He made pictures from life


For more than 50 years, Saul Steinberg was the New Yorker’s nonpareil sketcher, observer, spy and – though he would have thought the word dingy and depressing – its chief cartoonist, too. (He found the word depressing because, like “humorist”, it cast too wide a net.) But then he disliked being called an artist, too, since it called to his mind the salon-swindle of “exciting” objects and collectors’ manias. “All of those drawings, whimpering at night in the wrong houses,” was his dry description of the consequences of selling pictures to collectors, rather than publishers. So: a cartoonist, of the highest, most complicated poetic order, was what he was, and will remain. A cartoonist, because a cartoonist is someone who sees with his mind – someone who is concerned less with preserving a world than recording a thought. Steinberg could make a metaphor into a matrix of lines, and, in an instant, turn an idea into an image.

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