History of Illustration and the Thesis

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They went into a spending frenzy that would carry them though the next decade. They bought houses, started families and settled down to a life of normalcy after a decade of chaos. Illustrations began to return to resemble that of fine are of earlier times.

The Invitation. Ben Stahl. Date unknown magazine photo. Al Parker. Date unknown

Rise of the Atomic Age (1950-1960)

The prosperity that came with the end of the war continued into the new decade. Americans attempted to settle into a life or normalcy. There was a significant return to traditional gender roles, as many women were forced back into the household and the men went off to work as usual. Women, now used to providing for themselves represented a new target market. To fill their days they read the "seven sisters" (McCall's, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Seventeen, and Women's Day). These magazines began to dictate how life should be, adding to the feeling of comfort and normalcy. Set against the backdrop of the cold war, advertisers brought a sense of calm and peace to the American landscape. It was a time of tremendous growth in the field of advertising.

Paperback Cover. James Avati. 1951.

By 1960, the introduction and television was beginning to push the field into as of yet, unforeseen directions. However, the miracle of this new medium that made its way into almost every home in the nation was a boon for illustrators. Magazine sales dropped and many of the giants of earlier faded into the past, as did the need for illustrators (Reed and Reed 2008, 11). In order retain the interest of readers, new and innovative styles began to emerge. These new styles included the single line drawings and mediums such as finger paints and crayon began to emerge (Reed and Reed 2008, 11). Experimental art was in high demand, yet readers continued to desert print media in favor of the television.

Billy Holiday album Cover, David Stone Martin, 1959

Illustrators turned to doing record covers, annual reports, poster art and book covers (Reed and Reed 2008, 11). They turned to any means to survive.

Man on the Moon and Vietnam (1960-1970)

The 1960s signaled another great change in societal attitudes. After a period of relative calm, the landscape would soon be filled with protests, sit-ins, and slogans like "Make Love, Not War." America entered the space race and while some watched America put a man on the moon, others were too busy dying in the mosquito infested jungles of Vietnam to notice. Added to this collage of civil unrest, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers literally set the streets on fire, demanding equality for a race that remained socially and economically enslaved.

Horror Movie Scenes We'd Like to See. Mad Magazine. Jack Davis. 1965.

America of the 1960s was a country divided into many pieces. Illustrators found plenty of work to be found. The days of national publications began to fade and illustrators found work in an expanding paperback industry.

John Updike. David Levine. April 11, 1968.

Gallery presentations that highlighted western topics allowed illustrators to find a new, more sophisticated audience. Illustrators had to learn to work under different specification, such as the cover of a paperback or even smaller in some cases, but it was work, so they adapted (Reed and Reed 2008, 12).

The New Social Awareness (1970-1980)

The 1970s saw another period of economic turmoil, with out of control oil prices and inflation. America was once again unemployed. The Vietnam war appeared that it would never end. Americans needed an escape. They found that escape in illicit drugs, disco, and the rise of sci-fi and fantasy. Americans would turn to anything that would take them aware from the harshness of their reality, if only for a little while.

"Them." Cosmopolitan. Bob Peak. 1970.

The magazine industry was all but gone. The pulp fiction and paperback illustrators had to transition into the new science fiction market. The demand was for well-endowed heroines involved in violent action poses (Reed and Reed 2008, 13).

. Cover for Robert Heinleins' books published by Signet

Gene Szafran.

Television also created room for illustrators who were willing to do story boards (Reed and Reed 2008, 13).. Children's shows such as Sesame Street made use of illustrators to teach children the basics that they would need for school. Illustrators taught a generation the basics of reading, along with a few friends such as Big Bird and Kermit.

Social Concerns and A Look Back (1980-1990)

Vietnam ended in the middle of the last decade, and the economy was on the mend. Social issues gained a new powerful voice as the graphic novel rose to become the new outlet. Illustrators during this time began to take a retrospective look at decades past for inspiration. The 1980s represents a time for looking back and reflecting on the excitement of the past 20 years.

The norms of society were changing. People were no longer attracted to realism. Color was in, with the popularity of day-glo and magic markers.

Daredevil #168. Frank Miller and Klaus Johnson. Jan. 1981.

Mainstream illustration went back to the past, with reflection of art deco and moderne styles (Reed and Reed 2008, 14). Paperbacks required more traditional styles. Illustration during the 1980s was a time of sharp contrasts, as new illustrators brought a new sense of aesthetics that would eventually compete with more traditional styles.

Corporate Image, Food and Beverage. David Grove. 1987.

The punk-rock movement brought an appreciation for new applications as well. Non-traditional venues began to emerge as work found its way onto coffee mugs, T-shirts, shopping bags, and album covers (Reed and Reed 2008, 14). By the end of the decade, computers added a new dimension to art that would change the world.

A New Market (1990-2000)

Having spent many of the older markets, illustrators needed to look in new directions to expand their marketing expertise. Children's books began to take on a new look and a new sophistication, providing a new outlet for illustrators with an avant-garde approach (Prudhoe 2003). The computer became the new medium for these creations.

Book Cover Illustration. Jerry Pinkney. 1994.

Book Cover. David Weisner. 1991.

The computer has added a new dimension to the field of illustration. Illustrators now find their images reproduced, excerpted, morphed, and downloaded free of charge (Reed and Reed 2008, 15). This makes it hard to make a living. Works can be reproduced with a click of the mouse and emailed to millions across the globe in seconds.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a small victory for illustrators, but it still does not replace the income of the illustrator. Works have lost value due to the ability to email them to the publisher . Many works do not exist outside of the computer screen. Anyone armed with Photoshop can become an illustrator now with very little effort (Reed and Reed 2008, 15). One of the key difficulties in the new age is keeping people connected on a personal level with the art (Murphy 2007, 34). However, illustrators, being the adaptable bunch that they are, are finding new places to display their art. Packaging has become the new art gallery. Illustrators display their works on game boxes, concert posters, graphic novels, trading cards, action figurines, and on the World Wide Web (Reed and Reed 2008, 15).


Illustrators first showed people the world through their eyes. As time progressed they became and active force in its change. They had to be adaptable and learn to flow with changes in society if they wished to survive. Times for illustrators have been lean and have been robust throughout the past century and a half. As mediums and technology changed, illustrators had to adapt and find new ways to display their art. They had to create a demand for their product through applying it in different ways. Illustrators now find work in video games, advertising, and the movies. Illustrators continue to represent society in their art. The methods and mediums used by illustrators has changed over the years, but their connection to society and the events around them has not. One only.....

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