Tuesday, July 12, 2011

George Giusti: "Art is art."

Take a look at the image below... what do you see? Illustration? Graphic design? Fine art? All three?


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To its creator, George Giusti, it was simply art. Giusti disdained the labeling of work as either commercial or fine art. "Art is art," said George Giusti, whatever its expressed intention.

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George Giusti was born in 1908 in Milan, Italy of a Swiss father and an Italian mother. He studied art at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts with the intention of becoming a painter... but upon graduating he was offered a position at a Milanese ad agency, and found the work to his liking. He stayed for three years doing graphic design and illustration. Giusti then moved to - first one, then another - Swiss advertising and design firms before opening his own studio in Z├╝rich, which he operated for seven years.

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In 1938 Giusti came to America...

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... where he immediately received several excellent commissions, convincing him to stay. The artist's design-inspired brand of realism quickly became popular with advertising, book and editorial clients.

Below: Award of Distinctive Merit, NY Art Directors Club, 1946

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Below: Award of Distinctive Merit, NY Art Directors Club, 1953

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Giusti is perhaps best remembered for his many covers for Fortune...

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... and Holiday magazines.

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He was also a sculptor and an architect. He built his home in Connecticut from Weathering steel and glass, with only man-made materials throughout. Steel and other types of metal fascinated Giusti.

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Many of his drawings and painting were of metal objects...

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... or incorporated photographs of metal sculptures he had built.

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For a time he actually crafted metal caricatures of famous people like Pope Paul VI, Richard Nixon, Mao Tse-tung, Edward Heath, Golda Meir and Mick Jagger.

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There's no denying that George Giusti had a unique way of looking at the world - and that he invited us, as viewers, to share in his distinctive interpretation of reality.

Illustration by George Giusti

That interpretation was aptly described in 40 Illustrators and How They Work as a "more than photographic reality."

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The article continues, "the artist who thinks of reality in terms of photographic naturalism loses the edge that a skillful artist has on the camera."

"The artist who subordinates design to exactitude is no more than a glorified retoucher."

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I've been thinking a lot about illustration, art and design... where its been and where its going...

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... and I'm becoming increasingly convinced that artists like George Giusti had it right. At a time when illustration (especially illustration that was largely within the realm of "photographic naturalism") was about to be displaced by actual photography as the default choice for the majority of commercial art assignments, artists who shared Giusti's philosophy of interpreting reality through design-based picture-making not only survived - but thrived.

Half a century later, this is more true than ever. If you want to be successful as a creative today, you can't narrowcast yourself. What do you think?

* Thanks to Sandi Vincent for allowing me to use her "Modern Packaging" scan in today's post. The two Time magazine covers are from the Time Cover Archive.

* There is an extensive George Giusti biography here. There's a nice collection of Giusti's book cover designs here.

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