What is art? What is fine art? Are the visual fine arts at opposition with visualization? If a picture communicates, provides information, tells too much of a story, is to be cast out from the fine art museum?
This argument is not new to the modern world, and covered well by blogger David Apatoff’s Fine Art vs. Art That’s Mighty Fine. Another excellent analytical article by Donald Pittenger compares the commercial illustration work of N.C. Wyeth with his fine art paintings. This article explains why I tend to imagine myself someday painting fine art pictures in the far away Elsyian Fields of retirement.
Recently when exploring UC Berkeley’s MFA program I was advised by one of their faculty members that my work in medical illustration was too much in the visualization category of art, and that I would have to undergo a “transformation” to fit into Cal’s MFA in Art Practice program. Since I believe I have already achieved a high level of practical art practice, I take no interest in this transformation. Imagine the remolding of an artist into the university’s image. Would I emerge as a UC Berkeley artistic Frankenstein?
Agreeably, my medical animation is not fine art, and yet I see no strict borders, and I am open to exploring and experimenting with a wide range of visual styles and techniques. Picture a lordly professor advising a young Leonardo da Vinci, “Stick with those religious portraits, and forget about those anatomy drawings. Take it from me kid, there’s more money in the Church anyway.”
Back to illustration, take for example The New Yorker’s Covers. You will find an excellent mixture of medium and message. I tend to enjoy this kind of picture making, going back to my early appreciation of the art of Mad magazine. The blog article, Illustration is to Fine Art as Poetry is to Prayer provides additional illumination on this topic.
I recall seeing a retrospective exhibition of the works of “bad boy painter” Peter Saul at the Madison, WI Art Center’s Swen Parson Gallery. Shocking and perhaps lacking the craftsmanship required to be a professional illustrator, and yet free and radical. Saul is one of a handful of modern pop art painters whom I admire for their talent for merging the editorial cartoon into fine art painting (George Bush at Abu Ghraib by Peter Saul below).
Enough of this topic for now. I have commercial art to make!