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INTRODUCTION FRITZ KAHN, MODERNITY, AND THE INVENTION OF CONCEPTUAL SCIENTIFIC ILLUSTRATION Not as the cadaver of the older anatomy, not the skeleton and the specimen preserved in alcohol, but instead man as he lives, acts, and thinks . . . this is the subject of modern biology! —­FRITZ KAHN, MAN IN STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION, 1939 “DER MENSCH ALS INDUSTRIEPALAST” AS CONCEPTUAL ILLUSTRATION There is a kind of illustration that is utterly familiar, but rarely brought to account. Nowadays it goes by the name “infographics,” “data visualization ,” “visual display,” or “visual explanation”—­ terms that have overlapping and inconsistent definitions and usages.1 Among an older generation of professional illustrators, such illustrations were sometimes called “conceptual,” which is the term we’ll provisionally adopt here, along with “visual explanation.” But none of these terms does justice to the rich history and variety of explanatory illustrations devoted to scientific, technical, and medical (and also historical, geographical, and cultural) topics. Conceptual illustrations combine images, text, data, diagram. Their mission is to describe the scientific or technical workings of the material world and our material bodies. Designed mainly but not exclusively 2 | INTRODUCTION for general readers, they appear in news­ papers, magazines, textbooks, instructional videos, advertisements, children’s books, and television programs, as well as on classroom walls and websites. Mostly they don’t aim to show how things look but rather explain how things work. They model, celebrate, or narrate processes; they dramatize data and statistical correlations, disease progression, natural cycles, and events; or they just allude to or evoke the operations of living things, chemical reactions, and technical devices. Such illustrations use various strategies and styles. They can be sober or whimsical; they can be executed with varying levels of scientific and aesthetic sophistication (Plate 5). Yet casual readers rarely think of them as art and almost never as rhetoric. Historians, scholars of visual culture , and sociologists of science have not attended very much to their ideological provenance or role in the circulation of scientific knowledge or aesthetic principles. In everyday practice, the artfulness of such illustrations, as well as their status as cultural artifact, is superseded by their claim to show us what is true and real. Their history and workings, seemingly obvious, tend to disappear from view. Their stratagems camouflage and sometimes subvert their rhetorical goals.2 FIGURE I.1. A conceptual illustration that visually explains the physics and physiology of what goes on in your ears and brain when you hear a piano concert. “Sound Perception,” Fritz Kahn, Das Leben des Menschen (Stuttgart: Kosmos/Franckh’sche Verlagshandlung, 1929), 4:197. Artist: Fritz Schüler. National Library of Medicine. Copyright Kosmos Verlag, Stuttgart. INTRODUCTION | 3 It seems as though conceptual illustration has been around forever, but it hasn’t. It had a long gestation in sixteenth-­ century treatises and compendia, eighteenth-­ century encyclopedias, and nineteenth-­ century illustrated weeklies. But it was truly born in the early decades of the twentieth century, and its first great exponent was Fritz Kahn (­ 1888–­ 1968), a German Jewish physician. Kahn’s career as a popular science author blossomed in the 1920s with illustrated articles in ­ Kosmos (­ Germany’s most popular science magazine), Berliner­Illustrierte ­Zeitung (Germany’s most popular weekly newspaper), Uhu (an American-­ style general interest mass-­ circulation monthly magazine ), and especially the five-­ volume Das Leben des Menschen (The life of man).3 Published between 1922 and 1931, Das Leben des Menschen sold over 70,000 copies and featured some 1,200 illustrations, many of them commissioned by Kahn, others lifted from a jumble of sources.4 Kahn’s later publications were even more image laden. Over the course of a long career, in collaboration with a cadre of never adequately acknowledged commercial artists, Kahn developed entirely new genres and tropes of conceptual scientific illustration. Eclectic pictoriality was his working method.5 Kahn’s artists depicted subjects that were familiar or exotic or both, and they worked in whatever style suited FIGURE I.2 “Twelve of twelve hundred . . . illustrations from ‘Das Leben des Menschen’” (ca. 1931). Two-­ color promotional insert. Artist: Roman Rechn. Leo Baeck Institute, New York. Copyright Kosmos Verlag, Stuttgart. 4 | INTRODUCTION their talents and temperament—­ surrealism, Art Deco, neoclassicism, Jugendstil, expressionism, photomontagery, Bauhaus functionalism, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), commercial realism. Kahn’s first publications appeared in the 1910s and continued on past his death in 1968.6 He dealt with a variety of scientific subjects, but he was best known for illustrated books and articles on the human body, biology, and sexology. After...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781452915777
Related ISBN
9781517900212
MARC Record
OCLC
956584181
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-07
Language
English
Open Access
No
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