Monday, December 13, 2010

Arts and Crafts

Rockwell speaks to me.

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about what elevates something from the pedestrian to the sublime. What is the difference between something that is merely well crafted and entertaining, and something that is ART?

            This is not an area of study that rests easily within the limited space of my diminutive brain-pan.

Picasso does not.
            It doesn’t help that my tastes run more toward the popular and less toward that which is traditionally, or generally, considered art. The truth is, whatever the unique thread of creative logic that lead him there, I will never appreciate the work of Pablo Picasso as much as the work of Norman Rockwell. I will never prefer the writing of Charles Dickens to that of Orson Scott Card.

            I know. What can I say? I’m a rube.

            Don’t get me wrong, I have read, absorbed and even enjoyed much of the work of Dickens, and have come to appreciate, on an intellectual, and visceral level, the paintings of Picasso. But, ultimately they simply don’t engage me in the same way. There are dozens of mitigating factors, of course. Picasso’s style is challenging and Dickens’s writing is a somewhat dated product of its era.

Weak excuses, I suppose.

I certainly value what more esoteric artists have added to the world, but a Frank Frazetta painting or good pulp adventure yarn still engages me more thoroughly.


            Maybe I’m just a farm boy, whose taste is in his mouth.

            Or maybe I’m a simpleton whose taste is in his ass.

            Both assertions might be true.

            However, there is one thing I know for certain. I don’t appreciate anything that doesn’t stem from a deep understanding of the craft. By craft, I mean the nuts and bolts of the medium.

A short history of Picasso's artistic development
displays his early mastery of the craft.
In painting, that’s anatomy, perspective, color, composition, and other fundamentals. In Picasso’s case, he was rigorously trained in these fundamentals, and then made an intellectual and creative choice to eschew those basics. That I can appreciate. Certain other individuals, who have been widely heralded as great artists, lack these skills completely.

That I cannot abide.

This shows no understanding
 of craft whatsoever.

I can see the great skill and craft utilized by comic book artist Dave Stevens as readily as I can see it in the work of Rembrandt, and I can fully appreciate both.

But, Dave transports me away from the mundane, and I guess that’s the key.

Maybe the question is why I need to be transported away. Why do I crave escapism more than intellectual or aesthetic stimulation?

Perhaps it stems from my frustration and disillusionment with the world and my life as it is, or perhaps from an unfulfilled adolescent need for the magical, I don’t know. But whether it’s little “a” art, or big “A” art, you’d better have your craft figured out, or I will dismiss you as unworthy.

And this is where I find myself. Working on my own crafts of writing and drawing, and trying, perhaps in futility, to master and transcend those fundamentals, whatever my subject matter.

Wish me luck.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. (Sorry about the deletion - blogspot doesn't allow me to edit comments.)

    I didn't know you had a blog - cool.

    I started to understand - if not appreciate - abstract art more when I realized that it is (often) part of a discussion of what the essence of art is - how does the human eye or brain determine what colours, shapes or compositions are better than others (whatever that means)? It's like the visual equivalent of jazz - I would appreciate both abstract art and jazz more if I knew more about painting or music.

    But, on the other hand, I would state that something is art (for me) if I think it is - and other people are entitled to do likewise. Different people are transported away from the mundane by different things. So if Rockwell speaks to you more than Picasso does (or vice versa), it's not a wrong choice. There are no wrong choices (except liking "My Sharona" - that is wrong :-)).

    I would state, though, that it's possible for an artist to master his or her craft and yet not have anything to say, and for an artist to have limited skills yet say a whole lot. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were far more accomplished musicians than The Ramones, but the latter produced much better music (though this may only be my opinion).

    You might find this talk on modern art interesting:

    I look forward to reading the rest of your blog.

  3. There's an interesting pair of artists I saw a number of years ago, at an exhibition of 17th century French Genre painting. Both were admitted to the Acadamie Francaise (the recognized body of the French hoi paloi, artistically speaking). I'm afraid I forgot both their names.

    One was a well known and popular painter of Morality Paintings - works depicting moral lessons. He came from aristocracy and was a favourite of nobility. When he applied to the Acadamie, he decided that he would present historical works, then considered the highest form.

    But the acadamie did not accept his histories, preferring instead to accept the Genre work he was known for, labeling him forever as a Genre painter. He was outraged. He railed against the acadamie, behaved badly enough to be rejected by polite society, and drove himself mad.

    The other artist was a simple artisan's son who painted common domestic scenes. He rose out of nowhere, essentially, doing good Genre work, and submitted and was accepted as such by the acadamie. He was widely celebrated for his work, and was hailed as one of the best Genre artists in France. He married well and lived a happy and successful life.

    So what's my point in all this? Art doesn't need pretense to be good, I suppose.

    Don't over-think it, Sam. Remember that gag in Weekend at Bernie's with the body hitting the bell buoys? Where they hit his head and it went Ding?

    Art, I tells ya.

    BTW, I'm diggin the blogs.

  4. As an addendum, I found the two guys.

    It's a pity they're not closer contemporaries. The two stories happening at the same time would make a great screenplay.