The third story in the Autumn 1954 edition of Reader's Digest Condensed Books is by Noel Sickles. Of the five illustrators who did artwork for this volume, Sickles had the longest story to illustrate and turned in the largest number of pieces -- a whopping 17 pieces of art.
Not only did Sickles distinguish himself by quantity - but by quality as well. Is his work more sophisticated than what we've seen so far this week or is it cruder?
Did he run out of time and have to send in his rough sketches...
...or did he conciously choose to present his client with an experimental approach to a classical subject?
Here's a piece by world-reknowned Dutch abstract expressionist, Karel Appel. Appel painted this piece in 1958 and it will be displayed in a show of his work at the University of Buffalo Art Gallery this spring. We have a huge framed lithograph by Appel hanging over the mantle in our livingroom. His work is in the Guggenheim and other important collections all over the world.
Four years earlier...
...Noel Sickles did this illustration for Reader's Digest Condensed Books. Is it more or less valid as "art"?
Look at how the lines of door frame in the piece below are visible through the cloth hanging in front of them...
...or how the boardwalk lines can be seen through the legs of the man and the dog. Didn't Sickles have any white correction paint? Didn't the client expect him to hand in properly corrected artwork? Or did he leave those lines on purpose?
Among illustrators both past and present, Noel Sickles is held in the highest regard.
I've been reading the Alex Toth tribute issue of Alter Ego magazine. If you know comic book artists you know that Toth is considered by many to have been among a handful of the most important artists to have ever worked in that artform. Toth reserved his highest praise for only a very few of his contemporaries -- and among those, Toth adored the work of Noel Sickles.
If Alex Toth had seen these illustrations back in 1954 (and he very likely would have), would he have admired them or wondered what the heck Sickles was trying to pull?
Reader's Digest gave Sickles quite a few of these Condensed Book assignments so the editors clearly liked his work. Did these pieces wow them or disappoint them? Did they say, "We've got to get more work from Sickles... this is really cutting edge stuff!" or did they say, "This guy's become a hack."
When you look through these pieces...
...do you think to yourself, "I'll never be this good."
Or do you think, "my six-year old could have drawn this."
One thing's for sure, work like this challenges our preconceptions about "what is art" and "what is quality" and it deserves more deliberation than simply saying, "I like this" or "this stuff sucks."
My site meter tells me over sixteen hundred people have dropped by already this week. I welcome your thoughts on the work above.