Then and now

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Then and now

From Virgil Elliott

Published before 2005


Brad Silverstein wrote:
You were lucky to experience the golden age of illustration. I think a lot of us have missed out on what was quite a good thing. Those artists were such great draftsmen and approached drawing without trepidation!

Brad,

To elaborate further on the differences between then and now, people once used their leisure time for mentally active, rather than passive, forms of entertainment. Whereas watching television requires nothing of one's brain, in the days before TV, people played musical instruments, drew, painted, wrote, built model ships or other such things, read books, played card games, chess, backgammon, etc., all of which required the active participation of the brain in order to prevent boredom. Even listening to the radio shows engaged the imagination to provide the visual aspects of the stories. Movies were not seen every day, but only on special occasions, and then more of them were in black-and-white, which again left color to the imagination. There was more left to the imagination than just color, too, which is an important artistic principle now employed in movies much more rarely.

So in the world before television, mental activity was necessary to avoid boredom, and there was more art in our lives. I mean art in everything, not just in paintings hanging in museums. It was easier to develop an artistic sense in that environment. Norman Rockwell was one of the most popular men in the United States, throughout my childhood. He was one of my heroes. When television was still new on the scene, the most interesting show for me was Learn to Draw, with Jon Gnagy, and I drew right along with him, rather than just sitting there watching.

We had actual artists teaching art for an hour a day at the elementary school I attended, and they gave me extra special attention because I was obviously obsessed with drawing, and advanced far beyond my classmates. There was also an excellent music program, and under the tutelage of my German music teacher, Mr. Schmidt, I learned to play the trumpet. Everyone played an instrument. Schmidt was the exemplar of teutonic discipline in training young musicians, and he got excellent results. This was not a private school, but a normal public school in the suburbs of St. Louis Missouri. That is what it was like then. It was a world more conducive to the development of one's creative faculties, though ironically the so-called fine art world held virtually no opportunities for artists working realistic mode, and so those so inclined were compelled to go into illustration and other forms of commercial art in order to survive.

So whereas I was fortunate in one way to have grown up in an environment that nurtured my artistic talents to a greater extent than today's world does, the downside is that I was essentially denied access to satisfactory opportunities as a fine artist until very late in my life. The prevailing attitude is just now beginning to be more accepting of realistic imagery in the art market, a development I have waited for most of my life to see (and never expected to take so long to come about), but now the focus is on young, up-and-coming artists, and I am too old to fit into that category.

Virgil Elliott