Good afternoon everyone.
My name is Marie Ladino and I am a Program Specialist in the Research and Scholars Center at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
It's a pleasure to welcome you to the 28th Annual Eldredge Prize Lecture.
Before we begin I would ask that you silence any cell phones or other electronic devices.
Today we are delighted to be honoring Dr.
Michael Lobel whose recent book, John Sloan: Drawing on Illustration, published by Yale University Press is the winner of the 2016 Eldredge Prize.
Special thanks go to the American Art Forum as well as the panel of three esteemed scholars who selected the winner for this year's prize.
This year's jurors were Jessica May, Chief Curator at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, Gwendolyn Dubois Shaw, Associate Professor of American Art at the University of Pennsylvania, and Kevin Murphy, the Eugénie Prendergast Curator of American Art at the Williams College Museum of Art.
I would also like to thank SAAM staff members Chavon Jones and Carlos Parada and everyone in the Museum's research and scholars center for facilitating today's program, and webcast, and for organizing the reception that follows.
I hope that you will all join us for refreshments immediately following Dr.
Lobel's lecture out in the lobby.
Our speaker today, Michael Lobel, is a professor of Art History at Hunter College.
His publications include three books: Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop Art, excuse me, James Rosenquist: Pop Art, Politics, and History in the 1960s, and John Sloan: Drawing on Illustration, the book we have honored with the Eldredge Prize.
Lobel is a curator and writer having contributed numerous essays for exhibition catalogs and articles for such publications as Art Journal, Art Forum, Art in America, and Art Bulletin.
He has received grants and fellowships from organizations including the Getty Research Institute, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Henry Luce Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
A member of the Board of Directors at the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, he is currently working with the education department at the Whitney Museum of American Art on programming designed to teach the public how to look at art.
Before he begins his talk today, I would like to invite Dr.
Lobel to come forward to accept the prize certificate.
– applause – Dr.
Lobel's talk, which derives from his prize-winning book is entitled, What John Sloan Can Teach Us About Illustration and American Art.
Please join me in welcoming Dr.
– applause – Thank you Marie, and thank you all for coming out on this rainy day.
I want to start with some thanks.
I'm extremely honored and touched by this recognition of my scholarly work.
Since that work was supported and encouraged by many different people, I want to begin with some thank yous.
First to the members of the Eldredge Prize jury whom Marie named Gwendolyn Dubois Shaw, Jessica May, and Kevin Murphy.
It is extremely rewarding to have my work recognized by a group of such respected scholars and curators in the field.
Also to the staff of the Smithsonian American Art Museum including director Betsy Broun, Christine Hennessy, and Curators Virginia Mecklenburg, and Bill Truettner both of whom provided assistance with my research.
And to the American Art Forum for their generous support of the Eldredge Prize.
I want to extend a particularly heartfelt thanks to Marie Ladino, Program Specialist at the Research and Scholar Center at the Museum.
Since the time I was notified of the award last spring, she's provided assistance and shepherded me through the process with consistent grace and poise.
Thank you Marie.
Much of my scholarly research over the course of my career has involved close analysis, whether of individual works of art or of primary documents and historical materials.
As such my work has consistently depended on the effort and dedication of curators, museum registrars, librarians, and archivists who are committed both to preserving those materials and making them available to scholars like me.
I would like to use this occasion to highlight how indispensable their work is in supporting scholarly research of the kind represented in my book.
One of the institution's I was most dependent on for my research was the Delaware Art Museum, which maintains John Sloan's archives and holds an extensive body of pictures by him.
Librarian Rachael DiEleuterio and curator Heather Campbell Coyle, who's very happily joined us today, were both incredibly generous with their time and knowledge of the museum's collections.
I'd also like to thank my husband Mauricio for all of his encouragement, support, and his great patience as I go around doing my research.
Finally I want to dedicate my talk today to the memory of Joyce Schiller who passed away earlier this year.
Joyce was a longtime scholar, curator, and educator devoted to the fields of American Art and Illustration.
Over the years she worked at such institutions as the St.
Louis Art Museum, the Reynolda House Museum of American Art and the Delaware Art Museum.
I met Joyce early on in my research on Sloan, at which time she was a curator at Delaware.
Although she didn't know me well at that point, she was incredibly supportive of the project both at Delaware and later when she moved onto the Norman Rockwell Museum where she was the inaugural curator of the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies.
My husband and I visited Joyce and her husband Lou in Massachusetts several years ago.
I have very fond memories of the lunch we all had together including Joyce's description of her predilection when giving tours of exhibitions for matching her outfits to the art on view, as can be seen in the photograph at left.
This serves as good an indication as any of her playful and joyful spirit.
I have a relatively straightforward brief in my comments here today.
I want to spend some time explaining my general approach to John Sloan and offer insight into what I see as some of the more significant features of his work.
Then I want to expand on those observations to consider the broader study of American art and illustration.
