But is he an artist?

Maurice Sendak

Curators, critics and collegians declare they know the difference between an artist and an illustrator.  Often it is clear, but I am not always so sure.

For decades, they described Norman Rockwell as only an illustrator.  As I walked through a hotel lobby shortly after I returned from Vietnam, I saw a Rockwell painting with a thousand dollar price tag, so low it now sometimes raises doubts in my mind.  I like Rockwell so much Alie once gave me a book featuring all his Saturday Evening Post covers.  That painting haunts me; I didn’t have a thousand dollars and did not foresee his rise to artistic fame; today the painting is worth millions.

We are pleased – and perhaps astonished – to find the relatively small Columbus Museum of Art able to present the one-of-a-kind U.S. exhibit of the Raphael cartoons for tapestries and more recently the first retrospective of Maurice Sendak’s work since his 2012 death.

We were long past our childhoods and did not have children when Sendak’s fabulously successful 1963 book Where The Wild Things Are was published.  I was aware, however, of some of the more famous paintings from that book, and interested to see the CMOA exhibit.

In 2009, Sendak founded the Sendak Fellowship with the stated goal to help picture book artists to create work that is not vapid or stupid but original; work that excites and incites.  Illustration is like dance; it should move like—and to—music.

My sense is the curator is making the case that Sendak is a true artist, not a mere illustrator.  I still do not know the definitive answer to that question.  Sendak’s goal above speaks of illustration, but it sounds like art to me.

I enjoyed the exhibit, bought a copy of the book and read it before giving it to a five-year-old friend, a wild thing himself.

Click on images to enlarge.

What do you think?

Date of our visit: 28 Dec 22

Apologies for the photos marred by the glare of the glass protecting the originals.


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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8 Responses to But is he an artist?

  1. adamhalevi says:

    Some gresat images there Ray. As for the artist or not artist question, as a “fine artist” and illustrator myself, I feel pretty well qualified to express that the finest illustrators – like Rockwell – are not only true artists, but true artists of the highest order. There’s a similar long-running debate in the sphere of both creative and perfomative music making: I.e. Are film music composers (the “illustrators” of the music world) as skilled as “serious” composers and; are session musicians as skilled as performance musicians? While I can only offer my subjective thoughts on the former (which is a very strong yes!), on the latter; my oldest friend is a guitarist who has both fronted his own band, and worked many years as a session artist assures me that good session musians are at least the equal of most of their performing colleagues.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A true artist indeed! Perhaps “art” would be questionable today if an illustrator used the stroke of a computer key rather than a brush or pencils to create his illustrations, but Sendak and Rockwell were highly talented, true artists.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hiegel Susanne says:

    We went to the Norman Rockwell museum last fall and I would definitely consider him an artist. His process was fascinating creating every “illustration” in black and white first to get the composition right, using his considerable imagination and firmly planted tongue in cheek approach in some and incredible perspectives in others. Sounds like a terrific exhibition.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I certainly have no trouble thinking of Rockwell and Sendak as artists, Ray, in terms of both creativity and skill. –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Maurice Sendak remains a favourite with me. Fortunately I keep seeing others who are doing lovely work too. As long as there were children in the family I would buy these books for them. Now I just buy them for myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dave Ply says:

    If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. I’d regard the illustrations you’ve shown as far more being art than some of the, looks like a pile of trash rescued from the local dump displays I’ve seen in modern art museums.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I had never heard that illustrators aren’t considered true artists, but I have no doubt that illustration is one of many art forms, and that illustrators are artists.

    Liked by 1 person

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