it likes.") If Bouguereau was working today and recognized that the real money was in photo based art, I think the odds are pretty good that he would embrace it enthusiastically.

The challenge of assimilating all these changes and ending up with a coherent, intellectually honest appreciation of visual images has eluded us so far. Like everyone else, I'm still struggling for an answer but as a starter I can say it doesn't bother me that when I look at Briggs' drawing of the nurse I can easily spot the photograph in its history.

xopxe said...

Both da Vinci and Dürer explain how to mechanically capture perspective from nature. I wonder how controversial it was at the time.

kev ferrara said...


In my view thousands of beautiful, well composed photographs have plenty to say; in fact, they have more profound content and evoke more feeling than Bouguereau's paintings.

Photos don't say anything. No more than the Nixon White House Tapes 'say' anything. Recordings can be lit or miked or edited this way or that. But fundamentally, they're just recordings of light bouncing off things, and sound emanating off things (or from them).

If a photo has an effect on you, it is because elements in the photos may have been captured in the act of 'saying.' The photo records a sculpture built of life that existed in front of the lens when the shutter clicked. The photo isn't that sculpture. Its a flat facsimile of it.

You may understand a situation in a photo, you may feel empathy or sympathy or appreciation or attraction. You may see the delicacy of a flower, the smoothness of a skin, or the grandeur of a mountain and respond to that. You may find the meaning in those sensual feelings. And we can say that there is some innate, basic meaning to those sensual feelings. But they don't build up to anything more in the actual photo. You may build that greater meaning in your mind.

Experience, only on the rarest of occasions, as many writers have pointed out, is understood in its meaning through the sensual-emotional force of that experience... such that an epiphany is induced. As Robert McKee pointed out, this feels like a religious experience when it actually happens in life. One feels they might be going a bit mad if this profound meaningfulness strikes them full force.

But it is the great purpose of Art to cause this feeling through effective composition. Such begins at the smallest scale of aesthetic understanding.

I also like a lot of photography for it's own sake.

Me too. But if you traced off your favorite photographs, they would still result in crap art. This points to the deeper issue I keep trying to surface.

The photograph has no consciousness; it has nothing to say, nothing to think, nothing to feel; it has no analogies, it feels no relations, it isn't a poet.

The core of good art is suggestiveness; the suggestion of sensual meanings, which build up to sensual understandings, which form complexes of sensual epiphany; which are deeper than language. And which a machine has no inkling of.

kev ferrara said...

Frazetta disagrees with you or he wouldn't deny the use of photographs.

Again, as laid out more clearly and fully earlier, the Frazettas both published and agreed to the publishing of Frazetta's reference photos in various publications. So it wasn't denied in those cases.

And I'm not quite sure where or when Frazetta said he never, ever, ever used photographs or reference material. Maybe you could point me to it? I could understand him downplaying it, certainly.

Also laid out earlier; the 'problem with photography use' in art is those artists who can't really draw out of their imaginations who rely so fully on photographs that their work fairly reeks of it. As with comics that use clichéd tried-and-true premises and standard punch lines, there's a stench of hack to those easy short-cut solutions to 'getting paid for it.'

There is a natural resentment between those who can, and those who are pretending they can. Attention is a competitive business. As well, the appreciators of the real thing are forever baffled and annoyed by the appreciators who can't tell the real thing from the fake thing.

Somebody like Frazetta - the real thing - would naturally want to distance himself from all the hacky fakes. As he was all too aware of the many critical and carping people who long to tear down the great who would jump at the opportunity to 'prove' that there's no such thing as talent.

Laurence John said...

Kev; "The photograph has no consciousness; it has nothing to say, nothing to think, nothing to feel; it has no analogies, it feels no relations, it isn't a poet."

That may be true for a spontaneous 'captured moment' type of photograph, from a street photographer like Henri Cartier-Bresson.

But how does that tally with someone like Rockwell who has the idea for an illustration / painting first, then carefully directs his models in the photographs like a film director, and art-directs the props and settings, in order to use the photo-reference for the final painting ?

Unless you disagree with my suggestion above that there are artists who work in a middle ground between photography and painting, then the photography would absolutely be part of the creative thought process.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "I'm not quite sure where or when Frazetta said he never, ever, ever used photographs or reference material. Maybe you could point me to it?"

I personally saw him do it, long ago on a panel with Jim Warren in NY. A fan in the audience asked if he used photos or models and he said no, that every once in a while he used a mirror (here he acted out how he made a muscle in front of a mirror and checked out how it looked) but he didn't need photos or models. The fans (average age 13) gasped appreciatively. (He did not say "never, ever, ever" cross my heart and hope to die, but the intended message to his adoring fans was clear.)

