About Fred Lynch

Fred Lynch is an artist, illustrator and professor of Illustration at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). He lives near Boston, Massachusetts. ©Fred Lynch All rights reserved.

The MoMA’s Artist As Reporter Show



In 1940 the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York staged an unusual competition exhibition – The Artist as Reporter. It was co-sponsored by the soon-to-debut PM newspaper as “a search for artists who could report the news with brush and pen.” A call for entries went out to 10,000 artists in New York and beyond, and the best entries were to be selected by a jury of distinguished artists including John Sloan and William Gropper. $1750.00 dollars in prizes were offered ($30,813.00 in today’s dollars)  including one prize was chosen by visitors to the exhibition.

In the press release, Nelson A. Rockefeller, president of the Museum of Modern Art, said in announcing the competition, “The Museum of Modern Art is always eager to encourage new avenues of opportunity for the American artist. That is why we are delighted to cooperate in this competition, which promises to open up new possibilities for the artist and to expand the field of journalistic art. In this connection it is interesting to recall that the work of Winslow Homer, one of our greatest artists, first came prominantly to public notice when he was a pictorial artist for Harper’s Weekly.  And the tradion of journalistic art (which one gave employment to hundreds of artists) has associated with it the names of such outstanding American artists as George Liks, William J. Glackens and John Sloan.”


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Call for Entry


In the call for entries, Journalistic Art is defined:

“What is Journalistic Art? It may be a drawing or painting of some violent or dramatic action, a rescue at a fire, a strike scene, a police raid, a prize fight. And certainly the whole world of sports. Or it may be a sketch of faces in the news: well-known faces of politicians, criminals, attorneys, theatre people; or of unknown faces, of people the news affects – wives waiting at a mine rescue, men on a picket line, children on the impatient line for “Pinocchio.”

Or a picture could be a record of contemporary scenes that will one day spell 1940: workman patching the Trylon at the World’s Fair; a man selling “Confucious Say” handbills on Broadway. It could be, too, a purely descriptive picture of a parade, a horse-race, a crowd in the bleachers.

These then would be journalistic pictures, with the Artist as Reporter. And there are many others. The news-minded artist will discover them for himself.”


1,926 entries came in for the competition (1,463 from New York) and approximately 200 were chosen for the show. Familiar names (to me) among the included artists were artists Ben Shahn, Philip Guston and Reginald Marsh along with New Yorker magazine cover artists Arthur Getz and Garrett Price.  Abraham Jaffee (better known as Al Jaffee of MAD Magazine fame) was also in the show, along with Richard Scarry, the legendary children’s book artist (the creator of Busytown).

There was a descent number of women in the exhibition as well, for the time: Nan Lurie, Elizabeth Olds, Lisa Rhanna, Wilma Riley, Doris Rosenthal, Julia Rogers, Georgette Seabrooks, Bernarda Byson Shahn, Helen R. Stoller and Sylvia Wald.


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Opening Night

PM went on to be a very influential but short-lived newspaper. The very visual paper featured over 400 comics by Dr. Seuss, and also a comic strip (Barnaby) by Crockett Johnson, who later wrote Harold and The Purple Crayon. Another contributing artist was the abstract expressionist, Ad Reinhardt. Among the many photographers who published were Margaret Bourke-White and Arthur Felig – better known as “Weegee”.

More information can be found at the MoMA website.


Further Observation

At the end of the Call for Entries comes this curious addition: “P.M. doubts that staff jobs with salaries is the best way to employ artists. Rather it believes in finding and knowing 30-40 artist whom it may call on.”

I wonder if the participating artist would agree with that.


Ben Shahn: Perspective


“I remember a story that my father used to tell of a traveller in 13th-century France who met three men wheeling wheelbarrows. He asked in what work they were engaged and he received from them the following three answers:

The first said, “I toil from sunup to sundown and all I receive for my pains is a few francs a day. ”

The second said, “I’m glad  enough to wheel this wheelbarrow for I have been out of work for many months and I have a family to support.”

The third said, “I am building Chartres Cathedral.”

