The Power of Illustration

Jan Matejko was a Polish painter from the second half of the 19th century. One of his specialties was monumental paintings (illustrations) of historical events from Poland's past. At this time Poland did not exist as a political entity and Matejko's paintings are credited with helping the polish people maintain their national identity.
These images are from Jan Matejko, the Complete Works
I particularly like the tshirt that uses a Matejko painting to commemorate the Battle of Grunwald (it's available here)


Anonymous said...

One would have hoped that a work such as this would not be printed on a T shirt. It lessens the value of the art, does nothing but add more distraction to a cluttered world, and will end up as trash. Cannot Art such as this just be appreciated and not commercialized on T-shirts, Coffee Mugs and handbags?

Lawrence Klimecki said...

That's an interesting question. I am currently working with a marketing company and their research indicates that at least in the younger demographics, prints and posters don't sell. Teens to young adults, generally, would rather show their artistic tastes on merchandise, tshirts, notebooks, messenger bags and so on.
It can be argued that illustration is commercialized fine art.
So that brings up an even more interesting question. Which is more important, the image or how the image is presented?

J.R.Howley said...

Very good point, Lawrence. I shall have to say the image is most important, even though I make my living off of commercial art. I myself can't fault the re-production of illustration so much as the 'marketing' frenzy that surrounds it. My feeling is that there is a bar that society ought to at least try and meet - that the aesthetic of plain ' cloth' is more pleasing as plain 'cloth' rather than having to be a billboard to the world (T-Shirts, etc.; that utilitarian devices ( notebooks, bags, shoes, etc. should be just that, and that they don't need all kinds of fake bright color to make them desirable. I think color has been over saturated thanks to Telvision and modern printing techniques. One sad example of this is that I heard a television reporter saying (speaking of a home in Iraq) about how awful it must be to live in such a dull mud house. The house in question had fantastic proportions, wonderful vaulted brick ceilings throughout and a nicely detailed wooden door. In general is was of the same wonderful hue of that part of the world. What I'm getting at is that we have all lost a sense of beauty in the natural state of things and feel that it must be painted, covered in graphics,etc. to be attractive. I think when one begins to look at fine illustration for what it is and not for how it can be re-produced any which way, one is on a good path.
However, we all need to work and sometimes we just have to do what we can to make a living. I fault no one for that, and confess that I do have a few T- shirts from years ago with graphics on them..I guess I am just trying to keep some sort of perspective on where my artistic values fall in the world of the comercial artist.

Anthony VanArsdale said...

I must agree that seeing at every turn, fine art on mugs, caps, and shirts is cluttering an already busy world, and that it seems to lessen the value of some wonderful pieces...

BUT this IS the 600th Anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald!!! depending on the quality of the shirt and print (which looks pretty cool I might add), it may last for years!

can you tell I work in a screen print shop?

Lawrence Klimecki said...

I think we are really in the middle of a paradigm shift in the way people respond to art. The rarefied air of the gallery is open only to a few individuals who are both very talented and very fortunate.

Personally I don't see the merchandising as clutter. If that is how people want to share their art then who am I to say "no you can only see my art in this context?" Our job as artists is to bring beauty and delight into the world.

Several years ago I came across an antique sewing machine and I was struck by the lengths they went to to make such a utilitarian object more beautiful. All the metal work was cast in the shape of loops of acanthus leaves. The black sewing machine itself was decorated with beautiful gold scroll work. By contrast modern sewing machines are very plain and functional and you would be hard pressed to say they were beautiful to look at.

I've seen a lot of ugly art on products, I would much rather see something beautiful. And I think people can appreciate fine artwork on a messenger bag just as easily as they could framed and hanging on a wall. They are still responding to the beauty of a piece that has struck an emotional chord.

Anonymous said...

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clc said...

