From: Peggy Wilkins <email@example.com>, 07 Jul 2003
Subject: Art in PLAYBOY
Right from the start in the 1950s, art has been an important component of PLAYBOY. From small drawings to significant large scale works in various media—collages, sculpture, paintings, and more—art and illustration have contributed significantly to the visual impact of each issue of PLAYBOY. A few artists have come to be strongly associated with PLAYBOY and have helped give a unique look and brand identity to the magazine: most significantly LeRoy Neiman, who has contributed works large and small for decades and whose very distinctive Femlin has appeared in every issue since August 1955; the immortal Vargas, and more recently Olivia; Patrick Nagel; and many more.
In recent issues there has been a shift away from art, with most features illustrated with photographs instead. For example, in the current (August) issue, there is only one major artwork, illustrating that issue's fiction. Other art in this issue is limited to very small and minor reproductions, such as in Raw Data, Movies, Advisor, Forum, Party Jokes (the traditional Neiman Femlin), and Potpourri.
For my part, I have no problem with photography and I think it can add very positive content to the magazine. (Photography is, of course, an art itself.) However, the corresponding move away from the presence of significant art does change the overall visual impact of the magazine. How does it change it? On the positive side, it may make the magazine seem more accessible to more people; this speaks for additional photographs. On the negative side, I think PLAYBOY is too easily letting go of an important component of its visual impact—one that contributes significantly to brand identity. (Of course this raises the question of if this is a desirable brand identity...) I know as a longtime reader that I have been pulled in and struck by particular illustrations, and they have been etched into my mind permanently: they have become an integral part of my memory of the magazine. I have missed the presence of striking art as an opening to major features. It is a different entry in to the mind of the reader, from a potentially more abstract and creative point of view.
Can art and photography work together? For instance, if a major artwork opens a feature, does it make sense to then have photographs on subsequent pages, or is this too much of a dissonant approach to feature illustration?
I hope PLAYBOY can continue to use top rate art, even as they are adding photography.
From: Donna Tavoso <firstname.lastname@example.org>, 10 Jul 2003
Subject: Art in PLAYBOY
I think what is crucial for PLAYBOY in the debate of artwork vs. photography is to find the right balance. In my opinion in the past there was too much artwork, much of it I found would turn me off to a story before I even read it—I always felt like the magazine was holding on to its tradition of using art work simply for the sake of holding on to the tradition.
I was really happy to see lots of photographs—that was really clear to me when the carictures disappeared from the music poll and were actually replaced with pictures of the artists. And I beleive that there should be more photographs than drawings in the magazine on the whole.
However, I would be extremely disappointed if the artwork disappeared from the magazine completely. I wonder if perhaps it is too expensive and perhaps time consuming to discover the talent needed for these pieces.
One positive note, I noticed on playboy.com that they were inviting college students to submit artwork, photographs and/or writing to commemorate PLAYBOY's 50th anniversary—I think this might be a great way to find some new talent and spotlight PLAYBOY's belief that young people today do read, write and do all sorts of creative things and are just as interested in being well rounded as the generations that went before them. I think it should be exciting to see what they receive.
From: Peggy Wilkins <email@example.com>, 12 Jul 2003
Subject: Art in Playboy
I think that PLAYBOY became very much ingrained in its approach to feature illustration not for the sake of upholding tradition, but rather out of habit. I think that the editors held certain assumptions about how features should be illustrated, and that was never (or rarely) challenged, and so they maintained the status quo. In fact, I think this has been the case all around and in my opinion for the past several years PLAYBOY was running on autopilot most months out of the year. That to me is part of what has made the issues seem stale or tired. There were exceptions—in particular the December and January issues consistently have good features, and the illustrations are no exception. I was recently looking through the January 2000 issue, and I was very impressed with the overall look of the magazine: very attractive, sophisticated, and inviting. Of course that issue is a special one, and it is obvious from start to finish that the editors (or some particular editor?) were making an extra effort at everything in that issue.
If they can do that good a job for a single issue, why can't that be the case for every issue, or even most issues?
Donna's point about being turned off by some illustrations is very valid, but in addition to art vs. photography, that may also be an issue of well chosen art vs. less well chosen art.
In my experience, I have been particularly turned off by the illustrations accompanying the PLAYBOY Profile feature. These illustrations gave a very out-of-date feel to this feature, and I think that the use of photographs of the person being profiled is an obvious and preferable alternative.
PLAYBOY has always used a full page photograph in the 20 Questions feature, and that has always seemed a particularly strong point to me—it's always been a good, interesting photograph in that feature.
The issue of balance of art vs. photography is interesting. What I am seeing in some recent issues is a mishmash of illustrative approaches (and some of this may be layout, not just art or photographic) that results in a perceived lack of visual unity. Integrating the older layouts (Advisor, Interview, etc.) with new graphics (additional photographs and sidebars) seems quite visually conflicted. Finding a consistent visual approach for features seems to be a real challenge, and I think it needs more work.
From: Dan Stiffler <firstname.lastname@example.org>, 15 Jul 2003
Subject: Scattered Shots
The first awards that PLAYBOY won when it began publication were for art and art design. At first these were Chicago awards, later New York awards, and then national awards. The editors trumpeted these awards very early in the Playbill because the awards gave legitimacy to a magazine that could have all-too-easily been dismissed as a skin rag. Later, when PLAYBOY's reputation became established, top artists were commissioned to do work for illustrating feature articles and fiction. Never-before-published Picassos appeared in January 1957 issue to illustrate a story by Ray Bradbury.
As I remember (and I am sure that someone will correct me if I am wrong), one of the Kaminsky doctrines is that young men today are more engaged with photographs than with art. Thus, the thinking is that PLAYBOY needs more photos and less art. So I don't think we are going to get the balance that Peggy and Donna mention. (As a side note, I really like the art with the fiction in the August issue).
The doctrine is flawed. Graphic novels are a big item among the young today (both men and women), even regular comics (consider the number of blockbuster movies based on graphic art). Also, most video games—even though they may appear "lifelike" and "video quality"—are nothing more than artistic/computer renderings. And consider the wonderful world of animation: it's all art (as opposed to photographs). As someone who has been working with the 18-23 year-old set for twenty-five years, I can attest that many young people think of themselves as artists: painters, sculptors, printmakers, etc.
The photograph has not killed art. It has forced art to expand its own boundaries, but that is a good thing (just ask those who live off the estate of Jackson Pollock!). It may be that Maxim made its way with mostly photographs and very little art. But I thought Kaminsky said he didn't come to PLAYBOY in order to Maximize it.