I’ve spent this past summer working as a marketing intern at the Art Institute, and I’ve been fortunate that quite a few of my responsibilities have taken me into the (fantastic, I think) Lichtenstein exhibition. My favorite series is the section devoted to early black-and-white works. They were painted the same time as his signature comic book paintings, but are most obviously distinct for their limited color palette of—you guessed it—black and white. They are also missing the narratives of the comic book paintings and show common, everyday objects that Lichtenstein saw in newspaper advertisements and mail order catalogues.
The image I’m always drawn to is Desk Calendar from 1962. The painting shows a physical calendar with days and times printed in a grid. The calendar is also covered with handwritten notes and marks, ostensibly made by the owner of the calendar. Viewers will instantly be able to distinguish which parts of the calendar were originally machine printed and which parts were written by hand. However, this distinction is illusory, because the entire image was hand painted by Lichtenstein. Showing the differences between human-made and machine-made writing without using a computer challenges the viewer to think about the essential differences between human and machine. Neatness, order, subject, and creativity are highlighted as noticeable differences.
A lot has changed since the 1960s; within my Google calendar, all of the words look exactly the same. I still can tell through the subject and the creativity of the writing what I actually wrote, but the visuals no longer help in making that distinction. I might now be able to get electronic invitations and reminders five minutes before a meeting, but Desk Calendar also makes me realize that I also might have given up a little piece of my humanity in exchange.