Steinberg’s inside art for The New Yorker grew more cerebral, more involved with the life of the mind than the life of the streets—in individual drawings as well as in the themed portfolios (four or more drawings on a single subject, spread over two to six pages) that began to appear frequently.
The portfolio “Shadows and Reflected Images,” published in 1977, provides a good example of what Joel Smith called “the upward shift of Steinberg’s brow” beginning in the 1960s.39
“The idea of reflections came to me in reading an observation by Pascal, cited in a book by W.H. Auden….the symmetry of the human body [Pascal said], its external symmetry of course, is horizontal….[B]ut in nature at large, which is the scene of life, the nature of the earth and sky, there exists only a vertical symmetry, produced by water, nature’s mirror. Water was man’s first mirror. It was an inconvenient mirror….So, since he couldn’t take the water and hang it on the wall, he had to invent the mirror in order to look at himself. What you see in reverse in the reflection is almost always better than the original—for color, sharpness, intensity, and intelligibility.”40
Which Steinberg proves in this series, where the reflected figures, shapes, and contours are not blurred but drawn as precise mirror images of their avatars—except where, in the drawing of the house struck by lightning, the water defies nature by turning the natural zigzags of lightning and cascades of pine branches into a straight line and triangle. The canoer with the chained bear cub is copied from George Caleb Bingham’s 1845 Fur Traders Descending the Missouri. “It’s a question of still another degree of reality,” Steinberg clarified, “perhaps a third or fourth degree, because it’s not real and, what’s more, this pseudo-reality is reflected not in its own water—which would be the one in the painting—but in mine, I mean the one drawn by me.”
In these same years, The New Yorker began to publish “investigative and reflective pieces that set it apart as a mainstream magazine with intellectual credentials.”41 Steinberg’s drawings for Profiles and other features forged a visual rhetoric that paralleled the written word in its range, sophistication, and intricacy. With subjects spread wide, from the state of Texas to the city of Los Angeles, New York mayors, computers, DNA, the SALT talks, and the airline and entertainment industries, these “features seldom really ‘illustrate’; more typically, they complement the article simply by suggesting the inexhaustibility of the subject at hand.”42 They also reveal the inexhaustibility of Steinberg’s stylistic vocabulary, his refusal to be constrained by any one mode, even when dealing with the same article. Thus his drawings for the excerpts from Robert Caro’s biography of Robert Moses, published by The New Yorker in the summer of 1974 over four issues, each one accompanied by a Steinberg—and each drawing in its own stylistic compartment. The magazine’s readers knew only the black-and-white reproductions (color didn’t arrive for inside art until the late 1980s). Three of the original drawings survive, and they reveal subtleties of graphic texture and process, as in the August 12 drawing, where masking tape covers a rejected motif to create a freestanding pillar (more collage corrections).