So you may remember, before I left for GenCon, I was studying Surrealism and had come to the conclusion that many fantasy illustrators were probably looking at Surrealism for inspiration. My goal was to ask as many artists as I could about what inspired them in art history. The results were not what I expected, but in retrospect it is very obvious.
It was amusing, as I started a conversation with each artist (I talked to about 15 I think) I felt a little like that game show Family Feud. You remember, where contestants were asked to name the top answers to the same questions which had been asked to a group of people. I kept hearing the same answers over and over again. And as I asked, I could look at their work and almost guess what the answers would be. It is almost as if a little bell went off in my head and I heard Richard Dawson say, "survey says..."
So the number one answer was Arthur Rackham, whose work is shown above. Other popular answers were NC Wyeth, The Brandywine school, the PreRaphaelites, Art Nouveau artists like Mucha, some old masters such as Michealangelo, some masters who worked a bit dark like Carravaggio and Goya (especially if the artist's subject matter was dark) and a few nods to the light painters like the Impressionists and Dega. Keep in mind that I dismissed answers of contemporaries and peers, which many were quick to source. I wanted to know old school influences.
So the surprising thing was that I don't think anyone listed a single Surrealist as an influence on their own, without my prior suggestion. That movement did not really seem to be in the collective inspiration pool, which was confusing to me at first. But as I thought and discussed it more, I found that all the illustrators had a deep connection to the tradition of illustration. I found that themes of storytelling in an artist's or movement's work was a bit more important than the Modern art tendency of art for art's sake, or the personal journey that the Surrealists exemplified. These artists were mostly influenced by illustrations for children's books, stories, and advertising. To me these are things in the Craft of Illustration tradition: artwork meant for a purpose or function to appeal to many, not only the expression of one Artist. Of course this is just my little theory, and there is the big Art vs. Illustration vs. Craft debate so I am sure many will disagree, but it is what I am thinking about today...