Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Memory Games of Artist-Reporters

Before reproducing photographs became efficient and practical, newspapers relied on artists to make visual reports, and this job tested their memory. Many of the painters who later became part of the Ashcan School, such as John Sloan and William Glackens, served this apprenticeship.

In the book Painters of the Ashcan School: The Immortal Eight, Bennard Perlman describes the games that newspaper sketch artists played: "Constantly confronted with the task of sharpening their sponge-like minds in order to absorb and store details of every possible variety, the artists repeatedly tested one another, using the routines they had discovered in Lecoq de Boisbaudran's book, Training of the Memory in Art."

Frederick Gruger

"'Glack, I'll give you five minutes to go into that room and tell us what's on the west wall,' Shinn would challenge. When time was up Glackens emerged, ready to astound his colleagues by systematically rattling off even the most minutely detailed objects. 'Guess how many steps there are from here to there?' one of the group demanded. 'How many tables are in the next room?' Again and again an observant Glackens quietly uttered the answers with consistent accuracy, a feat which gained him the title 'the photographic mind most likely to succeed.'"

Above: Everett Shinn, Robert Henri, John Sloan
"Often the artist-reporters would congregate outside of the Press to engage in another favorite pastime, that of walking behind a stranger in an effort to observe the characteristics of his movement. Camera-like eyes would register the shuffle of trousers, the swing of an arm, or the twist and turn of a body — a memory test which served as a practical study of anatomy."

"For the newspaper artists, these spare-time diversions were great sport, like 'college days, all the fun and no examinations,' as John Sloan once put it. But they also represented a remarkable schooling for men who would spend the rest of their lives recording, first on paper, then on canvas, the realities of the everyday American scene.
From the book: Painters of the Ashcan School: The Immortal Eight by Bennard Perlman.
Book: Memory Drawing: Perceptual Training and Recall by Darren Rousar
Free digital book of the French classic "The Training of Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist" by Père Lecoq
Illustration Art blog: "A Week of Gruger"


Anonymous said...

All I can say is "WOW!"

Robert J. Simone said...

Tried something with a group of workshop students. Set up a strongly lit still life of two objects. Gave them 2 minutes to sit and study it, then 20 minutes to sketch it out in oil. Then they got another 2 minutes to study it and another 20 to paint. Some surprised me and some, not so much. Those who performed the best were able to remember the big shadow shapes with reasonable accuracy and the main value relationships. Those who didn't do as well seemed to be painting objects rather than abstract shapes. said...

In 1970 I studied with Stephan Csoka at the National Academy.He told us that at the Royal Academy in Budapest that they were trained by having the model on one floor and having their sketch books on another.I think it's just another skill we have lost.