Hank Blaustein: Caricatures of the Free Market in Freehand
It turns out that one of the most influential observers of modern American business and finance is Rembrandt (1606 to 1669).
To explain: Rembrandt is famous for painting, but his real masterpieces may be his drawings, with their vivid immediacy. Rembrandt’s drawings are Hank Blaustein’s ideal. Hank Blaustein draws the cartoons for Grant’s Interest Rate Observer. The cartoons capture the comedy, absurdity, wit, and witlessness of the world of money. They are drawn with vivid immediacy. They are masterpieces. And they are as funny as they are beautiful.
Blaustein is modest about the humor he brings to topics often leaden with seriousness. “The words and ideas are Jim Grant’s,” he says. “He calls me up a few days before publication and tells me what he wants a drawing of. I think of us, sort of, as Rodgers and Hammerstein. He provides the book and the lyrics, I simply do the music.”
Well… Maybe… But I doubt that Hank is giving himself enough credit. The Sound of Music would have been a dud with Julie Andrews just standing there in front of an Alp saying, “Brown paper packages tied up in strings.”
Blaustein, born in Brooklyn and still a resident of the borough, studied art at NYU. “But, really, I’ve always drawn,” he says. “I draw just because I draw.” He taught spanish in New York public schools for 28 years and began selling his illustrations in the 1970s to publications like the New Yorker and the New York Times. He worked for several years as the house artist for Barron’s. “It was a wonderful job,” he says, “I got to draw every kind of thing.”
Jim Grant was a reporter for Barron’s at the time. When he founded Grant’s Interest Rate Observer in 1983, he immediately hired Hank, even though Hank protests that he doesn’t know much about business and finance. However, the result is… It’s not often that the hills of monetary policy analysis can be said to come alive with the sound of music.
Blaustein considers drawing to be the essential form of art because (per Rembrandt) it has “the most immediate connection to the artist.” And we at American Consequences feel the same way about Hank’s connection to Grant’s.
Just as we’re fans of Hank’s, we’re fans of Grant’s for its hard-headed skepticism, firm advocacy of sound money, deep thinking, and elegant prose. It’s an expensive publication. An annual subscription costs $1,295.
But it’s printed on good paper and worth the price for (if nothing else) the 20-some splendid Hank Blaustein cartoons that come with it each year. They’re going to hang in museums someday.