Apropos of your comment, "Frazetta was so good at Imaginative pre-visualization (He often spent a week or more dreaming his great works before starting to execute them)" Frazetta also said on that same panel that he sometimes came up with and painted his covers in one night. Specifically, he said that he painted the Creepy cover Neanderthal overnight, that he'd waited until the last minute to come up with an idea and had no canvas or board on which to paint it, so he took a masonite square being used for household repairs and devised a subject he could paint on that background. He said the paint was sometimes still wet when he delivered a cover to Warren.

To repeat, it doesn't bother me in the least whether Frazetta used photos or looked in the mirror, and whether he took a week or a night to plan his paintings. I only mention it here because the issues seem to mean so much to others. Personally, I think the painting Neanderthal qualifies as one of his "great works." I went up to him after the panel, spoke with him briefly and got his autograph which I still have today. I thought that much of his work was terrific then, and although my ardor has cooled for some of his pictures, I still think much of what he did is terrific now.

Richard said...

> Today 3D photobash is the industry standard (although some still dissemble about their methods the way that Frazetta and Fawcett did 60 years ago). As photographic tools become subtler, building blocks become harder and harder to detect.

I could count on one hand the number of times I've made a photobash, but I can definitively say that the experience was lightyears more "creative" and "artistic" than when I've traced a line drawing from a photograph.

My problem with Briggs isn't that I think using technology is cheating. It's that the WAY he used technology is, I believe, entirely empty of artistic intention.

Eytan Zana, whos works are almost entirely built from photobashing and 3d models, is much more of an artist than Briggs (one, two, three)

Creating a Brigg's style nurse-and-baby copy from a photograph is something you will rapidly be able to teach a machine learning algorithm to do. Teaching a computer to dream of a new environment and a composition, and build it from photographs is a long way off.

I'm not saying photobashing is high art, but it's not an absolute copout the way Brigg's tracings are.

kev ferrara said...

But how does that tally with someone like Rockwell who has the idea for an illustration / painting first, then carefully directs his models in the photographs like a film director, and art-directs the props and settings, in order to use the photo-reference for the final painting ?

Maxfield Parrish did this as well.

I think the two major points are first that the artist is using the reference in pursuit of a vision that originated apart from the photo; and second that the artist is transforming the photo imaginatively/haptically/sculpturally (etc) so that the vision is realized in a unified way and wholly personally, shedding the frozen impersonality of the camera entirely.

When both Parrish and Rockwell were at their worst, you could tell that the photo-ness was too present, the residual mental stiffness and physical a-reality/flatness through the paint. (Here’s a Rockwell example with an almost non-existent haptic re-imagination of photo-reference.)When at their best, only the unified imagistic vision presents.

As with Frazetta's action and muscular stress, Rockwell's ability to express character and humor in the way he painted cannot be found in a photo. The simplest thing to say to the naysayers is, again, all the photography in the world is available to you. If you think it's the photos running the show, grab a camera and a paintbrush and prove it.


kev ferrara said...

I personally saw him do it, long ago on a panel with Jim Warren in NY.

Fair enough. Safe to say he was inconsistent on this point.

kev ferrara said...

...all are part of a big library of images I've stored haphazardly in my untidy ADHD brain (which might explain why I find a mass of lines confusing?)

Hmm, that's a really interesting thought.

I don't quite know what the ADHD experience is like, but I had a good friend who had it quite severely, undiagnosed. I believe his parents were neglectful of him and he was essentially raised by the television, popular magazines, and movies.

He had the worst time paying attention until the end of a sentence arrived. He was always trying, and failing to finish thoughts, his and others'. And when he spoke, he asserted more wrong things per paragraph than anybody I've ever known. His whole mental life was a constant jumping to conclusions, usually incorrect.

Maybe part of ADHD is almost like a knee-jerk anxiety reaction against the silence and stillness required to get through an unscrambling process of any complexity to the point of mental coalescence. Or maybe it is the difficulty in unscrambling that cause a kind of panic that results in the flight response?

Richard said...

> Maybe part of ADHD is almost like a knee-jerk anxiety reaction against the silence and stillness required to get through an unscrambling process of any complexity to the point of mental coalescence.

I think that’s close, but I’d reframe it.
I think it's more that some people (myself included) don’t have internal dialogs. And so thinking “out loud”/exploring ideas “out loud”/”acting out” is symptom of how we process new ideas and information.

