Dean Cornwell Notes Part 2

(all images Dean Cornwell)
By Armand Cabrera

My second set of Dean Cornwell quotes from Art Student League lectures given in the thirties.

For background material, go to the source, not clippings of another illustrators work. Build you own files with your own sketches

Do what the camera can’t do- the camera can’t add the spiritual; it can’t go beyond the mentality of its models. Test your work ask yourself “Can the camera do what I have done?” If you can make a real picture you won’t have to worry about the camera.

One thing is definite-ART IS IMPORTANT! Man drew pictures before he could read or write and he still looks at pictures. Let us then agree they should be good.

In speaking of art, Frank Brangwyn says the best art is that which serves the best purpose.

From all we can read of the old masters they did not set out to produce art but to do well a given job

No one can ever hope to attain success as an illustrator when this aim is not their sole purpose in life.

Any picture made by a rule is most likely to result in looking like rules and hence will always lack distinction and personality.

The first thing a student seems to think important is that of acquiring a style. It is truth we are striving for and style is a bit of the man himself that stands between the observer and the idea and is always a distraction.

Every thought in the artists mind is always manifest in the result. If you are thinking of how the paint is put on your canvas the result will be this is your message.

To understand art apart from facts one must go to the work of acknowledged masters, while fact may be gained from nature. We must realize that art is interpretation not imitation.

It is the quality of selection in everything at all times that makes for the artist. Whatever you do, do it as well as you can, whenever in doubt, don’t do it.

Art is a language complete and distinct from literature. Anything that can be said in words is not a subject for a painting.

A picture so limited to any one line in the story is not worthy of space.

I have known illustrators to lack imagination to the extent that they allow or depend on the model to give them an interpretation. Very rarely have I ever found a model that can get into a pose in spirit or drawing the way I would like it on canvas. You should know enough about drawing so that your action or posture is definitely established on your canvas before ever calling the model.

I have always started without drawing in the charcoal first but with lots of medium and very large brushes working entirely in tone and mass. In laying in your picture this way after a few hours at a distance of twenty or thirty feet your canvas should look complete and finished. Until this is so it is not a lay-in and until you have a good lay-in no thought should be given to the use of models.

Drawing is an indispensable aid to the illustrator. By this I do not mean academic drawing, this is of practically no value.

A successful picture is a thing conceived as a whole and cannot be attained by the sum of its parts. The sum of the parts is never as great as the whole.

It is impossible for any man to paint and not leave traces of his personality. In the work of big men, despite this, the idea is never obscured by technique or manner of presentation.

9 thoughts on “Dean Cornwell Notes Part 2

  1. Thanks so much for bequeathing us your entire stash of Cornwell notes! Great stuff all the way through!

    I was wondering: What is the provenance of these notes? How did they happen to pass down to you from the 1930s?

    Thanks again,

  2. Kev,

    Thanks for asking. They came to me from a Frank Reilly student at the Art Students League. The hand written notes say Hugh White 1936. My copy has been mimeographed and Xeroxed about a million times. There are 14 pages and only the first page is written in script with things sideways and some things cut off where the copy didn’t get all of the info; the rest are typed.
    It seems there are two or three different lectures; one is on government and mural painting and is kind of a rant against what was taking place back then and modern art in general. Some of the pages are specifically about illustration. Others are about illustration and art. I'm guessing here but I believe Faragasso and other Reilly students who were teaching handed these out in class at the League and probably the Reilly School. Mine are from the 70's. I can probably get another post out of what’s left.

  3. A fantastic selection of quotes
    "They did not set out to produce art but to
    do well a given job"
    Highlights for me where British art schools
    went off the rails…..

  4. Thanks Armand. That's fascinating.

    And I am very glad to hear that one more post of these gems is coming. However, I also hope that you publish the rant against modernism of Cornwell's. I've read elsewhere in my own research (google books, I'm pretty sure) how there were active "hard-lefties" who were literally against Cornwell and Cornwell's mural work, and I read a few nasty press articles from the 1930s about him. It seems clear that his success and/or politics made him an enemy of a some subset of vocal world-changers. And it would be interesting to hear what he had to say about these things, as well as his thoughts on abstract art.

    Thanks so much for this great resource.


  5. Great Stuff. Cornwell is an unappreciated master. His compostions are so complex. He sets out to do the difficult and that is why even today, they look so fresh. I own 4 Cornwell's and they insipre me everyday. I know that it would take a lifetime of hardwork and sweet to even be half his talent.

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