A Treasury of American Book Illustration

A Treasury of American Book Illustration

A Treasury of American Book Illustration

A Treasury of American Book Illustration

Excerpt

America is a land of prodigious appetites. It is young enough to want to taste everything and young enough to draw strength from even an injudicious diet. Its strong gastric juices triumph over the strangest brews and the most cloying mixtures. It has a strong appetite for pictures, although this is yet to be discovered in certain quarters. For several generations that appetite has grown steadily, and just as steadily that demand has been satisfied, until today the average American lives surrounded with pictures. That does not mean, of course, that his home is filled with paintings, that he frequents the picture galleries and museums or that there is even a volume of the world's masterpieces on his living room table. But he consumes pictures as he makes his hasty strides through life. They often satisfy him for only a few moments and are then discarded. But he feels a great need for them. These pictures are his folk art, they are American illustration.

Illustrations flood the average American from all sides. There are the numerous magazines, large and small, designed to appeal to his dominant interests and more usual moods. These magazines pour from the presses each week, each month. There is the daily spate of newspapers, one in the morning and one in the evening. Mail brings him pictured circulars and catalogs and all kinds of cleverly designed advertising. As he travels he may scan with interest or resentment the billboards on his highways and the advertising cards in his trains, trolley cars or subways. There are pictures in his store windows and even the nightmarish neon lights sometimes take on pictorial form.

This may seem a strange way to satisfy pictorial hunger. But this is the twentieth century American's way, and if we hope to understand him, we must know something about the pictures that influence and delight him.

His insistent demand for a never ending stream of easily read pictures has brought into being a giant mechanism for their production and distribution. It is a mechanism of amazing size and power, built for speed and efficiency. The modern printing presses border on the miraculous. They run enormous editions of full color material at incredible speeds. The pressmen are intelligent, well trained and resourceful. The emphasis, however, is upon speed and size, not quality; consequently, the finest levels of printing and reproduction are seldom attained. Care, patience, and a high standard of craftsmanship do not, generally speaking, flourish in the American atmosphere. But if the highest levels are seldom reached, neither are the lowest.

The unique products of these presses are the large magazines--the great weeklies and monthlies of national circulation. They are without counterpart in the world of today. They are characteristically American. Their circulation, in the millions, blankets the country. They reach most of America's homes where they attempt to appeal to or instruct each member of the family, particularly the women.

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