For people with neurotypical internal dialogs, experiencing us weirdos from the outside, it’s a disconcerting thing. But if we heard your internal dialog out loud, it probably would not make a lot of sense either.
And for me, it’s always frustrating that some people feel the need to work through an idea privately in their own heads first. Why keep it in, when we could work on it together if you’d just put it out there, wrong or right.

David Apatoff said...

Richard-- Just to make sure I understand the breadth of your antipathy toward Briggs, do you have the same view of his drawing of the two men in chairs at their club, which was also clearly done with the aid of a photograph? What about his painting of a woman in a raincoat from this old post, also done with a photograph? (I included some close up details in the old post.)

Richard said...

No not always antipathy. More often than not, I feel nothing at all when I look at his pictures.

Matthew Adams said...

I'm no expert on ADHD, just my experience of it.

-There is anxiety caused by ADHD, which in my case is the result of uncertainity, like should I be here doing this or over there doing that, did I get on the right train, how do I act like an adult in this particular situation, I was meant to listen to these instructions but I drifted off and started thinking about something else, again, and now I don't know what I am meant to do and I don't want to ask again, and so on. The anxiety builds up, releasing adrenalin that isn't used up, which keeps me hyper-aware of things I don't need to be aware of, adding to my distraction.

-my fight or flight response tends to be fight, at least to physical danger, and the resulting escalation causes more problems than I can solve. In regards to the danger of paperwork, then my response is flight, which again causes more problems than it solves.

My ADHD might be the reason I se3 drawings like the Norman Lindsey ones as depictions of furry women, but I can't confirm it so it's stuck in the interesting idea basket.

I also wonder if artists, seeing with artist's eyes, can appreciate more readily what Lindsay and Frazetta are doing, while the public might look at it and see fur? To answer that would require a survey, which means paperwork...

Matthew Adams said...

I am the opposite. I have quite a busy internal dialogue, which caused problems as I am also carrying on a conversation within myself while conversing with others. My friends tease me about being slow and seeing the cogs move but in fact I am conversing with myself about something else I find interesting and then have to think back to their conversation and catch up. And it's not that I find their conversation boring, I usually enjoy it and sometimes I still want to discuss something they might have said five minutes ago and have moved on from.

Matthew Adams said...

And of course, those times when I am not involved in an internal conversation I tend to get too intense in my conversation with others and make them uncomfortable.

I am either pleasantly distracted or boringly intense.

kev ferrara said...

What about his painting of a woman in a raincoat

I remember that post. I remember at first appreciating all the lively rendering-jazz Briggs used. And the accuracy of the drawing.

But I kept looking at it after I posted on that thread, particularly the weirdly flat faces and the ruffling pant cuff, the patness of it all. Something kept gnawing at me. I kept wondering why I was looking at the shadow in her mouth. I remembered seeing the same kinds of mouth shadows in the black and white stills in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.

Soon I realized that the piece had telltale photo-ref deadness and flatness, behind all the attempts to mask it with 'action painting' type rendering. Even the dynamic idea of the couple running was an attempt to disguise the origin of the work as a still photograph. (Even though the real couple was running, the photo was still frozen. The painting did not express anything sensually significant or effective about running. It was not composed to express meaning aesthetically.)

This was the first I'd really paid attention and scrutinized that kind of work from that era, because it always left me cold. So I had never really looked into the pieces enough to notice the photo underlayments beneath them until I started attending this blog where they were touted.

As far as I can tell, Briggs was a guy who couldn't really draw or imagine well when he got into the trade. Then (surely out of desperation) he developed a suite of drawing and rendering tricks for copying photographs and disguising that use.

I'm sure it pushed lots of photographically accurate and jazzy work out the door quickly, and he made good money.

But the ultimate influence of his vacuous studio innovation was the clip art business. He was the guy who figured out the short cut that would begin the downward spiral/multipolar trap.

When the illustrator is merely the middleman between a photograph and an art director, he ain't long for this world.

More often than not, I feel nothing at all when I look at his pictures.

Same. My eyes stick to the surface for a bit, then depart. The only reason I ever linger longer is for research purposes.



Laurence John said...

Kev: "I think the two major points are first that the artist is using the reference in pursuit of a vision that originated apart from the photo"

No argument from me.

"... and second that the artist is transforming the photo imaginatively/haptically/sculpturally (etc) so that the vision is realised in a unified way and wholly personally, shedding the frozen impersonality of the camera entirely"

Also agreed. No one is disputing Rockwell's imaginative or painterly brilliance.

