Saturday, 21 April 2012

GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY

In 1810 the great painter Francisco Goya was commissioned to paint a portrait of King Joseph Bonaparte.

Goya didn't like King Joseph, who Napoleon had placed on the Spanish throne by force, but Goya needed the money so he swallowed his pride and painted Joseph in a gold frame with adoring angels blowing trumpets and placing garlands to his glory.


Shortly after the painting was completed,  King Joseph was driven from Madrid.  Goya seized the opportunity to paint over his portrait of Joseph, replacing his face with the word, "Constitucion."

Unfortunately for Goya, the wheel of fortune turned once again and King Joseph returned to  power.  Joseph's portrait was hastily repainted.

The following year, Joseph was booted out of Spain for good, and Ferdinand VII returned to rule Spain.  Feeling more confident, Goya once again painted over the portrait with the word "Constitucion."

Unfortunately for Goya, Ferdinand VII annulled the Constitution the following year.  Now it was time to paint Ferdinand's face in the hallowed oval.

Goya was spared further revisions to his painting by dying in 1828, but that didn't stop later art directors from coming up with more improvements.  After Ferdinand died, the city of Madrid hired another artist to paint over the portrait of Ferdinand, replacing it with the words,  "Libro de la Constitucion."

That revision lasted almost 30 years until someone else decided that the painting should be modified to read "Dos de Mayo."  That's how it stands today.

I frequently hear from both gallery painters and illustrators that illustration is a lesser art form because illustrators lack the freedom of "fine" artists.  Famed illustrator Robert Weaver used to rant: 
Until the illustrator enjoys complete independence from outside pressure and direction, complete responsibility for his own work, and complete freedom to to do whatever he deems fit-- all necessaries in the making of art-- then illustration cannot be art but only a branch of advertising.
Someday we can debate whether "complete freedom to do whatever [an artist] deems fit" is "necessary" or even helpful for making art.

Today,  I just want to say that those who argue commercial illustration is inferior to fine art need to come up with a better reason than that illustrators must answer to clients.