Illustrators articulate what a photograph cannot. Using an array of techniques and styles, illustrators evoke stories and meaning in a variety of mediums, from editorial illustration in magazines and newspapers, to comics books, to activist media. And as their tasks over the years have become less informational and more expressive, their individual voice as artists becomes all the more critical and beautiful, revealing an exciting and awe-inspiring age of illustration.
Steven Guarnaccia, Professor, Illustration Program at The New School
Yuko Shimisu, yukoart.com
Sean Murphy, seangordonmurphy.com
Molly Crabapple, mollycrabapple.com
Artist Featured in the First Section:
ézanne had his first one-man show in 1895, at the age of fifty-six. His dealer, Ambroise Vollard, put the “Bathers at Rest” of 1876-7 in the window of his shop, safely knowing that it would cause offence. He also suggested that his client make a lithograph of the painting. Cézanne produced a sizeable work, known as “Large Bathers”, and heightened some of the impressions with watercolour. In 1905, Picasso bought one and took it off to his studio. Two years later, its secrets fed into “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”. Cézanne’s influence on Georges Braque was just as clear, and openly admitted. “The discovery of his work overturned everything”, Braque said in old age. “I had to rethink everything. There was a battle to be fought against much of what we knew, what we had tended to respect, admire, or love. In Cézanne’s works we should see not only a new pictorial construction but also - too often forgotten - a new moral suggestion of space.”
Cézanne was an obscure figure even when famous; he was secretive, frugal, unacquisitive; he would often go missing for weeks on end
Artists are greedy to learn and art is self-devouring; the handover from the nineteenth to the twentieth century was swiftly done. As was the handover from one kind of artist to another. Cézanne was an obscure figure even when famous; he was secretive, frugal, unacquisitive; he would often go missing for weeks on end; his emotional life, such as it was, remained deeply private and protected; and he had no interest in what the world called success. Braque was a dandy with a chauffeur; while Picasso single-handedly embodied the twentieth century’s ideal of an artist - public, political, rich, successful in all the meanings of the word, camera-loving and concupiscent. And if Cézanne might have thought Picasso’s life vulgar - in the sense that it detracted from the time, and the human integrity, required to make art - how austere and high-minded Picasso would come to seem compared to the most “successful” artists of the twenty-first century, flogging their endless versions of the same idea to know-nothing billionaires.
Going to an Art Gallery Is Like Going to Church- a Spiritual Experience. But What Makes a Painting Worthy of Veneration?
Art that appeals to us envelopes us and transports us. From a few moments to a lifetime, art can influence how we see or understand the world. Some art is representational, some art it is abstract and other expressions tell the story of faith or the history of a nation.
So what is it that makes art great? Is it the artist? Is it an emotional attachment to what we see? Is great art an expression of what is popular or is art great because the artists go into uncharted territory? Can it be both?
Art is a part of the human condition. Put a paper and crayon in front of a toddler and the child creates. Give another child a cardboard tube and music will be heard. We all have an instinct for art but only a few of us can claim to be recognized artists. How does that happen?
Like the child who finishes his drawing and runs to show mommy and beams with pride as mommy gushes over her child’s work, all artists seek approval. After all, that is the validation of their work. They take great pride in the accomplishment of course, but in the end it is about acceptance by others. Simply declaring oneself to be artist does not an artist make. It is in the acceptance of that art by others that declares the purveyor of that art, an artist.
Of course, one man’s art is another man’s trash, but does it matter? If the art moves you, should it matter? There are those who spend a lifetime surrounded by art and yearn for the masters, either old or new. There are others who have never really been exposed to art and yet are moved by lesser artists or by decorative art.
Does it matter?
I was in my teens when I first started to really look at paintings. Although I didn’t just look, I bathed in them, and I was perpetually teased by my friends for the tremendous length of time it took me to navigate an art gallery. This pleasure of looking and of being completely absorbed in painting has remained constant; whether ancient or modern, figurative or abstract, and whatever the style, I am prepared to give every work the chance to lure me in.
What is so compelling? When art was an adjunct of religion, its power was clear. But from the Renaissance on, painting, at least in the Western tradition, has preoccupied itself as intensely with secular as with overtly religious subject matter, or else with no subject at all. Yet when you are in the presence of an unequivocally great work of art, it seems to open a door to a realm of ideas and emotions not accessible through any other route. It’s a quality that goes far beyond prettiness or great skill, which on their own can numb and irritate, and it transcends the visceral excitement of paint, or the sorcery of summoning life onto canvas. Nor is it just the stories of power or desire, however literal or oblique, that binds us. There is some hankering after truth that drives us to look intently at pictures, some hunger of the spirit as much as the senses.
One way or another, I think, artists themselves have always known this. About 3-4,000 year ago, artists in Ancient Egypt began to use borders to mark off narrative scenes and decorative panels on tomb walls. The great vase-painters of Ancient Greece and the mosaicists of Ancient Rome also understood the power of the edge in transforming our relationship with an image. Rather than being continuous with our mundane world, as is sculpture for example, a framed painting, or bordered image, offers a world apart, transfigured from four down to two dimensions; a window onto an ideal space.
