I love comics, I love narrative with a graphic pointer, an example of the author/artists vision of the tale to be told. I started reading comics with 2000AD in the late 70s and around the mid 80s began with USA comics such as Batman, just in time to read the best comic version of Batman in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, if you haven’t read it you should but part of the reason it was seen as in the vanguard of ‘grown up’ comics was the graphic art within it.
Neil Gaiman was also at the start of comics growing up, his Sandman series was beautifully structured with real characters and stunning artwork all the way through. It is the tale of the Endless, 7 brothers and sisters (?): Death, Destiny, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium (though Delirium started out as Delight I think but you know how things get if you have too much Delight!) and how Dream was existing in the modern world with all the brickbats of being… no spoilers here but it is still the best comic series ever (IMHO). There were also spin offs such as The Little Endless by Jill Thompson and Neil Gaiman also did various prequels such as The Dream Hunters with Yoshitaka Amano (link). The point I’m trying to make is that I see these works as Art, they are using a visual medium to capture and share narrative, to illicit a response (and joy and horror and empathy and…) but because they are seen in the contemporary sense of being generated for mass media they are routinely devalued by the Art world.
William Blake’s birthday is today, born on 28th November 1757 and I would suggest that he was an early exponent of the graphic novel (comic book mentality). His own poetry in ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’ are illuminated by his own hand, his version of the Tyger is kittenish in the face but still vital and deadly. (link) I would contend that the illustrations that Blake did for Dante’s Inferno are similar to the illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano in The Dream Hunters in the way they encapsulate a piece of the story and the feeling/setting of the piece. Nowadays, probably due to the amount of time passed and the fact that Blake is long dead, the work is seen as High Art. I have the image of Hell Canto 3 over the main computer in my home “All hope abandon, ye who enter here”! See the superb discussion of Blake’s Inferno at the Tate website here: link
Roy Lichtenstein (I’ll refer to him as Roy, less letters see) elevated cartoon and comic art to Art in the autumn of 1961, both he and Warhol had arrived at cartoons at roughly the same time but where Castelli immediately agreed to show Roy’s work he refused to show Warhol’s. Warhol says that he saw Roy’s work and realized that through the use of Benday dots and the different styles that his (Warhol’s) comic figures were not as provocative and that he would “stop comics altogether and go in different directions where I could come out first – like quantity and repetition”.
So as well as being first to the form Roy was interested in what made art, Art. He had tinkered and taught making little headway in the New York art scene until the 60s but was influenced by one of his teachers in Ohio University and said of what he learnt from Hoyt L. Sherman: “It was a mixture of science and aesthetics, and it became the center of what I was interested in. I’d always wanted to know the difference between a mark that was art and one that wasn’t.”
When Blake was commissioned in 1824 to illustrate Inferno it was contemporary art, as that is all ‘contemporary’ means: now, of it’s time. But contemporary art seems a little more challenging in its meaning, often nodding to the avant garde and so-new-you-haven’t-even-thought-of-it-yet! Though as a term to refer to art it is first used in the reaction to Modernism by Warhol and Lichtenstein et al in the 60’s.
Which brings us onto craft, as I pointed out in “A is for” I see art as a question of intent, I think Lichtenstein is querying the same distinction in the quote above. So what is the difference between craft and art? An artisan is usually seen as someone of craft, admittedly high craft, but there is still a value judgement being made between the 2. Is the Troika piece my wife owns art or craft? Is it a question of time and rarity that elevates (or demotes) a piece over time? I think the work of Constable is craft, just waiting for the invention of a camera to do a decent landscape but I’m pretty sure that is only me. Is comic book art, Art? I would say it is and enjoy the democratization of it for £3 per issue, though I would dearly love to own an original by Lichtenstein I ain’t got the cash.
Thanks for reading, please help me out by commenting below with any distinctions you hold between art and craft, any comic books I must read and whether contemporary is simply new?
Cheers, Gary B’stard