Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dorne's Pragmatic Idealism

Here's Al Dorne, one of the founders of the Famous Artists School, and the illustrator with the most resplendent eyebrows.

His philosophy of teaching was a mix of pragmatism, idealism, and populism. "Commercial illustration means pictures you can understand," he said. He also believed the work of the illustrator was the highest possible calling. In the introduction to the Famous Artists Course, he said,
"As people divided into different tribes and developed their different dialects, art became more specifically and necessarily the one universal language. It was used to record events——to tell religious stories——basically to communicate ideas to all, regardless of their own spoken language. Today art is used commercially to convey definite messages to the people."

A large collection of Dorne's illustrations can be found (and downloaded) at Leif Peng's Flickr page on Dorne.


Unknown said...

Not related to the blog post, but just thought I should let you know I emailed you at jgurneyart (at) hope that's all ok.



Erik Bongers said...

I wonder if he was a highbrow or lowbrow artist...

James Gurney said...

Neither lowbrow or highbrow--he's definitely eyebrow.

Ian, that's fine.

Anonymous said...

In some artistic circles where I have been hanging out lately, moustaches has been very much in fashion ... but who needs one of those with eyebrows like that??

I found this post with more about Dorne on David Apatoff's Illustration Art:

According to him, Dorne "had all the credentials for life as a thug, yet the siren song of art was stronger and pulled him through."

Andrew said...

Goodness, those eyebrows beat out even Scorsese's bushy pair! Like two great, big woolly caterpillars.

I like a lot of the artists from the Famous Artist's Courses, mostly for their terrific storytelling capabilities. Looking through that Flickr set, what did Dorne work in? My guess is gouache...but it's a good chance I'm wrong and it could be oil.

Also, my captcha's english capabilities are getting much the word is "mount"!

Shane White said...

He drew the best hands...and his character acting was superb.


Joe Jusko said...

He was brilliant! I was lucky enough to find all three complete binders of The Famous Artist School courses at Powell's Books in Portland about 15 years ago. For $15 each!! SCORE! Honestly, the courses are worth ten times that.

Debra Cooper said...

I think Albert Dorne is a fantastic artist. My mother started to take the courses through Famous Artist's Course back in the 50's and I have her set of binders and another set bought at a sale somewhere. There are 3 binders (that I have, not sure how many binders there were), lessons 1-24. I also have some of my mothers drawings she sent in to be evaluated with instructor comments on them.
I've actually been contemplating going through all the courses by myself just to refresh my own skills this winter.

Thanks for the post and I truly enjoy your blog everyday.

Smurfswacker said...

To answer Drew, Dorne usually worked in India ink with ink wash or colored inks...though he worked in other popular 40s media. Dorne had a distinctively "comic booky" style, more oriented toward drawing than painting. If there'd been any money or respect in it, he'd have been a helluva comic book artist.

Random York said...

I really enjoy his work

Casey Klahn said...

I took the FAS course for talented young people back in the seventies, when I was about 13 or so.

One comment I have is that the picture of Dorne is very typical of the instructors posing at the drafting table - almost an iconic thing to me. Love that.

I remember Dong Kingman and Al Capp, and the big kahuna was Norman Rockwell - whose name was used to promote the courses, as in "Norman Rockwell's Famous Artist's ..." etc.

It was a fantastic and a formative thing in my life. Although commercial art was the holy grail in those days, the course approached art appreciation from a fine art history perspective. The first print in the books was a hinged high quality print of a van Gogh.

Thanks for highlighting Mr. Dorne.

George Ladas said...

Early in my career I was interviewed by Al Dorne for a teaching position at the Famous Artists School. He spent a lot of time talking about his rough childhood and how well he was then shirts worn once and then tossed. He sent me on the tour and extended his hand for a shake. I heard something pop in his fingers as we shook and his eyes widened. He said "Be sure to see me on your way out..!"
After the tour he offered me a job and grabbed my hand like a vice and we went at it in a stand off.
I was with JWT at the time and knew another sketch artist who shared a studio with Dorne for several years who told a number of wild tales of all-nighters.
BTW..He used gouache and inks and drew like a champ.

David Apatoff said...

Dorne was an inspiring story, both artistically and personally. He was once ubiquitous, but you don't hear much about him these days. I'm glad to see you reminding people about him. People who follow up on your suggestion to look at Leif's Flickr page on Dorne will be richly rewarded.

James Gurney said...

George and Casey, thanks for those fascinating insights.

And in case anyone doesn't know already, David Apatoff runs an awesome blog called Illustration Art, and he has a great post on Dorne's life and work:

David Apatoff said...

Thank you so much for the kind words, James. Your post on Dorne got me to thinking about him, and inspired me to post some high resolution scans from one of his original drawings on my blog this weekend. Art students who want to understand what all the fuss was about might want to check in to see Dorne's work up close and personal.