1950’s Illustration: When Mass Media Met Pop Culture

A Short Overview of Illustrations From the Age When Mass Media Met Pop Culture

Welcome to the wonderful world of the 1950’s illustration. It is filled with illusion, abundance, naiveness and optimism. In no other time in history has illustration been so incorporated into the society – representing and defining it’s ways and norms – as it was in the 1950’s.

Illustrations were everywhere; on books, and magazines, and billboards. They covered food and beverage packing, they were even on Television. The 1950’s were a Golden Era of Illustration.

The 50’s in the United States were a time of constant expanding of advertising and media tools, and illustration became a common and popular method of transferring ideas. But the 50’s illustrations are about more than just selling brands. They offer a story. They reveal the decade’s political, economical and social events.

Life in the 1950’s was simple and comfortable. And for those who rode on top of the the wave of the rising middle class – even luxurious.

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Following the end of WWII western economies bloomed, and consumerism began to spread. During the 50’s the average salary in the USA went up by 50%, a middle class arouse, credit card was introduced, babies were booming all around, a good future was there for everyone.

Men were supporting their families working long hours in office job. Finally, they could afford to own a car.

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Housewives were still nice and polite smiling happily while following the on box recipes from the newly introduced out of the box products, cleaning their new all electric house and trying to stay fit and with the latest fashion.

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In a decade marked by economical growth, there were many new brands and products that came to life.

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Big Depression was over, WWII ended, and people were living a new kind of life, which meant treating your self good.

Increased leasure time lead to fast food restaurants and outdoor cinemas spreading everywhere.

Everyone seemed to live a dream come true – happy and content.

To this ideal world there was just one threat. An invisible yet deeply threatening Cold war was over everyone’s heads. Still, all worked hard to maintain the illusion of a dream come true reality.

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For having more than their basic needs taken care off – people started searching for more, looking up in the skies. Soviet Satellite Sputnik Launched Space Age.

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Following the evolving of mass media – popular culture was created.

It was all about radio, jukebox, drive in movies and TV.

1956 belonged entirely to “The King”. Mass media helped Elvis become the first pop culture product to become a global icon.

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The motion picture industry took over showbiz. By 1958, there were more than 5,000 drive-in’s in the U.S. More than 10.5 million US homes had a TV set.

Young people wanted new and exciting symbols of rebellion and Hollywood responded. Anti-hero’s like Marlon Brando took on the role, and sexy non conformist anti-heroines like Marilyn Monroe added excitement.

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Illustrators were a necessary assets in the advertising industry, in the Movies-TV industry, and even around the news desks in the leading newspaper.

Extremely fruitful was the field of children’s illustration, characterised by flat characters, use of bright colors, expanded color palettes and basically no 3 dimensional space.

Theodor Seuss Geisel – better known under the pen name Dr. Seuss – might be considered the most famous illustrators of his time. After drawing political cartoons during WWII, Geisel returned to children’s books. In 1955 he published his most known book – The Cat in the Hat – based on simplified vocabulary accompanied by distinct drawing style, verse rhythms and incredible imaginative power.

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Mary Blair began working for Disney in 1934. Rather than faithfully reproducing the old illustrators Mary used a new approach – flat color, complementary contrast and various color shades creating her own, widely recognisable world. Her illustrations are poetry and we still read them with ease and excitement as they in the 50’s did.

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At the beginning of his career Art Seiden did corporate and advertising work for some of the largest companies in America. However, his unique style expressed mainly through use of transparent watercolours and gouache showed to be the biggest match on children’s book illustration. Seiden illustrated over 300 books.

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It would be impossible to conclude the 50’s without the famous Pin Up girls. According to Great American Pin Up Gallery ‘Every business, restaurant, theatre, club and locker room was decorated with these beauties.’ They offer a new fresh view on sexual freedoms that were evolving at the time.

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We just love Fifties illustration. It brings us into some other time, a time where it all started – consumerism, fast food, liberate sex. A naive world created by innovative people who believed in a better future.

Sources:

Martina Skender is a freelance graphic designer from Croatia currently living and learning about Israel. She worked for theater, print and web. She likes to observe, draw and post her drawings on her draw everything blog. /// portfolio

 

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