The Tiger’s eye

Title The Tiger's eye
Location New York
Publisher Ruth & John Stephan
Periodicity Quarterly
URL Tiger's eye Worldcat
Published Since October 1947- October 1949
Indexed Holdings October 1947- October 1949


ccindex office; MIT Libraries, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Kraus Reprint Corporation); The Library of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Periodical's Overview

“The intention of The Tiger’s Eye is to be a bearer of ideas and art · In the belief art is a quest that can be good only as water is good, there is no wish to reach for a halo of GOOD, which is a prudish proud ambition · It places its dependence, instead, on ingenuous and ingenious artists and writers, whoever and wherever they are, as they move through the dimensions of curiosity ·

Because each piece is chosen for its own sake and always should be approached as such, regardless of who designed or wrote it, the names of contributors will be printed separately in the center of the magazine · All literature will appear as written, for grammar and style are among the pleasures and responsibilities of an author · The selection of material will be based on these questions · Is it alive? · Is it valid as art · How brave is its originality? · How does it enter the imagination?

Now The Tiger’s Eye is ready to observe, not criticize, as it journeys through the Dusk of Fantasy and the Morning of Reality.” [1]

Selected Subject Headings

  • Abstract expressionism - United States
  • American poetry - 20th century
  • Atonality
  • Ecstatic dance
  • Existentialism in literature
  • Fairy tales - Japan
  • Hell in art
  • Kwakiutl Indians - religion
  • Literary criticism - United States
  • Modernism (literature)
  • Mysticism
  • Nazca textile fabrics
  • Neuroses
  • Ocean - folklore
  • Painting, Abstract - United States
  • Paracas Site (Peru)
  • Poetry - book reviews
  • Ponchos
  • Sublime, The, in art
  • Taoism


When one first encounters an issue from The Tiger’s eye, the first impression is a haptic one; the different qualities of paper in which it’s printed, its color, weight, and texture, shifting as you turn the pages; after some initial puzzlement, one starts noticing certain odd details: Where’s the table of contents? Who wrote this poem? And, whose painting is this? Why is text printed in differently colored ink throughout each issue, and why is the typography changing from issue to issue?

It is only after one has poured over its pages with dedicated attention, that one learns that it was all part of a very precise editorial stance by the magazine’s publishers and editors: John Stephan, a painter, and Ruth Stephan, a poet and a writer, a married couple active in the late 1940s New York intellectual, literary, and artistic milieus. John Stephan was represented by Betty Parsons Gallery, Parsons being an early supporter of what was later designated as Abstract Expressionism; Ruth Walgreen Stephan was an heiress of the U.S. drugstore chain Walgreen’s, but importantly for what concerns us here, she had previously worked in Chicago’s Poetry magazine, a little magazine with an editorial stance counter to the then-prevalent formalist literary criticism movement, the New Criticism.

Published first from Westport, Connecticut, and later from 374 Bleecker St. in New York, the Stephan’s division of labor appears to be straightforward; the standard account goes like this, no matter if it is difficult for us to believe that both endeavors were not in conversation: John Stephan provided the different paintings for the magazine’s cover, and selected the art featured in its pages; Ruth Stephan was the literary editor, wrote the editorials and the biographical notes on the “Tale of the Contents,” as they whimsically called the table of contents, hidden in the middle of the magazine as to allow the reader to encounter without “authorial brand” mediation the works they selected for their audiences.

This unusual move, to not provide attribution under the texts and art works published in The Tiger’s eye’s pages, was justified by the editors in their first editorial, which is reproduced above. In Ann Gibson’s account of the magazine’s history, this refusal to put a name under a poem or a painting was seen “as a protest to what they saw as MoMA’s “name brand” policy of choosing to buy and display art on the basis of an artist’s prior reputation rather than on an evaluation of the work itself.”[2] This focus on the work itself was, and continues to be, refreshing, even though it faced certain criticism from its readers, confused as to what they were encountering, as well as by the reverberating effects of red ink on gray paper...[3]

