The MoMA’s Artist As Reporter Show

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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.

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Ben Shahn: Perspective

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“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

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“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

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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.

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

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“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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Clear Advice

“Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will guided by its light.”

– Joseph Pulitzer 1911