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« Writing for a Living | Main | Investigative Reporting »

December 12, 2002

Milton Glaser on art

Friedrich --

Have you ever read an interview with the ad guy/illustrator Milton Glaser? I talked to him once and found him amazingly thoughtful and insightful, and far more cultured than most fine-arts people I've run into.

I was just reading a q&a with him in the March-April 2002 issue of the magazine Step-by-Step Graphics, and he said something that reaffirms the gist of what I was saying in my previous posting, about art and making a living. Attaboy, Milton. He says it better, of course.

He's asked about the Van Gogh model of painting, and says this:

Unfortunately it's a very self-centered model. It says, "Do your work and you will convince the world to love you, pay you a lot of money, and make you famous. All you've got to do is stick to it and wait to be discovered." This is a total delusion about what really happens in the world. Unfortunately, this idea of the primacy of self-expression has infected the schools, which continue this myth. It's such a total, miserable lie. Perhaps it's perpetuated by frustrated academics who encourage the innocent to think it's true so they have the strength to go on themselves. But all it produces is a generation of bitter people who can't figure out why they can't make a living. There is something fundamentally wrong about this way of creating expectations.

He's then asked about whether he ever wanted to get out of commercial art.

No, I had no other ambitions. But I never fully understood the distinction between being a painter and an applied artist. Admittedly, you more often have to deal with criteria that make it hard to create a work of emotional or aesthetic significance. But once in a while, you do a book jacket, an album cover, an illustration that isn't compromised by its purpose. Some people use commercial considerations as an excuse not to do good work. They say, "Well, we're not really free." But as you know, meaningful work happens as you press through, regardless of the constraints. In fact, for many people constraints make good work possible.



posted by Michael at December 12, 2002


It's postings like this that keep me coming back for more. I work for an artist that occasionally laments the fact that often he paints certain images because he knows they will sell.

So I wondered... as I start showing some of my own art, how should I approach this? Not being financially dependent on sales, I considered avoiding his dilemma and painting only from the heart- "the primacy of self-expression" as Glaser says. Hmm... it all makes much more sense now. How clever to call this a "self-centered model." I suppose that overall, a balance has to be found.

Thanks for the info!

Posted by: laurel on December 13, 2002 9:59 AM

Hey Laurel,

Glad you liked the quote -- Glaser's great, isn't he? He's always struck me as someone able to talk about art as it is, and not as he thinks it should be, a much-too-rare talent.

He's perceptive about what's beautiful about art but also realistic about the context (and contexts) it occurs in. Most art we know and love was made for money. Raphael and Rembrandt weren't sitting in garretts, wrestling with creative demons and painfully expressing themselves. They were busy, working within a market, and they got themselves paid for their work -- and what's wrong with that?

Somehow I find remembering that to be freeing, even though the way I generally prefer to interact with art is in a non-moneycentric way. Doing creative work for money isn't something that suits my system much, but I've got the greatest respect for people who do work that way.

You can do art (and enjoy it) as you see fit: that's the lesson I take away. How are you putting it together for yourself these days?

Very glad you continue to visit.



Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 13, 2002 11:28 AM

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