Friday, December 14, 2012

American Artist, 1937-2012

When a person dies, there's a funeral and obituaries. But when a magazine falls victim to corporate buyouts, it just quietly disappears.


So let's take this opportunity to remember the legacy of American Artist magazine, which recently announced that it has ceased publication.

Just as it celebrated its 75th Anniversary, its Facebook page announced: "We are no longer publishing American Artist, and we're so sad to see it go!" In an announcement on its website, AA told subscribers that their subscription will roll over to the Artist's Magazine. American Artist's former rival acquired it, dissolved it, and adopted its readers.


American Artist was founded in 1937 under the name "Art Instruction" by the two architectural draughtsmen Ernest Watson and Arthur Guptill (above), who also founded Watson-Guptill, the book publishing company. Their founding mission was practical, didactic, and businesslike.

The first decades of the magazine spotlighted both easel painters and illustrators. The articles were usually based on studio visits, and the discussion always included process and professionalism as well as philosophy.

Mr. Watson went on such a flurry of visits to illustrators that he was able to assemble them into a book called Forty illustrators and how they work. In the '50s and '60s, there were plenty of post-impressionist-inspired painters, but the orientation was always relatively realistic compared to the more avante-garde magazines. During the decades of the 1970's and '80s, as the realist revival gained steam, American Artist was the most vocal champion.


American Artist helped popularize Andrew Wyeth, Robert Vickrey (below), Tom Nicholas, Richard Schmid, and even Frank Frazetta, who had a cover feature in 1976. For many artists, an article or a cover feature cemented their reputation.


For students wanting to learn about painting before the Internet era, it was the clearest window into the world of real working artists. The classified ads were the way to find out about workshops,  art schools, or new art supplies.

The formula perfected by editor M. Stephen Doherty (self portrait, left) and later Michael Gormley appealed both to professionals and amateurs working in all sorts of media.

In addition to the main magazine, they developed themed issues: drawing, watercolor, plein-air, studios, and workshops. Although these special issues spread the magazine's presence widely across the newsstands, they were taxing on the small staff to produce all those pages of content and still keep up its Internet presence.

The magazine was bought and sold by various large media companies, starting with Billboard, and later Nielsen and Interweave, and most recently F+W Media.



Thank you to Stephen Doherty, Michael Gormley, Allison Malafronte, Bob Bahr, John Parks, Naomi Ekperigin, and all the people who worked so hard to bring us the magazine over the years.

I'd love to hear your recollections about American Artist. Please vote for your favorite current art magazine in the poll at left. You can vote for more than one.
--------
GNSI spotlight on Arthur Guptill
(My articles in AA were on Color and Light and Portable Portraits, and my cover feature was Nov. 2006)

29 comments:

Tom Hart said...

This is a sad sign of the times. My first exposure to AA magazine was through my artist Mom, who began buying the magazine..in the mid 60s, to the best of my recollection. Later, as a young artist I religiously collected my own issues, until finally - only relatively recently - one too many moves forced me to discard them.

My first go-to feature was always Ralph Mayer's (sic?) technical column, and...unless I'm mistaken there was another rebular Q&A "how to" type column.

Time passes, and frankly I don't buy much in the way periodical literature these days, due to finances and space limitations. RIP, American Artist. And thanks to all those who have poured their blood, sweat and tears into it over these many years.

Deborah Paris said...

I am very sad to see this wonderful magazine go. My first recollection of it is reading old copies of it in my mother's studio. She had current issues (it was the 70s) but also older ones as well. I was in college and working on my BFA. There was no interest in representational work and American Artist made me see there were still artists out there working that way. So, it was especially gratifying to me in 2003 to have a feature article on my work in their December issue. AA will be missed!

John Fleck said...

Sad to see it go. I was not a subscriber, but would read through back issues at our library from time to time and enjoyed them very much.

Allen Garns said...

Very sad to hear this. Although I haven't subscribed for sometime (hence I am guilty of contributing to it's demise) I still look at it often. Some of the issues that come to mind are: an early issue when I was a boy introducing me to Andrew Wyeth, an illustration issue in the 70's when I was at Art Center, with articles about Fuchs, English, Peak, Paul Davis, Heindel and others. A beautiful issue from the 80's on still life with an article on Lennart Anderson whom I later studied with in Italy. An article on Steve Huston and his teaching. I still often refer students to this article for it's strong principles. I could go on. Mostly, it seems to be the loss of a connection to my early formative years as an artist. American Artist and Watson/Guptill-it's like losing an old friend.

Lori llukasewich said...

Very sad news. I remember a friend telling me, as we looked at her new floral paintings in her studio some years back, that she had taught herself how to paint using American Artist because we sure did not get any a education in realism while we were at art college. I used them for years to assist with my own teaching. Very sad.

etc, etc said...

For many artists, an article or a cover feature cemented their reputation.

And once AA figured that out they had that kind of power they quickly sold their souls. I canceled my subscription because I felt like I was paying for the marketing of a lot of mediocre artists.

Anonymous said...

Never was enthralled by art magazines. The pervasive snobbery and bull in the art world is such a turnoff. Sorry to hear about American Artist. Sounds like one of the better ones. - mp

Clinton Hobart said...