"If you think it's the photos running the show, grab a camera and a paintbrush and prove it."

I never made the claim that the photos were doing all the work (in Rockwell's case). My point is that his photographic stage is a crucial part of the artistic process to get at his vision, and shouldn't be downplayed. Hence my suggestion that there is a middle ground between photography and painting.

"The photograph has no consciousness; it has nothing to say, nothing to think, nothing to feel; it has no analogies, it feels no relations, it isn't a poet."

If a camera is just a tool (which you agree with) then a camera, in the hands of an artist (a poet) is just a tool to get the artist nearer their vision (let's assume we're talking about a talented, visionary artist like Rockwell or Parrish. Not someone who is just going to take a nice shot of their 7 year old child, render it in oil and call it 'art').

Laurence John said...

David: "What would Bouguereau do today? Would he hold fast to his traditional techniques? It seems highly unlikely"

My bet is that the modern day Bouguereau would be working in animated, hyper-real CGI, creating swarms of pulchritudinous nymphs and dryads levitating, swooping and swirling in the early evening sky. Same subject matter, new technology / medium.

Richard said...

Contemporary Bouguereau wouldn’t be an artist at all, in any medium. Those types of people don’t become artists anymore. My guess is that he’s probably working as a plastic surgeon in Hollywood.

xopxe said...

Photography does not capture as the human eye+brain, for good and bad. It's not an intuitive fact, and that's why people still take snapshots of the moon and sunsets, and are surprised by a mundane street action photo. You are skipping the gestalt built in our visual system by millions of years of evolution.
In that sense, drawing and painting are closer to photography than actually seeing the damn thing.

kev ferrara said...

I never made the claim that the photos were doing all the work (in Rockwell's case). My point is that his photographic stage is a crucial part of the artistic process to get at his vision,

I didn't mean you, in particular, in that passage. I'm kind of writing to the general point; that there are people out there who look at Rockwell and just see 'realism' and hear that he used photographs, and just put 2+2 together to make 4, not knowing all the other terms involved. And not having the sensitivity to discern what the artist encodes vs. what the camera encodes.

I think we're in agreement about pretty much everything. As Jeff Jones said about his use of photographs, "I simply need that information."

kev ferrara said...

I also wonder if artists, seeing with artist's eyes, can appreciate more readily what Lindsay and Frazetta are doing, while the public might look at it and see fur?

Both Lindsay and Frazetta simply have too many fans for all of them to be artists. I do think there is something anomalous about you experiencing fur instead of shading.

Whether it has anything to do with your ADHD (or what sounds like anxiety and OCD) is an open and fascinating question.

However, in looking into these kind of psychological questions as they relate to art and poetry, I've come to believe that stress causes literalism; it atomizes what it encounters as a prelude to analysis.

Poetry cannot function in that analytic-critical mode. Poetry requires an open synthetic quality of mind, and a broad quality of feeling with an allowance for any number of types of aesthetic fictions (such as sculpting form with lines) to perform their effects. There is a contemplative necessity to poetry that cannot coexist with the frenetic and distracted.

Anonymous said...

Briggs changed everyone's style of drawing. Before the 1950s nobody drew like that. He was a huge influence on illustration.

JSL

Tom said...

David wrote,

"As photographic tools become subtler, building blocks become harder and harder to detect."

The history of art really doesn't look like photography. On the other hand the last 150 years of advertising and entrainment certainly does.

It's funny how everyone can tell when you post a picture that was done from a photo David.

Obviously, as you always write, the stresses and strains of selling things in a timely manner is going to influence how a picture is produced. So artist had to adopt their methods to survive by using new “tools’” or references to create their pictures to meet the of an ever increasing demands of the market. The artist simply has no choice. That’s a narrative you like to push. (That's why I asked earlier if the line block method of printing force illustrators into the “many line,” ink drawing method in the early part of the 20th century). Rembrandt made etchings but he also made ink and wash drawings. Could a wash drawing be efficiently and cheaply reproduced in the 1920’s?

How can any real art qualities develop when the whole endeavor becomes one of how can we avoid it's challenges so we can get to press?

Yet you complain about today’s illustration. Perhaps today’s illustration is meeting the demands of it’s markets and clients who probably don’t have the time nor the interest in beautiful “lines., if it doesn’t help get their message across to the viewer. What you don’t seem to sense is the market has very little use or interest in the ‘art,’ part of illustration except for it’s power to grab people’s attention. It probably never has. They want to use pictures to sell magazines and products.

