When we create work that our heart is connected to, other people connect to it too. It’s the secret sauce, that “je ne sais quoi” that your favorite artists have. This usually leads to building an audience that, if you are lucky, can translate into business.
“Making Comics” by Scott McCloud is aimed at comic creators, but any artist can find value in it. I haven’t read any resources that discuss art-making values but McCloud gives definitions summarizing four different ideologies of picture makers. He calls these groups “campfires” where like-minded artists gather. Figuring out, what we want to say and how it should look is a lifetime exploration but the more we understand the choices we make the closer we are to creating the work we’ve always dreamed of.
Below are McCloud’s definitions:
Excellence, hard work, master of craft, the quest for enduring beauty.
Putting content first, creating life through art, trusting one’s intuition.
Understanding of experimentation with, and loyalty to the comics form.
(We can switch the word comics out for any type of medium or art form)
Honesty, vitality, authenticity, and unpretentiousness, putting life first.
Identifying with McCloud’s terms has helped me find reassurance in what I’m doing. I always thought I was a classicist, mostly because they are whom I’ve learned from. Classicists are some of our greatest teachers of technique but I’ve come to accept I’m a formalist. In totally formalist form, I wanted to do something different on Muddy Colors. Today, I’m taking a stab at identifying the campfires of artists’ and illustrators’ from history. I’ve also included the dates they lived for educational and comparisons purposes. Let’s go!
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
At first, I wanted to pick classicist because hello, it’s the JSS. But consider the period he was living in… It doesn’t get more experimental than this?
Claude Monet (1840-1926)
McCloud’s words about iconoclasts, “putting life first” comes to mind when I think of Monet. Monet curated his entire home and garden, these were extensions of his art which were, of course, his deepest inspirations. I also find Monet unpretentious …have you read his letters?!
Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)
His work depicts real life but it’s also it’s jam-packed with emotion. For me, it’s that emotional storytelling that punches through the most.
Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)
He’s a post-impressionist – continuing the work of impressionists but wasn’t afraid to break the mold.
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851)
We should note that Turner worked in a lot of different mediums and types of art (historical, landscape, illustration, etc) which may place him as a formalist. But, his schooling was extensive, starting at a young age. He was dedicated to the academic art world and it informed his work of any style.
Edwin Church (1826–1900)
His work illustrates his Christian beliefs, which makes me think he’s an animist. Church was well-traveled, which leans to the idea of searching for authenticity (iconoclast.) McCloud explains further that certain ideals go together well. Animists and iconoclasts see “through life’s lens” as McCloud puts it.
Rembrandt raised the bar for the future of the classicists. A master.
Beatrix Potter (1866-1943)
We know Potter as a prolific writer, scientist, scientific illustrator, and illustrator of children’s books. People call her “passionate” about animals but it was so much more. She had oodles of property she bought under the guise of a man and worked on techniques to improve raising and breading a variety of livestock…. Her work was always informed by her education and her hunger for it. Yes, she even studied fairy tales.
Robert Fawcett (1903–1967)
It’s tempting to categorize many illustrators as classicists because their work features a lot of well-drawn beauty. Commercial illustration today still demands a level of beauty be accepted by the general public (and sell goods.) I’m still calling him a classicist for his incredible draftsmanship.
Frida Khalo (1907-1954)
No debate in my opinion.
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
It may be arguable that Van Gogh was a classicist following the beat of his own drum but deep down I think he’s a formalist. I remember visiting the DIA and learning about how grouped skeins of yarn as a way of seeing what colors look good together. He was creating on intuitive instincts… could he be an animist? Maybe my desire to roast a marshmallow at the formalist campfire and talk about yarn together is clouding my vision.
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825 -1905)
The art speaks for itself on this one.
Normal Rockwell (1894-1978)
Mastery of a craft can include the craft of storytelling not just visual aesthetics, Rockwell does both.
It’s funny to think of whose who is around the same campfire and what campfires may clash. Many artists, including myself like work that doesn’t “look” like our own but somehow it resonates with us. I wonder if the work you like is made by an artist who sits around the same campfire.
Let me know how I did, what campfire you are sitting at and tell me where you think these artists hang out:
Dig deeper into this discussion with Making Comics: