To think a little bit about where we are in the history of visual culture, read this perspective from Susan E. Meyer, (via):
For nearly seven centuries all artists in the Western hemisphere were employed to display the wealth and power of their patrons. In the nineteenth century, however, a change occurred and the publishing industry – replacing all traditional patrons – emerged as the chief employer of artists. The publications succeeded both church and court as the great showcase for artists, and illustration, a creation of the Industrial Revolution, became the significant avenue for the artist.
At the end of the nineteenth century and during the early decades of the twentieth, books and periodicals provided the major source of public entertainment. Consequently, the contributors appearing in those pages — the writers and illustrators – assumed an importance of unprecedented proportions. Now that publishing has surrendered its exclusive power, overshadowed by the more pervasive presence of television and the Internet, it is not easy for the contemporary reader to imagine the extent of the artist's influence on the public mind. Illustrators had a crucial role in governing the cultural appetites of the day, and no American of that period could possibly remain unaffected by the millions of pictures circulated each week.
The years between 1865 and 1917 represent publishing's most exciting and dramatic time of expansion. This era, known as the Golden Age of Illustration, shaped the American character as we know it today and illustrators became inextricably linked to the development of an industry whose main purpose is to embrace the aspirations of an entire nation, to create the American Dream.