In her NY Times review of Saul Steinberg: A Biography, by Deirdre Bair, Deborah Solomon reminds us that Steinberg was most famous for his “View of the World From 9th Avenue”, a Manhattan-centric remapping of the world.
Steinberg was a prolific cartoonist for The New Yorker. In addition, his drawings and sculptures were shown in high-brow galleries and museums, and prized by art collectors.
Solomon, who authored a forthcoming biography of Norman Rockwell, has good reason to be well-versed on the topic of “fine art” vs. “illustration”. About Steinberg, she comments: “In his heyday, art critics butted heads over whether his drawings should be considered cartooning, illustration or museum-worthy art. By now such attempts at classification seem beside the point. Most of us do not believe that an invisible velvet rope separates museum art from magazine art, or that a painting hanging at the Museum of Modern Art is automatically superior in aesthetic terms to a children’s book illustration. The truth is that any genre can produce works of enduring power” (italics mine.)
Solomon cites an anecdote from the biography that mirrors this pedestal-busting view of art: “(Steinberg) once described Picasso, after visiting him at his villa outside Cannes, as ‘an old Jewish man in the Florida sun– all torso and shorts.'”
What do you think? Is there an important distinction between illustration and fine art? Does it matter?