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.