The “art,’’ part, of illustration if given it’s full attention would question many of the “markets’” assumption it makes about “consumers’” and the world it has created. At the most basic level any one who has pick up a pencil , or attempted any art form that requires a skill knows, the one thing they learned right at the start is how little their preconceived ideas about the world are going to help them out. Usually expressed by the comment, “ I don’t have any talent.” On another level for the artist, the “art” itself becomes more interesting then the thing we are attempting to depict.

Each tool we invent and each photo we use is an avoidance of a difficulty that should be overcome with our understanding and only weakens our ability to produce beautiful things.

Isn’t that one of the main beauties of art, a beautiful and simply answer to a difficult problem.

An illustration that is to be reproduced to sell tires can let go of a lot of art qualities. It has a very different intent and different requirements for success then an individual drawing that wants to communicate something about the nature universe and it’s one reason why reproductions of actual drawings, paintings sculptures and architecture is such a disappointment compared to the real thing.

Would Bouguereau simply reject his skills or are you saying he would have never have developed them? How do you know he might not respond like the earlier generation of illustrators who scoffed at the generation that starting using photography? People with skill are not so easily taken in as people with no skill. Bouguereau’s do exist today. There are lots of artist trying to sell their talents for money today.

if you want to paint to satisfy the taste of wealthy business man, well one can stay in the shallow end of the pool.

It is much more interesting and curious to see how photography imparts its own qualities and presence into pictures and that so many people recognize it’s influence immediately. Which I think would give rise to the question why are it’s traits so recognizable? It must lack some quality of human perception.

xopxe said...

Hipótesis: in drawing the representation of movement is highly conventionalized, because the way out brain process movement in real life does not map to a drawing conveniently. Photography does not care for those conventions, nor for how our brain process mocement de that matter.
Simetrically, we catch posed photos too.

David Apatoff said...

I’m traveling this week with poor WiFi access so I’m pecking this out on my cell phone and I’m limited in my ability to link to images or respond to specific points.

However, I did want to at least respond to the general point made by several commenters who look at a Briggs drawing and are bothered by the ghost of the underlying photo.

Far be it from me to say what thoughtful people should or should not be bothered by in a drawing, which is the most personal form of visual art. However, I’d like to suggest that the ghost of photography plays a role on both sides of the equation here.

Bouguereau starts with a blank page and works his way toward a photographic image. Briggs starts with a photographic image and works his way toward a blank page. Bouguereau was probably the apex of simulating a photographic style image in the history of art. He painstakingly removed any trace of a human brush stroke from his images and perfected the replication of human flesh. He carefully purged the human opinions that accurate painters such as Rockwell or Leyendecker or Sargent contributed. An astonishing act of skill, yes, but for several decades he was held in disrepute because people said, “Hell, we can achieve that part with the click of a shutter. It’s the expressive/interpretive part that we should value.” They were as bothered by Bouguereau’s photographic goals as you are bothered by Briggs’ photographic roots.

Well, after several years of seeing what the expressive/interpretive side has to offer, and seeing artists / critics abuse that freedom, Bouguereau is back in vogue again. That’s fine. But there’s a reason why, for much of the 20th century— the period when Briggs worked— the photographic likeness was viewed as the easy part. (Hint: it’s not just because the artists were stupid.)

In the classic science fiction novel, A Canticle for Liebowitz, post-apocalyptic monks work painstakingly to reproduce blueprints of technological devices. They didn’t understand what the devices did or how the blueprints were originally made. They colored in the backgrounds by hand, drawing everything in reverse. They were highly skilled at doing for religious reasons what a machine once did instantly.

Laurence John said...

David: "Bouguereau starts with a blank page and works his way toward a photographic image"

Bouguereau doesn't look 'photographic' in the way Briggs does - based on photo ref.

He's smoothly realistic, but the figures (and practically everything) are idealised and the poses and settings are classical and stagey.

kev ferrara said...

Bouguereau was probably the apex of simulating a photographic style image in the history of art.

What??

More like, photography has been trying and failing to simulate Bouguereau's realistic style for 150 years. But, of course, a camera is but a dumb machine. Whereas Bouguereau was a poet. So the endeavor was doomed from the start

He painstakingly removed any trace of a human brush stroke from his images and perfected the replication of human flesh.

That you can't appreciate his poetry because he blends between intervals, and draws and idealizes like an angel, doesn't mean the intervals and tropes aren't there. It's your insensitivity to the intense subtlety of what he is doing that is the problem. Your critique of his art is actually a critique of your own erroneous beliefs about his work, which you have swapped in for the reality.

