The Friday Fillip: Let Me Illustrate

We love to rank. High and low, higher and lower yet: Social standing — whether “brow” or “class” — seats in the coliseum, credit cards, professors — whole universities1, come to that — even art2. You’ll know high art by where you find it. It’ll be in museums and grand concert halls, which are created to define high art. There’ll be a salon des refusés perhaps, for the near misses. And then — maybe even daubed on the outside of the same walls — there’s ephemera: pop, journalism, illustration, the work of hacks, jills and jacks of the trade, stuff that comes and goes daily and once upon a time wrapped your fish and chips back when there were still fish.

This ranking of art into “high” and “low” is mostly bollocks, of course, yet we all do it. I do it. I’ve been known to dis3 more than one drawing as “merely” illustration. I continue to make amends for that foolishness, one amend being today’s Fillip on the work of a marvellous illustrator.

Christoph Niemann specializes in delight, I’d say. Amid the smorgasbord of psychic-emotional “good” goods on offer — Ecstasy, Joy, Bliss, Pleasure, Delight, Euphoria, Rapture, Happiness, Gaiety, Enjoyment, Fun — I’m a big fan of delight, one of the lesser graces4, a lowercase god (this being a matter of measurement, not ranking). We may pursue happiness, à l’Americaine, but delight finds us, which is one of its most endearing features. It is tripped on, surprised when rounding a corner, popped like a bubble from within for no reason, and, in the case of Mr. Niemann, sent our way in lovely little postcards, as it were.

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There are four main places you can see his work.

  • The first would be on his own website, and I’d recommend you go straight to the Sunday Sketches portion of his portfolio, where his whimsical “modding” of bits of the real world is on offer. Horses and bananas? Surely not. But . . . Niemann sees it (and you can, too, if you click here).
  • Then there’s his Instagram page featuring the gems he’s done for his New York Times Abstract Sunday Blog. I cannot capture their variety in words — and I ought not to be too liberal with my reproducing of them here, so you must go to have a look. But I’ll offer you one here, via this link.
  • The Abstract Sunday Blog itself requires a visit, because there Niemann embeds his drawings in little tales that . . . delight, of course. I particularly recommend his Dante At the Beach, given my Dante reference earlier.
  • Finally, go on over to The New Yorker page on Niemann to see his work for them. He’s created more than twenty covers, only some of which are on the webpage, it seems.

  1. Hot off today’s presses comes yet another ranking of the world’s universities, this time from MIT.↩︎
  2. High art in writing is “literature”, casually known in the publishing biz because of its unprofitability as “non-genre, non-mainstream” writing; and the worst of these is poetry. ↩︎
  3. There’s a lovely serendipity here: Dante’s 6th through 9th circles of Hell are within the City of Dis, portraying for me not just another ranking — all those levels within a (dismal) low place vs. the sublime Heavenly City at the other pole — but at the same time a place where those who stoop to “dis” should be headed. ↩︎
  4. As the poet Jack Gilbert says in “A Brief for the DefenseWe must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,/ but not delight↩︎


  1. Simon,
    I balked when my 11-year-old tried to place “dis” on the board in our Scrabble game last night, but I see you using it (albeit, ironically) and now I’m having to consider if I owe her an apology.

  2. Gotta watch those three-leggedletter words. And eleven-year-olds. Give her a high five from me.