Showing posts from April, 2005


Drawings have always been a more intimate measure of an artist's greatness than paintings. In the words of Roberta Smith, "drawings are a direct extension of an artist's signature and very nervous system." Measure the drawings of illustrators and cartoonists by the same standards you would apply to the old masters, and I promise you some of them come out very well indeed. Here are samples of lovely drawings that were probably worth a closer look than ones you gave them while flipping through your newspaper or magazine:


Bernie Fuchs

Fuchs detail

Noel Sickles

Arthur Szyk

Frank Frazetta


Great artists, writers and cultural leaders are often able to discern real quality in the popular arts. Some are not even afraid to talk about it:

Vincent Van Gogh: Before he became a painter, Van Gogh aspired to be a magazine illustrator. He praised the quality of illustrations in magazines such as Graphic, Illustrated London News, L'Illustration, and Harper's Weekly, and clipped out their drawings, which he pasted in portfolios for further study. UCLA art professor Albert Boime quotes Van Gogh's correspondence on this topic: "[Van Gogh] declared: 'I would like to go to London with portfolio and visit the editors and managers of the illustrated journals-also get information about the different processes-a double-page spread allows for broader style.' That he fully intended to specialize in magazine illustration is seen in his hopeful observation that magazine editors would welcome 'somebody who considers making illustrations his specialty.'"



Once upon a time, artists found steady employment working for Popes and kings. From the cave paintings at Lascaux to the temple paintings at Karnak, from the Sistine Chapel to the palace at Versailles, the best artists could always feed their families creating artwork for the church or the state. Then, one by one, kings and pharoahs and Popes and Dukes stopped commissioning new art. Corporations emerged as the new centers of economic power. They also became the primary purchasers of art.

Artists were forced to adapt to the new economic realities. There were fewer jobs illustrating the bible and more jobs illustrating women's magazines. The same gifted artists who once might have been commissioned to record historic battles found work painting for corn flake companies and car manufacturers. Although the sponsors and the subject matter both changed, the quality of the artwork did not. Throughout the 20th century, talented artists created drawings, paintings and other objects of great…