To begin a brief introduction to the artist himself is in order.
John French Sloan was born in 1871 in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania and spent his early years in Philadelphia.
It was in that city that he met and became involved with a circle of artists who would later come to renown variously known as the Eight and the Ashcan School.
Particularly after their collective moved to New York City in the years after 1900 they became known for their vibrant depictions of urban life in the modern American metropolis, which was being reshaped by industrialization and immigration among other forces.
The defective figurehead of this band was the charismatic Robert Henri whose primary identification was as a painter.
Many of its members including Sloan as well as George Luks, Everett Shinn, and William Glackens had extensive experience as illustrators, weather on Philadelphia newspapers like the Press, and the Inquirer, or later in the growing market of pictorial magazines of time like Colliers, McClures, Scribners, and the Saturday Evening Post.
Sloan himself went on in the 1910s to channel his strong left-wing sensibilities into illustrations for the influential radical journal, The Masses.
For my part, I came to this material largely by accident.
As I was describing at a really wonderful meeting I had with the American Art Museum fellows earlier this afternoon.
Several years ago I had need to deliver a talk on the general topic in twentieth-century American art.
Casting my net for a subject on which to build a lecture, I began looking at the Ashcan School in general and then more specifically at Sloan.
Originally I had no plans to do any further research on the subject, there was something in the artist's imagery that had hooked me, and subsequently I found myself returning to it.
My initial curiosity led to further research and still more looking, and thus the project grew.
What soon became clear to me was that Sloan's work consistently showed evidence of what I would characterize as a kind of pictorial intelligence that is to say an incisive way of thinking through pictures in part by working and reworking them in different contexts and for varying meanings.
Now what do I mean by this exactly? An example would be helpful.
Take for instance the Women's Page which numbers among Sloan's New York City life etchings.
The series through which not long after his arrival in New York he began to set up a series of pictorial reflections on contemporary urban life.
Now by the time I came to this work there was already a substantial scholarly literature on it and related images by Sloan and other Ashcan artist.
I'd like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the important investigations of this material by such scholars as Patricia Hills, Virginia Mecklenburg, and Rebecca Zurier.
That scholarly literature has offered up a range of interpretations for this image and others like it.
We could talk for instance about its relationship to a broader progressive era, interesting immigrants, and the urban poor, or we might comment on the sense of intimacy it purports to offer with its subject, or perhaps even a tinge of voyeurism as some commentators have suggested, or we might observe that it focuses on the figure of a working-class women, a recurrent feature of Sloan's art.
For my part I became particularly interested in this as a picture of someone engrossed in a newspaper that is to say, in one of the primary mass media of the day.
As such, it stands to offer a commentary on the growing influence of newspapers and other such print publications on new urban audiences.
But what really captured my interest was not the image in isolation but rather its relationship to another earlier one by Sloan.
In fact a cover for Collier's magazine which he created about a year earlier.
The Collier's cover would have marked an important milestone in Sloane's career as this was just around the time he moved from Philadelphia to New York to pursue work as an independent artist.
It stood then as testimony to his ability to garner commercial illustrating assignments.
Even now to this day I remain curious and a little unsure about the relationship between these two images.
Why exactly did Sloan repeat himself in this way, reusing the basic format, composition, and subject – a figure in an interior reading – for two different purposes? Was it merely utilitarian, a time-saving reuse of an existing motif? That doesn't seem a very convincing explanation, or could it be that Sloan was self-consciously marking a shift in his practice at this time.
In that case we might note the myriad transpositions that occurred in the process from male to female, from upper-middle to working class, from a cozy and well-appointed study to a disordered tenement flat.
Now in my book I have more to say about this move including the extent to which it may help mark a broader shift in both subject and audience that characterized Ashcan School art in general.
Here in the interest of time, I would just point out that Sloan's cover for Collier's is saying something about the place of illustration in contemporary culture.
For it directly references probably the most important American illustrator of that day, namely Charles Dana Gibson.
As you can see the depicted reader focuses his attention and ours as well on a pretty faithful rendering of an actual Gibson drawing.
One that Sloan drew onto the pages of the book held open on the man's lap.
I'll point out, I discussed this in the book.
Sloan did a really pretty spot on the reproduction of that drawing.
This then might lead us to the recognition that a similar gesture is evident in the Women's Page with the woman's choice of reading material, a page for women, literally spelled out along the paper's top edge.
If the reference here in Sloan's etching says something about the newspapers position at the turn of the century as a truly mass medium, it also reflects back on Sloan's own work in that milieu.
For indeed one of Sloan's earlier assignments, while on staff at the Philadelphia newspapers, had been the design of those very same pages for the women's section of the Sunday edition.
This is a drawing by Sloan.
Now if this page helps illuminate the more limited context of Sloan's professional experience it also gestures to a wider field of historical import in that it quite effectively shows how the widespread move to halftone reproductions in newspapers and magazines around the turn of the 20th century meant that illustrating was being crowded out.
