1929: Modern Art

Bettmann/Corbis

 

 

 


Emily Genauer ’30

Beginning her career with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World in 1929, Emily Genauer spent more than four decades championing then-controversial modern artists like Marc Chagall and Diego Rivera, shaping Americans’ perceptions of fine art, and resisting editorial pressure to ignore leftist artists like Pablo Picasso.

The New York World-Telegram – June 8, 1948
“Maybe The Blurb Man Blurs The Paintings”
By Emily Genauer

An advertising art director is a man who plans and puts together the illustrated advertisements, posters, leaflets, calendars, et al., which confront you practically every time you open your eyes. Or, if you want to be fancy about it, he is—I quote from a brochure handed out at the current Art Directors Club exhibition at the Grand Central Galleries—”the creative designer, economist, psychologist and sociologist… contouring product-purchasing points of view.”

His job is to hit the bull’s eye in a split second. He has got to make the casual passer-by stop, look, read his message and then go out and spend his money for a product he may or may not really want.

As the paid employee of the manufacturer of that product, the art director has no responsibility whatever to educate the public, despite the fact that he controls the one medium which reaches more of that public than any other, and consequently has the greatest education potentialities.

Art need have no place in his figuring. To begin with, the creative artist’s aim is opposed to his own. The artist is interested in saying his piece, not fast and loud, but profoundly and beautifully. If it never quite gets said completely, so much the better.

Yet more and more in recent years art directors have been incorporating the fine arts, either directly or indirectly, into their advertisements. Why? They have found that art, whatever its intrinsic character or however “deep” its message, can be so unhackneyed, so original, so arresting in its physical form as to capture the attention of the surfeited observer much more effectively than the slickest, time-tried optical trickery.

View is Indorsed.

Paul Smith, president of the Art Directors Club said as much in an address opening the Art Directors Club show the other day. Too much of advertising strategy has been based on the findings of the research agencies, he said. So-called readership devices have been used so frequently as to lose their power. The point of diminishing returns is being reached. It is a case, he said, of “putting the chart before the course.”

What course advertising is taking right now and—what concerns us more right here—what part art is playing in it, you can see from the exhibition. To be sure, there is less straight reproduction of paintings in the 330 examples of specially selected advertisements included in the show, than within the past few years. One finds work by Salvador Dali, Fletcher Martin, Julien Binford and a few others whose names are familiar on art gallery row, which looks as if it might have been acquired ready-made for use in ads.

On the other hand one comes more frequently that in the past on pictures by well-known artists who have executed special jobs for an individual client. For this the art director deserves special kudos. It took a lively imagination, for instance, on the part of one of them to know from Julio de Diego’s whimsical, surrealist paintings that he could execute exactly the sort of thing needed to project a message promoting a travel magazine. Ben Shahn, Bernard Perlin and others also have executed special assignments admirably.

Exceptional Cases.

But these are exceptions. The greatest influence of art on the ads this last year has been in the development of lay-out techniques and in ideas. The art directors clearly are keen admirers of Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian and the Bauhaus school of non-objective painters. Any number of fabric advertisements are constructed according to the collage technique of the early abstractionists. Surrealism has strongly colored their thinking.

It’s safe to say that modern advertising would look completely different today from what it does, had not progressive, courageous, modern artists been content to forego the demands and assured income of advertisers over recent years to pursue instead their own lonely, largely unpurchased and even much ridiculed experiments with new art forms.

Coincidentally with the Art Directors Club show there is an exhibition on at the Society of Illustrators of leisure-time paintings by members. Many of these men have been responsible for the illustrations which appear in the ads hung at the large show. It might have been expected that in their off-hour works they would throw off the shackles of direction and prescriptions of space and message. The majority of them, however, have executed proficient, sharply realistic studies of landscape revealing little or no freedom of imagination or technique. (There are a few exceptions, among them Howard Handy, Lester Beall and Stahl.)

One shouldn’t, however, be too quick to criticize this rigidity. It is not easy for one who year in and year out works according to assignment suddenly to throw off his bonds and become “creative.”

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