Style & Substance: Robert Weaver and the Value of Self-Awareness

“I yam what I yam (and tha’s all what I yam)” is what Popeye the Sailor would offer as an explanation of his shortcomings, but also for his successes. For artists, that’s a fundamental lesson. I often teach that one’s artistic success is about playing up what you’re good at while playing down what you’re bad at. Self-awareness on both ends of the success spectrum is a key to finding a way forward.


When the Hall of Fame illustrator, Robert Weaver died, the New York Times described him as such: “…an influential illustrator who combined dazzling draftsmanship with an unusually painterly style.” “His style combined loose, rough-hewn rendering, deft abbreviations and sometimes elements of collage, with a startling degree of realism that seemed to capture of essence of any face or pose without resorting to photographic detail. He was influential both as an artist and as a teacher at the School of Visual Arts, where he worked for more than 35 years.”


But to hear Weaver describe his method makes it all sound so simple, and so smart.

In an article in the January 10th issue of New York Magazine about a large exhibition celebrating his work, his success was stated clearly:

  “Weaver attributes his innovative approach to “a simple inability to do glamourous things – like beautiful women with beautiful hairdo’s. “I still can’t do them.” This “inability” took him to the top of his profession.”

For Weaver, his inability to follow the likes of Norman Rockwell and Al Parker (among others) and his recognition of his alternative strengths and interests, combined for a trailblazing turn in the communication arts. 


Further Observation

About a decade after Popeye came on the shore, the great American lyricist, Johnny Mercer, wrote “You’ve got to accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative. Don’t mess with Mister In-Between” and matched it with a catchy Harold Arlen tune to make the huge hit record “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.” While certainly old, I recommend it as a theme song for every illustration student, but with one caveat. That is, please disregard the third line which states “don’t mess with Mr. In beween.” I say, there is much to be messed with, and learned from, the in-between. So, by all means – mess with it.