Saturday, January 29, 2011

More Thoughts on Illustration and Fine Art

John William Waterhouse, like many of his peers, took inspiration from literary sources.  His painting
The Lady of Shallot was based upon the poem of the same name by Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson.
 Though not literally an illustration, Waterhouse's is still a visual representation of an author's words.

When writing the previous article, Rockwell Draws a Crowd, in the back of my mind, I had the theory of art evolution as proposed by Dennis Nolan, an associate professor of art at the University of Hartford.  Nolan's opinion, which I first learned about through James Gurney, is unlike that traditionally offered in today's art schools.  A talented illustrator in his own right, Nolan likely felt disenfranchised by the Art establishment's portrayal of the art timeline- where was illustration's place in art history?  And for that matter, where was animation?  Comics?  The proposal Nolan has put forth is that the progression of art from Impressionism to Modern Art was not the sole branch on the family tree which descended from Academic Art.  In Nolan's view, illustration, animation, and comics are each additional branches of art which carried on the tradition of realist art.

Nolan's illustrated view of art history from the Gurney Journey blog.

For me, having a background in illustration, Nolan's theory has much appeal.  A large motivating factor for me studying illustration in college was my love of representational art;  illustration at the time seemed like the only outlet for realist artists seeking an income, so it was the area to which I gravitated.  Not surprisingly, now that representational art is re-gaining popularity, many of the field's most successful artists have had extensive backgrounds in illustration.  The transition from Academic Art to illustration, and now back to representational gallery work seems like a natural progression.

Art by Dennis Nolan

While writing the Rockwell article, I was also reminded of a comment made by one of my professors in college.  I was in an art history lecture where the teacher, who was also the head of the painting department, encountered a palpable resentment for illustration from the painting students in the class.  Though he did not propose to us a theory like Nolan's, which would have included both disciplines in the lecture hall, he did still calm the crowd and bring to the fine art students a kinder view of the few commercial artists present.  "You painting students act like the illustration students are prostituting themselves when they sell their art," he began.  "Let's face it- we all want to sell our art, even if it is just to buy more paint.  We all paint to sell."

To read more about Dennis Nolan's theory of the art timeline, visit James Gurney's post, Art History: A Fresh View, on the Gurney Journey blog.


Johan Derycke said...

Hm... we all paint to sell... or ... we all sell to paint
Those are 2 different things, no?
Not disagreeing with you though.

Deborah Elmquist said...

Another way of thinking about this issue--Do we paint to make beautiful art or do we paint to make a political/social statement or to shock the public? Illustration for the most part, falls in the former category. Check out Scott Burdick's youtube video, The Banishment of Beauty.


I never understood the idea that somehow writing a grant and begging for money (because thats what most non-objective contemporary artists do)is some how more noble than selling your work. Of course, they are the first to point out in any argument how much someone has paid for a work in the marketplace.

Brandy Agun said...

I think way too much hullabuloo is made making a distinction between illustration and fine art. Good art is good art. And to survive financially so we can continue to make art at all, we must somehow acquire resources by selling and/or begging for grant money.

Paul Corfield said...

I paint to sell and I sell to paint so Johan they are the same.
Good post btw, all art is interwoven.

Kristin Forbes-Mullane said...

lets just all paint and be happy and hopefully make a little money along the way. (Its all art to me!)

Aubrey Studebaker said...

I have long felt that illustrators & comic book artists are some of the MOST talented people out there. I think many artists take their work too seriously. We should be aloud to laugh. We should be aloud to communicate stories through pictures. And that should be JUST as respected as modern art.

James Gurney said...

Thanks for mentioning Nolan's theory. I agree with Joseph Pennell. “All art is illustration.” The old masters were telling the story of Christianity.

Today’s artists tell the story of our times in a different way, usually influenced in some way by the language of film and comics.

Landscape and portrait painters are usually less concerned with story, of course. The lack of story doesn’t make them more fine, and certainly not less commercial. In my experience, having dabbled in every one of these fields (except maybe comics), gallery art can be the most commercial in the sense that the artist is constantly reminded of what is selling and what is not. Maybe others are purer in heart than I am, but I found the pressure to paint what the customer wants to be very hard to ignore.

In my own experience, historical illustration for magazines is the closest to the “beaux arts” of the past, because it is the most free from commercial considerations: Magazine sales don’t revolve around any individual painting and such thoughts never enter your head.

It should also be said that commercial pressures can often be a very good stimulus for great art, as it was for Mozart and Verdi.

Jeff Hayes said...

My personal take on Rockwell is that he's simply an heir to the genre painting tradition; it's pretty easy to draw a straight line from Jan Steen to Norman Rockwell.

John said...

Seems to me that once art developed beyond tribal traditions, and became a profession, it was illustration. Illustration for the nobility or their religion. It was commercial art paid for by the Pharaoh,the Pope,the King, etc.
After the French Revolution artists began painting on spec. with the hope someone would like and buy their work. That was the beginning of "fine Art." Today, business has replaced the nobility in commissioning "commercial" illustration for their product.