In regards to J.R.'s comment, I'd probably differ on the point of color considering the fact that some works of art produced in India, or Africa, as examples, are absolutely AMAZING, and they contain bright, bold, vivid colors... they are abstractions of natural things, made by natural things... which I think is amazing, and is a reflection of God himself, as the ultimate Creator. Remember, he made the lush colors of the rainforests, the sunsets, and in bioluminescence :)

I am an artist who belongs just beyond the dividing line of the younger millennial generation I guess, but I still seem to gravitate to the way they see art, opposed to the more classical. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate the more classical, but I really respect the way that the younger generations re-interpret, or innovate art and design - it often blows me away. You can't compare the classical, with the modern, and try and figure out what is better, you have to appreciate both for what they are, because they are more a part of the living generation, and the artistic movements themselves are more of a living phenomena than some kind of standardized thing... as Lawrence mentioned, teens and younger adults are very focused on customization, and showing things that they feel represent themselves in some way - so t-shirts with a favorite piece of art like this, are probably more about the wearer, than the artist, so the function is different. I know when I create something, I love to do it for it's own sake... it's more about the process, than the result maybe? After it's done, I don't really care too much where it gets shown, and the more exposure the better maybe?

J.R.Howley said...

Thank you CLC and Lawrence for you comments to my comment. I am pleased to hear your opinions on this as it helps broaden my understanding. CLC, you made a good observation saying (regarding the pigments of indigenous cultures dyed fabrics,"..and they contain bright, bold, vivid colors... they are abstractions of natural things, made by natural things". I must take issue, If I may, with that statement. Many of the dyes used today are not 'natural things' but are Aniline dyes, a synthetic and sometimes very caustic process. They take, as I understand, the chroma of a color beyond it's natural state. However, I too marvel at the indigenous cultures use of color for their garments., and like you, find it awe inspiring. But take note; what makes them stand out as so beautiful is usually what surrounds it. The natural clays and limestone; the earth tones of their homes and natural surroundings. My comments on too much color for colors sake was just that; We think that color has to be everywhere and we so saturate our world with color that nothing stands out, so we keep adding brighter and more color until we become 'color stupid'. All I was getting at, and it looks like I might be alone on this, is that too much design, too much color, on everything we produce makes for an unsettled heart- and that our poor society have been taught that the purpose of a product is to first entertain themselves, second to show others how cool they are because they have it, and thirdly to actually use the product for it's intent; to cloth, to feed or to house. If our young people don't understand the aesthetic of art and design it's only because we won't show it to them. They will, no doubt, seek their peers way of thinking of things- and that is completely natural. But wouldn't it be great if a Teen, when looking at this or that T Shirt graphic or Skateboard graphic, said, Whoa! that looks just like a drawing My dad showed me of some wacky invention of Michelangelo!" and his buddy said, " Miche...l What? Who is he?" and then the two of them went off and pulled out a book of Michelangelo drawings to check them out. I do tend to like traditional drawings and painting- but I've got a couple of recent Batman works with fine illustrations. When I look at the panels in those comix, I see very little color -mostly greys and dark Blue washes, but a true artist Knows when to use color and when not to.
Thank You.

clc said...

J.R. yeah I can definitely understand what you are saying about color only working on natural surroundings, this is a good point. I do agree also that our world is WAY too cluttered, but I guess I just don't mind images like this one being printed on t-shirts. In fact I am not familiar with this event, so it got me interested in doing a search on it when I get a chance, like you were saying in the Michaelangelo example.

What does bother me is the highways littered with billboards, and signs on every corner, and logos everywhere...usually bad ones at that.. which does ruin art, I would definitely agree. I think they do a great job of advertising for the most part in Europe because it is generally so minimal, and tactfully used. Unfortunately I don't see this trend stopping, but like I said, it has inspired new ways of creating messages, such as reverse graffiti, which cleans away messages on dirty urban surfaces to display a message. This is one of the things I love about the living quality of art, it changes with the times.

I would say many of the messages on t-shirts though, we could afford to be without. But if there is going to be a painting like this on a t-shirt with a historical reference, I am all for it. Society can afford to look back every once in awhile, and if a t-shirt gets them thinking about doing that, I say that is great! :)

clc said...

I also want to say I enjoy this conversation! I am glad I found this blog!

J.R.Howley said...

I have enjoyed this conversation as well. Through the comments of Lawrence, Anthony and CLC I have been able to question the validity some of my own assumptions.