Showing posts from February, 2006


Fans of Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman and other popular graphic novelists patiently explained to me last week that I am wrong to expect "slick, commercial" design in art that deals with higher truths about alienation and the tortured soul of the artist. Technical skill may be important for commercial art used to sell Coca-Cola, but is less relevant to today's more honest and personal artwork, with its tragic or subversive messages.

I admit it's difficult to criticize Maus or Fun Home merely because the authors do not draw well. But personally, I don't think the epithet "commercial" is a useful tool when seeking out quality art. Many bad pictures of sincere, personal subjects can be found hanging in art museums. Many brilliant pictures of dishwashing detergent can be found in magazine ads. As far as I know, nobody has yet established a connection between purity of motive and quality of picture.

It may be sad that, as Thoreau remarked, "most men lead…


John Ciardi once said, “Modern art is what happens when painters stop looking at girls and persuade themselves they have a better idea.” Since we've been rambling for the last few weeks about modern art trends, I thinks it makes sense to heed Ciardi's advice and spend a moment visiting the paintings of Erich Sokol, the gifted illustrator / cartoonist for Playboy magazine.

Sokol had a splendid sense of light, color and atmosphere. He was far more talented than traditional pin up artists such as Vargas, whose uninspired paintings now sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

Note the confidence with which Sokol handles the stripes of light on the beach in the following painting, or his treatment of the foliage in the background. Nothing is labored, and no unnecessary details.

Although the beautiful girl was always the centerpiece of the cartoon, if you look closely you will see that Sokol had more fun painting the male counterpart-- the fat doctor, the grizzled farmer, the blustering…


If you are located within a thousand miles of New York City, I urge you to make your way to the Dahesh Museum of Art ( to see a breathtaking collection of 90 original drawings and paintings from the golden age of illustration.

The exhibition is making a rare guest appearance from the private collection of Richard and Mary Kelly. If you don't take advantage of this oppportunity to see them, you may never get another chance.

The exhibit includes superb examples of art from all the greats-- Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Dean Cornwell, Norman Rockwell, J.C. Leyendecker and a host of others. It is impossible to walk through this exhibition, crowded with powerful, vivid images, and emerge without renewed respect for these talented, imaginative artists.

The exhibition continues through May 21, 2006. It is accompanied by an excellent catalog with numerous color reproductions.

In one of the catalog's essays, the chief curator of the Dahesh quotes a…




Was there ever a comic strip marriage as great as the marriage of Mary Perkins and Pete Fletcher in Leonard Starr's fabulous strip, On Stage? Mary and Pete had a wonderful relationship, wise and funny and profound. For Valentine's day, I am putting aside my customary rants about quality in art, and offering a bouquet of wonderful moments about day-to-day love from On Stage.

Just like in real life, Pete and Mary chatted in the bathroom getting ready for the day, or in the bedroom decompressing at night. Their dialogue had all the rhythm of an excellent, mature marriage-- something very rare in the medium. Those of you fortunate enough to be in long term relationships this Valentine's day will recognize the following situation where the wife wants to discuss a couple from their dinner party that evening and the husband wants to go to sleep.

Studying these comic strips as a young boy, I learned a lot about drawing-- about anatomy, design, how folds in cloth worked, etc.-- but I…


Based on the traffic from my last post ("Drawing With Your Brains") I thought it was important to spell out my views on Chris Ware's artwork:

I enjoy Chris Ware's work, but the highbrow critics currently fawning over him drive me absolutely bats. Ware is being offered up as one of the few "Masters of American Comics" (the title of the exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art) and is feted at the Whitney Museum and in the pages of the New Yorker. Here is what the LA museum catalog says about him:

"I don't think anyone in any visual medium is making art that is more elevating.""Ware is capable of creating beauty anywhere and always. Ware's work, in this way, is also quite like Bach's.""There's glory there. We look at his work and we think of words like sumptuous and exacting and rhapsodic.""His use of the page is unparalleled."
These people are morons.

50 years ago, there were a thousand anon…