I didn't realize they had stopped publication until I read it here. They gave me my first article, and were wonderful to deal with. It will be missed.
Really excellent blog, the time you spend on it is appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I'd noticed that AA wan't at my local B&N anymore recently, but I had no idea they had folded. I liked the Artist's magazine a bit more, but thought International Artist was better than both of them.

Sketching Artist said...

Wow, time tripping! I remember doing a pencil study of that Frank Frazetta 1976 AA magazine cover.

Steve Fastner said...

American Artist was the only art magazine I bought in the 1970's.I appreciated that it gave equal regard for illustrators and gallery painters.I still have a boxfull,including the Frazetta issue,the Rockwell bicentennial issue,and the Jack Davis(how he does a Time magazine cover)issue.

Florante Paghari-on said...

I first discovered you James from American Artist magazine in their November 2006 issue which I bought in a booksale here in the Philippines, your painting the " The Clove from Haines Falls" was in the cover of that issue, aside from that you were also featured in pages 36 to 43; "Facts and Fantasy" The Paintings of James Gurney by John A. Parks that I began to study in magazines and which actually lead me to search and discover your famous blog. And that issue was my first American Artist magazine ever. So sad I won't get another issue of this in the near future.
I like Jacob Collins paintings too and I happen to know him from Sarah Lamb which featured also in this magazine. I don't have any fine art degree and always searching for answers on how am I going to paint in realistic manner and so thankful that from this issue I discover a lot and lead me to search and learn from other blogs and artists, too, which serves as my teachers.

James Gurney said...

Florante, thanks for that story. It is wonderful that magazines and blogs can reach around the globe. I am a new fan of Juan Luna from your country. I've seen a picture of "Una BulaqueƱa" and would love to see more of his work.

Ben Valentine said...

I literally gasped, for the second time today, out loud. Very sad. That magazine had a major role in me wanting to become an artist. It was really the only connection that I had to the realist art world for many of my early years. RIP American Artist.

Florante Paghari-on said...

Hello James! Yeah, magazines can be pass on to the next generation with or without a net, I am lucky enough to have some to share. It's precious. Thanks for the appreciation to our Filipino great masters here in the Philippines. Hard to get good images of Juan Luna's works in the net because most of the museums here don't allow the public to take a photo of paintings and other artworks, its good to know that the National Museum of the Philippines allow it.

Eunice Olson said...

During the 60's and 70's American Artist inspired me and taught me. Even though I have an Art degree, most painting instruction was focused on abstraction and little attention was paid to realism. My thanks to all the people who worked so hard to bring us a fine publication...your effort was greatly appreciated!

cpal said...

I personally feel like I am losing an old friend and am devastated. I learned so much from this magazine over many years about craft and the possibilities of art--since the 1960's. I loved being introduced to artists I might otherwise not have known about, and also materials, techniques, and events. The void it will leave will be difficult to fill.

UnAmerican Artist said...

Ok, this might be a bit crass, but thank goodness they're winding up--the last time I picked an American Artist mag up a few months ago I felt so small and insignificant by the quality and skil of almost every artist featured within; it was not a nice feeling!

Actually, considering the last point, I'm rather surprised of the news.

Anonymous said...

When Borders closed I subscribed to a number of art mags, but AA was not one. Just recently I decided it was the best of the bunch and sent in my subscription--and was most sad to have my check returned with a note that they are ceasing publication. Just as I discovered them! I can understand how saddened its old friends would be.

Mary G in Chicago

Tom Hart said...

I know the publication "Illustration" only via your blog, James. It's very impressive and I was surprised not to see it in your poll. Is there a reason for that, or was it an oversight?

Anonymous said...

Subscribed for years, starting after I picked up the Frazetta issue, and continuing to today. Sorry to learn of its demise.

Missing from your poll: Art of the West, which I think is terrific. --Bob Cosgrove

James Gurney said...

Tom and Anon, I knew I would inadvertently leave out some good magazines from the list, so sorry for that. I did try to focus on magazines that deal with living artists, with an emphasis on technique and process. I also had to leave out art magazines that concentrate on comics and digital art—or else the list would get impossibly long.

Donald Jurney said...

Hi James, I found myself, a very novice painter, being introduced by chance to Steve Doherty in early 1982 at the old Tatistcheff gallery in New York. I had just come from a humiliating rejection at a different gallery and I was feeling more than a little sorry for myself. The introduction eventually led to a Nov 82 article which was career-changing. Ya never know.

Fred said...

I became a subscriber to American Artist after becoming a fan back in art school. That was 1968. Finances were lean over the years, but somehow I managed to keep up that subscription. Indeed, the demise of this magazine is like losing a trusted old friend.

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Tim Shirey said...

AA was a big source of inspiration for me in the 80s. I would then cut out images and articles to place in a notebook for later access. Life before the Internet. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Ernest Watson was my paternal grandfather, and it always gave me a thrill to see that the magazine was still in publication all these years, whenever I'd see it on newsstands. I'm sad to see it go.

I had the pleasure of working in editorial at Watson-Guptill Publications in the '80s, though by then it was no longer a family-owned venture. WG publishes great art instruction books!

Anonymous said...

So nice to read this post. Though sad. Ernest Watson was my grandfather! And I (and much of my family) have carried on his tradition, working as professional artists.

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