Hopefully this won't rile up the gang of crusty curmudgeons who commented yesterday, but in my opinion, some of the best, most forward-reaching magazine covers of the 50's were those commissioned by Fortune magazine's AD, Leo Lionni. I have the greatest admiration for Lionni. I think the man was a genius.
Leonni was at the centre of one of the most heated debates this blog has ever seen, back in February, when I showed a simple, child-like drawing he did in 1940 that won an Award of Distinctive Merit from the New York Art Director's Club.
Without revisiting that debate in detail, I'd just like to emphasize that, during a time when literal representation in illustration was king, the publishers and editors of the leading business magazine in America trusted Lionni to choose these and many other similar illustrations month after month for the covers of a magazine that (one could safely say) was being read by the most influential, powerful and conservative audience of the day.
These pieces would probably fit comfortably in the Museum of Modern Art, even today. But make no mistake: they are commercial art - commissioned for the purpose of selling a product - Fortune magazine - to the consumer, and it was Lionni's job to provide the kind of visuals that would increase sales. If he had failed he would have been replaced, but in fact he was Fortune's AD for well over a decade and only left in 1959 because he chose to quit the magazine business and pursue children's book illustration.
Whether you love or hate this kind of avant-garde approach to illustration, the fact remains that this magazine must have popped off the news stand. It was a great way to put a fresh face on the often dull topics of business and politics. Try doing a Google Image Search for "Fortune magazine' and see where we are sixty years later.
Photo after photo after photo of businessmen and politicians staring at the viewer. Very exciting. Ugh.
Art directors could learn a lot from a close study of what Leo Lionni accomplished half a century ago, in far less liberal times.
This guy had big balls and knew how to use them. ADs today need to grow a pair. The end.