In this case quite literally by photographic imagery.
Indeed it was in part the drying up of staff positions on Philadelphia publications that prompted Sloan and his colleagues like Shinn and Glackens to move to New York where they sought new professional opportunities.
Already I hope that this group of examples is giving you a sense of the kind of pictorial thinking I began to discern in Sloan's project, which cuts across the distinctions we tend to make between so-called fine art and illustrating, arranged across various mediums and publishing context, and repeatedly focused on images and their meanings.
We have all of this interest not only, Sloan is not only making pictures, but he's giving us pictures which refer back to images and in their reception.
This then prompted me to start more carefully considering Sloan's illustrations.
Scholarly interest had generally focused on two bodies of work: the decorative Art Nouveau tinged picture puzzles Sloan did for the Philadelphia Press, as on the left, and the later contributions he made to the influential radical journal, The Masses, during the period in the 1910s when he was caught up in the fervor of left-wing politics, as is evident on the right.
These two bodies of illustrations are among Sloan's most visually engaging.
As these examples, I'm showing you a test, which is likely why they had drawn the lion's share of attention.
Yet as they began to look at the broader span of Sloan's illustrating, I began noticing other examples that presented themselves as potentially enlightening.
That was particularly true of a body of work that comprised Sloan's longest-running commercial assignment.
I'm showing you just one of likely hundreds of weekly word or rebus puzzles that Sloan executed for the Philadelphia Press for the better part of a decade.
In fact he produced these long in to the period in which he had moved to New York and began painting, or continued as a painter.
These were in such demand that even after Sloan was let go from the press and moved to New York, he continued to supply them to the paper regularly mailing them back to Philadelphia from his new home.
In spite of his extended effort on them they had not really been analyzed in any sustained scholarly way, no debt because they seem like so much commercial work trivial, marginal, and unserious, not to mention that they don't have the immediate visual appeal of the larger full-color efforts.
However not long after I began to examine these word puzzles it became clear to me that they might offer grist for analysis and interpretation.
All of these word puzzles take basically the same format.
A grid of 10 rebus like panels each of which corresponds to a broader theme such as the names of musical instruments, baseball terms, or here – types of cats.
Yes, this was a conscious choice because I know that once I choose a cat themed image, I'll already have a certain percentage the audience on my side.
Probably my favorite item, and you really know you're an archival researcher when you have a favorite item in an archive, probably my favorite item in the artist collected papers which are housed in the Delaware Art Museum, as I noted, is this small crumbling record book.
The pages of which Sloan filled in the tiniest handwriting imaginable with innumerable lists, obviously outlines for puzzles with their corresponding answers.
While some sheets in this notebook have as few as four lists, Sloan crammed more than 40 onto these two diminutive pages.
A look at a group of three selected panels from this particular puzzle helps us understand how Sloan's newspaper rebus puzzles worked.
Remember that this puzzle had asked – what animals of the catch rod are shown here? At right, the image of a Satyr seated next to a stone with an engraved legend gives us a panther, or at left, remember the catch rod, a scene of golfers teeing off gives us links.
By the way I just want to note that soon after I began work on this project and began giving talks like this one I realized that the downfall of giving talks on material like this is that it's more appealing to solve the puzzle than to listen to the lecture, but I've chosen to run that risk ever since I began the project and will continue to do so.
Now for most viewers, the interest of the middle panel in this group, which I've isolated here is limited to guessing the correct answer, namely cheetah.
However specialists in the field of American art as they're quite a few in the audience today may very well recognized this as I did when I came across it in the Sloan archives as none other than a portrait of Sloan and his longtime friend and colleague Robert Henri, the latter of whom is the one wielding the pistol.
A contemporary photograph confirms the likenesses.
In the photograph Henri and Sloan are joined by their Ashcan School associate Everett Shinn who is shown seated or rather slouching at left.
Indeed if Sloan regularly included depictions of friends and family members in the word puzzles, Henri seems to have been the one who made the most frequent appearance.
These various images of the two artists, and in one case on the upper right their wives as well, seated around the table provide a new visual context for one of Sloan's best-known and most widely reproduced etchings.
The print which shows the two couples in a quiet moment of relaxed sociability is titled, Memory, because it was a pictorial gesture of consolation from Sloan to Henri.
Just a month or so before Sloan began work on the print Henri's beloved wife Linda, who appears in the foreground reading, had died at the age of 30.
Just so as not to confuse things, I want to point out that the woman to the left of Henri in the puzzle panel above is not Linda, but rather Henri's second wife Marjorie, whom he met and married several years after Linda's untimely passing.
There is even a deck of cards it may be hard to make out, but its here nestled between Sloan's drawing board and the fruit bowl at the center of the print which establishes a link to the card playing theme in the puzzle panels I'm showing you.
It is telling that in almost every case when he depicted the two of them together Sloan gave his friend and mentor the upper hand whether quite literally in their card games or in those instances in which Henri somewhat surprisingly draws a gun on his friend.
