The Best-Selling Artist of All Time

A rare Saturday afternoon post here at The Pietist Schoolman, occasioned mostly by my forgetting to include something in this morning’s links round-up. But I’m glad my memory failed me because this essay by Fred Sanders deserves some special attention…

Good News Bible
The Good News Bible as it looked in my childhood (well, my version didn't have the deuterocanonical books, but otherwise...)

Up until the fateful day at Covenant Pines Bible Camp when my brother decided to spray its cover with mosquito repellent, my copy of the Good News Bible was the Bible of my childhood and early adolescence, the version by which I first encountered Scripture on my own. (I still keep a non-bug-sprayed copy on the shelf, mostly out of nostalgia.) Not only was the text — the Today’s English Version (TEV) — written at an accessible level, but it was illustrated with numerous line drawings — about 500 of them.

(Please click through to Sanders’ essay to examples of the illustrations, whose copyright is held by the American Bible Society.)

Even as a child I remember finding it both strange and inviting that none of the people had faces. Even Jesus. With some age and further education, I can appreciate now that that choice helped make the illustrations more universal — no culturally captive, blonde-haired/blue-eyed Jesus in the Good News Bible. And as Sanders pointed out, the illustrations (pitched “somewhere in the transition from pictographic stick figures to fleshed-out portrayals of human forms”) served as a counterpoint to the text of the TEV:

…the whole point of the Good News version was to sound like “today’s language” circa 1970. But Vallotton’s illustration pulls the other direction, back into the canonical text. If she had drawn a hippy or a businessman, these illustrations would have become dated very soon. But her minimalism has kept them fresh and relevant for the most part.

Vallotton, I should add, is Annie Vallotton, the Swiss Protestant artist whose work on the Good News Bible has (according to one calculation) made her the “best-selling artist of all time.” And some of the images are truly wondrous in their simplicity. Here’s Sanders’ commentary on Vallotton’s illustration of the moment of Jesus’ death (Luke 23:46):

Eight lines do all the work here, and all of them could be described as simple lines except for the tortuously jagged line that circles around itself to indicate the crown of thorns. More would be less.

Sanders has several interesting insights into Vallotton’s style, but because of my own history with her art and the text it accompanies, I most appreciated his mention that she “has an ongoing ministry of storytelling, especially for children” and then the last lines of the post, in which he quotes part of a 2008 interview with her:

She has a lively wit and seems to know what she is about as an artist. It’s hard to improve on this exchange:

Q: From what angle have you done this work of illustrating?
A: My aim is to make people want to read the Bible.

Aim accomplished.

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