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Billboards or Art

If you like billboards you are not artistic. Take it or leave it. That's the criterion. It's not my verdict. Ask those who know, the literary clubs, the art clubs and our distinguished guests from Europe. I can remember away back when Pierre Loti visited this country and was so shocked at the glaring billboards that marred the beauty of New York harbor and blinded his continental eyes with their gaudy colors.

Now, I would like to be both artistic and fond of billboards. I can't be both. So I choose - billboards. Everyone who reads these words must make his choice.

I not only enjoy them; I think they are beautiful. A lovely splash of color in the grayness of the city, a sincere expression of American life, so sincere that the critics who take their opinions from Europe never have been able to sneer us out of them.

We must admit, those of us who admire billboards, that the critics had their justification in the early days. We have not forgotten the days when mortgaged farmers prostituted their barns by selling advertising rights to Hood's Sarsaparilla and Carter's Little Liver Pills and to Lydia Pinkham, and when Bull Durham marred every green meadow from Boston to Washington. Billboards were an unsavory addition to the landscape then. But the modern art of bill posting is quite a different thing and in California it has reached its highest development. Segregated spots of color in the dun cities, surrounded by well manicured lawns, supported by classic figures in white and lighted by dainty top lights. And out along the boulevards, how lovely they are at night, luminous breaks along the dark highways, suggesting so tactfully the kind of tire to use or the sort of mattress to lie upon.

The critic has had his mission. He has forced the Poster man. Fortunately though young America has not taken him seriously. If he had this country would have missed some of its most distinctive contributions to Art. The electric sign for instance. That was condemned as vigorously as the billboard. And today, tell me, anybody, anywhere what is more beautiful in all the world than the dancing lights of Market Street at night. In what a unique and vital way they express the life of the great modern city.

And anything that expresses Life, whether that life be mediaeval or the life of the machine age, that is Art. There.

How pleased everyone is to know that the pretty Palmolive girl who "kept her girl complexion" is married and has a sweet little daughter who has inherited her mother's skin.

I don't always take the posters seriously. Now, I don't believe that that man "would walk a mile for a Camel." He'd borrow one first. And "contented cows." Cows are always contented. All I've known. But they may have had bolshevikish notions recently, cud strikes, perhaps. Hence the accent on "contented cows," to reassure us that there is no "Red" propaganda in the milk. Then, there is the parrot; what a long time it takes to teach him to say "Gear-ardelly." And that sentimental touch, "If pipes could talk." They do.

Sometimes, in an absent-minded way, I get them confused, movies and merchandise, and find myself wondering who's starring in "Nucoa." Then there's that ecclesiastical looking party, the patron of Bromo-Quinine, whom I always take for some bearded movie star.

But to return to their artistic merits, they are artistic. Take those same "contented cows." What could be more futurist than the coal black sky under which they so contentedly graze? Or the henna hills so far away, or the purple grass they chew. Matisse and Picasso, great modernists, could not out-do those cows.

The cigarette men are particularly interesting. A bit over done. One cannot help wonder what enthusiasm they would have left for a gorgeous sunset having spent so much on, a cigarette. But I expect they are good men at heart and not so sensuous as they appear. There's that jolly old boy who hasn't had such a good smoke in sixty years. One wonders if his\ teeth are his own. They all have teeth. Everyone has teeth these days. It would be a change to see someone on a billboard with his mouth shut.

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