I wonder if this motif echoes Henri's checkered personal history, in that his family had changed their names, he had been born Robert Henry Cozad, after his father shot and killed a man in a dispute.
I know, people think American art is boring, but there are plenty of interesting and lively anecdotes like that one.
At the very least, these images provide further illuminating context for one of the more influential and defining friendships in early twentieth-century American art.
Helping lend nuance to our view of it, by underscoring it's intermingling of comedy and competition, affection and aggression, which is why I was so struck by Sloan's reworking of Memory in a drawing he produced for the Saturday Evening Post later that same year.
I think this is actually a remarkable image as it relates to these other ones.
The image qualifies as an almost direct reworking of the figures of Henri and Sloan in Memory and duplicates additional details like the turn legs of the table at which they sit.
The removal of their spouses transforms it into an image of quiet intimacy between the two men.
But the story that accompanied this illustration adds a further wrinkle since it identifies these as a father and his son specifically a German cobbler who is helping his child study to become a lawyer.
Considering that Henri is almost always cast as the more dominant personality, the guiding force of the Ashcan circle and a mentor to Sloan.
We should take note of what Sloan has done here.
In a veritable back to the future twist Sloan has pictorially reversed the terms of their relationship casting himself as the patriarch and a benevolent one at that.
I hope that these few examples are giving you a sense of what I found so engaging about Sloan's artistic project and why it called out to me for further scrutiny.
For as my research progressed his work consistently presented itself as a dense expanded field of pictorial investigation.
Expanded in that it operated across the boundaries of individual mediums and audiences, from newspaper panels to magazine covers, to story illustrations to etchings, and yes even to paintings, the significant aspect of Sloan's practice that I'm not even treating here even though it's his best-known body of work, and I do treat extensively in my book.
In the most conventional art historical narratives commercial illustrating is presented as a necessary evil, something artist did to pay the bills when they weren't making so-called fine art.
Looking at the full span of Sloan's project we are presented with a very different model.
Namely that of an artist who made use of the diverse array of mediums and publishing context at his disposal to build a dense integrated and self-reflective pictorial vocabulary.
Now it would probably be enough to leave things there, but in the book I open up the discussion to suggest how these insights into one singular artists work can lead us to consider the field of illustration on much broader terms.
Now we could start with a very generalized categorization and say that illustration refers to any image that accompanies, supports, or amplifies a narrative text or message.
Writers on the subject have often adopted this more expansive view classifying almost any combination of picture and writing as illustrations.
From classical imagery and medial illuminated manuscripts to myriad forms of popular culture and even certain modernist paintings.
While this perspective has its benefits, the limitation is that such an approach ignores the developments, particularly in the later 19th century, that came to characterize illustration as a particularly modern form of image making.
One that catered to changing audiences and new modes of printed communication.
In the book I propose a different approach, identifying illustration as a distinctively modern visual form and laying out what I take to be it's four constitutive characteristics.
First, it is not a thing but an activity.
By this I mean that it is useful to think of illustration not merely as referring to any picture that accompanies text or narrative, which as I've noted is a too expansive definition for our purposes, but rather as the work that certain practitioners do in the process of creating such images.
Here I've given you images by Sloan, Norman Rockwell, and Saul Steinberg, just to offer a few notable examples.
This is a historically minded categorization, which prompts us to recognize that by a certain moment, certainly by the late 19th century, the enormous demand for images in printed media led to the emergence of illustrating as a distinct profession.
This was also the product of a division of labor.
The illustrator was understood as the image maker, a role distinguished from that of the engravers and printers who either prepare the image for reproduction or printed it, which leads us to our second characteristic.
It refers to images meant to be reproduced.
Here's Rockwell again on the right and a painting and its reproduction by Howard Pyle at left.
Indeed this is one of the primary features of illustration as a modern form.
So self-evident that it can be easily overlooked.
Unlike earlier pictures created to accompany text, like manuscript eliminations for example, modern illustrations are fashioned with the express purpose of being reproduced, whether as posters on newspaper and magazine pages or the like.
Modern illustrators maintain the awareness that in almost every case the images they create will be viewed not in the original, but as reproductions.
Third, it cuts across and encompasses existing visual mediums.
As modern image makers, illustrators work with and across a wide variety of media, from oil and watercolor, to pen and ink and charcoal and even to printmaking mediums like catching and lithography, as in the William Glackens illustration at center.
We can even add photography to this list since by the end of the 19th century it was understood that most illustrations would be ready for printing using a photo mechanical process.
Finally it cannot be construed as autonomous or independent, but rather is defined by dialogue and collaboration.
This aspect functions on several levels at once.
It is true in the sense that, as I've noted, illustrations themselves are always dependent on a narrative text or message that they accompany or augment.
That is to say there's always a conversation of sorts between the image and an existing text.
