The line between illustration and art is often blurry. Science illustrations, particularly those for textbooks, are no exception.
How does one conceive imagery that characterises such elusive and non-material concepts as the mind, particular mental disorders or emotional turmoil? And how does one find the right visual expression for general concepts like sexuality, systemic diseases or “population interactions”?
Do you try to be as informative as possible while maintaining aesthetic functionality, or grab the artistic license and run with it, since nobody has seen “id and superego” in real life anyway?
Turns out that in the early 70s there was a company that published textbooks featuring visualisations from the positively wild end of this spectrum. Thanks to the avid illustration collector Will Schofield we can take a rather trippy trip to the past and experience the kind of artistic interpretation that would probably be difficult to come by in our modern era of glossy high-definition photographs of neuron cells and stock image resources featuring sad teenagers.
I first posted scans from Biology Today – a 1972 textbook from CRM — in September 2008. At the time I noted that I found the book in the free boxes outside a closed bookshop in Philly. This random find sparked my ongoing interest in collecting textbooks for their illustrations. [..]
Other early-seventies gems I plan to feature include Psychology Today and Developmental Psychology Today. (If searching for your own copies, pay attention to the dates as apparently subsequent editions are toned down.)
Click on the thumbnails to view a selection of images by various artists from several of the textbooks published by the company called Communications Research Machines. Many, many more of these spectacular illustrations can be found on Will’s blog, 50 Watts.