Saturday, 7 June 2008

A Word on Art and Awesomeness

I usually try to stay away from the word 'awesome'. Partly it's because whenever I hear it I always think of Bill and Ted ("Dude....awesome!"). But mostly it's because things the word is used to describe aren't actually ever awesome. This painting is, though, so I'm going to use the word this one time only. Awesome:

This is what fantasy art should be. I promised myself I wouldn't bag on 4th edition anymore, or even really mention it again. But nothing makes me feel more alienated from the new edition than the fact that I'd rather see a book with one picture in it like the John Howe above than fifty like the one below:

Am I alone in this?


  1. Damn! When I was reading the later post and only saw the helmet and shoulders, I thought it was a photo.


    And no, you're not alone. The 4e art is mostly competent but not very inspiring.

    - Brian

  2. Oh. Mah. Gawd.

    John Howe is pretty amazing all around, but I had NOT seen this pic of his. "Awesome" is definitely the appropriate word. Not just the realism. The depth, in every sense of the word. The suggestion of story. The utter simplicity, with nothing unnecessary. Never mind his usual sense of composition and color. Did this fellow just walk out of Faery? Is he standing right next to you? Are you, yourself, one of his mighty company, or even just thrilled at the thought that he might have chosen you for his squire?

    This is the sort of art that gets me writing stories again, zangs my imagination into high gear, births campaigns, and reminds me of the extraordinary resident in the simplest moments.

    Sigh. As for 4e, well... it's. There. The swamp hag pic is the only one that I spent time really looking at. The rest was an MST3K session with trollsmyth, who's my hubby. Even WAR (Reynolds) is starting to look the same all the time.

    I'm wondering where it fell apart, really. New CEO understandably said, "Get the damned book done already"? Art direction lacked imagination? Poor pay for art? All the good layout artists fled to Paizo (who can blame them)? All of the above? Just because an MM is a reference book doesn't excuse its lack of artistic appeal. If anything, it should have *better* art, to inspire DMs of all levels.

  3. OK, duh, the swamp hag was WAR's work. But it also is not what I expect from him these days. I would LOVE to see more of that sort of work from him, though. Hells, I'd buy a print of the swamp hag. It's not Howe's Lancelot. But it's simple, arresting, and effective.

  4. Reynolds is okay, but I've never been that huge of a fan. It's too comic-book-ish, which is fine, but I prefer the uber-realism of people like John Howe. That's just a matter of taste, of course. (And I quite like Sam Wood, I do have to say.)

    Where the 4e really fails is in composition, I think. It's all about "Hey, look at me and how awesome I am." It's a world away from the understated but genuine awesomeness of Howe's Lancelot.

  5. I leafed through the new MM this afternoon at the bookshop, and very little of it is memorable. Scaling the monsters by level results in many static, posed "class portraits." Ferocity seems to be conveyed largely by muscle flexing and the baring of fangs. The *snrk* shadar-kai *really, that's what you're calling them?* shown above looks like an action shot, until one notices that the actions shown make absolutely no sense together.

    And I'd really like to know who got the idea to dress the devils in Mardis Gras costumes and leather lingerie. Wrong kind of dungeon, I think.

    The giants are pretty cool, and I liked the gnolls. The giths y & z are much improved from WAR's anorexic 3e versions. Best stirge ever, I'd say. I miss the lanky trolls of old, but that's nostalgia; the 4e artwork is solid. But otherwise it doesn't grab me. And do not even get me started on the word salad that is 4e monster names....

    Trollbabe: Funny should should speculate that some of the art may have been rushed. The WAR swamp hag is the one peeling a maiden's skin to reveal her haggishness, right? Recycled from the 3e Oriental Adventures setting book.

  6. you're not alone.
    and your statement about how fantasy arts should be is right.

    btw, you've picked such nice examples to display. John Howe is amazing. my favorite artist. heheh.

    keep blogging :)

  7. Vinda: Thanks! Yeah, I can't get enough John Howe.