Several years ago, a friend gave me some advice: "If you think you are going to buy more than two issues of an art magazine over the course of a year, then you are better off subscribing." It was his argument that the price of two issues of a monthly magazine at newsstand prices was typically three-quarters of an annual subscription, and for less than the cost of three issues, you could get twelve delivered to your door. And of course, he was right.
Before that friend presented me with that perspective, I may have had one magazine subscription, and whenever I considered committing to another periodical, I would balk at the annual cost. Now I think I have 7 print subscriptions, and one online subscription. It does get expensive, and there are some magazines which tend to go through some extreme dry spells, where only 1 in 5 installments has something to offer, and I think about letting my subscription to such magazines expire (darned if their best issue of the year isn't always the last one I'm owed, and I sign up again!). So this has been the little rule I follow, and for the most part, I'm happy, and look forward to those days when I open the mailbox and see a magazine waiting for me.
But to paraphrase Sir Joshua Reynolds, "Rules are like fences - they are placed only where trespass is expected." And there is one magazine for which I have been willing to break my own rule and subscribe to it, even though the subscription rate is no less than purchasing the same issues at the newsstand (It's $15.00 an issue at the bookstore, or $60.00 for a year. A year's subscription is $60.00, postage paid. Of course, there are sometimes incentives to subscribe: this past year, subscribers who renewed received a complimentary DVD of Norman Rockwell & The Saturday Evening Post).
So what made me trespass on the other side of the fence?
First of all, the magazine in question, Illustration, is a high-quality periodical. It is printed on bright, heavy stock, with clear photographs taken directly from original works of American illustration. Each issue is more like an exhibition catalog than a magazine.
Secondly, the images themselves are beautiful, and often of works seldom seen publicly. Even the advertisements are wonderful to look at, and frequently show other lesser-known yet brilliant works of art.
Thirdly, the articles are great. They are written by passionate and knowledgeable people. And happily, the writing serves the illustrations, rather than the other way around.
Fourthly, I felt a need to subscribe to the magazine. I found that I was looking for the latest issue whenever I walked into the bookstore, and when it was sold-out – which happened too often – I was really disappointed. I was worried I was missing great articles. (And as bookstores began disappearing, the chance of me missing out grew greater).
And last of all, the magazine can still surprise me, which is the best part of finding it in the mailbox four times a year.
When the latest issue of Illustration arrived the other day, the surprise that awaited me was that nearly a third of the 80 page magazine was dedicated to Edwin Austin Abbey (1852-1911), an outstanding artist about whom too little has been written. Abbey was a well-known and well-respected illustrator who kept company with Julian Alden Weir, A.B. Frost, Francis Davis Millet, Stanford White, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, and John Singer Sargent, and yet is practically unknown today when compared to his peers. This feature article by Gary Land is the first step in what the author hopes will lead to the recognition Abbey deserves as an "American Treasure."
The article on Abbey is 25 pages long and is illustrated with 25 images, including several full-page pictures. It joins previous Illustration articles on Andrew Loomis, Tom Lovell, and Dean Cornwell as among my favorites.
At the Illustration website, issue #40, as well as all of the previous issues, can be viewed in a low-resolution reader. The articles themselves are too blurry to be legible, but by leafing through the digital copies, a sense of what the magazine is like can be gained. And if you look through some of those past issues, perhaps you'll find yourself wanting to join me on the other side of that fence.
Artist of the Month: Edwin Austin Abbey on Muddy Colors
Edwin Austin Abbey on Lines and Colors
Edwin Austin Abbey on American Gallery
Edwin A. Abbey on 100 Years of Illustration
Underpaintings: Illustration Magazine #34 (Tom Lovell)