For those of us who love painting, this is the key to the medium’s hold over us. Be it traditional, figurative painting, or abstract; Byzantine, or cubist, and whether from the 12th century or the 21st, the core pleasure of any painting is that of moving into another world, where time is stilled and passage for the eye is swift and free. This is as true of the blue depths of a landscape by 16th century Flemish artist Joachim Patinir as it is the complexity of character, wrought in swirling oils, in a portrait by Frank Auerbach. Of course, a great deal of the experience of a painting is aesthetic and even intellectual - you enjoy the structure of forms, textures and colours and you respond to the story, or ideas, or emotions the artist is eager to communicate. You go to painting eager for a new vision of this world. But you also go very often with a hope, too, for a glimpse into another. Perhaps it is this illusion of a threshold that enables painting to so readily serve as a gateway to another psychological or even spiritual domain.
A new website, Creative Time Reports, gives artists from around the world a platform for commentary and analysis on current affairs. The site, which launched on October 11, is the latest initative by Creative Time, a 40-year-old nonprofit that commissions and presents socially conscious art projects.
“The impetus for doing this goes back to Creative Time’s mission that artists matter in society,” said Laura Raicovich, director of global initiatives at Creative Time. “Artists, when they work, delve really deeply into issues, so we thought, ‘Why not create a platform that kind provides a face for those ideas and perspectives to be shared with a broad public?’”
Creative Time Reports premiered with an article on the Spanish economic crisis by the photographer Liam Gillick, who interviewed locals in the Basque region and compared their struggles with his upbringing in Thatcherite Britain. Haitian writer Jean-Euphèle Milcé contributed a dispatch from the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, writing in his native French with an English translation and audio reading alongside it. An exiled Syrian photographer, Jaber Al Azmeh, wrote an op-ed railing against the portrayal of the Syrian conflict as a civil war rather than the revolution he believes it to be.
With horrors emerging from Syria’s civil war with numbing regularity, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that the uprising has not been waged only with guns.
A creative and resolutely non-violent form of opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s regime has taken hold in Syria, as the country’s artists respond to the crisis with newfound boldness and purpose, despite the clear dangers in doing so.
“Since the uprising, the artists have broken through the wall of fear in Syria and are thinking in another way,” said Syrian journalist Aram Tahhan, one of the curators of an exhibition on Syria’s creative dissent — Culture in Defiance — currently on display in Amsterdam.
“The uprising has changed the artists’ thinking about the task of art in society, how they can do something useful for society,” said Tahhan. “They have rewritten everything.”
Since the uprising, the artists have broken through the wall of fear in Syria
Syrian journalist Aram Tahhan, one of the curators of “Culture in Defiance”
With works spanning from painting to song to cartoons, puppet theater to graffiti to plays, the exhibition traces the way that Syrian artists have used a range of creative techniques within traditional and new media to create political, populist art that that both brooks “the red line” of dissent and engages the public in unprecedented ways.
The regime is well aware of the power of visual images and art to mobilize public opinion, says Tahhan. After all, the uprising began when schoolchildren in Daraa were arrested for painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of a school last year.
“From the beginning the regime has known it’s dangerous to use the image, to use art,” said Tahhan. “The camera is the equal of any weapon from the point of view of the regime.”
Campaign anthems are meant to meld a candidate’s substance with style, a big vision with soaring emotion. But increasingly, it seems, the artists behind the songs are demanding that candidates stop the music.
In the past two weeks, the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan has been bombarded with catcalls from groups that object to their songs being associated with the campaign.
Lead singer Dee Snider of Twisted Sister filed a cease-and-desist order this week that Ryan stop using “We’re Not Gonna Take It” at rallies. Last week, the Silversun Pickups lambasted Romney for playing their song “Panic Switch.” And Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine scoffed at Ryan’s statement that the band is one of his favorites.
“Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing,” Morello wrote in an opinion piece for Rolling Stone magazine, “because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades.
The dissonance has not always been limited to Republicans. During the 2008 campaign, President Obama was asked by singer Sam Moore, of the soul duo Sam & Dave, to stop using “Hold On, I’m Coming.”
Republicans, however, seem to run afoul of musicians more often, with 2008 producing a fanfare of run-ins.
Culture thrives on conflict and antagonism, not social harmony - a point made rather memorably by a certain Harry Lime, says philosopher John Gray.
“In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace - and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
When Orson Welles spoke these lines as Harry Lime, the charismatic villain at the heart of the film The Third Man, released in 1949, Welles can’t have realised how they would resonate ever after. Graham Greene, who wrote the screenplay, credited the lines to Welles, and it seems clear the actor added them when some extra dialogue was needed while the film was being shot.
The lines became lodged in the mind because they encapsulated an uncomfortable and at the same time compelling idea. His history may not have been factually accurate - the Swiss were a major military power in Renaissance times and the cuckoo clock originated some time later in Bavaria - but the idea that culture thrives in conditions of war and tyranny has an undeniable basis in fact.
