Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Children's books at the Bellefonte Art Museum are definitely not just for children.

Fine Art vs. Illustration: Does the debate have merit?

We take flight with stories. 
(Illustration Uri Shulevitz)
For a few hundred years, since the advent of the publication of illustrated stories, those involved in the realms of art have enjoyed debating the value and merit of fine art vs. illustration. Which is better? Which is more collectable? Which takes more skill? Where do we draw the line between fine art and illustration? Which tells a better story? And, as with most debates on art, the answers depend very much on personal opinion. You could have a different discussion every night of the week, depending on who you're talking with and which artists you're talking about.

In contrast to the widely accepted and touted answers of recent decades, some of the answers to these questions have changed with the times, where today, we have whole museums devoted to illustration, such as The National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature, and organizations which define an illustrator as a professional, such as the Society for Illustrators. We have, for many years, had recognizable awards for the best illustrated picture books for children, such as the Caldecott Medal. And there are many more organizations celebrating the skill and artistic talent of artists who work with words and pictures.

The Caldecott Medal graces the covers of winners.
I'm so pleased to be able to share some of the most beautiful books written and illustrated for children in our Bellefonte Art Museum library collection, including several Caldecott winners, such as Song and Dance Man, shown in the photo below. The interesting thing about Stephen Gammell's illustrations for Song and Dance Man is that they're mostly done with colored pencil, a medium that has only recently been taken seriously as a professional tool for artists.

Caldecott winner Song and Dance Man.
Our collection includes one book that might not make it through the publishers today - it is very controversial - come take a peek and see if you can figure out why Good Dog, Carl might be unacceptable in today's over-regulated society.

We love Carl.
Our collection includes several books on the process illustrators went through in the 1980s to get their ideas onto paper and out to publishers. It's fascinating reading. The process has changed somewhat with the advent of the Internet, where many times, illustrations are created and provided electronically, and authors and artists have easy options for publishing their own books without the need for large publishing houses, though those avenues still exist.

How did Uri Shulevitz do it?
How did Janet Stevens do it?
What do Berthe Amoss and Eric Suben say about their processes?
And we have our icons, those illustrators and writers that everyone knows and loves, such as Dr. Seuss (turned down 27 times before his first book was accepted for publication).

Retrospective Exhibition of Dr. Seuss's work held in San Diego in 1986.
Our collection includes pure magic and fantasy, with a couple of different versions of Puss in Boots.

Puss in Boots, illustrated by Fred Marcellino.
And stories celebrating the beautiful differences in cultures.

Chief Seattle's historical message, beautifully illustrated.
Detail from Brother Eagle, Sister Sky.
We have a tale from the Pacific Northwest - 

Bold color and cultural symbols.
I find it fascinating that Raven is a Caldecott winner, as is Song and Dance Man, and yet the illustrations are completely different, though both are gorgeous.

Take a trip around the world in Spanish!
Soak up some American history, beautifully illustrated by Samuel Byrd.
Check out the relationship between Flossie and the Fox.
Find out how Maebelle's selfless wisdom solves her friend's problem.
These are just some of the very special books we have to share for children and grown-ups alike in the Photography Gallery/Library at the Bellefonte Art Museum.

Children's books are powerful.
I'll tell you a secret. When I go to the doctor's office and I know they're going to take my blood pressure, guess what I read while I'm in the waiting room? Children's books. They never fail to bring it down several notches.

Fine art can do that too, whether you're creating it or enjoying another artist's creations. It's magic, come see! The Bellefonte Art Museum is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from noon to 4:30 p.m. or by appointment.

Members are encouraged to bring in your favorite children's books to lend or donate. Spread the joy!

Library Manager