He carefully purged the human opinions that accurate painters such as Rockwell or Leyendecker or Sargent contributed.

No. Look closer. He's subtler than your current state of appreciation.

I think it's a good thing that the fractured surfaces of impressionism and expressionism in the context of realistic art tell the viewer "I'm making art here!" But the ease of noticing the fractured surfaces, and the popularity of that mode, seems also to have confused and de-educated many viewers when they returned to view work that is not obviously scaled.

If you don't like Bouguereau, that's fine. I'm not his biggest fan either. But to dismiss him as "photorealistic" and "unopinionated" - almost as if he was an apoetic non-artist - is really an uneducated take. He's an actual master.

Richard said...

I’d refer to James Gurneys post here:
“ This photo shows the same scene that we saw in the engraving. When you see the reality of the model, you realize how much Bouguereau was enhancing or 'plussing' what he saw to match his idealized vision of the world.”

http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2018/02/bouguereau-in-his-studio.html?m=1

David Apatoff said...

From my cell phone:

Perhaps I haven’t been clear about the point I’m trying to make. I actually like Bouguereau, and I would much rather hang one of his nudes on my wall than a nude by Vargas.

My point was to compare Bouguereau with Briggs, two very different painters. If Briggs tries to capture a figure in black and white, using the crudest possible tool, the rough line of a thick litho crayon, we should all recognize that he is on a radically different mission than a salon painter who uses the cumulative learning of 400 years of oil painting, including polishing, glazing, grinding and refining, to create the most lifelike, photographic image that any artist had ever produced up until that time. That’s fine with me, both missions can be valid. But if you’re going to object that you can still see the photographic aesthetic behind the crayon drawing, then I think we should also be honest about the photographic aesthetic in front of the oil painting. In my view, Bouguereau’s work is inspired by photographic verisimilitude; I’ll be impressed if anyone can name another artist prior to Bouguereau who more successfully created a lifelike two dimensional version of human skin or form. In later years his rivals would be Duane Hanson and Ron Mueck.

“But wait,” I hear people object, “you fail to appreciate that Bouguereau has idealized the female form. He is no photorealist.” I recognize that Bouguereau’s women have no cellulite or pubic hair, but I don’t view this as a very high level of idealization. It seems to me to be the result you’d get if you ran a photograph through the Facetune2 App which removes the acne, brightens the eyes and straightens the teeth on your selfie. As an act of idealization I’m not sure I’d put his pictures in the same league with Ingres or George Petty.

The point I was trying to make is that both Briggs and Bouguereau have the taint of photography, one as a starting point and the other as an end goal. I’m not bothered by either taint, I think both artists make contributions of merit. It seems to me that those who do find Briggs’ crayon line too photographic in nature must, to be symmetrical, take an equally tough look at Bouguereau’s lightly perfumed version of hyper realism.

Laurence John said...

David: "But if you’re going to object that you can still see the photographic aesthetic behind the crayon drawing, then I think we should also be honest about the photographic aesthetic in front of the oil painting"

I don't see Bouguereau as belonging to the same group i suggested above as being a 'middle ground' between photography and painting (Parrish, Rockwell, Briggs, Fuchs etc) because his work doesn't produce the same feeling of looking at a hybrid medium, where the photographic base is evident. Do you know of any evidence that he used photographs ?

I agree that he was going for a type of 'hyper realism' if you want to use that term, but his work lacks the objective realism of the camera's eye, due to the fact that he's doing his own brand of re-modelling and idealising, and wasn't (as far as I know) working from photo reference.

It's the obviousness of the photo-ref-reliance which gives rise to the 'photographic' aesthetic / feel, rather than the 'hyper real' finish (which is why it's evident even in a sketchy line drawing such as the Briggs).

Richard said...

I’ll be impressed if anyone can name another artist prior to Bouguereau who more successfully created a lifelike two dimensional version of human skin or form

I'm not seeing what you're seeing, his skin and form don't strike me as significantly different from works by Van Eyck or his anonymous followers 650 years earlier.

Bouguereau's work is in this sense 'normal'.

I think we should also be honest about the photographic aesthetic in front of the oil painting. In my view, Bouguereau’s work is inspired by photographic verisimilitude;

Bouguereau isn't replicating the finish of a photograph. Like Ingres before him, and the Dutch masters before that, he's replicating the sensation of human vision itself.

