In the meantime though, I guess I should add to my previous a few other comments about the issues I have raised here:
First of all, I never intended to slight or disrespect Chuck Jones and I regret giving that impression. I think the caption I posted for the B & W sketch was ill-advised and I apologize for it, although I feel that deleting it this late would be cheesey. I am sorry for it though. I think the sketch speaks for itself well enough about the point I was trying to make. Ironically, the longer I look at it the more it seems like a perfectly acceptable drawing. It is, however not nearly as good a drawing as any from one of the vintage shorts it references.
I am beginning to wonder if it is best not to offer critical comments at all in such a public forum and there is plenty of room to be misunderstood. I don't mean to set myself up as the standard bearer for the industry and would be on pretty thin ice if I did. Chuck Jones, on the other hand, was a master of this medium and I hope it's obvious that I admire and relish his work (including some of his most obscure films) as much as anybody.
Second, despite my dislike for much of the later gallery art, I do not mean to suggest that Mr. Jones was "hacking" when he did this stuff. I think rather he did these to what he believed was the best of his ability and it should go without saying it was in his discretion to do them in any style he chose. He was a classy guy and I don't think "hacking" was in his nature. The baseball cards and later shorts suggest to me however that these pieces engaged a different part of his creative brain than the gallery art and the psychology behind that is interesting to me. It is in fact the general point of the post, and not specific to Chuck Jones either. The large paintings are particularly poor in my opinion, but the fact that Chuck Jones did them makes them valuable and well worth whatever the galleries charge to purchase them. And if people enjoy them, that is their right. I myself can't paint in any medium worth a damn and wouldn't pretend that I could produce anything better; to the contrary in fact.
Third, I was in fact trying to point out that the production process of making the later big-budget shorts, as well as the pseudo-production process of making the baseball cards brought out what I and I think many other fans and artists feel is the best in Chuck Jones' later work and proved he was capable of firing up the old spark of his great heyday.
Finally, I go back to the remark about Floyd Gottfredson, which I made below: the fact that he was vocal about his preference for his late work has haunted and chilled me for decades, because although I can't site a case offhand, I do think it was something many older artists of his generation felt in the twilight years. Chuck Jones was proud of his work in general but he never got specific about the late vs early issue and no one to my knowledge ever asked him, so in this case the mystery of his genuine personal appraisal is what nags me enough to raise the issue. That Gottfredson, on the other hand, could call his pedestrian later strips better than his outstanding work over the decades of the 1930's, 40's & 50's is depressing. I seem to recall that the interviewer even balked at this and the artist brushed him off as too young to understand. Does this mean that taste and criteria and even visual perception change over time, or is this just the sound of an ego protecting it's host? Given that I myself am well into (ahem) mid-life, it's a question I have to ask myself. I try to stay as critical of my own work, both personal and professional, as possible as anyone who knows me well can tell. I'd certainly like to think there is better work ahead for me yet and that age and experience will make me better fit to rise to the occasion... I guess only time will tell.
BTW - If anyone knows where this late interview with Gottfredson is, let me know, it would set my mind at ease if I am remembering the whole thing wrong...
Post Script: Thad K has posted some fine examples of Gottfredson in both his heyday and his decline, here on his own blog. He also echos hearing the artist make the claim that he was better later, confirming that at least I am not the only person who got this impression.