Friday, February 10, 2012
Howard Pyle Exhibit Catalog Gripes
The Delaware Art Museum has an exhibit (November 12, 2011 – March 4, 2012) dealing with famed illustrator Howard Pyle (1853-1911). It opened three days after the 100th anniversary of Pyle's death.
The cover of the exhibit's catalog is shown above. If you can't visit the museum store, you can order the catalog here.
I have issues with the catalog. That's because it drifts a small way into the cesspool of academic political correctness which, in my possibly warped judgment, is unfair to both the subject and readers interested enough in the subject to fork over the $45 cost of the book.
First, the positive elements. I thought the chapter by illustrator James Gurney was especially informative, probably because he is knowledgeable about the history of illustration and understands the trade's practical aspects. As for the authors of the other chapters, I didn't at first know who they are because nowhere in the book is there any background information. Gurney is not identified either; I'm aware of him because I follow his blog (linked above).
Although there is some subject matter overlap, most of the chapters are informative, even the one dealing with Pyle and the Swedenborgian Faith that was related to some of his works.
One place that ruffled my feathers was a chapter titled "The Gender of Illustration: Howard Pyle, Masculinity, and the Fate of American Art" by Eric J. Segal. Some Googling suggests that this Segal is on the faculty of the University of Florida and has written about masculinity with respect to Norman Rockwell and the matter of race as related to the Saturday Evening Post magazine. "Gender" and race are two politically motivated academic obsessions of the last few decades, so I suppose Segal is doing a nice job of building his career dealing with those and related subjects. I regard this business of applying currently fashionable views as a yardstick for evaluating a past that was essentially unaware of them as both intellectually silly and potentially dangerous to the reputations of worthy historical figures. This chapter should never have been included in the catalog.
I also had a problem with part of the chapter "The Persistence of Pirates: Pyle, Piracy, and the Silver Screen" by David M. Lubin. Lubin's chapter isn't all that bad except where he takes several detours attempting to link piracy to late 19th century capitalists, a gratuitous gesture unnecessary to the chapter's subject. Lubin is on the faculty of Wake Forest University.
As for my overall reaction to the catalog, I would have preferred more larger reproductions of Pyle's art and a lot less "scholarly" analysis.