Beauty has no purpose. Beauty can’t house you, feed you, orphysically heal you. On the other hand, purpose can be made beautiful.
This week, I was trying to wrap my head around this concept,
going back and forth if I even believe it or not. I had to do some real
research and that’s where I first became aware of, then full entrenched in, an
old aesthetic art argument; that being “form versus function.” Would you rather
have something stylish, pleasing, and quaint or something reliable, tested, and
uniform? Lucky for me, I also stumbled upon the work of Amelia Opdyke Jones –
an artist that gives you both.
Jones did mainly commercial illustrations from the ’40s to
the ’60s for clients like Bell Telephone and the New York/New Jersey Transit
Authorities. That’s where she created “The Subway Sun” ads after she accepted
an unusual job. At the time, the New York Board of Transportation was being
inundated with comment cards from concerned or annoyed riders so much so that
they could not effectively respond anymore. The Board hired Jones to read the
cards and compose an illustrative response that would then be displayed on
every train car. A difficult task I’m sure, but Jones did it with so much
bravura that she was given one of the best nicknames I’ve ever heard – “The
All of the “Subway Sun” posters are hyperbole-laced, non
sequitur-stuffed, and expertly designed. The colors and lettering are bold and
agile, undoubtedly on purpose, to catch the eyes of moving passengers. When
people are coming and going from stop to stop, there’s only a limited time to
grab their attention. Jones made sure her ads were noticed by filling them up
with mossy green messages about manners and lessons in being cordial in cardinal
red. You can see the influence Jones might have had on modern advertisements.
You can also spot the differences as these illustrations have a hand-made
quality that drastically set them apart and a levity that just wouldn’t fly
In an era of intrusive ads, an overload of content, and
capitol B brands, the art of “Oppy” is more rousing today than it probably was
in the 1950s with its brevity and arrangement. In the dispute of function and
form, Amelia Opdyke Jones proves you can have your cake and eat it too. Just
make sure not to leave it on the seat.