There is nothing about Bouguereau's work that feels in any way photographic or mechanically replicated. It's all been synthesized through the artist's understanding of reality. The fuel of human vision has been entirely converted by the flame of imagination and intention into a statement of poetry. Every inch of his canvas's are coated in the substance "mind".

By contrast, Brigg's pictures lack mind entirely. They are mechanical artifice, with a layer of stylistic contrivance overtop. This stylistic contrivance is intended to replicate the sensation of mind, but without requiring any mind to create. This is why they stink and are such a bore to look at.

"Mind" is what makes art art. It's the content. Briggs work lacks that content entirely. Bouguereau's work is rife with that content.

kev ferrara said...

Agree with Laurence and Richard.

When Renoir was finally fitted with eyeglasses to correct an astigmatism, he exclaimed "Good God! I see like Bouguereau!" He pointedly did not say "I see like a photograph."

I do worry that an enormous number of people were so saturated in print culture growing up that they actually think life looks like photography.

Even if one couldn't tell that Bouguereau's work was full of thought, done from life, and according to the lights of his own personal taste (in a very long tradition of idealistic realists), there are more than enough photos and anecdotes that reveal him painting directly from the model to put the accusations to rest.

This is starting to feel like talking to the camera obscura people. If an artist is well trained and can draw and paint from the model with ease, and furthermore has memorized anatomy and understands lighting and color, using a clunky glass plate to create a flat, dumb, small, monochrome facsimile of the model is surely not a top studio priority.

Laurence John said...

David: "I’ll be impressed if anyone can name another artist prior to Bouguereau who more successfully created a lifelike two dimensional version of human skin or form"

A couple of Caravaggio's have a very realistic look. Both from 1601:

https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/der-ungl%C3%A4ubige-thomas-michelangelo-merisi-named-caravaggio/OAEjjQkNdRL9sg

and this one:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d9/Crucifixion_of_Saint_Peter-Caravaggio_%28c.1600%29.jpg

and this by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/22/An_Experiment_on_a_Bird_in_an_Air_Pump_by_Joseph_Wright_of_Derby%2C_1768.jpg

David Apatoff said...

Last from my cell phone:

While they aren’t my views, I certainly agree that these opinions are within the zone of reasonableness.

I have absolutely no evidence that Bouguereau worked from photographs, just as I have no evidence that Vermeer worked from optical devices, but more importantly I wouldn’t think any more or less of him if he did. I have an academic curiosity to know how he did what he did, but that’s not the measure of his worth as an artist. In that same vein, I’d say the “mind” that pervades Bouguereau’s realism is the “mind” that says, “I sure do like pretty fantasies of naked girls, and I’ll bet my wealthy clients do too.” I don’t think any less of Bouguereau for that either. I like those fantasies too.

I don’t disagree that Bouguereau is “replicating the sensation of human vision itself,” just as the camera lens does, hence my view of their shared vision. To me, Van Eyck’s figures look like space creatures compared to Bouguereau’s, and while Caravaggio’s figures are closer, their golden glow and deep shadows make them qualitatively very different in my eyes. I’d say Paul Delaroche’s painting, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey is about as close as I’ve seen to Bouguereau’s vision and I find Delaroche’s to be a superior painting. I’m sure others will disagree.

I confess that the qualities of drawing that I enjoy most are often the qualities that most distinguish it from academy painting: directness, spontaneity, economy, purity, open endedness, suggestiveness, experimentation, boldness, immediacy. I love the forced binary prioritization as opposed to the endless compromises of glazes. Sometimes, not always. But it’s part of what I like in the drawings of Briggs. I didn’t intend this to become a horse race between Briggs and Bouguereau, only to offer what I see as linkage in the DNA between two radically different art forms.

In Katharine Stout’s book, Contemporary Drawing, she makes the interesting argument that drawing has been the mechanism for strengthening the gene pool of fine art by contaminating it. She points to comics, advertising, graphic arts, architecture, even math and visual analysis as developing new vocabularies for fine art. Maybe I’m willing to forgive some of the tackiness you seem to find because I love that infusion of new energy so much.



Laurence John said...

David,

You seem to be making the argument that if Bouguereau was on a mission for a kind of painterly 'photorealism' or 'hyper realism' then working from photo ref is the next logical step. I suppose Rockwell would therefore be the heir to Bouguereau, since he went that next step and took photographs for reference material, but still worked in paint.

