Being Generation X is difficult in the sense that it bridges two eras. In the early 70s it was before the dawn of home video, videogame, and computers. These things came onto the scene when we were still kids, and we saw this wave sort of crash over us. Today we live in a different era, but I’m starting to sort of register what’s been lost along the way.
I think with the rise of digital art (aka photoshopping) and the shift from old media such as books to audio-visual and/or digital media that the art and the underlying sense of value in illustration has been lost.
I think the crossover happened right in the pocket of my childhood from the mid 70s through the 80s.
If you look at the history of the 20th century, the dominant media of the day started out as books, magazines, and then radio. The experience of reading a book these days is seen as somewhat of a snobby or nerdy affair. What we experience today in big budget scifi and comic-book movies were limited to print back then, and that was ok.
Here is a panel from the original Valerian comic.
What comics lacked in movement, they made up with visual complexity. The joy in a comic book is to sort of drink in every inch of the detail drawn in a panel like the above. Yes, it’s not Renoir, but the mental process of appreciating the work is the same. You pause and you scan it and you let your mind wander in a sort of free-association. The static nature of the work is an open invitation to actively use your mind.
I think the reason why today’s culture is so A.D.D. is that nothing is ever presented in this form. Cameras are always shaking and twirling and flying through environments. There is no longer a sense of frame or composition. This is a big reason behind my pet-peeve about shaky-cam.
But let’s go beyond comic books and think of things like book covers. These demand even more of your attention because it often serves as the only visual to help you imagine the story inside. Romance novelists know this (hence Fabio). Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta were the kings of cheesecake fantasy covers like these:
In the 80s I was drawn to the Michael Moorcock Elric series largely because of the look of the Robert Gould cover art.
While art still has a following, it is more a fan phenomenon than the main dish, as evidenced by Deviantart.
During the crossover period, table-top games were sort of on the cusp. Still operating in the “analog” domain, and yet they were interactive.
This is the game Dungeon Dice that I had as a kid. Games like this have a tactile quality to it that you lose on the march to screen-only entertainment.
Vidoegames, when they first came out, were so primitive that you really needed the visual aid of the artwork to cement your idea of the world you’re entering into your mind. Atari was the king of this kind of artwork.
The role of art in the 70s and 80s was to complement other media. For instance, Drew Struzan was synonymous with blockbuster films of the 80s, like this one for BttF part 3.
It was just taken as a given that promotional artwork would have a hand-done analog sort of look to it. All of this went out the window with the rise of Photoshop.
For instance, this is a poster for Spider-Man Homecoming. It’s procssed by an artist and there is some semblance of composition and collage but there’s no real “painting” involved, at least nothing that looks like paint-strokes. And the sad thing is that nobody seems to care, really.
The one common thread is the shift towards more and more hyper-reality simulation and a devaluation of anything remotely connected to classical fine-art.
The Last Jedi poster artwork has a faux painting effect overlaid upon photographs. No matter how you slice it, it’s just not the same as something actually hand-painted.
Even paintings that use photographic reference (and most of it did) just has more organic humanity in it than anything done in the pure digital realm.
Probably the “peak” of the value of analog art in pop entertainment was the mid 80s peak of TSR and Avanced Dungeons & Dragons. That feelings of rifling through a stack of modules at Waldenbooks and sampling the gorgeously colorful artwork was an experience I used to treasure. Larry Elmore is probably the guy most responsible for that peak. Here’s one of his paintings.
It was also the goden era of maps.
It turns out that there’s actually a part of the brain that functions very similar to a map. It’s a flat representation of space. It’s your sense of direction. Overhead maps like these imprint themselves into your consciousness, but today when people play games they are mostly thinking in terms of first-person perspective and there’s a lack of importance given to the overhead map.
And let’s not leave out sci-fi. When I was a kid I had a book called Spacecraft 2000 – 2100 AD and it contained panels like this:
It was really just an art book with made up text meant to tie everything together, but I just used to zone out looking at the pictures.
Anyway, I could go on and on, but you get the picture (no pun intended). Yet another aspect of culture we have to just accept is dead and gone.