-from The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn, 1957, Harvard University Press

Job Description: Illustrator


“I’m an illustrator. Most artists, if they’re painting something and you don’t understand it, that’s your problem. If I illustrate something and you don’t understand it, I failed.”

-Joe Krush (100 years old this week) who illustrated often with his wife, Beth.

Going Digital


Seventeen years ago, I tracked the growth of “digital” artmaking by examining a number of old Communication Arts Illustration Annuals. Because the yearly issue includes a description of artists’ media use, I was able to use that information to catch a glimpse of the pace of growth of the use of digital tools from year to year in their survey of outstanding illustration.

Some artists didn’t list their media, so I didn’t count them. Also not included, were those works described as “mixed media” because the term is non-specific.

Here’s what I learned from this year’s issue, and a comparison from my calculations from the past:

In the 2018 Annual:

73% of the entries described “digital” as part of the creation process*.

43% of the entries described “digital” as the only medium.


In the 2011 Annual, 54% of the entries described “digital” as part of the  process.
In the 2010 Annual, 44% of the entries described “digital” as part of the  process.
In the 2005 Annual, 29% of the entries described “digital” as part of the  process.
In the 2000 Annual, 12% of the entries described “digital” as part of the  process.
In the 1995 Annual,    3% of the entries described “digital” as part of the  process.
In the 1990 Annual,   .5% of the entries described “digital” as part of the process.
In the 1985 Annual,    0% of the entries described “digital” as part of the  process.


*Series of works were counted as one entry because all were described as of the same media and artist). “Mixed media” was not included, due to vagueness. Entries with no description of media were included in the calculations.

The Second Gift


A few years ago, I gave a student of mine an extra sketcbook that I had. It had an accordian format that I didn’t have a use for. A year ot two later, in the mail, the sketchbook came back – filled with amazing sketches of her life after college in South Korea. A note stated that she was returning the book. I was stunned, and wrote about in a previous post.

Since then, I’ve told the story to my students often, and each time they are wide eyed and moved like I was, by both the beauty of the work, and by the gesture.

Two years ago, a quiet student named Yi Bin Liang from Singapore came up to me after  class and said, “I would like a sketchbook.” I explained that I did have more sketchbooks, but that they come with no strings attached. I thought for sure that she was simply asking for a sketchbook knowing that I have extras – ones I’ve bought or been given, and were not going to be used any time soon. But that’s not what she meant.


The following year, after graduating, getting married, and starting a new life outside of Boston, Yi Bin returned to school and handed me the book. She said she was finished and was giving it back.


Turning the pages, I saw that these were more than just drawings. They were the recordings of an important time in her life. Some featured her new husband, Will, who was also a student of mine, as well as other ex-students. In the drawings, you see Yi Bin’s reflections of a new life in America. You see wonder and warmth. And of course you see the remarkable sketching of a great young artist

I will guard the book with my life and use it as an inspiration for my classes. And I will return the book to Yi Bin immediately upon request!



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More wonderful work by Yi Bin Liang can be found at her website: https://yibinliang.com

Bushmiller: First and Foremost

“The gag itself comes first and is the more difficult than the drawing part of cartooning.”     -Ernie Bushmiller, cartoonist of Nancy


“Before the cartoonist puts pen to board, before the cartoonist puts pencil to notebook, before the cartoonist does anything fruitful with the pulp based product or any sort of pointed object, the cartoonist must first think. The ability to regularly generate useful concepts is at the core of the creative practice.”

“According to Bushmiller confidant and fellow comic strip artist Morris Weiss: “Ernie would go into a trance and he would be completely oblivious to everything around him…Most of his time was consumed with coming up with ideas…His whole life was coming up with gags.”

-from How to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels by Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden, Fantagraphics Books, 2017

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Stop Copying: Shanth Enjeti


Self portrait by Shanth Enjeti

My colleague and ex-student Shanth Enjeti is endlessly quotable. Here’s a gem found recently on the website for Montserrat College Art, where he’s a professor, and where I used to teach with him.

“The pursuit of replicating the work of an artist who inspires you is utterly incompatible with the pursuit of becoming an artist whose work inspires others. May your pursuit of the latter, begin here.”