Despite these comments from disgruntled readers, their strategy proved long lasting, as The Tiger’s eye has achieved a totemic stature among the “little magazines” loosely associated with the post-war diffusion of European avant-garde movements in the U.S., and the then-emerging self-conscious attempts by American artists to create an art that reflected the “American experience,” rather than adapting or imitating trends from across the Atlantic.[4]

Independently of all these formal decisions, The Tiger’s eye continues to be a fascinating document for its contents. Again, as a combination of an art magazine with a poetry and literary journal, each issue of The Tiger’s eye presented its audiences with a selection of art works, poetry, short stories, statements, debates, and poetry books reviews. If one thinks of its being published in the late 1940s, it is somewhat astonishing to see the range of artists and writers featured in its pages, as it traces a mid-century canon of sorts: from Williams Carlos Williams to Jean Genet, from Joan Miró to Louise Bourgeois, from Barnett Newman to Rufino Tamayo; William Blake, Van Wych Brooks, Henri Michaux, Thomas Merton, Arshile Gorky, Ad Reinhardt, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Clifford Still, Robert Duncan, Jorge Luis Borges, Hans Arp, Giacometti, Isamu Noguchi, Marianne Moore, Anaïs Nin, Raymond Queneau, William Baziotes, Max Ernst, Giorgio de Chirico, André Masson, De Kooning, Georges Bataille, Maya Deren, and on and on it goes the list.

Needless to say, when reading this incomplete name compilation now, one wonders about “name brands,” the list of usual suspects the Stephans so tried to avoid. Certainly, some of the featured artists were already well know, mostly the European Surrealists, but that was not the case in 1947 for the American modernist painters later associated with Abstract Expressionism;[5] the same could be said about their literary choices, as Ruth Stephan’s editorial stance leaned towards Imagist poetics, rather than New Criticism’s formalist and structural concerns, then the prevalent literary criticism’s main stance. And obviously, there are many other poets, authors, and artists not listed that wouldn’t be perceived now as a “name brand,” but that nonetheless demarcate the specific intellectual and discursive milieu as navigated by the Stephans.[6]

At this stage, perhaps it would be pertinent to recall that this intellectual and discursive milieu was a fraught one, in crisis. As we’ve previously written in our infoweb records dedicated to other little magazines published in New York during that era--journals like Possibilities, transformation, or Instead--when thinking about The Tiger’s eye it is a challenge to ignore the historical context in which it appeared, this is, a few years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and when the chilling details of the Shoah were becoming better known by the general public. Pamela Franks writes in her essay about The Tiger’s eye, “like the dictionary, the magazine was created not as a history, but rather as a tool. It provided a means of bringing together and circulating the diverse art and ideas of its time, and in doing so, facilitated the dialogue that moved culture through this postwar moment of crisis.”[7]

In this crisis moment, a concerted intellectual effort was made to find a way beyond the ruins created by European culture and Enlightenment, a worldwide mess; thus, the wish to find an “American voice” that could lead somewhere else. The Tiger’s eye didn’t embrace a tabula rasa approach, as the inclusion of so many European artists and writers shows, but they did emphasize an American distinctiveness. In one text published in the magazine, the painter Barnett Newman articulates this American exceptionalism pretty precisely: “The artist in America is, by comparison, like a barbarian. He does not have the super-fine sensibility toward the object that dominates European feeling. He does not even have the objects. This is, then, our opportunity, free of the ancient paraphernalia, to come closer to the sources of the tragic emotion. Shall we not, as artists, search out the new objects for its image?”[8]

We will be always puzzled by this kind of statement by “Americans” who happen to be first generation émigrés from Europe--Newman was after all the son of Jewish emigrants from Poland--but we do think that his words signal a wish for regeneration after the overwhelming destruction of World War II. Franks comments on Newman’s statement: “In a seeming paradox […] he localizes the potential for new culture in America, because it lacks the constraints of precedent. The freedom from beauty enjoyed by the barbarian renders nostalgia non-sensical, and further renders the barbarian, rather than the civilized, the ideal state from which to pursue human truth.”[9]

From our post-colonial distance, this statement could be perceived as highly problematic, but it was Ruth & John Stephan’s gift to us to provide a tool to navigate that charged historical moment, aware of the many complexities that create our reality, now and then; and in doing so, they applied themselves to an embracing gesture rather than a dogmatic stance, as advocated by critics like Greenberg or other journals like The Partisan review.[10]

That they did so with a staunch defense of the life of the mind and the creative life, of artists and poets, as diffused from The Tiger’s eye’s handsome issues, it is a salient reminder that in dark times, human resilience shines.

