My first blog post of the year, and it has to be spurred by sudden acute irritation, bypassing all the other subjects that've been on my blog to-do list for years. This is nuts.
I found myself at the Kansas City Comic Con yesterday with my cousin looking for a decent art print of Wonder Woman as I'd like a classic comic-style piece of her for my wall. As I was looking, I came across a rather large art booth with 3 colored prints of her which, while not my ideal picks, were not bad at all. It was then I looked up and saw who I figured was the artist working on a piece off in the corner of the booth, minding his own business with no one else around him.
My curiosity as an artist sparked, and I slowly made my way over to him (I'm still a slightly shy person deep down). I read the giant comic art-plastered sign behind him which said NEAL ADAMS at the top. I figured that was him. The only western comic artist I really know the name of is Terry Dodson...a prominent DC artist of Wonder Woman. I've never had a need or want to know any others. After I'd stood near and watched him for a few minutes, he decided to acknowledge me and asked, "Well, what can I do for you, young lady? What do I need to tell you to make you plop your money right down on the table?"
"Well, sir, that's hardly fair... As an artist myself, I'm not going to just give you money." I raised a brow at him, moving closer.
"You're right, I'd need to give you something of high value in return." He started mumbling something I didn't hear.
"I actually just had a question..."
"Sure, ask me anything! Anything about art or life...physics, society..." he went on for a minute about different subjects.
"ACTUALLY," I cut him off, "I just had a question about art."
"Oh, well go ahead."
"I'm just curious about how you go about attaining the level of success you have as an artist." It was the pinnacle of cliche questions to ask any famous artist, but I hadn't asked it in years, nor had I heard this guy's story.
And goddamn...I still don't know if I regret asking, or if I'm grateful to now know exactly what kind of artist I don't want to be.
He embarked into a conversation (which was more like a lecture of him dictating how the world works to me, and hardly letting me speak) that started with, "Trace photographs."
I was instantly taken aback. I know references are a must in art...I know copying can help certain people improve...but he straight up swears on copying photographs...for everything. All the time. No matter of the artist's skill level.
Then, he asked, "Who are all the great artists of the world? Name them." He held up his hand as though he was going to count as I mentioned names.
I was silent, just staring at him for a moment. "Isn't that a matter of opinion?"
"No! Absolutely not."
"But how can that be when art is so subjective?"
"It's not subjective." WHAT. "Not when it comes to who makes the most money." THE FUCK. "We've got Drew Struzan, you know who he is?"
He rolled his eyes. "Do you know any artists? Do you really study any form of art? I'm ashamed of you. Do you know who you're talking to? Do you know who I am?"
"Sir, I'm gonna be honest with you..." I shook my head.
"I thought so. Well he's the one who did the Star Wars posters."
"Okay...sorry." I wasn't really sorry. I hated art history after what college put me through, and I honestly have very little desire to memorize such trivia. Call me a horrible artist. I probably am foolish. That stuff just doesn't interest me unless I feel it directly affects the direction I want to go with my work.
"Drew Struzan traced photographs for all his work, even those posters. All the great artists do and have done it."
He went on to rant about people who don't trace and basically alluded to the notion that they have no idea what they're doing at all. He said people who don't trace bring him their "fucking portfolios" all the time and he calls them all garbage.
By that point, Im just standing there like...this guy's bloody insane. But it gets worse.
I told him that I agree it's valuable to learn from what the world has to offer rather than relying on one's own mind and that copying/tracing can be helpful to some extent. But I told him there's also power in creativity and that many people desire to get to a point at which they don't always need references. To me, that shows skill.
"Take a piece that was done without tracing, and take one that was done with it. Which do you think would look more skillfully done?"
I thought that's a matter of opinion, but catered to his view, "...The traced one."
"Exactly. Now, if an artist can attain that level of mastery by tracing...why the hell wouldn't he?"
"Because I'm pretty sure it's the goal of many artists to someday be able to work without those crutches."
In a sarcastic, whiny voice, he responded, "Oh, well too bad, they're never going to get there." He is 100% convinced it is impossible to be a good artist without using tracing and references every single time. He said, "People come up to me and say 'oh, I like your style,' but style is all wrong." He reasoned that no one has a style. Style is what we call imperfections on a piece that couldn't attain photorealism. This was after he called all of his work "good."
And I'm thinking...'Dude? NONE of your work is photorealistic...it's not even CLOSE.' He was already failing to realize that all these superheros he's drawing cannot possibly be completely traced, and he is therefore using his own imagination and creativity to compensate.
