Monday, June 28, 2010

Robert Weaver: The "Anti-Wyeth"?

Last week's series on NC WYeth certainly evoked a positive response from many readers. One commenter wrote, "all hyperbole over NCW is superfluous." "NC Wyeth is fantastic!!!!!" wrote another, and a third person commented "due to the fact that the illustrations were timeless, Wyeth's work was still appropriate a full twenty years after his death."

All of which makes me think this would be a wasted opportunity if I did not use it to present what some might call "the Anti-Wyeth": Robert Weaver. Because for all of the tradition and craft in Wyeth's work, for all of the gorgeous, thoughtful, classical composition, for all the "timelessness", there was, by the 1950s, hardly a trace in the mainstream print media of NC Wyeth or any other artist who might be considered to have followed in his footsteps. There was, however, a burgeoning movement of young, avant-garde, modern art-influenced illustrators who seemed to be laughing in the face of all the traditions their elders considered prerequisite to good, proper picture-making.

Some would say Robert Weaver was the leader of this gang of young punks. At the very least he must be considered one of it's chief agitators.

In a 1959 interview in American Artist magazine, Weaver said, "...rather than emphasize the difference between the painter and the illustrator I would like to show how 'art' and illustration could serve each other."

This is an incredibly important statement and marks a defining moment in the evolution of illustration as it exists to this very day. Before Weaver, most illustrators saw themselves as purely commercial artists - craftspeople - whose highly skilled efforts were essentially in service of the story or advertisement that required visual reinforcement.

After Weaver, illustrators began seeing themselves as a sort of hybrid commercial/fine artist; someone who must have the freedom to include some degree of sincere personal artistic statement in their assignments. The story was now in service to their requirement for personal expression.

To put it plainly (and I have seen this most often among editorial illustrators) those artists who follow the Weaver philosophy want to have their cake and eat it, too.

From past experience, I know some readers are going to remain firmly entrenched in the Wyeth camp and everything it represents. They will see Robert Weaver's work as unskilled and unworthy of serious consideration or respect. Other readers, I know, adore Weaver and see Wyeth and other traditionalists as hokey and "compromised." Amusing but also somewhat contemptible. I ask both parties to keep an open mind and see where this week takes us (but of course, all comments and opinions are welcome and I look forward to hearing whatever you care to contribute to the discussion).

* My Robert Weaver Flickr set.

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