This is also true by extension of illustrators work.
Unlike many other modern artists, illustrators could not maintain an illusion of independence or autonomy since they always had to respond to at least one other person if not several.
At the very least there's an implied dialogue with the author of the text to be illustrated, almost invariably with an editor, and usually with an engraver or printer.
The two word puzzle panels i'm showing you here highlight this aspect of dialogue since they present Sloan alongside his longtime Philadelphia Press editor, Alden March, whose is hectoring him to make changes.
In one version of this talk I wrote, "whose hectoring him to make changes as editors want to do," but then I left that out for the sake of the editors in the audience.
Although most of us who write know that that's what editors do a lot of the time.
In addition to characterizing illustration as a modern visual form, this list also helps us understand why it has often been marginalized or dismissed, particularly within the context of modernism.
From the standpoint of mainstream modernist discourse, which heavily influenced cultural criticism for much of the 20th century, illustration is anathema.
So much is made clear in the 1939 essay, Avant-Garde and Kitsch, by one of modernism's leading critical voices Clement Greenberg, who conceptualized advanced art as absolutely separable from, and in fact strategically opposed to the products of modern mass produce culture.
Commercialism wasn't the only problem posed by such materials.
Within the developing critical framework adopted by Greenberg and others, which focused on the putative autonomy and self definition of individual artistic mediums, illustrations reliance on narrative was equally deadly.
The rise of abstraction that consummate modernist form was predicated on the notion that narrative could be expunged from the realm of the visual.
In that context illustrative quickly became a pejorative term since the advanced artist was expected to reject storytelling in pursuit of an imagined ideal of purity.
Yet looking back what appeared problematic to an observer like Greenberg can be taken instead as signaling the quintessentially modern qualities of illustration.
Foremost among these is its status as an inherently reproductive art.
As noted, illustrators were deeply attuned to the modern condition of the image as mechanically reproduced and disseminated.
Further from our vantage point, in a so-called post medium age, illustrations assimilation of a range of two-dimensional mediums, including painting drawing and printmaking, prefigures our own attunement to a visual world flattened by the mechanical and more recently digital reproduction of images.
Now upon first read an unpublished 1943 lecture by the artist Ad Reinhart appears to tow the Greenbergian Modernist line pretty closely in that it's working title, Abstraction vs Illustration, seems to put these two modes against one another.
In his essay Reinhard characterizes illustration as the type of visual storytelling geared to a larger public, that is the province of some mass publishing or picture industry.
In contrast he describes abstract painting as "still a relatively private individual activity that is universal, unhistorical, and independent of everyday existence.
" I'm showing you one of Reinhardt's abstract canvases that dates to the same year as that lecture.
Anyone familiar with Reinhardt's broader project would recognize, however, that he wasn't merely venerating abstraction.
For at the very same time he was pursuing a career as an abstract painter, he was also producing a body of lively engaging illustrations many of them for the progressive tabloid PM.
Unlike Greenberg, Reinhart wasn't playing abstraction off against illustration to dismiss the ladder, but rather to present the two as distinct but viable alternatives.
As he stated in his lecture, "because the meaning of painting can be explored abstractly the problem of pictures and visual communication techniques can be freed from aesthetic, personal, expression, and distortion and serve more efficiently as a social weapon.
" It was precisely in his memorable illustrations that Reinhart used those visual communication techniques at the service of social and political critique.
Reinhardt's artistic approach and rhetoric then provide insight into what I would characterize as a condition of American art over a particular span of time.
I'd like to propose what we could call a century of illustration.
That is to say a delimited historical period in which illustration helped define the course of American Art, or at the very least was a prominent feature of art-making in the United States.
While I know that things don't usually shake out quite so conveniently from a historical perspective, there's some room to argue that this period lasted exactly 100 years.
To my mind it commenced in 1861 with Winslow Homer's first civil war illustrations for Harper's Weekly.
It would end in 1961 with a window display designed by Andy Warhol for the Bonwit Teller department store in New York City.
Behind a row of mannequins displaying the season's latest fashions Warhol set a group of his recent canvases in a nascent pop art style all of which used images borrowed from printed illustrations.
This latter, this latter sort of example, marks a moment then in which popular printed imagery was thoroughly absorbed into the practice of advanced painting as never before.
Crucially this was also a point at which the moving image, as represented by film and television, was crowding out the printed picture as the dominant vehicle for mass media communication.
At the very least, I think a periodization like this one is a useful thought experiment for considering the enduring influence of illustrating in American art over a relatively extended span of time.
Particularly in how artists approaches were shaped by their training and employment as commercial picture makers.
That's why Homer is an apt figure with which to start things off, not only in his engagement with Harper's Weekly, which played a key role in the rise of the illustrated press in the US, but also in the resonance between his illustrating and his efforts as a painter.
I'm showing you Homer's Prisoners From the Front of 1866, a few years after the Civil War illustration.
