Horse Museum opens with the heady question: “Art. What’s it all about?” Geisel envisioned using horses as an entryway to introduce artistic interpretation; specific art movements; and the fundamental qualities of art, such as lines, colors, and materials. Horses, after all, have been a universal subject, spanning prehistoric cave art, antiquity, indigenous tapestry, European painting, early photography, and modern art.
The book deftly moves through the basics of art history movements. Examples include an ink study by printmaker
—creator of the Great Wave
(1830–32)—to showcase lines; Pegasi on an ancient Greek vase to explain symbols; and the emotional quality of paintings by
to sum up
“When most people look at me, they just see me like this,” reads the text next to Joyner’s illustration of a simple brown horse. “But when an artist looks at me, they see a million other things. Can you?”
Many of the artworks featured were selected by Geisel. He detailed his manuscript with sketches and notes up to the section on modern art. Artwork featured in Horse Museum from after that period was selected by the editors.
Goldsmith believes that Geisel began the project in the mid-1950s. Around that time, he wrote and starred in a half-hour television special called Modern Art on Horseback, of which the footage is lost. He was also working on the story of a particularly famous anthropomorphized cat.
Finding an illustrator who could uphold Geisel’s vision was a unique task. Joyner, who is the illustrator for other Random House titles like The Hair Book and The Pink Hat, was selected for his visual style, sense of design, and attention to detail that all evoke the Seussian world. “He’s not imitating Dr. Seuss,” Goldsmith noted. “I thought it was brilliant the way that he constantly worked in little things into the artwork. There are places where the kids are drawing on the floor, for example, and what they’re doing looks a lot like a Seuss book.”