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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Clip Art

That was the date I began this blog. What? You were expecting something more earth-shattering? Well, the earth was then, and has since continued to be relatively stable, despite what my U. S. Air Force son in Japan might claim. Some 900 daily blog items later, this all comes to mind in that my first article dealt with the most highly disrespected form of painting known to the art world. You'll have to go back and read the blog to find out what that might be. There are other forms of art in what you might call a "race to the bottom" of the art world--graffiti, for example--though in recent years some of the best of this worst has gained a certain degree of well-deserved respect. Another example is clip art.

A Harper's Bazar cover from
1868 loaded with clip art.
If you look up the history of clip art, most references cite home computers and the invention of desktop publishing in the early 1980s as the starting point. And, indeed, Apple and its Macintosh, coupled with the Aldus Pagemaker in 1985 brought this art to popular use and attention. However, it goes back much further than that. Some twenty years earlier, 1962-63 to be exact, I was the student art director for our high school yearbook. I can recall tracing with a stylus line drawings from a tattered clip art catalog onto a mimeograph stencil (which really dates me as an artist). And even then, such art was not new. If you want to get technical as well as historical, you could probably trace the roots of such art back to woodcuts used in national illustrated publications like Harper's Bazaar (left) a hundred years before my first encounter.

New clip art--created early this morning, perhaps.
Clip art may be the only form of art in which there are few, if any, artists. Virtually no one claims to be a professional "clip artist." And while there is apparently money to be made in publishing clip art in catalogs or on disks, there would seem to be no money to be made in producing the artwork itself. If ever there was a poster boy for copyright infringement, it would be clip art (to the point that most of it is simply royalty free). And while historians may debate the exact date when clip art first came to be, based purely on style, some of what is still in use today would appear to be at least a hundred years old (top). And, using the same stylistic evidence, some of it would appear to have been created just yesterday...late in the afternoon, in meeting the seemingly inexhaustible demand for computer icons (above). Though today, clip art has somewhat been replaced by stock photos, and traditional line drawings (no half-tones) have a rather dated look, much of the "yesterday afternoon" clip art has a surprising freshness that would lead a computer-reliant desktop publisher to coin-flipping in deciding whether to use artwork or a similar photo.

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