This line of the investigation is also timely in that there has been a substantial and growing body of scholarly work in recent years in the field of American Art devoted to the subject.
I'm thinking to name just a few examples of Jason Hill and Prudence Piper's respective projects on Ad Reinhart, Jennifer Greenhill, on Charles Dana Gibson, Lauren Kroy's, on Author Dove, Leo Mazow, on Edward Hopper and there's still plenty of work to be done in this respect.
Take for instance, the large body of 1920's illustrations by John Steuart Curry to be found in his papers at the Archives of American Art which seemed to be saying a lot about the regionalist artist early engagement with American vernacular culture.
When I first began telling people I was writing a book on John Sloan, I got more than a few quizzical looks, probably because my first two books had treated art of the 1960s specifically pop art, but to me this didn't seem like much of a shift at all.
In each case I was dealing with an artist who worked at the intersection between art and popular culture.
Over the years I've often taken to wondering why I've been repeatedly drawn to that subject.
Did I write my dissertation on Roy Lichtenstein for instance, because I collected comic books in my youth? That didn't seem a particularly satisfying explanation, but as I prepared for this lecture today a more convincing answer occurred to me.
Just as each of these artists operated in the spaces between conventionally distinct cultural domains, I often feel like I'm in a similar position pursuing research and scholarship within a traditional academic context while still wanting my work on some level to speak to a broader audience.
We had a very interesting discussion today, again with the fellows here, about this issue of audiences.
In other words I too find myself navigating between what is often labeled as high and low.
Sometimes it feels a little bit lonely to occupy that sort of in-between position, until I remind myself that there are many of us in academia, yes, as well as in museums and archives and the like who are committed to doing that very same thing.
That commitment to speaking to multiple audiences is crucial right now.
Just in the last couple of weeks my twitter feed has been abuzz with messages from our counterparts in the United Kingdom responding to the plan to drop the a-level art history exams which are roughly equivalent to our AP or Advanced Placement test.
Unfortunately here in the US we've had our own share of similar signals from President Obama's much commented on dismissal of "art history majors" a few years back to ongoing discussions about the eclipse of the humanities by the so-called STEM fields, which we are continually told are more relevant to the demands of our age.
There are, of course, many ways to respond to these sorts of challenges.
We can see a few of them here above.
As for me well initially I fully intended to lay out my own thoughts and positions here.
To say something profound and instructive.
That's what one is supposed to do in a lecture like this one, after all.
Indeed in the last few years I have given several talks expressly focused on the so-called crisis in the humanities.
As I tried to put things down on paper, I found myself writing and rewriting this section.
After numerous attempts it just didn't sound right to me.
It came across alternatly canned or corny or pompous or pontificating.
I was stymied, until that is, I realized it would be better just to show to conclude by conveying one last time precisely those workings of a creative imagination, I've been talking about all along, and also to highlight how art history takes that very activity as its subject and then builds from and expands on it.
Because I was already generally familiar with Sloan's etchings this particular puzzle panel on the right immediately caught my eye when I came across it during one of my research visits to the Sloan Archives.
Since I know that some of you will really want the answer, I'll let you know that this particular panel solution is, Jack Stones, a period name for the game we now know as Jack's.
Indeed I recognize the panel as a reworking or alternate version of yet another image, an etched portrait of Sloan's mother Henrietta.
While one is frontal, and the other side view there are enough shared elements to make the connection clear.
They're the two half-filled glasses, the cane across the sitter's lap, the overstuffed chair, and even the little white canine the family's dog Dixie who in the puzzle panel has hopped down from Mrs.
Sloan's lap and now appears at lower left with head turned and ears cocked.
Sloan composed the panel in such a way to even more definitively signal that it is a portrait of the artist mother since he made it pretty closely to perhaps the most indelible model for such pictures namely Whistler's famed painting.
I don't raise this particular comparison to signal Sloan's pictorial cleverness, or to suggest a lineage of art historical influence, rather what I find most compelling about Sloan's puzzle panel is how it served as a token of communication between the son and his ailing mother.
Remember that several years earlier Sloan had moved away from Philadelphia and hence from his family's orbit to seek his fortune in New York.
Yet as I've noted, at this time he was still regularly producing the word puzzles and mailing them back to the Philadelphia Press to be printed in the papers Sunday's edition.
Along with written correspondence, these puzzles must have been a way for the family to maintain a connection with their beloved son, to keep track of what he was doing.
It is clear that they were paying attention and that Henrietta Sloan saw her portrait in the May 26 puzzle since in this letter she wrote, "My dearest Jack, your letter received this morning.
I did not write yesterday as I was afraid our letters would cross.
We did recognize my picture in your puzzles.
" That sort of recognition one notes is already prefigured in the panel, in the word puzzle panel, in that it highlights a moment in which the invalid Mrs.
Sloan hears her son's voice as he nears the family home.
Perhaps on one of his periodic trips from New York, since Jack was the name by which he was known in the family.