I can't really argue with that, especially since I've argued before that, at a certain point - in pursuit of 'realism' - you might as well just switch to film making, since you have movement and sound too. Incidentally, I would love to see what Rockwell would have made as a film maker. There's a tantalising hint in the 'Behind the Camera' book, which shows the only photograph Rockwell ever created for use as an advert (for Kodak)... it's very Jacques Tati or Wes Anderson, with the amount of things going on within the widescreen frame.

The question for me is why bother painting at all, if all you do as an artist is set up photo-shoots and then render the image into another medium such as pencil or paint ?

Rockwell, for me, does enough (at least in his best work) with the realisation of the final painting to justify the means, and transcend the photo ref.

Is it enough to do as Briggs did - render a photo into a tasteful line drawing - or is that a facile exercise ?

Laurence John said...

David: "I didn’t intend this to become a horse race between Briggs and Bouguereau, only to offer what I see as linkage in the DNA between two radically different art forms."

I think the photo-ref debate will run and run, because people are obviously troubled by it.

This type of work is that kind that really makes me despair, and there's a lot of it about today by people who think of themselves as 'painters'...

https://pontonegallery.com/artists/yigal-ozeri/works/

(I have nothing personal against this particular artist. He's just one of thousands I could have picked as an example).

chris bennett said...

And then there's Holbein, Rembrandt (especially when cleaned), Vermeer...

So you reply; 'None of them quite look like Bouguereau or for instance, Jeremy Mann. Surely the surface look of photography has its influence on them, which would not have been an ingredient in the cultural diet of those artists living before its invention'.

Yes. But there is a 'look' to any era of painting which is subliminally reflective of the fashions, designs and decorative tropes of its time, all of which are ultimately predicated on its technologies. And this goes for how oil paint is used as well as pushing pixels around. In other words; the infrastructure and visual information of our own time will consciously and unconsciously influence the means by which we sing. To take the case of music: the microphone's ability to transmit the intimate qualities of the mouth and vocal chamber made possible the arrival of Frank Sinatra upon the stage, and the development of electrical synthetic effects filters made possible the extension in sonic range, complexity and timbre of the amplified guitar and keyboard, which in turn gave rise to small groups of musicians being able to play large venues and even stadiums. Welcome on The Beatles and beyond. But it is a mistake to think that any of these surface changes affect the fundamental nature of how and why music, or visual art, works upon us. And because of this Bouguereau's worth is in his song, not the instrument.

kev ferrara said...

I have absolutely no evidence that Bouguereau worked from photographs....

Moreover, there was no "photographic style" during the bulk of the era in which Bouguereau worked. Photographs were mostly rare and crappy; a kind of journalistic novelty. It took until the mid 1890s for the dull and grainy camera shots to become a regular aspect of magazines still dominated by illustration.

The photographic takeover of the western imagination only really began with the explosion of movie-going in the 1920s. Followed by the rise of the photo-based magazines of the 1930s, particularly Time and Life. Then TV news and magazine culture in the 60s.

So asserting that "Bouguereau was probably the apex of simulating a photographic style image in the history of art" - when his career began in the 1850s, is simply an ahistorical claim.

kev ferrara said...

I’d say the “mind” that pervades Bouguereau’s realism is the “mind” that says, “I sure do like pretty fantasies of naked girls, and I’ll bet my wealthy clients do too.”

I think this is your most profound blind spot in this whole discussion. That you can't detect the difference between aesthetic realism versus photographic realism - and you can't see that blind spot because of that blind spot.

This inability or insensitivity causes you to miss the core of the question. The crucial difference between a picture having a kind of internal consciousness and a picture having a mechanical nullity at its core is seemingly invisible to you.

Without this sensitivity, to continue in the discussion one must surely glance off the core issues toward what one finds easily discernable; namely the general style of a painting, the blatant narrative aspects including the so-called 'subject', and one's favored intellection and research about those things.

Truly, one cannot understand this stuff from this fan's perspective. Even if that fandom is well-researched and erudite and scholarly. Aesthetics can only be understood experientially.

I wouldn’t think any more or less of him if he did (use photography).

Since you seem to be admitting (over and over again) that you can't detect the lack of consciousness or presence of mind in photographs - the soul-void of the mechanical capture - there would naturally be no stigma for you when and where photographic representation attempts to moonlight as suggestive poetic art. Or where an over-reliance on photographic representation anaesthetizes a purported work of art at its core.

This is like someone without a functioning olfactory sense saying there is no discernable difference between the scent of bakery and the scent of a cesspool. So therefore anybody who asserts that living near a bakery is any different than living near a cesspool is simply making things up.