Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Blank Canvas Interview

Blank Canvas just published an interview with me, starting with the perennial question about illustration vs. fine art.

Q: There is a polarized debate surrounding the distinction between illustration and fine art. You mention two artists you enjoy, that I also admire and study – Norman Rockwell and Alma Tadema – each has similar approaches in that they both create scenes from their imaginations, and yet one is called an illustrator and one is considered fine art. What are your thoughts, does it ever bother you to be called an illustrator, and how can less confident artists generate the courage to create art that inspires them when critics demean their approach?

A: I don’t really draw a distinction in my mind between “fine-art painting” and “illustration,” or between “fine-art” and “fantasy.” All are created in the studio; all are drawn from the imagination; and all follow more or less the same procedure.

Whether it’s landscape paintings for a gallery or dinosaur paintings for a science magazine, an artist’s approach can be either inspired or commercial, depending on what frame of mind we bring to the easel.

There’s nothing intrinsically “fine” about gallery work; in fact, it can be —and often is—far more commercial than illustration in the sense that an artist is always facing the consciousness of which images sell and why. I’ve never met a gallery artist who honestly doesn’t care about which of his paintings sell.

A more meaningful division for me is between observational work and studio work—or you might say: plein-air versus imagination, outdoor work versus indoor work, the outer eye versus the inner eye. Both aspects of the artistic life are essential to me, and always have been.

Blank Canvas Interview with James Gurney
A longer blog post on Fine Art and Illustration


Sheridan said...

I think that the terms "commercial and "illustrator" are for the most part misused. All artists that sell work are commercial artists. The term "illustration" (IMHO) relates to a work that depicts a subject that doesn't exist, or has never been observed (religious,astronomical,fantasy, etc), or a subject that is being recreated as it was, or may have looked if you were there.

All the great artists were illustrators as well as commercial artists by the above definition. Michelangelo, and DaVinci were basicallythe George Lucas, and Stephen Spielberg of their time. Maybe Cecil B. DeMille would be more accurate, as he may have done more religious themed movies.

The term"commercial art", for me at least, should only be used to describe work that is done for the SOLE PURPOSE of selling a product. Norman Rockwell's illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post's covers ARE illustrations. They would only be deemed commercial (by me), if there were a bottle of Coke or some other product prominently displayed.

I find the works of many of the great illustrators, to be equal to the work of the masters. There is often much more imagination, and interest depicted in illustrations.

Joel Fletcher said...

You have some excellent thoughts on the fine art vs. illustrator controversy James. However, perhaps Rockwell was not the best example to bring up by the interviewer. Rockwell definitely blurs the line, his art is now accepted by museum curators, and there have been major retrospectives of his work at prominent art museums. Probably this was due to the content, which tapped into the American psyche. But more importantly, even though Rockwell called himself an illustrator, most of his best known works were his own concepts, not based on someone else's story.

I don't agree with many of the opinions of curators and art elites about which 20th century artists are considered to be "great". It is an unfair playing field. However, subject matter definitely is a major factor toward what is considered to be fine art. I think it is safe to say that fantasy and science fiction art, no matter how excellent or even pure genius, will never be accepted as fine art by museum elites.

James Gurney said...

Joel, until recently I may have agreed with you on the last point, but right now there's a major museum exhibition called "Into the Future: A Journey into Science Fiction." going on in Europe right now. It's in Athens now after a record setting run at the Barbizon in London, and it will go on to Denmark next. Museum curators, directors, and critics are smart people, and they're noticing that there's a lot of intellectual meat and artistry to the topic, a lot to write and think about. Read more here: https://whyathens.com/events/science-fiction-onassis-cultural-center

Joel Fletcher said...

Point taken James. There are indeed some cracks showing in the glass ceilings of museums. The show you mention looks great. In the near future there will also be the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, being built in Los Angeles. Hopefully it will have an impact on acceptance of fantastic art.