Typewriters of the moment: Isaac Asimov’s astonishingly prolific career

Isaac Asimov remains one of my favorite writers.  He wrote well enough, and his curiosity took him to topics I often find interesting.  At one time having published more books than anyone else in history on a wide variety of topics from quantum mechanics to trivia in the books of the Bible (does he still hold that record?), it was a sure bet one could find at least one book in one’s area of interest penned by Asimov.

When I started the spasmodic feature, “Typewriter of the Moment,” years ago I did a search for Asimov with a typewriter.  I didn’t find an image I thought suitable back when the internet was still operated by steam, and somehow I just never got back to that.

The other night this image popped up on one of my Facebook feeds, from “the Other 98%”:

Painting of Isaac Asimov creating at a typewriter, an early IBM Selectric. Who did the painting?

Painting of Isaac Asimov creating at a typewriter, an early IBM Selectric. Who did the painting?

I appreciate the sentiment in the quote.  Asimov noted the Dunning-Kruger Effect, even if he didn’t have the advantage of Dunning and Kruger having named it yet, and he lamented the powerful undertone of anti-intellectualism that victims of the syndrome exhibit:

Anti- intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. (Asimov in an essay for Newsweek: “A Cult of Ignorance,” January 21, 1980, p. 19)

It’s an arresting image, a heckuva a quote, and it would make a good poster.  Plus, it’s an early IBM Selectric typewriter, marrying Asimov’s creativity with a great technological advancement in writing tools.

One boggles at the idea of Asimov with a great word processing program, a fast computer with great memory, and the internet at his disposal.  If Asimov were alive and creating today, we’d think Moore’s Law a great hindrance to the advancement of knowledge.

The painting delights me.  It’s almost photographic, and I like paintings that take great care to get small details right, photographically.  No dig at more spare or even abstract art, but this sort of painting takes great skill and great creativity.  Rising spirit-like from the typewriter’s platen we see a satellite (manned spacecraft, perhaps?), a flask of chemicals, and a leather-bound book, essential components in science fiction, and science.

So, who did the painting?  Was it done solely for that Facebook poster?

English: An IBM Selectric typewriter, model 71...

This is what that typewriter in the painting looks like, from the author’s angle. An IBM Selectric typewriter, model 713 (Selectric I with 11″ writing line), circa 1970. Wikipedia image

I’ve searched on TinEye, and Bing and Google, without success to identify the painter.

One version of the painting, before text was added, showed up at IO9, a site dedicated to science fiction, in an article discussing the writing habits of famous writers.

This does not appear to me to be the original, simply because data on the artist is not contained in the information section of the image.  The artist who did this illustration would be proud of it, and want to advertise her or his work.

This version has a slightly higher resolution; click on the image and note the reflections of lights in Asimov’s glasses, the reflections on the desk, and even the dings on the edge of the desk facing the viewer — this is great stuff!

But still I wonder:  Who was the original artist?

Any ideas, Dear Reader?

Rowena Morrill's painting of Isaac Asimov, before posterization with a quote over his head.

Rowena Morrill’s painting of Isaac Asimov, before posterization with a quote over his head.

Did Asimov write on a Selectric?  Did he switch to the newer version, with a wider carriage, or stick with the old original?  Is there a photo upon which this painting is based?

Almost immediate update:  This site claims the artist is the same as the one at the bottom of the post, Rowena Morrill.  That’s a start.  Here’s more:  At Rowenaart, both pictures appear credited to Rowena.  Mystery solved?  Go buy a poster from her; this is great stuff.

First Amendment Update, January 2015: You will want to read Asimov’s entire essay.  He’s not just insulting ignorants and ignorance; he also urges that Americans, almost all Americans, do not read enough to keep freedom alive.  For example, on the “right to know”:

There are 200 million Americans who have inhabited schoolrooms at some time in their lives and who will admit that they know how to read (provided you promise not to use their names and shame them before their neighbors), but most decent periodicals believe they are doing amazingly well if they have circulations of half a million. It may be that only 1 per cent–or less―of American make a stab at exercising their right to know. And if they try to do anything on that basis they are quite likely to be accused of being elitists.

I contend that the slogan “America’s right to know” is a meaningless one when we have an ignorant population, and that the function of a free press is virtually zero when hardly anyone can read.


English: This image is a reproduction of an or...

Hello! Could this be by the same artist? Caption from Wikipedia: This image is a reproduction of an original painting by renowned science-fiction and fantasy illustrator Rowena http://www.rowenaart.com/. It depicts Dr. Isaac Asimov enthroned with symbols of his life’s work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

10 Responses to Typewriters of the moment: Isaac Asimov’s astonishingly prolific career

  1. […] Isaac Asimov’s famous statement on his observation of the Dunning Kruger effect […]


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Asimov was born January 2, 1920.


  3. […] Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American writer“A Cult of Ignorance,” Newsweek (21 Jan 1980)     (Source) More on this quotation here and here. […]


  4. Ed Darrell says:

    Who other than Rowena could portray a Selectric like that? Must be Rowena.


  5. This is credited to Rowena here as well (http://geekout.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/15/where-data-meet-diction-science-and-sci-fis-dialogue/) and, more importantly, shows up as a cover for the German edition of “Asimov on Science Fiction” here (http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?308445), credited to Rowena (I cannot find an English-language version of the book using that cover, however).


  6. It certainly looks like Rowena’s art, and the two pieces look very similar in coloring and how the Good Doctor’s face is formed.


  7. whatever4 says:

    It certainly looks like Rowena Morrill, particularly as it’s on her official site home page as New Art. One could contact her for the real story. (rowena@francomm.com) The large blank space at the top looks like the image was done for a book cover.


  8. george.w says:

    Love this painting.

    In one of Asimov’s books he wrote about his writing routine. He had two Selectrics; if one faltered it was pushed aside and the other pressed into service. But I can’t remember which book it is in.

    I think some romance writer wrote more total books. But it is a very safe bet that nobody ever published as many books as he did in anything like as wide a range of topics. He is published in nine Dewey Decimal categories.


  9. Jude says:

    As much as Asimov wrote about HIMSELF (in the preface to every story, for example), I would think that he would have written about his typewriter. The paintings are great. I loved that guy.


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