We know that art can flourish under despots, but we’re reluctant to admit it - if creativity and tyranny can co-exist, the value of freedom seems diminished. Welles’s lines seem to express a dangerous truth, one we’d like to forget but can’t banish from our minds.
“My child could have done that!” Wrong - neuroaesthetics is starting to show us why abstract art can be so beguiling
STANDING in front of Jackson Pollock’s Summertime: Number 9A one day, I was struck by an unfamiliar feeling. What I once considered an ugly collection of random paint splatters now spoke to me as a joyous celebration of movement and energy, the bright yellow and blue bringing to mind a carefree laugh.
It was my road-to-Damascus moment - the first time a piece of abstract art had stirred my emotions. Like many people, I used to dismiss these works as a waste of time and energy. How could anyone find meaning in what looked like a collection of colourful splodges thrown haphazardly on a 5.5-metre-wide canvas? Yet here I was, in London’s Tate Modern gallery, moved by a Pollock.
Since then, I have come to appreciate the work of many more modern artists, who express varying levels of abstraction in their work, in particular the great Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee, and contemporary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. Even so, when I tried to explain my taste, I found myself lost for words. Why are we attracted to paintings and sculptures that seem to bear no relation to the physical world?
Little did I know that researchers have already started to address this question. By studying the brain’s responses to different paintings, they have been examining the way the mind perceives art. Although their work cannot yet explain the nuances of our tastes, it has highlighted some of the unique ways in which these masterpieces hijack the brain’s visual system.
The studies are part of an emerging discipline called neuroaesthetics, founded just over 10 years ago by Semir Zeki of University College London. The idea was to bring scientific objectivity to the study of art, in an attempt to find neurological bases for the techniques that artists have perfected over the years. It has already offered insights into many masterpieces. The blurred imagery of Impressionist paintings seems to tickle the brain’s amygdala, for instance, which is geared towards detecting threats in the fuzzy rings of our peripheral vision. Since the amygdala plays a crucial role in our feelings and emotions, that finding might explain why many people find these pieces so moving.
We’re great. No, we’re fantastic! Journalism has an important social and political purpose, our magazines and newspapers are necessary household accessories. Yes, we are truly great.
We are smart, too. Our universities are among the world’s best. For centuries, German was a prerequisite for scholarly inquiry. One had to speak the language to be able to penetrate the depths of philosophy, theology, or literature. Yes, we are truly smart.
Wrong! We used to be great, maybe. But any private or public body that is connected to the humanities now finds itself on the brink of collapse. Newspapers, magazines, universities, theaters, and even cities and communities require big corporate money to evade bankruptcy: Ad money, sponsorship deals, partnerships with global enterprises. That’s not intrinsically bad, but the (fortunate) fact that we can still finance the fruits of our labor through ad sales must not blind us to dire future prospects: We are not able to raise enough money from readers (or theater patrons) to satisfy one of the fundamental rules of sustainable business models: The ability to grow from within. Journalists or artists or scientists rarely generate enough revenue from the sale of their products to finance the growth of their operations. We lack a proper foundation for our business model.
You might respond that culture has always been dependent on subsidies and charitable inclinations. Universities are public bodies because education is considered a societal good and the responsibility of the state. By contrast, newspapers and magazines are private enterprises, and you might say that it is their private nature that somehow sets them apart. But universities, theaters and publishing houses are linked together as one oikos, one habitat. The ideas of the humanities have brought it into existence while media, culture, and science are the vehicles through which we search for answers, provide analyses, offer interpretational models and yield concrete applications for politics or in the economy. The different cogs of the cultural eco-system are inextricably linked, and all of them face the problem of insufficient financial resources.
The Posthumous Star: Finding Fame in Life Is Tough Enough. Finding It After Death Is a Different Beast Altogether
We know the story. Van Gogh died having only sold one painting during his lifetime. He was a mad creative genius — our favorite kind — cutting off his ear and giving it to a prostitute. Then, tragically, a suicide, perhaps bereft at the cold reception his work received, so that he never knew how the world would come to embrace him.
We know the story because after he died in obscurity, he quickly became the most overexposed painter in the world. In Philadelphia, where I find myself, the Museum of Art is currently exhibiting a special Van Gogh show, and they’ve installed a special Van Gogh gift shop to accompany it. There you can get “Starry Night” on a T-shirt. “Starry Night” on a coffee mug. “Starry Night” on a magnet. “Starry Night” on a cheap poster. “Starry Night” on an umbrella. I mean, why even bother spending $25 on the exhibit ticket when you can go into the gift shop and buy a Van Gogh of your very own for $8.99?
So what exactly happened in that gap between obscurity and ubiquity? The afterlife of the artist is a tricky thing. Some bestselling writers seem to be forgotten mere seconds after their deaths; others aren’t truly appreciated until decades into their posthumous career. Many artists and writers are subjects of campaigns to re-establish their place in the canon. A few take, but most fall back into oblivion until someone else takes up the cause 10 years later. In the last couple years alone, efforts have been waged to rehabilitate Stefan Zweig, Irmgard Keun, W. Somerset Maugham, Mina Loy, H.D., Heinrich Böll… but none of their sparks ever lit a conflagration.