"I hear the voice of Jack.
" This is a very personal kind of image.
This is a picture then of a child's homecoming complete with a waiting parent and a dutiful pet.
At the same time it registers the son's physical absence, since he is not visible in the scene.
The image is made all the more emotionally resonant when we consider that Henrietta Sloan died just a few months after the panel appeared in the paper.
It thus stands as a very late pictorial missive from an artist to his dying mother.
A son wanting so much to communicate with his ailing parent sent her emissive in the form of a picture.
She was there to receive it and responded in kind.
Now here we are about a century later in this room together witnessing and coming to understand an admittedly small but nonetheless meaningful and moving gesture of human connection.
That to me is the essence of art history and the work that it can do.
In this letter in which she let her son know that she had seen his portrait of her in the newspaper, Henrietta Sloan had added "I hope you and Dolly will come to make your usual visit in August.
" Sloan and his wife did make a visit although not their customary one, rather they rushed to Mrs.
Sloan's side after receiving news that she was ailing arriving just after she had suffered a stroke.
She died a few days later.
The following year, Sloan recorded these reflections in his diary, "it's curious how several times lately I have had such a strong sense of the loss of my mother.
Though she's been dead now for 15 months I seem to realize it more than ever.
My heart seems to take little flights to her room with the sunlight streaming in the windows, seek her in vain then returned to me with an ache.
It probably did the same with a different result in unconscious comfort while she was alive.
Not till she died and sometime after have I come to know that these journeys were made.
-applause- I believe we might have some time for some questions, if anyone has a question.
If you use them the mic, I'm assuming if people use the mic they'll be picked up on the audio, correct? Yes.
Okay, so it's a little bit of a reductive question, but I was wondering at the end of the century of illustration, does the Warhol represent would you say like a triumph of that century or death of that century? What happens at the end of that century of illustration, I guess? You know, I think I would be, first of all, let me say this, I propose that today just as a kind of thought experiment although you know on the one hand I really did do it sincerely because I would like to see more awareness of these sort of strands in history of American art and acknowledging them.
Is it sort of a success or a failure? I guess a redutive way of asking how do you see the end of that century of illustration with the Warhol window? I would just say that, I wouldn't see it as either.
I would just say that that seems to be a moment in which the currency of this major aspect of visual culture begins to wane.
I would say sort of neither, just that that seems to be a pretty effective kind of end point that we could sort of indicate in which I think also that's the point at which we wouldn't kind of think about this thing, commercial illustration, as having as significant an impact after that point.
That's sort of why I chose that moment.
I also sort of chose, look as a historian, as an art historian, I also know obviously it doesn't, I mean nothing lasts exactly hundred years, except the century, by definition.
I'm being a little coy by doing that, but it also sort of makes sense to me.
It was a way of just kind of sort of making a suggestion to start thinking about these things.
What I'm really aware of is how often I read art historical literature, literature on artists, particularly in American art, and this is what I really noticed about Sloan that frames these distinct moment of production.
You read this with Hopper, you read this with Sloan, I've just been looking at John Steuart Curry a little bit because I got interested in those illustrations.
It's always he did this for a short period of time commercially and then he gave it up and moved on to become an artist.
That was just my way of kind of attempting to push back on that narrative a little bit and get us thinking a little bit about those possibilities.
I'm just wondering when you have a painting that's the basis for an illustration, is the painting kind of look down upon as not a work of art in itself or as a lesser work of art? Do you mean that when an artist like Howard Pyle actually produces a painting to be used as an illustration? Or Norman Rockwell, he did that too, right? Yeah.
I would say in general historical terms at least up until fairly recently, yes, those things were considered means to an end.
I think it is interesting.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is well aware of this.
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg obviously think differently.
Obviously George Lucas has these plans for creating a museum of narrative art, but my sense is that yes, those were usually seen as a means to an end and actually very often, or at least a good amount of the time, were destroyed.
Right, because once they were reproduced they were put into circulation.
That also brings up an important point which I sort of pointed to.
Yes, those things were meant to be reproduced.
The artist I think fundamentally recognized that there was a different function of that image then a painting which was made to be exhibited and display.
Yes, and if we can get you a mic.
Andy Warhol was a very very well recognized in his field as an illustrator.
I mean, he was like at the top of the field.
How well was Sloan's reputation when he was doing this? It's interesting, I mean, I thought about this a lot.
All of us tell stories about ourselves, right? I like, whether or not it is true, obviously I'm here accepting this award, I'm not a complete underdog, I like to think of myself as an underdog.
What I also liked about Sloan is that he wasn't the top dog, right? In his group.
Henri has always been seen as the most charismatic, the kind of mentor, the leader figure.
I actually write about this in the book, colleagues of Sloan like Everett Shinn and George Luks were more successful as independent illustrators particular magazine illustrators.
What I talk about in the book is that that puts Sloan in an interesting position, because it meant that he was a a newspaper staff artists much longer than the others.
