This is a lecture I have given for two years, of course as any of my students know, my lectures are rather more like very well organized and colorful rants… dare I say… like pretentious, contentious, though no less than divine poetic experiences. by the way, my self-esteem is not really so grand as all that, but I did start this entry as sort of a pick-me-up, so I’m picking-me-up!
OK, the Frazetta verus Vallejo argument has been raging so long as there have been geeks around to debate it. But see, the thing is, and it’s something I’ve often observed… one side is wrong. So, let me explain that bit of elitism (it’s like this): I once had this argument with someone about whether or not the Beatles were better than AC/DC (notice I’m not mining this wealth of material), and his end to the argument was, “Well, that’s just your opinion.”
I offered to explain it to him this way, and to any of you who can’t quite get past the finality of “that’s just your opinion.” Well, no, it’s not. The Beatles were better than AC/DC. That is not a matter of opinion, that is a matter of fact. Now, whether or not one likes Mozart or Beethoven better, that, group, is a matter of opinion.
The same is true here, Frazetta is better than Vallejo. And I mean this much better: Frazetta is an artist, Vallejo really isn’t, not in the same way. There are some concretes, and by comparing similar paintings side by side I think we can come to grips with this. Let’s start with a classic action scene… as seen realized by both painters:
Let’s start with the real problem, the one that rules over all the others: Frank Fazetta’s characters are fighting for their lives, Vallejo’s “warrior” not only looks like, but IS, some bimbo he picked up at the gym. There is NO urgency to her, to her struggles, nor to the painting. One painting shows a dramatic moment in time, the other shows a well-lit model with a vapid expression on her face. In my lectures I also discuss the importance of diagonals, and the Frazetta painting is full of dramatic and conflicting angles, by comparison Vallejo’s painting is practically on a grid. Additionally, notice the atmosphere in Frazetta’s painting, how it’s in turmoil, while Vallejo’s background looks like a hellish high school yearbook photo backdrop. Now even if you’re one who doesn’t go for genre or fantasy art, the differences are staggering. Similarly, observe the below painting by Frazetta which again shows his potent solution to this visual challenge:
The below paintings are another fine example of who is who between the two painters. As you can see in Vallejo’s painting, that “dude” was once again some guy he picked up in a gym, or some guy he ran into at the mall shopping for specialty vitamins. And THAT is all he is. Not so with Frazetta, that woman, too is facing down ferocious canine jaws, and again… she is fighting for her life! For her life and the life of her child. The strain is palpable, LOOK at her thighs, the backs of her knees! And somehow, with Frazetta, you know she is going to be alright–see that… THAT right there, that is what makes Frazetta a master. Notice that I started building a narrative around the painting, but NOT for Vallejo’s painting. Sure, one might “argue” that Vallejo’s painting and his Cerberus are “bad-ass,” but that’s not a narrative. There is NO narrative to the Vallejo painting. None, it is stripped of urgency, of power, of even the dignity of being a half-assed daydream. I mean, when I look at that woman I can smell the panic and determination, when I look at that guy I can smell the sporty deodorant.
The below painting of the encounter with a serpent is another fine example. I’m not going to repeat my rant against Vallejo, as everything I said before applies to the painting below… but I will repeat one thing: those people are NOT in a life and death moment. Not so in Frazetta’s painting, just look at the strain, the muscles in the back! They may be fanciful, but the narrative quality is incredible, you can feel the tension in your own back by looking, and though the snake’s head is not as “fantastic” as the Vallejo head… everything else about Frazetta’s serpent is far more spectacular.
Now while this lecture/rant is all good fun, and yes, I meant every word of it, something more important happens in the class at this time. I usually stand back at this point with these serpent paintings and ask my students to pick up the rant for me… because for all the fun we’ve had, NOW they see it for themselves! What is more, through doing this I helped them learn how to draw an action or fantasy scene, how to make it count, make it real, and how to truly propel their readers into that sort of place. They also saw how the human body reacts to tension. In the Vallejo paintings the muscles are “ripped” but there is no real tension or struggle, just posing, whereas Frazetta’s muscles are RIPPING! And lastly, my students can truly see how to make an argument for great art over mediocrity. No, it’s not all down to opinion, some opinions are uneducated, misinformed, and of no real potency. If this proved to just be a rant, I wouldn’t use it in the classroom. I learned while teaching in South Korea that if people are laughing they are learning. Now, I can’t always make ‘em laugh, but I can at least entertain them, and to me nothing is cheap as a teaching technique if the end result is that the students not only connect with what you are showing them, but retain more of it. Enthusiasm for your subject matters, as does honesty. I have not manipulated my students by doing this, ’cause I never play devil’s advocate, I advocate what I damn-well mean to advocate.
Before I go, the same things I said about fantasy and violence go for sex, for good cheesecake fantasy. Not only is the woman in the Vallejo painting bloodless and ordinary looking, I can’t for a moment buy this woman in that get-up–but I could see her getting all goofy over Travis Tritt songs when she goes out Country line-dancing at the Boot-n-Scoot Saloon. The woman in the Frazetta painting, well, she belongs butt-naked in that tree… doesn’t she?