Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Art vs, Illustration

A little while ago I was lurking around the reception of a group show which I had some paintings up in. As per usual I was mainly standing in the vicinity of my own work eavesdropping on stranger’s reactions to it. I like getting that kind of anonymous feedback and I believe criticism is important to growing and improving in any field. I usually don't dwell too much on the negative I take note and move on trying to get better at what I do, but on that particular night I witnessed one young women look at my paintings and with up turned nose state to her friend, "Oh this guy isn't an artist, he's an illustrator."
Negative critiques I can process but I've been stuck on this statement for months now. I'm not an artist, I'm an illustrator. What is that supposed to mean? Do I not deserve the title of artist because I use discernable lines, objects and figures to compose my images? Is my style not loose enough to reflect the stereotypical lofty artist personality? Is drawing no longer considered an appropriate form of artistic expression and when did it fall so out of favor with the artistic elite? This guy isn't a painter. That I could understand as I've never identified myself as a painter but more of an artist that colours in my drawings in with paint. But I don't think it is fair to just dump it in a bucket with BBQ assembly instructions and airline safety cards because of the chosen medium, process and aesthetic without even considering the intentions of its creator?
I take responsibility for what I do. I have an artist statement that clarifies my intentions and the rational behind my paintings. I write proposals for shows explaining my work. I create images to work out and convey my thoughts and opinions via an unexplainable desire to make things as opposed to having commercially driven goals. Isn’t this enough to be considered an artist.
Furthermore, although some illustration may not be considered art (see BBQ assembly instructions) can an illustrator not still be an artist? In most cases are they not one in the same? Can there be a clearly defined line between the two? More and more companies are using established fine artists to brand their products, guerilla ad campaigns are taking cues from the popularity of street art and artists need to take day jobs in graphic and web design to pay the bills.
I suppose I will never have answers to these questions as I didn’t reveal myself and engage her as to why in her world I was just an illustrator. The complicated thing about art is that it is a very subjective field and everybody has their own opinions. That definition exists only in that women’s head and I will probably never see her again. I guess next time I should take that step and initiate conversation instead of just being an anonymous lurker who stews over things then rants about them on a blog.

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