Wednesday, July 26, 2023


I just returned from San Diego Comic-Con, the happiest place on earth, with the flash mob of  dancing Cap'n Crunches still ringing in my ears.

Celebrating a change in the Cap'n's uniform, adding a stripe which promotes him from Commander to Cap'n.

Every year Comic-Con is a petri dish of emerging technologies, raw capitalism, suppositious art, trinket peddlers, cosplay, and new legal developments.  For those with patience and curiosity, there are nuggets of excellence and strength hiding around every corner.

For me, one of the real delights was the bunny rabbit at the bottom of this cartoon by Sullivant:

Opossum to rabbit: "I had a drink and it went to my head."
Image courtesy of Taraba Illustration Art

Sullivant drew the bunny the hard way: we are looking down, from behind, with the rabbit's head tilted back.

Note Sullivant's foreshortening of those ears

The artist's honest struggle is there for all to witness; look at how he gouged that paper.  Look at those lovely brush marks.

One of the major topics of conversation at Comic-Con was the impact of AI.  Today the machine can do the struggling for us, quickly and invisibly.  No more chewed up paper.  No human sweat and strain unless the machine is instructed to simulate it.  The next generation of artists will be trained in "prompts" and will be able to generate a hundred images of a bunny from any angle, "in the style of Sullivant." 

As you can imagine, the artists exhibiting at Comic-Con were uniformly unhappy about what AI portends for traditional art.  They sold T shirts to make the point.

It's not clear how effective this T shirt campaign will be in stemming the tide of AI.  Artists argue that AI "steals" images but computer scientists and lawyers at Comic-Con say "no," AI does not copy or steal in any sense cognizable under copyright law.  AI learns from pre-existing images as traditional artists do. 

Lots of changes are underfoot.  Evolutionary transformations are taking place.  But regardless of marketing considerations, the strength of good drawing remains immutable.  I often quote Ralph Waldo Emerson here:  "Excellence is the new forever." 

Wednesday, July 12, 2023


 Cartoonist Stan Drake had a gift for drawing from photographs.  He easily turned photos into elegant line.

But a photograph couldn't show him how to draw those invisible motion lines.  Look how awkwardly Drake expressed movement in this next picture.  

Drake's motion lines are contradicted by the
hair hanging flat and other body language 

Similarly, look how badly Al Hirschfeld-- a talented artist in other respects-- draws the path of this punch:

Contrast Hirschfeld's motion line with the line of Leonard Starr, who understood the arc of an arm:

Motion lines expose many an artist who doesn't know anatomy.  A photograph can't help you map invisible lines. 

Capturing movement with a static drawing requires an artist to imply beyond what is visible.  To show what has taken place before or after the recorded instant,  it helps to understand the distribution of body weight and support, balance and counterbalance, the function of muscle and bone, the flow of clothing and hair.
Notice how there's no weight behind this punch.

Photo reference is a great tool for artists who have already paid their dues but if you haven't, it leaves you exposed when it comes to the invisible parts of drawing. 

Monday, July 03, 2023


More than any other profession, art criticism creates temptations to say stupid things.  It's the duty of every critic to resist those temptations.

That was my thought after reading Blake Gopnik's silly review in the New York Times of the current J.C. Leyendecker exhibition in New York.  

People have long understood that Leyendecker was gay, and that his sentiments emerged in his paintings of dashing and muscular men. But in recent years, there has been an effort to abscond with Leyendecker's legacy, injecting gay connotations into every brush stroke, and transforming the artist into a clandestine warrior for gay rights, while neglecting his broader array of artistic talents that produced 322 brilliant covers on a wide variety of subjects for The Saturday Evening Post.  

As far as I can tell, this unfortunate trend began in 2008 in the poorly researched book, J.C. Leyendecker by Judy Goffman Cutler and Laurence Cutler.  It was certainly appropriate for those authors to note that Charles Beach, Leyendecker's model for the famed Arrow man, "was not only a homosexual but a kept man, the live-in lover of the famed artist who thrust himself into such an exalted status," but 200 pages later the book's fixation on "thrusting" continued unabated. We were still reading that "Charles Beach and Joe Leyendecker are held up as examples of monogamy among the gay community, so often criticized for promiscuity," or that "Charles' Dorian Gray image never [ages] in Joe's eyes nor in ours either" or that "members of the gay community [remember Leyendecker] for icons of masculinity and sensitivity." The authors inform us (without support) that Leyendecker was sending out "subliminal" homoerotic messages. 

That book seems to have been the springboard for the new narrow focus in the show, “Under Cover: J.C. Leyendecker and American Masculinity,” at the New York Historical Society, and also in Gopnik's review of the show. 

In 2010 Gopnik penned a puerile attack on Norman Rockwell's art because Rockwell's work "offended" Gopnik.  He wrote, "I can't stand the view of America that he presents, which I feel insults a huge number of us non-mainstream folks."  If Rockwell was insufficiently gay for Gopnik's taste, Leyendecker passes the test because Gopnik fantasizes Leyendecker to be "a gay fifth column into American culture, undermining the majority’s straight erotics" with "a defiant message hidden beneath" and "reveling in [his art's] secret subversion."  Gopnik even sees Leyendecker as "preparation for the uprising that came in 1969 outside the Stonewall Inn."

Turning back for another gratuitous swipe at Rockwell, Gopnik falsely implies that Rockwell was hostile to Leyendecker's sexual orientation: 
Norman Rockwell, 20 years younger than Leyendecker and eventually his neighbor, writes quite brutally in his memoir about how Beach had “insinuated” himself into Leyendecker’s life and especially about the duo’s social withdrawal once he had.
If Gopnik had bothered to read Rockwell's autobiography, he would've learned that Rockwell deeply admired Leyendecker and wrote about him with great affection and concern.

Yes, Leyendecker painted beautiful men who reflected a gay aesthetic.  He also painted beautiful women, beautiful children, beautiful fabric, beautiful metal surfaces and even beautiful elephants. You'd never know it from Gopnik's review.  And that brings me to my primary gripe:  Leyendecker painted major pictures of romantic heterosexual scenes, domestic scenes, parenting scenes and other types of images demonstrating diverse skills. 

But what image does Gopnik select for his review?  The following mediocre, unrepresentative painting, because Gopnik is able to spin it into a masturbatory fantasy:

Gopnik writes:
There’s one case where the subversion was barely hidden at all: In an ad for Ivory Soap, the shadow Leyendecker placed on his model’s crotch seems clearly to hint at an erection, according to an exhibition wall text. You can’t unsee it once it gets pointed out.
Leyendecker exhibitions are too few and far between to be wasted on such nonsense.  Leyendecker was a remarkable talent and the New York Times owes him better coverage than Gopnik monopolizing the conversation with his personal fetishes.  Are there no copy editors left?