Art Editor at Time Magazine

alexander-eliot-greece-2For the fifteen years that he was Art Editor at Time Magazine, Alex’s articles were published every week. Salvador Dali became a special friend – not only because of their shared passion for art but also because Eliot’s wife, Jane Winslow, had lived for several years in Catalonia and spoke Dali’s native Catalan fluently. His stories of encounters and interviews with Mondrian, Picasso, de Kooning, Pollack, and many, many others have enthralled friends and family all his life.

Three Hundred Years of American Painting

In 1962 John F. Kennedy selected Eliot’s extraordinary and complete history of American painting as one of his favorite books of the year. Eliot’s compelling anecdotes about the artists proved what he set out to prove by writing the book, namely, that “American art matters.”

In 1960 he wrote a memo to his colleagues: “We now have the opportunity of producing the first really handsome historical survey of American art ever published. The raw material for such a book is already ours.” By raw material, Eliot meant an impressive collection of 1,069 color plates printed in the Art section since 1951, when he began regular use of full-color pages to illustrate the section.

“On the Time-honored principle that human beings are interested primarily in other humans,” he wrote, “chief emphasis of the text would be on the artists themselves-their lives, philosophies and working methods. The next emphasis would be on their work, describing the qualities that made each picture alive and unique. Finally the time, place and spirit surrounding the artists and inspiring their art should be evoked.”

From the Time Inc. Press Release:

Three Hundred years of American Painting (328 pp.; 250 full-color plates) rolled off the Chicago presses of R. R. Donnelley & Sons in 1962. Author Eliot, 38, is an art editor with deep roots and long training in his field. A child dauber, he was ten when he first became aware of others’ paintings. Borrowing his father’s bicycle one day to visit a cubist exhibition at Smith College, where his father is a professor, he promised to be back in two hours, so father could ride to his English class. When Professor Eliot stormed into the gallery five hours later, his son was staring at an early Picasso “with the gaze small boys usually reserve for double banana splits. A fatherly swat brought Alex to, but it also woke him, he recalls, to the sudden awareness that for him a painting might be more important than a bicycle.”

“Yes, I met Matisse in the south of France in his later years,” Alex says. “He wasn’t well and Matisse was making those vibrant paper collages while confined to his bed. Well, I was given an audience with Matisse and as I was leaving something got into my head. There was a question I needed to ask. I had made it to the top of the mountain as it were and I was not going to leave without finding out the answer. I had gone to Black Mountain to learn to be an artist and then on to the Boston School of Fine Arts but I needed to know from the master. So I turned back to Matisse and asked, “What should I do next?” In response Matisse propped himself up on his bed and like a mantra repeated one word -“Draw, draw, draw …”

Proud Youth

Review of Proud Youth in FYI, Time Inc., September 11, 1953:

For some seven years, TIME Art Editor Alexander Eliot has climbed out of bed at 6:30 in the morning, spun a few fictional situations through his mind while strolling through Central Park, and arrived at the T & L Bldg. by eight o’clock for a session behind his typewriter before staring this regular day’s work.

Result: his first novel, Proud Youth, published this week by Farrar, Straus and Young. Written with strong poetic undercurrents and a Gide-like simplicity of style, Proud Youth explores the spiritual and physical impulses of a young brother and sister in love with each other. Says the Saturday Review: “Because of TIME’s belief in, and practice of, anonymous journalism, Eliot has spent seven years on this break for anonymity and is just about prepared for anything. Which he had better be, since one of the themes of Proud Youth is brother-sister inces” Another subject for controversy in Eliot’s novel: one of the major characters, a Roman Catholic priest, who as the family’s friend and confessor pits his conviction and authority “against the enormous energy, flexibility and daring of youth.”

A descendant of many illustrious New Englanders, including Harvard President Charles William Eliot, Novelist Eliot was born in Cambridge, educated as North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, once worked in the promotion and sales department of the Associated American Artists. In 1942, he came to Time Inc in MOT’s Cinema Production Department , left the company the following year, and returned in 1945 as a TIME writer. Artist as well as critic, Eliot designed the dust jacket for his book after completing the nine drafts of his novel “I had to learn to write fiction, but I hope my second novel won’t take quite so long”). Meanwhile, there is still the question of his first novel, which may become a fall conversation piece as its main theme, I believe, says Eliot, not adolescence or incest or religion, but a struggle between the forces of life and those of death in the soul of the hero.”

Hardcover Jacket photo by Diane & Alan Arbus

Proud Youth Paperback c 1958 (Courtesy James Stier)
Proud Youth first signet paperback edition from 1955 (Courtesy James Stier)
Proud Youth first signet paperback edition from 1955 (Courtesy James Stier)

James Stier website