Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Is Illustration Still Relevant? Part Two


This article was written in September 2007, at the time all was well in the world of illustration and the future looked bright. What a difference five years can make. In February of this year, Laurence Zeegan, he who had written about the discipline with such enthusiasm and optimism some five years previously, wrote an article for Creative Review, entitled: 'Where is thecontent? Where is the comment?', about how in his opinion, the illustration industry has lost its spark and is in danger of becoming irrelevant. According to Zeegan:

"Illustration has become entrenched in navel-gazing and self-authorship."

Zeegan goes on to write of how illustrators have nothing to say anymore, they still create work that is aesthetically pleasing, but it is all merely an exercise in image making. Illustrators, according to the text, are no longer speaking to the public but to other illustrators and illustration students. This same culture of creating ones own opportunities as opposed to waiting for commissions, has lead to an industry that values means over message, where illustrators produce empty, shallow, if beautiful work, whose target market is others within the discipline.

As an example of this, Zeegan cites 'Pick Me Up', a graphic arts fair that ran at Somerset House in London. He wonders if the event, where illustrators display their work and sell prints and related ephemera, will appeal to anyone outside of the industry. When commenting on the work itself he writes:

"...what is there to be discovered? Are we offered much more than contemporary eye candy? Are we offered much more than mere nothingness?"

 This reasserts Zeegan's opinion that the illustrators of today have nothing say, and regardless of the merits by which they say it, they are still saying nothing. Hence his assertion that the discipline could be in danger of sliding towards irrelevance.

He then writes of 'Brain Activity' the David Shrigley exhibition, which he puts forward as an alternative to 'Pick Me Up': here is an illustrator with something to say. Shrigley's 'Fight the Nothingness' poster, displayed outside the Hayward Gallery would appear the encapsulate everything that Zeegan sees as being wrong with the industry.

As someone who visited both 'Pick Me Up' and 'Brain Activity' I can understand this point of view. Don't get me wrong, I loved 'Pick Me Up', I really loved it, I will definitely be going again next year and dream that one day my work might even be displayed there. I thought the work was fantastic, and many is the time that I've looked through the collection of postcards that I bought as a souvenir, and marvelled at just how beautiful the work really is. That's why I can't wait to return next year as I found the collection of work to be an endless source of inspiration.

However, some would argue that of course I would say that: I'm an illustration student, so it would come as no surprise that I found 'Pick Me Up' to be such a joy because the event was targeted at people like me. But what of people outside of the industry? What's in it for them? 

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