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November 17, 1957 - Image 15

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Sunday, November 17, 1957


PnA Fiftia

value.. .until they are symbolized ...'


(Continued from Page 14) ried to his work for mass media white drawings of architectual fa-
the same exacting standards found cades with a strange eloquence,
fine artist can match the articul- in his museum work. Foliowing perhaps because they are so clearly
lation of his brushes in writing but Shahn's example has become an facades; he brings a marvelous
Shahn has done that, and in artistic necessity, upswing to his chorus of singing
words that for expressiveness, for angels who respond to an angelic
V sheer high quality, will attract HAHN'S OWN high - quality organist's pipes of ecstatic praise.
"not. . . only the customary art work has, in fact, become ac- The essay provided by James
public' but, one hopes, "a new cepted to the extent that readers Thrall Soby is excellent, for un-
kind of public, a great influx of sometimes have to be reminded like the text in most art books, it
people . .. that an isolated illustration or does not stand in the way of the
It is the images we hold in cover is his. This is partly because plates but complements them. It is
common, the characters of nov- many readers fail to look at what a model of art criticism by a writer
els and plays, the great build- they are seeing, partly because who admires his subject and knows
ings, the complex pictorial im- Shahn's style and techniques have how to do a most difficult thing,
ages and their meanings, and been so widely copied, partly be- express praise:
the symbolized concepts, princi- cause his graphics fit appropri-
ples, and great ideas of philoso- ately whatever is at hand. A draw-
phy and religion that have cre- ing of Shahn's in, say, the New
ated the human community. York Times amid many uniformly
The incidental items of reality undistinguished makes his virtues
remain without value or com- stand out. Soby says rightly, "It
mon recognition until they are would be hard to think of an
symbolized, recreated, and im- American artist whose sianature is
bued with value. The potato more his own. Shahn has only to
field and the auto repair shop touch pen or pencil to paper to
make his personality felt as clearly
rem a i n without quality or as in the most ambitious of his'
awareness or the sense of com- paistings.'
munity until they are turned in- S h compassion, :uperbly
to literature by a Faulkner or a clear in the portrait sketch of J.
Steinbeck or a Thomas Wolfe Robert Oppenheimer, has been
or into art by a Van Gogh. widely discussed. Compassion is,
Or quite simply and truthfully nd.ed, a distiguishing quait
end~~~~ ~~ prfudy yaBnSan inerd askinishoinow qalito
and profoundly, by a Ben Shahn. Shahn's work. To see the Oppen-
heimer sketch is to know a great " .
BEN SHAHN. HIS GRAPHIC deal about what harrowing experi
ART. Text by James Thrall ences this man was forced to en-
Soby. New York, 1957 dure. What is implicit, of course,
is an estimate of the whole shoddy
George Braziller. 140 PP- affair in the form of a question, x
$10.00. What brings man to this? ' -
Compassion is so apparent a
HE GRAPHIC ART of Ben quality in Shahn's work because
Shahn, with a prefatory es- of another element - elegance,
say by his friend James Thrall born from that human mastery
Soby, is not only a superbly pro- over material called craft. Craft
duced art work, it is one for which never makes a man a great artist,
there was real need. It makes for there are his mind, emotions,
available in small compass a selec- and in Shahn's case at least, his .,,g,
tion of th° work Shahn has done capacity for moral fury, still to be
as cover artist, book illustrator, considered. But craft enables a
poster maker, record sleeve decor- man to develop a style and a style
ator, and pamrphlet and advertis- is made elegant, in the best sense, The drawing of the drummer
ing designcr. when the artist's control over his (above) was one of a series com-
Shahn is perhaps the only ideas and his ability to express missioned in 1956 by Edward R.
American artist in this century to them fuse completely in what he Murrow and Fred W. Friendly
achieve a significant body of high produces. Shahn's control - over for the film "Ambassador Satch-
quality graphic art. Graphic art line, rhythm, form, typography- mo." "Warning - Infat ion
executed for mass media in Amer- is never in question. Means Depression - Register -
ica generally has been at an ap- Vote" (below) was painted for
pallingly low level, the nadir being HAHN FINDS the eontrast be- the CIO Political Action Com-
the folksy covers of the Saturday tween the heavy hands of a mittee in 146. It is owned by
Evening Post and the anatomical- iman in a field of wheat and the the Museum of Modern Art, New
ly, but not erotically, preposterous delicate stalks he reaches to touch; York.
Esquire girls. Recent years have E he makes social satire of no more
seen a gradual shift--Shahn, Fras- than a tangle of television an-
coni and Baskin have all been tennae by opposing them to a
commissioned by magazines- profuse natural growth of Faster -
largely because Shahn has car- lilies; he imbues his black and

(Shahn's) drawing often has
the autonomous vitality of
lines put down by Paul Klee,
one of the twentieth-century
artists Shahn most admires.
But it can also be as exact,
condensed, and immune to
forgery as the engraving on
government currency. It is this
quality of vision-the poet
combining with the squinting
precisionist - which gives
Shahn's graphic art much of
its power and fascination... .
. .. 'The Marriage of Heaven

and Hell?' To Shahn might
well be applied Swinburne's
words on Blake's great book:
'Passion and humour are mix-
ed in his writing like mist
and light; whom the light
may scorch or the mist con-
fuse it is not his part to con-
Ben Shahn: His Graphic Art
is a fine book of a special sort; it
is a book which one buys for its
excellence, does not give away and
does not even loan, least of all to


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