Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fantasy Artists Love Pre-Raphaelites

Here's another post making an observation about a modern cultural genre that seems to love the Pre-Raphaelites still. I am referring to fantasy art, or specifically, fantasy/sci fi dust jacket art.

I'll be honest and tell you that I judge books by their covers. In my opinion, *for the most part* (there are always exceptions) if a book is excellent enough to catch a publisher's eye, they'll take the time to have an appealing illustration on the cover. And along the same vein, nothing turns me off faster to a book than to have a cover that blatantly rips off a specific Pre-Raphaelite artwork without giving it full credit. I should make it clear that many artists give small nods to Pre-Raphaelite style or influence in their art, and I absolutely love that. And as another caveat, perhaps the artists of these covers do acknowledge the Pre-Raphaelite influence in liner notes somewhere. But here are a couple of examples of the nail-on-a-chalkboard covers:

Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country. Actually a pretty good book. But....

...The Bridesmaid by Millais. If you're going to do an illustration this close to the original, why not just reproduce the original on the cover?

I started out with a mild example, but here's the illustration that really frustrated me when I first saw it.

A Clash of Kings cover illustration. Come on now....change the outfits slightly, and it's a blatant copy of...
The Accolade by Leighton

with touches of....

Miriamne Leaving The Judgement Seat of Herod by Waterhouse (the stairs, gold and white lion, reclining figure on a throne in the background)

Some people may find this kind of homage to be a totally respectful modern interpretation of the Pre-Raphaelites. But frankly, I feel it's unfair to the original artists. It's little better than making an exact copy of the original and passing it off as one's own.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are artists at work today whose art very clearly shows the influence of Pre-Raphaelite techniques and moods, but are completely new compositions. Examples of these are...
Elegy for Darkness: The Lady of Shalott by Giancola

and many artworks by the amazing Kinuko Craft (my personal favorite living artist)

So what do you think? Am I being too harsh on those artists who use specific Pre-Raphaelite art as a launching point for their compositions? Or do you agree?


Anonymous said...

MM, Gracie. That's a hard one to pin down. Like you said, and I agree- it might be out of respect, but it's still a rip-off. I do love the originals with Pre-Raphaelite influence, definitely. How can one get enough of such things? ;)

Anonymous said...

You know... on second thought, I wonder how intentional the copying was. I mean, seriously. Did Stephen Youll look up at his living room wall after finishing his cover art and go, "Oh, crap, I knew that looked familiar?"

Tess said...

You are most definitely not too harsh, and I am deeply bothered myself by these rip-offs.

The worst offender I've come across is Howard David Johnson. He generally steals John William Godward's figures and draperies, reversing the image (like that's going to fool everyone), giving them new faces and putting them in new settings.

Compare Faerie Guardians with Yes or No.

And compare Cleopatra with At The Thermae.

I imagine this looks familiar as well (ripping off Waterhouse this time). He even kept the steps and the lion.

I guess it's legal, since these images are in the public domain. It's just offensive, at least to me... and apparently to you too. :) Glad I'm not alone.

Tess said...

(Wish I could have linked directly to the images, but it wouldn't let me. Feel free to put these comparison images up on your blog as an example if you want!)

Grace said...

Thanks Tess! Holy cow...those are good examples. I knew there were more out there, I just couldn't remember any others.

Linds, I would agree with the accidental thing on the Youll artwork, except look at the hair/face of the knight. It's seriously almost identical. The rest could be coincidence, but to get every cadence of the knight's head the same? I call forgery :)

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm going to defend the Rosalind Miles book covers as I think the rather primitive style is quite nice and suits the book. It isn't fluffy romance cover art and I don't think it tries to be a direct copy. I'm only speaking of this one as the others are unfamiliar to me.

Grace said...

Lisa, I see what you mean about the more primitive style suiting the book better. I mentioned in the blog...the first example really doesn't bother me as much as the second, and honestly I'm not really sure why the second example bugs me so badly...maybe because I feel like the overall composition isn't even that good on the modern's like they borrowed from masters on that one, and pasted it together to form something kind of blah. But I don't feel that way about the first picture.

Anonymous said...

If you make argument that it is "borrowing from the masters"...well didn't the Pre-Raphealites in more than name borrow from Raphael? If you look at any work of art, I'm sure you can see themes and general golden rules of composition used over and over. Certainly, some do it more cleverly than others and it doesn't disguise bad art as being anything but:) That said, I'd have no problem with someone "borrowing" from a PRB artwork, only if it is well done!

The Pre-Rapahelite art movement, in many circles, is considered overly sentimental and not "art" in a true sense as it lacks innovation. Many art scholars argue that it is allegorical and basically illustration. Good illustration, but illustration, nonetheless.

Of course, I disagree:)

Grace said...

:D Good points, Lisa :)

I remember reading an interview with an artist where she said that she kept it to herself in art school that she loved the Pre-Raphaelites, because they were considered so "sentimental" and almost unartistic. It's too bad they aren't respected more!

Tess said...

I agree with you, Grace and Lisa, about the first picture being far less objectionable than the second. The second was the one that annoyed me, and brought to mind Howard David Johnson.

The first is different enough to be strongly reminiscent of Millais' painting, but it's not a copy (as some of the other elements are from the other paintings) so it's much easier to accept it as an homage.

Once I saw (in an Indian restaurant, I believe) a painting of the goddess Radha which was exactly Waterhouse's Charmer, with some jewelry added and the face slightly altered. I was amused.

Grace said...

LOL Tess. What a surreal feeling it'd be to see that! I remember going to eat at the local, very country-fied diner that his mom likes, and there was a huge gorgeous framed canvas of...umm...can't recall the name, (though I bet you can!) but it's a side portrait of a female angel playing a harp with gorgeous mostly-black wings. I think I've told his parents about twenty times now that if that diner ever goes out of business, I want the painting at auction :)

Aurora said...

This is indeed a thorny question...but I guess I tend to be less bothered by it...mostly because, well, by the time the public gets to see something, the artist may not really have any way to credit the original inspiration.

When I work with models, for instance, my contract states that they are to give me credit *whenever* possible--and vice versa. They cannot credit me when they're showing their book to a modeling agency...and when I'm submitting to a photo to some sites, I'm not able to do anything other than submit a title.

I've a friend on deviantArt who scrupulously credits her stock sources when she posts on dA--but she was recently approached by a publishing company in France, who wanted to use one of her pieces of art as a book cover...and I while I know she will have gotten permission from her sources, before permitting publication, I seriously doubt that she's going to be able to credit her sources whereever she's credited.

I could see myself in a similar position, actually. I make no secret of the fact that I have a project going on in which I do artwork which is either indirectly or obviously inspired by the pre-Raphaelites and Victorian classicists...and yet, if I sell any of this to a greeting card company, that information won't be readily available--unless someone goes to my website.

Perhaps it's not so much blatant ripping off--as a tribute of the highest order. I see those paintings that were clearly inspired by Godward (he loved that pale cream scarf like Rossetti loved that pearl pin!)--and I think, "Hey--someone who admires Godward as much as I do...and who kind of has an 'in-joke' in his art--since no one who knows Godward's work, would fail to recognize that scarf!"

Am I right about this? I don't know...but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. Just call me Pollyanna! ;)

Grace said...

All very good points. You all have, thankfully, lessened my wrath towards these artists. :) It's strange...writing this blog has started me thinking about it too...certain artists who "crib" from the PRB bother me, and others whose works borrow or are inspired by them don't. I have yet to put my finger on why.