Calling All Concepts


Recently, I came across this ad in the back of a 1964 Society of Illustrators Annual. It prompted me to think back to all of the art directors that I met when I first started out as an illustrator. Before the internet, that was how illustration careers were started – by appointments and portfolio drop-offs.

The Golden Age of Illustration usually refers to the era of Howard Pyle, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth. But I wonder when was the golden age of art direction? That too, should be looked back on in fondness and admiration. After all, it takes a visionary to open their minds doors to new possibilities. And it takes intelligence as well as courage, to seek artists who present more than decoration to the page – ones who bring new ideas and sensibilities.

Imagine what a different publication Cosmopolitan was back when Anthony La Sala was the art director. This image is so artful and sophisticated. It’s quite a contrast from what’s in “Cosmo” on the newsstand today. And, Mr. La Sala was apparently being aspirational in this advertisement. Not one illustration from Cosmopolitan Magazine won recognition that year from the Society of Illustrators. He wanted to change things for next year, I presume.

In the 1964 annual there are many publications that are gone now, such as The Saturday Evening Post, Look, Show Magazine, Rogue Magazine, Holiday, McCalls and Nugget Magazine. But others remain, and most, like Cosmopolitan, are living in different art direction times now: Fortune Magazine, Ladies Home Journal, Boy’s Life, Good Housekeeping, Time, Sports Illustrated, Redbook, Reader’s Digest and Seventeen Magazine.

The Society of Illustrators books are much bigger than they were back in 1964. Illustration lives on thanks to the next generation of art directors. Hopefully, like Anthony La Scala, they are “anxious to see new concepts.” No doubt there are some; I have many terrific art director – ex-students.