I think that gave him a very specific perspective on some of these issues.
Sloan did okay with commercial assignments independently, but he actually did rather well, the word puzzles were his most consistent form of income for a good number of years.
He did not, early on when he was working as a painter in New York, he was not selling particularly well.
That was a stable form of income for him.
To get back to some of the other questions, what I found interesting, and I said in the book, was that even with Sloan's career we tended to separate it out.
The early commercial illustrating, then painting, then the masses, but he was doing the word puzzles well into the period he was doing some of his most recognizable paintings like Hairdressers Window, and Election Night, etc.
I just sort of, in my work I try to think about what it would mean to kind of bring these two bodies of work together, but also to bring, I think it's interesting how this idea of a century of illustration and thinking about these kinds of figures.
Rather than thinking about people, artists are people, right? Rather than thinking about people as separate like chunks that are separable and divided, what would it mean to look at this person as a kind of integrated whole? For instance, just to say an example, Leo Mazow, who's a former Eldredge Prize-winner, recently wrote an article about Edward Hopper's hotel management illustration.
I also kind of made that proposal because there's more and more work in the field being done in this category and I thought it would be interesting to think about what if we start bringing that together and consider a kind of larger body or span of work and period of time.
I don't know if I've figured out this question as deeply as i'd like to, but I'm going to pick up on something you just said which is "well we all tell stories about ourselves.
I'm wondering if the possibility of a turn to thinking more about illustration in the way you're thinking about it has to do with something I've noticed in discourses in lots of different places.
I just finished reading a work of narrative nonfiction which is based on a lot of oral histories and the stories people were telling about themselves.
Is it that the notion of telling stories, whether it's memoir or whatever else, is infiltrating lots of places including what we're looking at visually and thinking about storytelling? That in fact there's a kind of resonance between narrative illustration and certain predominant cultural modes in our own moment? Yes, I think that's what I'm asking.
I would want to think about it.
I think that this material certainly, and opening up this material and this interest in other modes, certainly has been influenced by the move to so-called visual culture in the field of art history in the last several decades.
I think that's an interesting proposal and I would want to think about a little bit more.
What specifically is resident about these materials? I'll refer back to filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg who obviously very interested in narrative art and illustration, and Norman Rockwell.
It's not only the popular image, but it's about work that tells a story.
I've even, maybe someone knows the answer to this, I've thought about this a lot.
I've been curious, early film making storyboards, who made those? Did illustrators? Did people who are trained as illustrators then get hired at times to produce storyboards for the Hollywood film industry? These are the kind of aspects of history I'm interested in.
Maybe someone has the answer to that? I don't, but I'm excited about and could see more research being done on it.
Then I think there was another? Is there a question over there? Maybe two more? Does that sound good? Marie? Yeah? Okay, good.
With the illustrated magazines, I just wondered how much the general readership would have been aware of who the artist for the different illustrations were as opposed to just seeing an illustration or knowing or recognizing that it looks like a Sloan.
It really depended.
In some cases there were, again I talked about this in the book, there was really a span from authored to anonymous.
There were some illustrators who were huge, major, massive, draws and particularly Charles Dana Gibson who is extremely well compensated.
He signs a major contract in these years.
That was one possibility and then there were plenty of instances in which the illustrator was anonymous.
The interesting thing about the field is that it's not, there's not one single mode or model.
There's a widely varying kind of a set of characteristics by which we would come to kind of define and understand the field of illustration.
Maybe one more question.
Yeah, there's a microphone over here.
Hi, this also isn't feeling is perfectly formed as I would like.
That's ok, I don't expect it to be.
I was struck when he started showing images of how easily Andreas Huyssen's idea of the mass media as woman still kind of wraps onto this materials.
I was curious in thinking about this longer narrative whether there's an aspect of gender and how gender reads onto this that you might, again, take a take a crack at, or want to think more about or have thought about? It's sort of connects back up with Ellen's question about narrative modes.
In that I think that certain narrative kind of diaristic storytelling modes may very well be gendered as feminine.
Certainly, when I give a lecture like this and I answer questions I always want to give the correct and full answer, but I also do want to reserve the possibility of thinking more.
That I would want to think more about.
Again I would say this is why I think there's a lot more opportunity for research.
I will say that Sloan himself and this is why I think the Women's Page, the etching, is such an interesting image.
There's been so much writing about this, more recent writing, by John Fag and others.
Sloan would have recognized a certain kind of gendering because of his work on the Sunday Edition.
There was a very clear marketing of the Sunday paper and certain parts of the Sunday paper to women.
The Andreas Huyssen article I think, mass culture is women's, modernism's other is a broader view.
I would want to be a little, use a slightly finer point and understand different sectors of mass commercial culture, printed imagery that would have been targeted to women.
I really want to thank all of you for coming today.
I really, really appreciate you coming out and this really incredible honor.
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