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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Illustration Argument. Won.

As you can infer from the last post, art galleries are cool places to me. If I were smarter, I'd go to the Cleveland Museum of Art every single week, and look at maybe three artworks each time. I'd really study them, and think about them, and hear what they have to say. I would try not to read the wall labels till the art itself had said its peace.

Typically, what hangs in galleries is regarded as fine art. This is considered different from what I do (illustration) because fine art tends to be more "for art's sake," while illustration is often "for book's sake" or "for magazine article's sake" or "for advertising's sake."

Now, some fine-art snobs denigrate illustration, and I'm not going to get into why I think that's dumb. Let me just say that it's possible to love fine art and love illustration, and that great illustration is better than mediocre so-called fine art for turning people into art lovers. Indeed, illustration in children's literature is the first art many people are exposed to in their lives, and therefore might set a person up to be a lover of all kinds of art later in life.

I love illustration best when it does things that aren't easily done in real life, like Wile E. Coyote hanging in mid-air off the edge of a cliff. (I love it less, and sometimes not at all, when it looks like a drawing of a photograph.)

I love illustration when seams and roughness and peculiarities of perception are evident in the work itself. I love it when it's perfect and complex and highly rendered, but also when it's childlike and naive.

Finally, I love the democratic nature of illustration. It comes into our houses via cereal boxes and postcards and books and magazines. It doesn't ask us to wait till wine-and-cheese hour to spend time with it. It's self-assured enough to say "Look at me!" but humble enough to say "No cover charge!" And the best illustration, like the best fine art, doesn't yield everything on first glance. It rewards us for spending time with it.


honey said...

i adore illustration. i have been grabbing "new yorker's" out of the mailbox since i was a teen just to see the...illustrated cover. i study illustration to take better pictures, to laugh, to cry, to think. and to relax.

it's art that is fine with me :-)

Don West said...

Hee hee...Is that an art snob you've illustrated there my dear?

Meagan said...

I think illustration is a much "faster" platform than "fine" art. It tesnds to reflect contemporary movement more accurately and is generally more responsive to the world around it. It also has the potential (along with good design) to be more fearless than the majority of fine art, because it's a bit disposable. When I go to a fine art museum, I'm always more excited by any drawing collections, or printmaking, than the paintings.

Rosa said...

At MOMA a few years ago, I stood transfixed by a run of Picassos that might more accurately be called "illustrations." I think there is no difference at some level between "fine art" and "illustration."

But as a potter, I do understand the argument through the lens of art versus craft. All artists excel at the craft, but not all craftswomen excel at the art. Maybe.

Anonymous said...

I would go so far as to say this, Rosa: Some artists excel at the art and the craft. Some artists excel at the art but not the craft. Some artists excel at the craft but not the art.
I think you can find examples of that across the board -- in the crafts, in the applied arts and in the fine arts.
That said, I DO think there's a useful distinction between illustration and fine art; I just resist the UN-useful application of that distinction. Fine art is not inherently successful art, just as illustration is not inherently lowest-common-denominator decoration.
--Karen at Pen in Hand