Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tolkien and Art

The exercise in class on Tuesday got me thinking about Tolkien as an illustrator. It seems apparent throughout the Hammond and Scull book that Tolkien did not consider himself an artist but illustrated anyway. It seems as if he was often frustrated with his own artistic ability not matching his writing and the images present in his head. Do you think Tolkien could have gotten around this difficulty by describing his artwork to a more talented artist and letting them illustrate? Or do you think we get a more original version and image because Tolkien created it himself?

6 comments:

Oromë said...

Though Tolkien's abilities as an artist are, in some ways, limited, I think his illustrations for his fiction are striking and beautiful. Tolkien's style of illustration is very distinct, and it makes up with character what it lacks in technical ability. This is an advantage for Tolkien. In many ways, uniqueness and memorability are more important that technical skill, especially in forming a creative identity. Tolkien's artwork is successful visual branding despite its various faults. This could not be accomplished by another illustrator, for Tolkien's style is entirely his own. Personally, I love his illustrations and am glad they made it into his novels.

Nessa said...

I agree with Orome, and I would also add that it is very rare for someone else to be able to perfectly recreate what is in one's mind. This is, in part, why we so often become irritated with movies that are based off of books. For an author, I would imagine that the irritation of an incorrectly-represented scene would be even greater. As a composer, when I am working with other musicians on a piece, and they play it other than how I had imagined it, it is much more painful that when I attempt to play it an mess up. There is something especially difficult about being misunderstood.

I think it is definitely for the best, then, that Tolkien designed his own artwork instead of relying on others. Though it is imperfect, it is still organic and representative of what he wanted to say through his work.

Lórien said...

In some ways we already have the types of illustrations you are talking about. From great Tolkien artists like Alan Lee and John Howe a large portion of Tolkien's world is fleshed out. They have the necessary technical skills but they also have thoroughly studied Tolkien's texts for their source material. Perhaps the images would have been even closer to what Tolkien had envisioned if he had the chance to actually work with these artists and guide their art. However, I am very glad that Tolkien decided to work on his own illustrations. Even though they may not be as technically advanced as other's work, they still provide a lot of important information about his texts and how Tolkien saw them. More importantly they provide snapshots of Tolkien's view of the world from a visual standpoint. This becomes invaluable when it comes to analyzing his writing. I would argue that Tolkien would probably say that the art of John Howe and Alan Lee is a better visual description of Middle-earth than his own. None the less, his own images provide readers and scholars alike with a font of information of style and point of view which simply cannot be attained by looking at the work of another person.

Yavanna said...

Having been in a similar situation I can understand Tolkien's frustration. It is difficult being capable in some form in an artistic medium, but being unable to match the forms and ideas in one's imagination. It reminds me of something which Ira Glass notes as "the gap in artistic mediums". He describes it as essentially being a frustration one will encounter when doing any sort of creative work. One does the creative work because they are interested in it, they are 'experts' in determining good from bad forms of that creative work. Yet, when they start making these creative works, one has not the skill necessary to create at the level which our 'expert' minds hold that creative form at.

I think Tolkien faced this in his art. He tried, and tried, and I think succeeded in creating art that at the very least began to tread upon the ideals that he wanted. Yet, despite what he might call short comings in his artistic works, I think it is better that he tried than attempt to have another create for him. He taps more into emotional intent than perfect replica, something that if one is contracted to create for another they do not wholly understand.

Yavanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Varda said...

Tolkien's legendarium was his life's work and most precious accomplishment, and it is only natural that he would be frustrated with his own artistic abilities when faced with visually representing his Middle-earth and its beings. Clearly, Tolkien had immense artistic ability which surpasses the average abilities of most people. I think, regardless of his degree of skill, he would never have truly been happy with any visual representation of his world. The artist in question would not matter, because there would never be a true, 100 percent accurate portrayal.