Some thought-provoking comments yesterday from David Apatoff and Neil Shapiro about the relationship between Jon Whitcomb and Robert Fawcett lead me to choose the images below from the August 1954 issue of Cosmopolitan for today's post.
Above is one of four illustrations Robert Fawcett did for a story in that August '54 issue. Its epitomizes the kind of masterful care and attention to detail that was typical of Fawcett's work. No doubt Robert C. Atherton, the art director at Cosmopolitan, was incredibly pleased with this and Fawcett's other three pieces. I'll bet every illustrator, art student and just about anyone else with an appreciation for good illustration marvelled at the skill with which Fawcett executed this piece.
In spite of all that, I doubt Cosmo's mostly female readership gave it much more than a glance.
By contrast is Jon Whitcomb's contribution to that same issue of Cosmopolitan: a four page excerpt from the Famous Artists School course that was one of the lessons Whitcomb provided to the course; "How to Draw a Beautiful Face".
How concisely these two articles describe the work of these two artists!
Compared to Fawcett's moody, elborately detailed and structurally complex story illustration, Whitcomb's article on "how to draw a pretty girl's nose" seems incredibly shallow and facile.
Here's the thing: I'll bet it absolutely captivated it's audience - and probably sold more than few memberships to the Famous Artists Course.
To better facilitate that eventuality, this ad appeared in the same issue as the article.
Both Robert Fawcett and Jon Whitcomb were among the founding faculty of the Famous artists School. Whitcomb was one of the four public faces of the course, along with Norman Rockwell, Albert Dorne, and Al Parker - all of whom appeared in FAS ads regularly placed in most national publications back in the 50's.
I have never come across a single FAS ad featuring Robert Fawcett.
Whitcomb's celebrity extended beyond just his FAS ads. Besides his column in Cosmo, he appeared in several national ad campaigns.
I wonder how frustrating this situation might have been for both artists... Fawcett, with all the respect and admiration of his peers, but lacking the public popularity to attract the kind of wealth and fame that seems to have come so easily to Whitcomb -- and Whitcomb with all the financial success, status and public adoration... but considered a formulaic hack by "the illustrator's illustrator" (whose opinion no doubt carried a lot of weight among the best and most highly placed in the industry).
You know, I can't help but think that in another time and place, say, during the time of Praxiteles, Whitcomb's approach of using a formula for idealised realism, developed over years of study, practice and refinement would have been more than accepted - it would have been celebrated and emulated by every other artist.
Its an interesting example the complexity of the questions: "what is art?", "what is quality?" - and "what is quality art?"
Jon Whitcomb Flickr set