“I just graduated with my BFA, but I never got much of an education on illustration. Through your blog and others I've been slowly discovering artists like Howard Pyle, Winsor McCay, R.O. Blechman and on and on. It's been a pot luck of art history for me. I've been looking for a more comprehensive collection of illustrators, so I can create some sort of time table for all of these artists and see the landmarks I might have missed. I cracked open my big art history book from school today to see what I could find, but they accidentally skipped over the illustrations and comics. Could you recommend for me a good book on the history of illustration?”
The short answer is that to my knowledge there is no good standard illustrated textbook on the history of illustration, at least not in the USA. Why not? There are comprehensive histories of animation, movies, and comics, but there isn’t one on illustration. There should be. It would be a big project, but it’s a book that needs to be written.
There are a few books that come close. Walt and Roger Reed of the Illustration House gallery of illustration have created several editions of The Illustrator in America, (starting in 1960, and updated in 1980, and 2000). This is an excellent and authoritative survey of American illustration in the form of illustrated mini-biographies. Although there’s an essay at the beginning of each decade, the book doesn’t try to lay out the full story and draw all the connections.
Another book comes very close: 200 Years of American Illustration, by Henry C. Pitz, published by the Society of Illustrators. It’s a catalog for a 1976 exhibition, so it’s 35 years old. It’s mostly a showcase of artwork, and mostly in black and white. Although the chapters on history are good, they’re just a fraction of the book, and they don’t attempt to tell the complete story in the way Gardner, Janson or Gombrich gave their account of art history. And you're right: those older standard art histories overlook comics, animation, and illustration, and it's not accidental. It's just plain blind.
There’s also the Susan Meyer's book “Great American Illustrators,” which spotlights ten great illustrators, mostly from the Golden Age. And of course there are many books on individual illustrations, especially on Rockwell and Wyeth.
Illustration historians Fred Taraba and Dan Zimmer are putting the finishing touches on 41 Illustrators and How They Worked, a sort of companion volume to the classic 40 Illustrators and How They Worked, from the 1940s. I’m eager to see the first one, and highly recommend the second, though neither attempts to be an overall historical survey.
A complete history of American illustration needs to be compiled and written. There’s a grand opportunity for a publisher and a writer (not me—I don't know enough).
I’d be interested in comments from the Group Mind. How would you define the scope of the book? What should it include—or not include—from following list (Note: poll results from 140 blog readers follow): magazines (121), books (126), newspapers (84), humorous illustration (70), pulp (90), pin-up (85), children’s books (100), pen and ink (105), comics (80), concept art (79), advertising and packaging art (100), movie posters (107), art prints (48), mural work (31)?
How far back should it go? Should it include illustration from all countries? Did I overlook an important book to recommend to Corey?
The Illustrator in America
The Illustrator in America,
Great American Illustrators
40 Illustrators and How They Worked
41 Illustrators and How They Worked (not yet published)
Also, Illustrator Magazine provides regular articles on the history of the field.
Previously on GJ:
Academic painting and Illustrations in public museum collections