And I asked him, "But, sir, isn't that your opinion?"
"No, I'm giving you facts. I hate opinions because opinions are always wrong. Everyone can have an opinion, but it wouldn't hold true for another person. Opinions are a waste of time, and I don't care about them." He told me it's a fact that all good artists trace. He said it's a fact that the best artists are the ones who make the most money. It's a fact that style doesn't exist despite the fact that people intentionally deviate from photorealism. And it's apparently a fact that he's right about all of that even though he's one man on a planet filled with billions of other artists and art appreciators with differing logical views...making his...AN OPINION.
"You have people who claim they're expressing themselves with 'style.' They can express themselves all they want, but it's not going to make them any money." Oh. Okay.
Listening to this cocky rich guy playing the god of art did not fly well with me, but I kept my composure.
He pointed over to a corner of his booth to a bunch of pencil drawings, telling me they were all of famous people...and they were all traced. He told me to go look at them and to keep in mind people pay him $20-$40 a pop for those. I went to go look. Sure enough, I recognized several images of celebrities in poses from their movie/TV posters. I felt sick. So, so sick. Here I am, an artist struggling to improve my skills to a respectable level so that maybe one day I can make my mark on this world with my work...as are so many others...and this guy makes his living...and has made his own name famous...by tracing.
My first inclination was to ask myself where the hell I went wrong, but that thought was quickly dismissed when I reminded myself that assholes cheat their way into fame all the time. GRANTED. Whether tracing is a method of cheating or not IS obviously a matter of opinion. And I realize many forms of matte painting, concept design, story development, and the like heavily utilize/copy materials from other sources to create a new product. But, I've been brought up in art communities that very ardently frown upon what can easily be argued as a type of visual plagiarism. And I tend to agree that it is, in many circumstances, an ugly method. Anyone can trace. Anyone. That does not display any level of skill as an artist. And I have a feeling Mr. Adams uses more of his talent for imagination and creativity than he's willing to admit. The way he chooses to shade, vary line weight, and add color...it's all STYLE. And how he sees something in a photo or real life...might not be the way another person sees it.
I grabbed one of the Wonder Woman prints and brought it back around the booth to pay for it and have him sign it. Regardless of my disgust for the man's mind, his work was still something I wanted to remember...if only to remind myself of the lessons I was learning.
After some small talk about my name's odd spelling as he was dedicating the piece to me, I asked, "Is this one traced, too?"
"Yes..........and no," he admitted. "I was copying the pose from a sexy woman I found online, but then my son filled in some of the details for me."
"Is that right? Well, it's still good."
I didn't stay much longer after that. By that point, other people were waiting to get art pieces signed, and I was starving and irritated. Before I left, he shook my hand and told me to work hard. And I will. I promise. I'll work my ass off to someday reach a level of skill he never could...because he could never draw without depending on an already existing image. He can have his views, but, if I recall correctly...none of the artists who have been considered "great" in art history worked the exact same way, had the exact same methods, or considered the exact same kind of art "good." Neal Adams has allowed money and fame get to his head and now believes he can dictate the facts.
I'm often considered naive, but not so much so to be taken for an idiot.
And I hate art for this very reason.
Part of me would love to keep things simple and as black and white as Mr. Adams sees them. I hate how subjective art is. I HATE it because it complicates the shit out of my passion. If any of my previous professors/classmates read this, I'm sorry - I have absolutely nothing against you. But class art critiques were the bane of my existence in college. There was artwork that I adored, but there was also some stuff I saw that made me think, "Are you fucking kidding me? You're really gonna blatantly pull this crap and call it art?" even though several other people seemed to really admire the work. But I had to fake my way through critiques and pull the craziest BS outta my ass to make it sound like I gave a damn.
I have my own ideas and opinions about art and what makes a good piece. But at least I acknowledge that they're only my OPINIONS.
And that's where the other half of me comes in. The universe is deep. Everyone has a different view of all its principles and aspects, and that's part of what makes us great as a human race. Exploring and embracing the various possibilities of what is good an beautiful is crucial to enlightenment and living life to the fullest. It's not all about money...unless you're some kind of materialistic narcissist. So, I'm not going to push my opinions onto others like Neal Adams attempted to. And I'm never going to be an art professor either 'cause God knows I'd damn near lose my somewhat "narrow" mind. However, I do see the importance in letting people take on their own style and expression.
SO ... screw you, good sir. Your work looks good, and I do appreciate the time you took to share your opinions with me... However, your ideals are somewhat deluded, and I'll be finding a different route to success, thank ya~