Friday, February 16, 2007

Lichtenstein Revisted

When it comes to the Pop Art of Roy Lichtenstein, I am of two minds. One the one hand, I like the fact that he demonstrated that the draftsmanship of comic books was worthy of being considered Art. On the other hand, his demonstrations pretty much had the exact opposite effect when it comes to how the art world looked at comics. Most people look at a Lichtenstein and they thing that he elevated the image by making the common into the grand, the low into the high. Personally, I think those people are absolutely nuts.

I like the Lichtenstein comic series, but his artwork is actually inferior in craft to the ones that he lifted whole cloth from the pages of the "funny mags." Alex Beam of the Boston Globe has an article discussing whether or not Lichtenstein was a Creator or a Copycat that was written last October. It's a good read, and it direct you to David Barsalou's enlightening site "Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein." At the deconstructing site, Barsalou displays many of Lichtenstein's most famous pieces next to the comic pages they are "inspired" by. I'll leave it to you to decide whether the images are copycats or not, but I will say that the original version of "Kiss II" with the weird "emanation" lines is far more moving aesthetically than the "explosion" that Lichtenstein gives it and that the different backgrounds (in that one particular image) changes the meaning significantly. The Lichtenstein Foundation adamantly asserts that Lichtenstein added considerable value and alterations to the images that inspired him, but that's their job.

I am reminded of a conversation in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol where Andy is discussing Art with "Damian."

Damian: "I guess you have to take a lot of risks to be famous in any field...For instance, to be an artist."

Andy: "Any time you slice a salami, you take a risk."

Damian: "No, but I mean for an artist--"

Andy: "An artist!!...What do you mean, an 'artist'? An artist can slice a salami, too! Why do people think artists are special? It's just another job."

Damian: "But to become a famous artist you had to do something that was 'different.' And if it was 'different,' then it means you took a risk, because the critics could have said it was bad instead of good."

Andy: "In the first place,...they usually did say it was bad. And in the second place, if you say that artists take 'risks,' it's insulting to the men who landed on D-Day, to stunt men, to baby-sitters, to Evel Knievel, to stepdaughters, to coal miners, and to hitch-hikers, because they're the ones who really know what 'risks' are."

I just love the fact that he says that "artists" don't take risks, Evel Knievel takes risks. Though I imagine, if you pressed him, Warhol might say that Knievel also made art. But that is another discussion. I just wanted to highlight the Evel Knievel quote because I am going to see Ghost Rider this evening and Johnny Blaze is nothing if not inspired by Evel Knievel...but with a flaming head.

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