Robert Weaver: "The artist... should be the reactor"

Not surprising to see that Weaver's work and words provoked some powerful reactions from readers yesterday - and how interesting to see enmity juxtaposed with admiration! Truly, Robert Weaver's polarizing effect on readers (especially those who are illustrators) reflects how each of us sees ourselves and our personal esthetic.

For those who are at this point incensed, I again encourage you try to keep an open mind and see where this week takes us.

Personally, there's very little about Weaver's artwork that appeals to me. But there's a lot in his philosophy and advocacy of the merit of illustration that I find extremely compelling, and its his words that have made me see his work in a new light.

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In his 1959 interview in American Artist magazine, Weaver said, "If as an illustrator I say what is wrong with contemporary 'serious' painting, it is because I see no reason why an illustrator should not see himself as a serious contemporary painter."

"The artist should not merely reflect; in an atomic era he should be the reactor."

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Speaking to the then popular trend in fine art toward abstract expressionism, Weaver chastised the 'serious' art world with this powerful criticism:

"On the simplest level it is an incredible oversight on the part of the artist that he neglects to use his eyes. A true avant-garde might today proclaim the return of subject matter!"

"In my own teaching I am trying to remedy this deficiency by ordering students out onto the streets with sketchpads. Once the initial shock of life wears off the student can begin to discover the magnitude of the world."
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A laudable attitude - and one that even the most conservative-minded traditionalist illustrator would surely agree with. But for those content to maintain the status quo, Weaver qualified his statement:

"But just as he cannot afford to ignore the world he cannot afford to turn his back on the good things in our modern painting."


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"While there is the obvious omission of life in our contemporary art, there are far graver deficiencies in what little conservative painting of merit is still being attempted. we cannot go back or retrench, as some would urge. Art, as life, evolves. If we think we can disguise the fact that a new generation is coming into being that rejects what we think is important by calling it 'the beat generation' we are kidding ourselves."

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"Conservatism may be sound policy in fiscal matters, but the artist who ignores his time does so at great peril to his usefulness."

* My Robert Weaver Flickr set.

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