R. Crumb. What more do I have to say? This is a very big deal for me. I’ve always loved Crumb’s stuff and as I mention in the Howard Cruse Q&A intro, I think underground has as much to to with the art as it does with the politics, Crumb would tackle some hardcore and shocking stuff, even today Crumb’s take on the word nigger is amazing. One of the few pieces of art I’ve been able to afford to keep and not sell, that I eventually lost in a theft was a print of crumbs called “LET’S TALK SENSE ABOUT THIS HERE MODERN AMERICA” man do I love that piece… it really sums it up.
Anyway, Crumb has a very huge piece of underground comix history, one of the founders, it is more than an honor to have received a response from Robert Crumb.
What is underground art?
Well, let’s see, how do you define “underground” art? In the old days it meant any art that could only be disseminated or exibited secretly because of repressive laws. An artist or writer could actually go to jail because of obscenity, religious blasphemy or political statements against the regime. This is still the case in many countries, but in the U.S. and Europe, “underground art” nowadays is anything that can’t find an outlet in big, established venues and chooses to call itself “underground” for the aura of excitement and rebellion that the word implies. Because, you know, 95 percent of all artists, writers, cartoonists, film makers – like to think they’re rebels doing “subversive” work.
Are there any rules or a set of ethics to the underground?
Sure, we have lots of rules. The list is too long to put here. The main rule is: you must hate, loathe and despise all things bourgeois. And, hey, who DOESN’T hate the bourgoisie?? Even hedge fund managers hate the bourgeoisie. Second rule is: you must never wear a necktie unless you’re on a spy mission for the underground, trashing the system from the inside, stuff like that.
Ethics include things like never stealing your friends’ dope stash, and never trusting authority figures. People in positions of power, and large institutions with lots of money are almost ALWAYS up to no good. It’s one of the few things you can count on.
What is selling out?
Selling out is simply doing something ONLY for the money. It’s when your conscience bothers you but you take the money anyway. You rationalize, you make excuses to yourself, you NEED the money. What the hell? Your ideals were foolish and naïve anyway. Now you’re being street smart, you’re in the real world, playing with the big boys. Of course, everybody has to “sell out” to one degree or another, but it behooves us to at least TRY to cling to some shred of moral and ethical ideals, naïve as they might seem. ‘Cause, you know, it’s a slippery slope, the more you sell out, the easier it gets. And of course, the world WANTS you to sell out, to lend your talents to the low common denominator commerical imperatives. It’s an irresistable force, it’s the way the water runs and the wind blows. Money rules the world. Oh, man, it’s ugly. It’s a jungle out there.
Have you ever sold out?
Well, yeah… I’ve done work just for the money on occasion. But I’ve been luckier that most in that regard. I’ve been successful enough on my own terms that I don’t need to become a total whore. How unusual is that? Sometimes I can’t believe my good fortune. It’s humbling, actually. I should get down on my knees and thank the baby Jesus that there are some people out there who will pay good money for my crazy drawings! Wow! Full disclosure: When I was first starting out, I had a job with a greeting card company, a total sell-out if ever there was one. But I was very young and it was a highly educational experience.
Is it possible to steal an idea?
Certainy it’s possible to steal an idea. Steal from the best, I always say. Just don’t be too obvious about it. It’s embarrassing to get caught and have some smart alec point out to you where you stole something. People LOVE to do that. “Aha! I caught you! Ha ha!” I’ve done it myself. But the reality is, nobody is ever completely original. Every artist or writer has his antecedents and sources of inspiration. There are no totally original geniuses… Myth…
Your biggest artistic regret?
I don’t have too many regrets. One thing I regret is that when I was young I didn’t take seriously enough learning to draw anatomically correct human figures, and I didn’t draw from life enough. Especially during my drug using years, 1965-’74. I let it all go in that phase. It’s crucial to learn the basic skills when you’re young, when the learning part of your brain is still in high gear. It’s much harder later. I’ve struggled for decades trying to draw the human figure correctly.
Your biggest artistic inspiration?
I guess that would be the visions I had while on LSD. Aside from that I guess I’m just, you know, an aesthete. I live for the pretty things. I was driven to create works of ART that would compete in their deepness with the works by artists whom I admired in my youth, which were all comic book artists, cartoonists and illustrators to begin with, as I was a child of popular culture.
What is dangerous art?
The only art that I would consider truly dangerous would be art that serves the purposes of propaganda for powerful institutions, governments and corporations, the application of artistic skills to manipulate, persuade or trick people into accepting what is basically a con job. For this reason I have scrupulously avoided in my life lending my skills for the purposes of advertising.
I don’t see how any art that is genuinely personal can be dangerous, no matter how “subversive” the artist might fancy him or herself.
Bonus Question, nature or nurture?