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We go to the moon! – The Art of Robert McCall

Written by James Vaughan • May 4th, 2012
We go to the moon! – The Art of Robert McCall

“We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard!” John F. Kennedy, Sept. 12, 1962. Rice University, Texas.

Huh! What did he say?

President Kennedy’s speech, kicking off the Space Race, was inspired words. But everyone knows the real reason we went to the moon. We went because it was COOL!

What showed us how cool it really was going to be was the artwork of Robert McCall. In the Space Age of the 1960’s, at a time when  fuzzy black and white TV had only three channels, magazines like LIFE and LOOK were universal cultural arenas. Everyone, and I mean the entire population,  saw the contents of these weekly publications. With a solid background in commercial illustration Robert McCall began to work for LIFE, and later directly for NASA, letting us see and feel what voyaging into ‘the final frontier’ would really be like.

Robert McCall’s  paintings of astronauts and space-craft of the present and future were at the same time both emotional and technically accurate. With vivid color and style he portrayed a highly scientific endeavor as a grand heroic adventure. McCall’s artwork made it all real and believable. It fit our imaginations. It captured and lifted high into the starry sky our proud hopes and dreams.

It was the artist inspired with paint and canvas. An ancient phenomenon that has recorded most of oue history. Sadly, today’s cheap and childish computer illustrations are not even a remote imitation. Present day ‘creative’ expressions of space exploration have all the fun and zeal of a bureaucratic budget conference. ‘CAD’ renderings of children’s blocks and Tele-Tubby astronauts.

Robert McCall was born in 1919 and lived to be 90. He lived and felt our rise from Kitty Hawk to the Sea of Tranquility. As a commissioned artist he witnessed 25 rocket launches; felt the thunder in his bones. It is my rough estimate that for every dollar spent for Robert McCall’s artwork, NASA gained at least a million back in appropriations and public support.

It is because he was an artist… it’s because he made it look COOL!

James Vaughan

James Vaughan was born in 1955, resides in Ohio and has taught at Kent State University. James spends his days photographing conceptual and editorial style studio photography.

Find out more about James Vaughan

  • Evodevo

    Notice the iPad in the last image!

  • Pingback: Instapundit » Blog Archive » DESIGN: WE GO TO THE MOON! The Art of Robert McCall. A depressing look at a less-enlightened-era lon…()

  • anon

    interesting that the picture predicts the iPad/tablet computer!

  • How depressing

  • It was a shock to see these again after all these years. I think these paintings (and others like them) were among the most influential of my childhood.

  • Ferdinand Chetler

    Great pictures.  Things like that dominated my childhood dreams.

    I also agree with Mark – it is depressing.  We were supposed to be vacationing in space stations or on the moon by now.  Just shows how NASA has changed from driving tech to driving PC – things like focusing on LGBT *and* Muslim outreach rather than the science and exploration.  (I mean really, could there really be two more different groups to provide “outreach” to?  And still, what does that have to do with driving technology growth?  Science is unaware of such groups – it can be had equally by all)

    Thank goodness there are some awesome new private space ventures that are not waiting for NASA.  Maybe another 10-15 years and we’ll be there…

  • The images of the astronauts in the centrifuge, the space shuttle leaving the orbiting station, and the “iPad” on the moon were all done in conjunction with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  • Gary Wilson

    You can still see one of McCalls great murals (painted in 1976) in the entrance lobby of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum:

    “The Space Mural: A Cosmic View by Robert T. McCall evokes the past, present, and future of the Universe. Earth Flight Environment by Eric Sloane depicts the more familiar realm of the sky and some of its weather phenomena.”

    Eric Sloane was also one of the premier artists of the weather as well.

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