The 50th Anniversary

Filed Under: About AIGA , history , Article

Editor's note: The following article was originally published following AIGA's 50th anniversary celebrations in the Journal of The American Institute of Graphic Arts in 1965. At the time, AIGA Headquarters was located at 1059 Third Avenue, New York City.

1. Dinner at the Waldorf

AIGA’s 50th anniversary dinner, last April, attracted 600 members and guests to the grand ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria. The three-part agenda included presentation of the AIGA Medal, an annual award for outstanding contribution to the world of graphic arts, to Leonard Baskin. A special tribute was paid to Frederic W. Goudy, the great American type designer, on the centennial of his birth, and copies of a special Goudy keepsake book were distributed. The evening also featured a preview of the 43rd annual exhibition of the Fifty Books of the Year.

Among those present were former AIGA Presidents, Edna Beilenson, Peter Pauper Press; Alvin E. Eisenman, Yale University Press; Walter Frese, Hastings House; Sidney R. Jacobs, Alfred A. Knopf; former AIGA Medalist Paul A. Bennett, who spoke in tribute to Goudy.

Ivan Chermayeff, AIGA President, moderated the evening’s program, commented on AIGA’s progress toward attainment of its objectives in raising the standards of the graphic arts to fulfill America’s responsibilities to all fields of communication in print.

Mr. Chermayeff introduced John Canaday, Art Critic of the New York Times, to make the medal presentation. Peering over his half glasses, Mr. Canaday silently surveyed his audience and then commented, “We cannot exactly say it’s about time Leonard Baskin received this award. He has had the greatest award of all—wide acclaim with almost no restriction as to the area of that acclaim. He has the respect of the people who question the avant-garde, as well as those who admire the avant-garde. He belongs to no division—is neither conservative, avant-garde nor middle of the road. Rather—like a great many very important artists from all times—Leonard Baskin is a loner. At a time when humanism seems exhausted in art, he is a humanist in both meanings—as a scholar of humanistic thought and learning, and as an original commentator on the human condition today.

“In a day when meticulously skilled technique is suspect as a cramp on free expression, he is one of our finest and most meticulous technicians, and yet he turns this technique not into a display but always to express his purposes, so that you are aware of the technique only secondly—which is the way it should be—after the expression and the statement is made.

“Leonard Baskin has a craftsman’s joy in technique, an artist’s joy in expression and the intellectual humanist’s conviction that expression must serve more than a mere personal release. At a time when morbidities are popular for their own sake, when a taste for the perverse and the decayed is accepted as a symptom of the exhaustion and corruption of our civilization, and enjoyed as such, Leonard Baskin can treat a decay, a deformity, a disruption as correlations to the vitality and the significance of life. At a time when an artist tends to hold his reputation by a gimmick, by some kind of trademark—whether it is tomato soup or some kind of signature slapped on with paint—Leonard Baskin is an artist without a trademark, whose work is always immediately recognizable as his own. He works in a variety of media and is as fine a typographer as sculptor and printmaker.”

Concluding the evening’s banquet ceremonies was the bearded, witty, erudite Greek classicist, Professor Moses Hadas, better known among his students and fellow teachers as Columbia’s benign Monty Woolley.

With a twinkle he took over the podium, “Professors of humanity and literature, and publishers are in a conspiracy. Publishers provide the beautiful books we use and we scholars reciprocate by sharpening the appetites for more books. We are both, despite our present prosperity, on the defensive because it seems undemocratic to insist on beautiful books when more utilitarian, if rather grubby, paperbacks clamor for attention—and it seems a little unpatriotic to commit oneself to belles lettres in this age of science.”

Quoting the poet W. H. Auden, Professor Hadas noted, “Today’s humanist in the presence of scientists, is like a shabby curate in an assembly of dukes.” He referred to the longstanding dichotomy between the world of science and that of literature and humanism.

“The teacher of literature tries to shape and stretch minds in all directions. But the specialists, teachers of chemistry or Greek philology, try to perpetuate their own kind. The danger of this professionalism is that is demands a total commitment. The expert tends to become insulated, to know less and care less about things outside his very own provinces than the ordinary layman. Since the world is changing so rapidly that we cannot foresee what the next generation will bring, we need to know many things to be able to balance one against the other.

