Bernie Fuchs on Capturing the Viewer – Through Sensation


illustration by Bernie Fuchs

In illustration, as in many other things, the more things change, the more they remain the same. How interesting to read from a 1964 Society of Illustrators Annual, and find that the topic of discussion in a Note From the Editor by Bernie Fuch is the exact same topic that we addressed yesterday in my class, as if it were new. That is, in a world of distraction, how does an illustrator attract and connect with an audience? After all, art of the illustrator is not placed in galleries and museums for quiet contemplation. No, illustrators create work for viewers who are not looking for art at the moment that it is seen.


illustration by Bernie Fuchs

A Note From The Editor  by Bernie Fuchs from Illustrators ’64

This is not the kind of book you find lying around in dentist’s offices; so it’s a good bet that anyone who peruses it will do so because he especially wants to.

It will have willing interested lookers -people who come to see and ponder the pictures.

Even with this kind of audience it will be necessary to go back several times to really see the pictures.

Compare this audience of art-savvy people to the average thumb-wetter who dashes headlong through a commercial magazine with no idea and little interest in how the illustrations got there. Think of this alarming challenge as you view the contents of this book – and think of it as you face your next rectangle.


illustration by Bernie Fuchs

A picture captures a moment, holds it there and allows the viewer to ponder It lays itself open to a multitude of abuses – mainly the fast flip of the page or the nonchalant glance of the reader who has too much on his mind to be bothered. Actually, I venture to say that even very good pictures fare only slightly better than average, or go along with the media research experts, slightly worse than average. To use the phrase probably conceived in the media research, “in today’s fast moving world,” we picture-makers are bucking horrendous odds. Books, movies, plays and TV seize the viewer and hold him through their stories. They gee him the nearest thing to the real experience. The most exciting means of expression today, the movie, has a tremendous full-bleed, wide-screen spread with which to engulf the viewer. It can mage his eyes move when and where it wants them to with utmost authority. These mediums, with the exception of writing, have three overwhelming assets: sound, visual movement and the ability to tell a complete story with a beginning and an ending (the book having only the latter). A picture has none of thes, though some people when confronted with one, state in the dignified vernacular, “That really has movement.” Let’s face it, an image on TV or a musical score literally moves.

Again, the picture has only that tiny instant that it stops forever, and with that it has to make someone see. It has to hold him there long enough for his imagination to wander through the moment and feel, not literally but imaginatively, the sensation of a movement, a sound, a memory or an anticipation of the next instant which can only be conjecture in the mind.


illustration by Bernie Fuchs

Our task is monumental because even if a picture has all these potentials there is no guarantee it will be seen. For, alas, the flippant viewer will not participate. Ashamedly we admit, he has apparently gotten very lazy, -for example, the successfully rated TV commercial which lists the product’s remedies for constipation in oversized handwriting while a well-groomed finger points word for word as it’s read to you.


illustration by Bernie Fuchs

But, as long as we’re in the business gof making pictures, the least we can do is point the finger for him and give him the benefit of the doubt. The only way we can do this is to start with the feeling we want him to end with. We have to portray the right moment and honestly let it happen as we see it. We are lucky in that we spend enough time with a picture so as to allow our imagination to wander and literally move it, either on it’s tumbril or towards a degree of success. The quickest way to the guillotine is to inherit the viewer’s own despondent attitude which ultimately leads to the role of the imitator or the quick-sell solution, while salvation lies within our own imagination, and our willingness to use it. After all, if the research ratings are true, are we not as much to blame for our public’s lazy disposition as he is? Are we expecting him to improve without our help? Are we capable of bucking the odds? —Bernard Fuchs, 1964


cover art by Alan Cober

Further Observation

Bernie Fuchs (1932-2009) was a giant in the illustration field in the second half of the 20th Century; a fixture on the walls of The Society of Illustrators annual exhibitions. In his lifetime, the narrative and decorative norms of illustration art were pushed into more painterly and conceptual directions. Without a doubt, Fuchs pushed the former more than the latter. He led a number of trends of surface exploration, montage and eventually, the use of photography as a basis for paintings featuring exaggerated effects of light.