2005-03-09 Essays on Illustration Part the Second

Eyes Opened

Wow. I have to tell you that I was a bit surprised and excited by the enthusiastic and thoughtful response to my post yesterday about the decline of realism in Illustration. All of you make really interesting points. It's all very eye opening. It all kind of feels like this actually (another of my old art school assignments, painted psuedo-realistically almost hyper-realistically in acrylic):

I think the general consensus is that realism has fallen from favour due to the popular development and use of photography, television and film. Which makes sense, of course. I think it could be persuasively argued that most, if not all, trends in art and illustration have been spurred by technological growth and development.

If you buy David Hockney's controversial theory that the Old Masters made the extraordinary leap in perspective and realism using concave mirrors or a camera obscura to create projections of their subjects (and personally I do... it makes total sense and i don't think it takes anything away from the Old Dudes' work at all), you can certainly take the argument that "technology" spurred the Renaissance movement.

Certainly, we know that new developments in printing color images helped usher in the Golden Age of Illustration. Indeed, long before that, Guttenberg's press revolutionized illustration (and just about everything else), making mass production possible. It logically follows that the art created after these developments was shaped by the limitations and the capacity of these inventions.

And just look at the impact of the personal computer and drawing software on the illustration/design industry at large. The advent of the computer made so much more possible... no longer did you have to contend with cutting images out of rubylith ( ! ) to isolate blocks of color and whatnot. A whole new world of possibility opened up. Almost anyone could have an instant printing studio right on their desktops.

Of course, that kinda put a kink in things for the traditional illustrator. Corporate entities everywhere suddenly figured if they could supply their receptionist with the right software and the right computer, they could cut down on those costly illustration and design costs. I myself have had clients who I'm sure think my digital illustration is achieved by whispering sweetly to my mouse (yes, I know! How utterly archaic... I still use a mouse. I have a Wacom pen and tablet, I just don't like it! There's something about the clumsy drag of the mouse and the feel of my hand against the pad that I like and find more natural than the Wacom pen. Strange but true.) They really have no idea, no understanding that the computer is just another tool in box, not much different than a pencil or a paintbrush and that the brain, the creative vision and know-how of the illustrator is what fuels the magic, not flittering little pixel pixies.

But illustration/art is not only influenced by new technologies themselves, but the social reactions those new technologies prompt. Think about the "grunge" movement in design, the sudden proliferation of hand drawn text and dirty, scribbly scratches and the current affection for the "distressed look ". What was that if not a direct reaction and rebellion against the slick, flat, sort of generic vector graphics initially produced by the fledgling software? And there has been a real return to hand worked methods too... a resurgence in interest in old Letterpress and engraving methods, in stamped alphabets and domestic arts like knitting and quilting and such. I think we are in the midst of a 21st Century Arts & Crafts Movement of sorts.

It all sort of sets my head to swimming. And maybe this is why I'm having such a hard time finding my own personal style. I think the dilemma of the modern illustrator is that there is just SO MUCH INFORMATION available to us at a key stroke, so many varied influences, that it's overwhelming. And the speed at which information is exchanged, processed, expelled is dizzying. Think about it for a second. Our world has expanded to such an alarming degree ( because of the internet, the personal computer, global trade markets, air travel, mass education, access to information, iPods, you name it ) it's unprecedented. Today's illustrator is not afforded the same kind of easy comfort and pace that say N.C. Wyeth was afforded in his little New England enclave, his Chadd Fords studio. He could (and did) spend years and years honing his craft, working in a careful tradition. I mean, he certainly wasn't bothered about what so-and-so was doing in Germany or Denmark or how to compete with them in a global, fickle market. He didn't worry about whether he was "hip" or "marketable" or "on trend", whether his images were t-shirt worth or edgy enough to engage the MTV generation, only whether he was working in an authentic, timeless and worthy manner. And if he was concerned about that, he certainly wasn't concerned that it would all be markedly different within a week.

If you think now about the pace at which trends, "fashion" flit in an out, the rapid pace of technology, the speed at which the world rotates on its axis nowadays... is it any wonder I sometimes feel totally schizophrenic about what style I should commit to? wow. This all fascinates me. I'm not sure it's actually HELPING me, mind you, but I find it pretty riveting.

Hmmm. Tell me what you think. I'm really curious. Do you think there is an marked trend in Illustration going on right now, one that will span more than a minute? What do you think makes modern illustration different? Or is it any different? Is it just a rehash of the old?

And o, baby, before I forget, you just gotta gotta GOTTA check out this wonderous wonderous thing: DRAWN from the genius mind of fellow Canuk Robot Johnny Martz. Am I dreaming? Is it Christmas?!!!


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