“A seventh-century Greek once said, ‘The fox knows many little things, the hedgehog one big thing.’ To prepare for our unknown future we must cultivate not only the quality of the hedgehog, but foxiness as well. To teach and learn, we must cultivate curiosity about everything, and we need books—lots of books. We need stylish books because, as the Greeks knew so well, style is the vehicle of civilization.”

Professor Hadas stressed the importance the Greeks set by books. This was their most important instrument of Hellenization. Throughout their civilization, books—mainly by Homer and tragedy—formed their code of style. “Homer,” Professor Hadas emphasized, “taught all Western civilization that anything significant and important to be communicated must be clothed in dignified form, worthy of its content.”

“If we allow civilization’s vehicle—style—to crash, civilization will have to begin all over again.” He quoted Alfred North Whitehead, "Style, in its finest sense, is the last requirement of the educated man. It is also the most useful. It purveys the whole of being. Style is the ultimate reality of mind."

Surveying the crowded ballroom, Professor Hadas concluded, “I want to say to you people concerned with ‘stylish’ books that you are not only heightening our pleasure and enjoyment. You are the guardians of the vehicle of civilization in the true sense.”

2. Anniversary Invitation Exhibition

In celebration of AIGA’s 50th Anniversary a special contemporary exhibition: Today’s View of 50 Years of Graphic Arts in America was shown at the AIGA Headquarters. This included work by many distinguished artists, designers and photographers in this country, and in 1966 is to be traveled for a three-year period under the auspices of Champion Paper, Inc. A fully-illustrated catalogue is being prepared in color to accompany this show.

Participants: John Alcorn, Tom Allen, Samuel N. Antupit, Saul Bass, Lester Beall, Betty Binns, R. O. Blechman, Aaron Burns, Will Burtin, Bill Charmatz, Ivan Chermayeff, Seymour Chwast, Elaine Lustig Cohen, Louis Danziger, Rudolph de Harak, Ed DeMartin, A. R. DeNatale, Bob Farber, Gene Federico, Carl Fischer, Richard Gangel, Thomas H. Geismar, George Giusti, Milton Glaser, Louis R. Glessman, Morton Goldsholl, Irving Harper, Allen F. Hurlbut, George Klauber, Jerome Kuhl, Herb Lubalin, Jay Maisel, Noel Martin, John Massey, James B. McMullan, Duane Michals, Barbara Nessim (not to travel), Carlos Ramirez, Paul Rand, Ellen Raskin, Martin Rosenzweig, Arnold Saks, Louis Silverstein, Jerome Snyder, Bill Sokol, Ed Sorel (not to travel), Otto Storch, Ladislav Sutnar, Bradbury Thompson, Fred Troller, George Tscherny, Tomi Ungerer, James Ward, Robert Weaver, Henry Wolf, Carl F. Zahn.

3. Magazine: USA 1965

A special exhibition: Magazine: USA was shown in celebration of the AIGA 50th Anniversary during February 1965, at AIGA Headquarters. This was a show in two parts, one being a retrospective exhibition tracing the development of the modern magazine during the last 50 years. Examples of contemporary magazine design were also on view, ranging from trade publications to large mass magazines. The selection committee consisted of Alexey Brodovitch, Bradbury Thompson and Henry Wolf. The show was installed by War & Saks.

In connection with this exhibition an all-day Conference was held in New York which examined the contemporary magazine in terms of its function, form and future. This was a most successful and provocative conference—a visual exploration of magazine design, tracing its development, evaluating the current situation and projecting the impact of European publication designing upon our own.

Speakers were Frank Zachary, Henry Wolf, Otto Storch and Richard Gangel, with panels of illustrators: Austin Briggs, Milton Glaser, Ronald Searle, Robert Weaver, and photographers: Cornell Capa, Burt Glinn, Ben Rose, Henry Wolf and John Szarkowski.

The Conference and Exhibition were skillfully organized by Allen F. Hurlbut, Art Director of Look magazine and a Director of AIGA.