To peruse the indexed contents of The Tiger’s eye, please log into the database.


[1]Ruth Stephan. “[The intention of The Tiger’s eye is to be a bearer of ideas and art],” The Tiger’s eye (New York), no. 1 (October 1947), pp. 53-56.

[2]Ann Eden Gibson. “The Tiger’s eye: not to make a paradigm.” In Issues in Abstract Expressionism: the artist-run periodicals. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1990. Gibson’s thorough account of the magazine’s history is essential reading for those interested in its editorial vicissitudes, as we are constrained by space as to go over these here.

[3]Gibson quotes from a letter the Stephans received from Herbert Ferber, a subscriber and contributor to the magazine: “It is exciting to see so much space devoted, committed, engaged to Art, of all kinds. But damn it all, I can’t read the table of contents even when I find it. The white on red is not good. And I still wish it were in front or back… you can’t fool me.” Ibid., p. 26.

[4]Not even two decades after the magazine folded, in 1967, Kraus Reprint Corporation published a facsimile set of The Tiger’s eye with the permission of Ruth Stephan. Given the layout complexity of the magazine, Kraus included the following disclaimer: “The original edition of Tiger’s eye made use of many colored paper stocks and inks. The reproduction of these colorful pages by photo-offset lithography created many problems for the photographer. Therefore, a less vivid impression was achieved in a few pages of this reprint edition.”

In 2002, the Yale University Art Gallery organized an exhibition curated by Pamela Franks, and published an invaluable catalog: The Tiger’s eye: the art of the magazine. New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 2002. Besides the wish to reassess the magazine’s legacy and exhibit selected works featured in its pages, the exhibition was prompted by the fact that the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale holds The Tiger’s eye records collection, 1939-1958. The collection’s finding aid states: “The records document all aspects of the production and distribution of the little magazine The Tiger's Eye, from its inception in 1947 through the decision to cease publication in 1951. Correspondence, manuscripts, and business records document the creative and editorial process, the enthusiasm of its readership, its subscription base, and the work involved in producing and distributing the issues.”

[5]Interestingly, Gibson notes that the magazine emphasis in featuring Surrealist artists was still daring, at odds with established paradigms, as the Stephans chose to focus on “renegade Surrealist, those who had refused the embrace of Breton’s approval.” Ibid., p. 30.

[6]We are limited by space in our Notes, but we’d like to emphasize that the magazine’s contents covered a wider spectrum of artists and writers than those we highlighted. For a deeper understanding of its range, we suggest you peruse the 424 records of the magazine’s indexed contents, or the publication itself.

[7]Pamela Franks. “Looking through The Tiger’s eye.” In The Tiger’s eye: the art of the magazine. New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 2002, p. 12.

[8]Barnett Newman. “The object and the image,” The Tiger’s eye, no. 3 (March 1948), p. 111.

[9]Franks, ibid., p. 43.

[10]This was a controversial decision in an intellectual landscape that had embraced “a Greenbergian concept of the proper stance for an avant-garde magazine: that it should be a partisan spokesman for a particular point of view.” Gibson, ibid., p. 29. Even in the 1980s, the same accusations were leveled to the magazine’s editorial policy; Gibson writes: “Steven Foster has stated that Tiger’s eye, like Possibilities, was not capable of producing “even novel reports on the contemporary painting scene.” “The causes of this conservatism stem,” he wrote, “from the general decline of an avant-garde spirit in America, the lack of a tradition in art criticism, and obtuse editorial policy.” Gibson, p. 26. She continues to qualify, and nuance, Foster’s observations in pp. 28-29.