Sunday, March 8, 2009

Can of Worms-The Art of Illustration

A friend recently asked me about the feelings that illustrators have about contemporary art.

I have great respect for it and have been to CA museums all over (NYC, San Francisco, Cincinnati, London, Paris, Vienna, etc.).

That being said, my impression has always been that there has always been a general lack of respect for what illustrators, cartoonists and comic book artists do by the contemporary art establishment and I am curious about how others feel about it.

As someone who used to do a lot of science fiction and fantasy art, there was a time where many flat out did not even consider it to be art. I have heard many anecdotes from people who were in fine arts programs because many schools do not offer illustration options. They were frequently told that what they wanted to do was not art (perhaps explaining the popularity of Daniel Clowes Art School Confidential).

This is the main reason, from what I understand, that the Spectrum Fantastic Art annual was created 15 or so years ago. All this amazing work was created for book covers, cards, comics, concept art for both movies and video games, and sculpture that was virtually ignored by traditional main stream and high end art establishments. I think they got 12000+ entries last year.

Perhaps that may be changing with the popularity of Juxtopoz, Illustration Magazine and other similar publications. There seem to be a lot more galleries that show and sell illustration than there used to be. The CAC for example had a huge exhibit on Charley Harper who I consider to be an excellent illustrator.

Perhaps there has been enough time that there will eventually be rooms in the Met or MoMa devoted to the great illustrators of the 40s through the 60s? (Not just temporary exhibits)


As a postscript, there is a show on Ovation called "Is It Art?" According to the critics interviewed, the answer is mostly NO...


  1. I like some contemporary art and some I don't care for at all. Just like music, movies, food... it's subjective.

    I wouldn't lose a minute of sleep worrying if the chin-rubbers of the fine art community respect or like what we do or not. Nor would I waste a minute of my time trying to convince these people otherwise. As long as we feel they sit upon some intellectual pedestal, the ruse continues.

    I'm happy doing what I do and as long as I have art directors/clients that are willing to pay me all is good. The client and the final consumer are my only concerns. Do they like what I do?

    Funny how the conflict mostly comes from the fine art side. I got no problem if you want to coat your naked body with paint, get a running start and crash against a canvas 40 yards away and call it art. Have at it.
    And if you can sell it, hats off to you! But save the smuggish attitude that you create art and haven't "sold out". Oh, and enjoy your job bussing tables at Denny's.

    I personally haven't run into this attitude since I left college. Some professors made it an issue, others didn't. I found the students who looked down on illustration, couldn't really draw themselves.

    If you don't think they respect Sci-Fi/fantasy art, imagine what their thoughts are on cartooning/humorous illustration!

  2. I feel pretty much the same way. It is very subjective-create what you want to create.

    I had not really discussed this topic much recently either, but it recently came up from a couple places.

    If anything, I think a lot of curators really miss the boat on "contemporary art" and there is a tendency to dismiss what is right in front of them.

    Comics and cartooning are perhaps the most influential arts around from daily stips to super heroes to small press and web comics. They describe the pulse of society like nothing else in almost every aspect. It is really interesting that the Baseball Hall of Fame had the Charles Shultz retrospective rather than the Met or MoMA.

    Also, the work being created for video games is absolutely astonishing and has influenced a large group of people is a fundamental way.

    How daring would it be for a Contemporary Art Museum to have a Halo or World of Warcraft exhibition. (Maybe they have-I would love to know if this has happened).

    It often seems to be the other way around. I have a book about a Japanese artist whose sculptures are influenced heavily by Anime whose work is in several CA collections. Great stuff but isn't the cart WAYYY after the horse? Why not showcase the influential works rather than the derivative works? (I saw a comics show at MoMa that was similar-derivative, but not the real thing.)

    The effect is as Platonic: gallery visitors see the shadows of the real thing on the wall, but not the source. Maybe to those picking the collections, these work genres are only valid through a filter.

    My two cents...or three

    As I said, perhaps the situation is changing.

  3. I graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts and then found that I had to do illustration to support myself. I have always continued to create my Fine art on the side. It has been very easy for me to figure out the difference between Fine art and illustration - even though many times I mix the two. For example, I always create an illustration of my Fire sculptures before I actually sculpt them. For me the difference always depends on whether I have total control over my image or whether there is a client who has some creative control. If I make all the decisions -then it is Fine art. However, if I give up some creative control or decision - making to an external client and they are paying me for that right - then it is commercial work..........David

  4. Some thoughts:

    I believe the majority of the public find the last 100 years of illustration much more approachable than the last 100 years of fine art. There's hope.

    One path to the museums, etc., may be academia. I've seen the semi-legitimization of comics and video games by way of academic departments, journals and criticism. This legitimizing reinforces exhibits, such as the LAMOCA's exhibit of Cartoon Art, which lead to more respect. Photography and film went through these stages.

    Third, yes, illustration (and comics) have dominantly been seen as disposable trash. But doesn't your inner rebel love being such a cultural bastard?

  5. "But doesn't your inner rebel love being such a cultural bastard?"

    Oh there you go trying to sweet-talk everyone...

  6. Can I reiterate my point?..O.K. thanks..for example....just look at the most recent illustrator turned fine artist - Robert Crumb. He just had a huge exhibit of his work at in Philly and also in the Frye museum in Seattle. here is an illustrator who never compromised his work for a client. Another recent example is Robert Williams - his paintings are now selling for big bucks. Both of these guys always danced to their own tune and have now elevated their work to fine art in their own lifetime. Most of the other illustrators whose work is now considered fine art have to die before their is recognized. For a recent example look at Charlie Harper............Dave