Sunday, August 19, 2018

F.R. Gruger on Illustration

Frederic Rodrigo Gruger (1871-1953) was a prolific illustrator for the newspapers and story magazines. He wrote an inspiring essay on the topic of "Illustration" for the 1929 edition of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Part of his essay addresses the challenge that photography presents to the artist.

All art in this post by Frederic R. Gruger
"The camera has gone into every corner of the world and has brought back cold, precise facts. The reporter and the investigator have gone wherever the camera has gone; they have come home with more facts, and with explanations of the camera's pictures. This is knowledge; the newspapers and magazines send it to everybody. The important question to the artist, no matter whether he paint pictures for the galleries or make them for the magazines, is: what have this widespread knowledge and the countless photographs got to do with him? Shall he go into competition with the camera? The camera in the hands of an artist-photographer is a formidable opponent. Can he meet it on its own terms, on its own ground? He cannot. In a fraction of a second it will defeat his labour of weeks.

"The taste of the world demands pictures. It demands paintings, illustrations, photographs; it has seemed to declare definitely when and where it desires to see one or another. It would appear, then, that the painting and illustration has something the photograph lacks. On the other hand when people desire to see in a picture what is lacking in painting or illustration they turn to the photograph The camera can only report what is before it; it can report with exceeding beauty, at times, but it can only report. The artist can create and he can select from the manifold beauties of nature what he will, to incorporate with his creation. To the artist then, it would seem that the deliberate message of the world appears to be that he is expected to create and to let the camera report.

"Illustration may become a great art, but to become a great art it must be creative. It cannot hope to compete with the camera in the reporting of facts. It has no business with the outer shell of things at all. It deals with the spirit. Dealing with the psychological aspects is a great opportunity and a serious handicap. Presupposing a pictorial presentation of the relations of people, the telling of the story is inevitable. A great and simple story, akin to truth, or a poor and trivial one, akin to meagre facts, may be told of the same incident depending upon the insight, the vision of the artist. The nature of the story portrayed is the measure of the artist who portrays it. It makes no difference that he may be most accomplished in his craft. Though he may draw with marvelous skill, though his composition be perfect, though his detail be faultless, if his conception is trivial and his thought upon it slight, then his technical excellences betray him the more and his work is a mere virtuosity, empty and meaningless.

"If the illustrator has not parallel experience with the writer, he cannot march beside him, but must follow, presenting inconsequential, quasi-photographic, external repetitions, a faint accompaniment, indeed of what the author has written. The illustrator must be a person of wide knowledge, that he may have understanding; of wide sympathy, that he may know the people whom he is to picture; of creative imagination that the story may be real in his vision. To maintain such an ideal in the face of the difficulties which confront him is almost impossible, and necessitates a rare devotion to his work."
Quote is from The Encyclopaedia Britannica 1929 - 14th Edition
There's no Wikipedia article on Frederic R. Gruger, so I invite one of you to create one.
The main monograph on Gruger is: Golden Age of American Illustration: F. R. Gruger and His Circle
Previously: Memory Games of Artist-Reporters

1 comment:

Timothy Bollenbaugh said...


Great post! Books for accompaniment might well be the first edition of "The Illusion of Life" by Disney animators, and Chuck Jones autobiographies. Not to mention many of your posts and book listings (hence my comment in your 8/16 post "Hooray for Librarians").