The New York Times asked Alan Cober to illustrate an article on the conditions at the Willowbrook Home For The Mentally Disabled. They commissioned two drawings. He stayed at Willowbrook to make fifty.
Cober didn't wait for a client to send him to homes for the aged. He went there on his own.
He also visited prisons and drew what he found there.
A series of Cober's drawings from mental institutions, prisons, and homes for the aged were published as a book about abandoned people called The Forgotten Society.
What did Cober hope to accomplish? He wasn't a lawyer who could sue these places. He wasn't a politician who could pass a law, or a TV journalist who could report facts. He was just an artist. But as Cicero wrote:
"Such strengths as a man has, he should use."So, what strengths did Cober have? Look at the way he presented this scene...
...so that the faces and personalities of the human subjects have vanished into dehumanizing machines, with only a few pathetic limbs dangling out:
Lawyers and politicians could never tell the story of humans caught in the machine that way.
Next, by really looking at a person in a wheel chair, Cober shows us how different the reality is from our shorthand recollections:
You don't learn anatomy like this in an art class.
Far from a regular person sitting in a chair with wheels, these people are collapsing in on themselves, their bones like dry twigs.
In the following drawing, Cober identifies a point of irony...
... then prioritizes it by stripping away the rest of the world's clutter and placing the irony at the juncture of a long horizontal and a long vertical:
These are the strengths of an artist. And such strengths as a person has, they should use.