Pictorial Conceits

By the 1950s, Steinberg’s drawings in The New Yorker were offering a perspective on 20th-century life—architecture, rural and urban living, politics, art, family relationships, and the human condition.

Original drawing for the portfolio “The Coast,” <em>The New Yorker</em>, January 27, 1951. <em>Exterminator No. 9</em>, 1950, ink on paper, 14 ½ x 11 ½ in. Saul Steinberg Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Original drawing for the portfolio “The Coast,” The New Yorker, January 27, 1951. Exterminator No. 9, 1950, ink on paper, 14 ½ x 11 ½ in. Saul Steinberg Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Drawing in <em>The New Yorker</em>, April 13, 1957.
Drawing in The New Yorker, April 13, 1957.
Drawing in <em>The New Yorker</em>, December 14, 1957.
Drawing in The New Yorker, December 14, 1957.
From the portfolio “Winter in Moscow,” <em>The New Yorker</em>, June 9, 1956.
From the portfolio “Winter in Moscow,” The New Yorker, June 9, 1956.
Drawing in <em>The New Yorker</em>, August 30, 1958.
Drawing in The New Yorker, August 30, 1958.
Drawing in <em>The New Yorker</em>, July 10, 1954.
Drawing in The New Yorker, July 10, 1954.
Drawing in <em>The New Yorker</em>, March 8, 1958.
Drawing in The New Yorker, March 8, 1958.
Original drawing for <em>The New Yorker</em>, August 29, 1959. Ink on paper, 14 ½ x 23 in. Saul Steinberg Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Original drawing for The New Yorker, August 29, 1959. Ink on paper, 14 ½ x 23 in. Saul Steinberg Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Drawing in <em>The New Yorker</em>, March 27, 1957.
Drawing in The New Yorker, March 27, 1957.
Drawing in <em>The New Yorker</em>, October 21, 1950.
Drawing in The New Yorker, October 21, 1950.
Drawing in <em>The New Yorker</em>, August 29, 1953.
Drawing in The New Yorker, August 29, 1953.
Original drawing for <em>The New Yorker</em>, December 26, 1953. <em>Looking Back</em>, ink on paper, 13 1/8 x 10 ¼ in. Private collection.
Original drawing for The New Yorker, December 26, 1953. Looking Back, ink on paper, 13 1/8 x 10 ¼ in. Private collection.

It was also in this decade that he began to probe the synesthetic potential of drawing—the ability of line to create graphic equivalents to non-visual sensations.

Drawings in <em>The New Yorker</em>, February 12, 1955.
Drawings in The New Yorker, February 12, 1955.
Drawings in <em>The New Yorker</em>, June 1, 1957.
Drawings in The New Yorker, June 1, 1957.
<em>Speech</em>, 1959. Ink, pencil, conté crayon, and rubber stamps on paper, 15 x 20 in. The Saul Steinberg Foundation.
Speech, 1959. Ink, pencil, conté crayon, and rubber stamps on paper, 15 x 20 in. The Saul Steinberg Foundation.
<em>“Country Noises,” The New Yorker</em>, February 12, 1979.
“Country Noises,” The New Yorker, February 12, 1979.
Cover of <em>The New Yorker</em>, August 23, 1982.
Cover of The New Yorker, August 23, 1982.

A mainstay of Steinberg’s art is the appropriation of the vocabulary of other art for his own graphic repertoire. He did not represent what he saw; rather, he often depicted people, places, and even numbers or words in styles borrowed from other art, high and low, past and present. In his pictorial imagination, the very artifice of style, of images already processed through art, became the means to interrogate social and political systems, human foibles, geography, architecture, language, and even art itself.


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