Interesting things about Illustration (a rant)

Is illustration the same as art? In my experience in the art world, it seems like whenever we think of illustration, we think about it in one of two ways.

  • Pretty illustrations on pieces of pulp such as books, magazines, puzzles, etc
  • Its economic purpose: using it for mass produced objects or advertising.

There seems to be this kind of… I dunno… contempt for illustration. I’ve heard it again and again that “illustration” and “art” are not the same thing. Illustration has a clear-cut economical purpose wheras art, or at least how art is defined today by my teachers and classmates, possesses a deeper meaning and some sort of magical element and talent that someone either has or doesn’t have. Something that is art possesses some kind of political message that can be life changing where its meaning no longer matters to the artists’ original intention, but rather how it makes you “feel.”

Confused? Well it only means your small mind cannot possibly comprehend the true meaning of art.

Don’t worry, my mind is just as small as yours and this is my major.

That being said, I have to call shenanigans on this definition of art. If illustration is not art because of its clear-cut economic value and its various purposes of decoration, then we have to discount ALL things that are considered art. The gold-leaf icons of the Byzantine churches cannot be art because somebody was paid to do those, and they have a specific purpose: to decorate the churches and inspire worship from parishioners. We have to discount the landscape and portraiture paintings of the Renaissance because a patron paid an someone to make those, usually. Heck, we even have to discount the abstract and minimalist art, because there seems to be more of interest in how much it costs rather than whatever deep meaning it has (or was simply given).

Now that this little rant is out of the way, I would like to make an argument for illustration being art. Illustration has a purpose, yes, and that is to tell a story. One of the things I didn’t quite realize about illustration is really how much work goes into it. Take the art of renowned fantasy artist, Larry Elmore, and this piece of his that is featured in this blog post: Deadlock.

This particular piece, though it was made for the sheer purpose of illustrating a book or magazine, has a lot going for it. The vivid color scheme and the action, not just between the characters, but also the snow they’re dueling on, the starkness of the sky has all the elements of an Epic style. There is a sense of urgency and movement that my heart instantly feels when looking at the piece, but my brain wants to know the story and make a narrative.

One of the most interesting things about this piece that I didn’t notice until my illustration instructor, a more experienced artist, pointed this out to me is the bare tree in the background. It’s dead and looks like it’s unstable, about to fall over at the slightest of disturbance. I didn’t really see it at first, but my brain must have processed it subconsciously, thus adding to the overall theme of this piece.

It’s amazing how much impact that small detail has.

Though my college professors would have me believe that illustration has no meaning, it’s difficult to determine that maybe they themselves were not trained enough to see illustration in this way, or maybe there is a sense of envy over this artists’ training and talent that they’re trying to diminish to give more meaning to found objects that are put on display in museums.

 

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