Thursday, December 08, 2016


The New York Times asked Alan Cober to illustrate an article on the conditions at the Willowbrook Home For The Mentally Disabled.  They commissioned two drawings.  He stayed at Willowbrook to make fifty.  

Cober didn't wait for a client to send him to homes for the aged.  He went there on his own.

He also visited prisons and drew what he found there.

A series of Cober's drawings from mental institutions, prisons, and homes for the aged were published as a book about abandoned people called The Forgotten Society.  

What did Cober hope to accomplish?  If he was a lawyer he might have filed a lawsuit.  If he was a politician he might have passed a law.  If he was a TV journalist he could have reported the facts.  Instead, he was an artist.  As the ancient philosopher Cicero wrote:
"Such strengths as a man has, he should use."
So, what strengths did Cober have?  Look at the way he presented this scene:

The faces and personalities of the human subjects have vanished into dehumanizing machines, with only a few pathetic limbs dangling out:

Lawyers or politicians could never convey the story of humans caught in the machine this way.

In this next drawing, Cober focuses on a person in a wheel chair to show us how different the reality is from our shorthand recollections:

You don't learn anatomy like this in an art class.

In the following drawing, Cober identifies a small point of irony...

... then prioritizes it by stripping away the rest of the world's clutter and placing the irony at the juncture of a long horizontal and a long vertical:

These are the strengths of an artist.  And such strengths as a person has, they should use.


MORAN said...

Cober was in the 60s and 70s. Whose doing social work like this today?

Anonymous said...

No one


Anonymous said...

This looks interesting. I will love to see Alberto Breccia or Jose Munoz, here in your blog. Would that be possible ?

Dan Patterson said...

The stark impressions painfully summarize the depression that visits me between Thanksgiving and the New Year. More is conveyed in the few drawn lines than any Congressional testimony or self-important news editorial ever published.

Untitled said...

I work in a Hospital environment. Though not with patients. These drawings are immensely powerful. The wheelchair one with the head bowed is particularly striking.

David: I am going to Chicago to enjoy the city next weekend Dec 22). It will be cold. I plan to spend a whole day at the art institute. Another 1/2 day at the field museum. Do you know of any other interesting art museums featuring drawings in the city?

( or illustration related?)

This question is open to all readers of Davids excellent blog. Please suggest art/drawing related things to do.


David Apatoff said...

MORAN and JSL-- If this type of social conscience art is being created today, I haven't seen it-- at least, not of this quality. Perhaps other readers out there can point us to current illustrators who are a modern equivalent of Cober? It may be that the social conditions and government in the next few years will provoke this kind of art.

Anonymous-- Thanks for the suggestions. I'd definitely like to showcase a wider range of international artists here. Of course, a big factor for me is having something worthwhile to add rather than simply copying and posting somebody else's hard work. This ain't pinterest, y'know. I'll look into it.

Dan Patterson-- Thanks for writing. I hope this holiday season is going a little easier on you.