From Todd Hignite's IN THE STUDIO interview with Robert Crumb:
"Another whole area of art that I'm really interested in is the social realist period of American art from the teens, twenties, and thirties. Boy, I love some of that stuff, but again it's hard to find. A lot of those artists are totally obscure now. Reginald Marsh's paintings of everyday life around New York, the subways, the beach, railroad yards, street scenes...just people. They're fabulous." -Pg. 36
So in reviewing for my art history classes covering 1945-70, we touched back upon the ideas and general themes in the previous course, such as Cubism, Dada, Suprematism, early Abstract Expressionism, and artists Marcel Duchamp and Piet Mondrian. We then talked about the mostly shunted genre of Social/Socialist Realism. According to Dorothy Barenscott (my professor from last semester teaching 1900-1945), Social Realism was widely accepted and very popular right up until Hitler and Stalin also really liked it and pretty well tainted it with that liking. Barenscott's thoughts on the subject bare out well you consider how obscure Reginald Marsh is (let alone speak of a American Social Realism movement....which isn't Socialist Realism, but it is all pretty well connected and LOOKS the same, from a pure technical point of view).
I really wish I could find an image of A LEADER IN THE PIONEERS by Vychleslav Mariupulski (1949)! It creates an...interest...contrast to Norman Rockwell. Speaking of which...
Norman Rockwell. Really, instead of presenting paintings government mandated/accepted proclaiming virtues of communism and leadership, Rockwell presents works proclaiming the virtues of capitalism, Christianity, and American leadership. These works haunt the family restaurant/all-night dinners as prints and framed jigsaw puzzles. Sickening kitsch, a myopic nostalgia for a past and present that never existed. Are they technically skilled, masterfully even? Fuck yes, I could never paint that well. Even the caricature work, the expressions, the composition, the characterization....really outstanding. All these aspects of the works are very solid....but that is all part of the Sell. The commercial artist selling the consumer what they want to believe about themselves and the world around them. The exact same approach that Stalin's Socialist Realist painters followed! Here's some images of the Boy Scouts, and here's a link to Rockwell's Four Freedoms paintings ("Freedom from Want" is pictures below).
A sticky sweet contrast to the works of his contemporaries (Edward Hopper's NIGHTHAWKS (1942) and his works of isolation, Robert Frank's photographs from the 1950s of alienation).
This philosophy became especially true when Ross discovered such illustrators as Andrew Loomis and the great Norman Rockwell. "I idealized people like Rockwell, who drew in that photorealistic style," Ross says. "When I was 16 or so, I said to myself, ‘I want to see that in a comic book!’" - from Alex Ross Art bio of the artist
Now we're talking comics! When I first started hitting the comic blogs, Frank Santoro's short article on why he hates Alex Ross was making the rounds, and riling up the easily riled. Anyway, I think my issue isn't so much with Ross's approach to illustration, but what that style of illustration he has decided to pursue represents. Your regular Direct Market customer trips over themselves fawning over Alex Ross.* I have had at least one customer declare KINGDOM COME a superior work to WATCHMEN....which is just retarded.
Anyway, short version: Alex Ross is successful in that he sells the customer the illusion the customer wants to believe. That illusion for the Direct Market? That Alex Ross with his technical skill somehow elevates the comics medium to that of legitimate literature, so as properly extol and qualify the usually ashamed superhero comics purchaser's decisions in life. "Look, Mom! Look at this art! Just like the paintings on your wall! See, comics are for adults too!" Yeah, it is all very seductive, until you read the shit and realize unless you know who anyone is in the DC universe, none of it matters, no matter how 'prettily' drawn it is.
*Speculation: at the Calgary Comics Expo last year, Bruce Timm and Mark Waid were both attending. The year before Bruce Timm also appeared, and both years the line up to get him to sign or draw anything was about an hour long at any given time. Mark Waid had maybe one or two people at his table at any given moment. When I grabbed a few things for him to sign, I actively avoided grabbing KINGDOM COME because it is just so....obvious. So stuff like EMPIRE, POTTER'S FIELD, JLA: THE SILVER AGE, JLA: YEAR ONE, and BRAVE & THE BOLD it was. Uh, so my speculation: I cannot even fathom the sort of line up for Alex Ross. In fact, I am confident it would dwarf Bruce Timm as Bruce Timm dwarfed Mark Waid.