- The Art of Football: The Early Game in the Golden Age of Illustration by Michael Oriard
Michael Oriard returns to the themes of culture and media interpretations of football with this lavishly illustrated book that focuses on the early years of football art in the media. In King Football (2001), Oriard deftly explored the influence of radio, newsreels, movies, and the printed press on football between 1920 and 1960; however, The Art of Football finds more in common with his earlier text Reading Football: How the Popular Press Created an American Spectacle (1993). In Reading Football, Oriard explored the means by which the media represented football and how this represented what football meant to those treading that coverage. Reading Football included nearly forty illustrations, and The Art of Football represents a stage further in this analysis of media illustrations, using this as the primary focus for the book. The huge variety of illustrations, which, for the most part, are in the public domain, represents the pinnacle of the use of illustrated work to appreciate the way in which the media represented football in its early years. Oriard states that his aim is to explain how football gained "its distinctive place in American culture" (xxvii), and this text clearly puts football into the domain of cultural studies through this analysis.
The book is split into four chapters, each taking a different aspect of football art as its theme. In the first chapter, Oriard focuses on the emerging football art with a focus on Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslie's Illustrated News. Chapter 2 focuses on the football cartoon and the emergence of the Gibson Girl and the Yellow Kid in print journalism. Chapter 3 looks more at football posters, in particular, the work of Edward Penfield and J. C. Leyendecker. The final chapter takes as its theme the illustrated football story and the work of Howard Giles and George Bellows.
The book focuses on understanding the way in which football art, in its many forms, was displayed by the media of the time. Each chapter explains the societal issues that [End Page 266] influenced the way in which the game was depicted, as well as influences of advancing technologies in printing and influences from the artists themselves.
The book does not serve as a history of football; much of the football history is covered briefly in order to provide context. What this work really adds to academic debate is football's place in the realm of cultural studies and demonstrates the varied manner in which the media represented the sport within its early, often controversial, years. It also assists in illuminating the way in which people thought about football at this time.
The issue with any heavily illustrated book is where to place the pictures. While some pictures are included within the pages of text, the large majority are placed at the end of each chapter, frequently taking up entire pages. While this creates an issue of flicking backward and forward to look at images, it is counteracted by the fact that the pictures are given center stage, and it is easier to see fine detail and appreciate the artwork more. It is hard to conceive how else this book could be arranged without disrupting the flow of Oriard's discussion.
Clearly wishing to avoid a theoretical debate on what art is, Oriard makes it clear in his introduction that this question is for others to decide. Oriard is not an art critic, and the analysis of the illustrations within the text reflects this. This is one of the book's strengths and allows Oriard's always-readable style to come through. Analysis, instead, focuses on a variety of aspects, including the different artists' ways of drawing, the influences of technical innovation, and links to the perception of sport within broader society. All this directs the reader to an appreciation of how the artists, and the publications they were illustrating for, were attempting to...