Sunday Mailbag: Is Comic Art Real Art?

February 22nd, 2015 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: I have a question with regards on seeing Comics/Graphic Novels as Fine Arts. How do you view comic art? High Art? Low Art? I’m asking as I’m currently facing scorns and that “question mark” look from many of my “fine art” peers on me using comic inking style as a style to paint on canvas etc. And how do you draw the line between fine art and Fan art? or is there even a line to began with..¬¨‚Ć

A: Ah… Comic art/illustration vs. “fine art”. Like discussions involving politics, religion and Mac vs. PC, This is a debate that has no winner and no end.

For some reason much of the disdain fine artists have for illustrators and comics artists seem to stem from the commercial aspects of the work. There was a time when illustrators like Norman Rockwell were scorned by the fine art world, and commercially successful authors like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling are often dismissed by critics and more high-brow authors as “schlockmeisters”. Even within the realm of “fine art” there are some artists who are looked down on as “sell-outs” or artists of lesser skills but successful because of appeal to the Great Unwashed as opposed to art snobs. Thomas Kincade comes to mind, as does Thomas Arvid. Both produce (or produced in the case of the deceased Kincade) work catering to a target audience featuring mass-appeal subject matter (idyllic, fantasy-like nature scenes for the former, wine bottle/glasses still lifes for the latter).

Back when I was in college in a small art school in St. Paul, MN, there were two camps of artists… the “fine artists” and the “illustrators”. The fine artists considered the illustrators to be unoriginal automatons, who simply reproduced references according to the ideas and direction of others (art directors, authors, etc) and called us “wrists”. The illustrators dismissed the fine artists as “artists who couldn’t draw”, and who hid their lack of talent behind high minded “concepts” that didn’t require the ability to actually paint or draw with any skill.

Nobody liked the graphic designers… but I digress.

Anyway both camps were wrong. There were some tremendous talents in the fine art program who could draw and paint like masters and some of the illustrators who produced work with narrative and conceptual value that was of amazing originality and insight. But, the snide remarks, clique mentality, and general divisiveness continued for some.

Personally I look on all art as simply “art”. It does not matter to me why it is created or where it hangs, is seen, printed, or posted. It’s art. I either think it’s good , bad, or somewhere in between. That includes art created by established artists or professionals, or so-called “fan art” created by anyone. It’s just “art”. Art is so subjective that the opinions of others on its validity are basically irrelevant to anyone but the person expressing their opinion. One creates art according to the purpose and intent of the artist. That purpose might be commercial, personal, or some combination of the two. The reason for the creation is irrelevant to the art itself, which is created and exists regardless of purpose. One can appreciate it or not appreciate it. It is entirely up to the eye of the beholder. Going back to my previous examples, The Lovely Anna and I dislike Kincade’s work, and wouldn’t buy or hang a print of his in our house if you paid us. However we have several Arvids on our walls, as we love the subject matter and his realistic but painterly oil style is appealing.

I can appreciate great comic art as “art”, some of which I would be delighted to frame and hang in my house (and do). Comic art as done by the best of the best rank as impressive to me as any fine art painting. Likewise I can really appreciate many fine art pieces, although I tend to like realism or representations of real life scenes and subjects as opposed to abstract art. If an artist decides to combine comic art techniques in their fine art, who is to say that is wrong? It worked for Roy Lichtenstein. More power to you.

The bottom line is that there will always be opinions about any art. It’s up to the artist if they want to assign any validity to those opinions. I’ve always found that those who criticize and condemn the loudest usually do that in an effort to somehow validate their own work by putting down another’s , or to demonstrate their intellectual “superiority” to some like-minded group of which they are part of the herd mentality. Ignore them and do what you want to do. That is what art is all about.

Thanks to Dante for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Mark says:

    Lets just say art is art. high, low, fine, or whatever you want to call it I think gets thrown around way too much. Its for me as an artist our opportunity to show the world through our eyes in our point of view. it moves us, it makes us think. It makes our rejoice or want to shake our fists. in my mind I love the work of Tom, Krueger, O’Keefe, Renoir, Van Gogh, etc. equally. the exclusionary idea that fine art is hung in galleries sold for 6 figures, is… out of date. how about we just embrace what we do and the work of others on the merit of the creativity with which it came to exist, what do I know though, i’m an artist and by most critics standards we don’t know nearly as much about what we create as they do.

  2. Jack Myhervold says:

    Both you Tom and Mark are right. It is in the eye of the beholder. Each of us decides what inspires us to hang some type of art on our walls. As I read recently in a bestseller book on de-cluttering and tidying up, the author asks as we decide to keep or discard items, – “What spark’s joy?”. Some art will give us a deeper, more profound way of looking at things, and some other art will allow us to lighten up and see that not everything was as profound or deep as we thought. Currently I am framing up some prints I got on Ebay from a German seller of Connery era Bond movie ad campaign art by a great illustrator Robert McGinnis. Great art?. I dunno. For me it “sparks joy”.


Sketch o’the Week- Burgess Meredith! #batman #batman66 #penguin #caricature #madmagazine

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