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April 24, 2010

FORTUNE: Worse for Ware?

…Here’s some feedback on the ill-fated Ware Fortune illustration that caught my eye. The comments come from the discussion at thoughtbrain. Make sure to click the photo to jumbo size for all the keen snark.

From reader Marke:

The problem I’d have with this cover is not that it contains “little jokes & jabs” at corporate American (and the government), but the fact that that’s all it contains.

Had maybe 20 or 30 percent of the little illos been jokes, I think everyone has enough of a sense of humor to handle it. But by making the whole thing anti-corporate, it does make it look like Fortune commissioned something with the specific purpose of jabbing corporations, and then everyone things, “What’s with that?,” and that becomes the story, not the 500 list, and the focus of the issue is lost.

Admin writes:

Sounds … like Fortune didn’t research (Ware’s) work well enough…. Just look at his New Yorker covers, they are all a sarcastic response to our culture: [1, 2].

Nick said:

Maybe Fortune magazine rejected this cover because it’s just not that good. Ware’s New Yorker work is subtle, mischevious, and true. I particularly like the composition of the 2006 New Yorker Thanksgiving cover, and the marvelous colors of the 2009. They’re great! I just don’t think the Fortune cover compares. That it’s anti corporate America is just icing on the cake.

…I like the Greenspan LubePro myself.

  • Wayne Dickson

    Nick, quoted above, thinks the illustration is not very good. I’d say that depends. (a) What’s the artist trying to accomplish? (b) How well has the artist succeeded in accomplishing it? (c) How well does the specific accomplishment, or objective, fit with the artist’s overall goal/s? [(d) would consider the moral/ethical appropriateness, but that's another story.]

    Suppose for the sake of argument that Ware wanted to “mock the hand that fed him,” so to speak. If that were true, then he wouldn’t really want his “Easter Eggs” to be balanced between mockery and praise, but he would want to engage the viewer in looking for them. From that perspective, that one finds the “eggs” fair, balanced, or biased against corporate culture is irrelevant. The point is that one has found them.

    What about the rejection? Movie producers deliberately seek to gain an “R” rating rather than a “PG.” Sells more tickets. Every year PETA creates Superbowl ads designed deliberately to be rejected. You pay through the nose to advertise during the Superbowl broadcast. You get rejected for suggestive content? You get a gazillion hits on YouTube.

    For the record, I subscribe to The New Yorker, and I love the cover illustrations. (Always illustrations, never photos.) But until now Ware’s name hasn’t stuck. It’s firmly set now, and before I hit the sack tonight I’m going to explore as much of his work as I can find. From my POV that makes the rejected cover pretty damned effective.

    • Books Alive

      A commenter in the thoughtbrain discussion gives what I think is an understandable reason for rejecting this: the numeral 500 is not immediately seen because of the angles and the busy bottom section. Commenter points out the importance of the “Fortune 500 corporation” branding.

      Not finding a Chris Ware website, I think this quote from his bio at Fantagraphics is telling:

      In 1991 Ware moved to Chicago to pursue a Master’s degree in printmaking at the Art Institute of Chicago, which he did not complete, but the experience did instill in him a deep suspicion of all forms of theory and criticism about art and writing.

      I notice that he misspells “cemetery” here.

  • bystander

    Heh. I’m kind of enamored of those folks in the bunker guarding their food and water – presumably – nestled against the Rocky Mountains. My close second would be the folks in the heartland (real America?) letting off some steam.

    It’s a great cover. How cowardly of Fortune to reject it. So much for those entrepreneurial risk takers, eh? It’s all good when the risk is at the expense of someone else, must be. Talk about hedging bets.

    I don’t get the comments you lifted; particularly the first one. Those folks have absolutely no sense of irony, do they? What better issue than the one that features the Fortune 500? I guess if you hold a mirror to them, they melt.

  • Julia Grey

    This is not an illustration, it’s a work of art, because of the reaction it engenders and the social function it serves. Part of that function, and of course part of the intent of the artist, was to be rejected by the patron.

    Feckin brilliant as a created context for the work. More power to him, sez I.

  • Rhodo Zeb

    That is a great cover. Love the retro styling. But I don’t know why the Chinese are dumping dollars into the sea.

  • Wayne Dickson

    Reflections inspired by the comments from bystander and Julia…

    First I’m reminded of the scene in Citizen Kane where Kane finds a have written scathing review of his wife’s opera debut written by his stone-drunk friend and associate [the Joseph Cotton character].

    In the interest of loyalty and journalistic ethics, Kane completes the review–tone intact–and publishes it. In the interest of all the other demons that drive him, he fires his friend.

    We didn’t get that from Fortune, nor should we have expected it. Ronald Reagan said that the first commandment is “Thou shalt not criticize a fellow Republican.” Fortune would alter that slightly: “Thou shalt not criticize a fellow member of the rich folks’ club, and especially not the official publication of the club.”

    Second, Norman Rockwell always insisted that he was “just” an illustrator, not an artist. As a working illustrator, reputedly expert at rendering women’s feet and shoes, Andy Warhol wondered what he would have to do to become a “real” artist. He decided that the answer was to call himself an artist, and then get his stuff exhibited in a real-artist gallery.

    Call it what you will, illustration or art, if it makes me think and feel in significant ways, then I like it. (I understand conceptual art, but personally I like craftsmanship with my thoughts and feelings.)

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