Is Illustration losing his edge?

  • Hi. My topic is that new technologies today made easier and easier to have the "job done", and I see a lot of Artist with talent who, in my opinion, don't evolve (Talent is not enough, nor the most important thing). You see his work from 4 years ago and his work today and is the same. They are like a good baker who makes a delicious apple pie, is really good, but is always the same, and you start asking yourself if this baker knows how to do other cakes.

    There's always has been artists who don't evolve, and some very well known and top sellers, because the regular client likes their work. But their originals, though expensive, are not even close to a Norman Rockwell or Frank Frazetta ones, because the collectors know what they are looking for better than the regular clients.

    And I don't know if the technology boosts this issue or simply is that now every artist has access to the bigger galleries ever made (Instagram, etc), and we are simply watching a lot more than the before-internet era.
    These new galleries bring new ways. One and most important change is that before, if you want to display your work you have to convince a "connoisseur", and the people that are going to see your work is people who go on purpose to the gallery because they are interested in art in the first place. Now the people who judge your work and "like it" are everyone. They don't have to be interested in art and take the time to go to a Gallery. And more significative, is that now the work is displayed in low size. Is like if someone who likes Rubens never went to a museum to watch the real deal, and only knows Rubens through small photographies of his work. This, I think, generates that if your work is going to be shown on internet, for example, and most of them watched from a small device like a mobile, the artists don't have to create great levels of quality, because no one is going to appreciate more than what Instagram can show.

    But is not only in quality, in every aspect. For example, for me, one quality about illustration that differences it from other formats of art is that illustration tells a story. I consider that as an element that if is not there, is almost like is not an illustration anymore, is like near but not quite there. Is more like carácter design or something.

    For example, "Little Girl With A Shiner" from Norman Rockwell. I watch the piece and I can say that:
    -That little girl won the fight.
    -The principla and her teacher don't know how to deal good with the problema and are about to call her parents.
    -She is very relieved, like if that fight wasn't some "in the moment" thing. It was something that it was bothering her for some time. She holds herself some time, weeks or probably months until she finally exploded, and there you have that expression of satisfaction and relief.
    -I can tell that her parents (that are not even in the frame.) are not on the strict side of the street. Because she is not worried about the consequences. Her Mother probably is going to send her to bed without cake that night and she is going to listen to a lot of educational "yaba daba" stuff but otherwise, she is going to be fine. Her dad probably teach her how to through a punch, just in case, you never know, and he is probably secretly proud of his little girl now.

    And probably other persons have different lectures, but the important thing is that the illustration tells a story. You see present, past and future in that instant.
    This is very important to me. Impressionist and abstract art brought to the table that the viewer went from being a simple spectator to become part of the art. The art is an idea, the piece of art are only the channel. And when the viewer has to work to understand more about what are watching, then is when art is happening.
    For that, illustrations that shows a character in a pose and don't have a story to tell (that are so common today), is lack of one important thing. They are like selfies. Only shows how big the ego of the artist is. And we all have egos, but the more you control it the better.
    I think Illustration has to serve a story. Illustration is for me "visual storytelling".

    What are your thoughts about these?

    And also, if you have some example of "visual storytelling" in your mind now, share with us here, please! I start with "Little Girl With A Shiner". You go next. We can learn a lot and create a very interesting thread.
    0_1531466092014_Little Girl With A Shiner.jpg

  • I skip something that was in my train of thought.

    About the issue that now the artist's work is judged by all people instead of specific art-interested people. That is a change in the model that internet brought in Illustration o Photography, among others. This changed the whole panorama and the whole business, is not a small consequence. Probably is for good in the long run but revolutions are sudden and usually violent changes. and change is what makes people unstable, what makes people suffer.
    I think that understanding that other kind of arts like music, for example, were there already, can make us assimilate the changes better and apply the changes needed without offering resistance to the inevitable change and instead flow with them.

    I don't say internet didn't brought changes in the music business, but music was already made by musicians, hopefully professionals, and listen and judge for everyone. That creates that very good musicians often couldn't earn a life with his music and that little-talented musicians often are in the 10 top list chart.
    Illustration, photography, were judged by people related to the art world and art business before, not exclusively but in most part. But now Illustrators are judged by everyone (and everyone have an opinion and everyone can make it public now. And often the most damaged wheel in the car is the one that makes more noise). So we have now in Illustration the same problem that music already endured for decades.

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    I'm not sure I understand your point in full, but I think the idea you're trying to convey is that social media and exposure in general is making illustration loose its potential for innovation and storytelling by a sort of "homogenizing" effect, due to the "general public" liking a specific type of thing more than anything else.
    I personally think you are considering only a certain type of illustration - possibly the one that is a) published on social media; b) earning the greatest amount of "likes". This is only a very minor subset of illustration work being done today and if you consider only that you are bound to get a biased and maybe depressing view of commercial art.
    There is actually an amazing abundance of art that is "edgy" in that it's new and surprising and maybe not entirely "likeable". There is also an incredible wealth of storytelling art - the potential offered by the new medias of animation and games have led to an explosion of narrative art in all possible genres - of which children's book are a only a subset.
    The list is endless, but some artists that are incredibly successful while being most definitely not "obvious" are James Jean, Sterling Hundley, Malika Favre, Gary Kelley, Shaun Tan, Jeffrey Alan Love.... these are just the first that come to my mind.
    If you want to see exceptional storytelling art, just grab books of production art of any animation film or some of the anthologies of covers from "The New Yorker". In the tradition of The Saturday Evening Post (for which Rockwell did probably over 100 covers), The New Yorker has made it part of its brand to commission some of the best contemporary narrative illustration. I particularly love all the covers by Peter De Save, who is at the top of the list of my favorite illustrators and who is decidedly a master in storytelling illustration:


    So, in my opinion illustration is not only NOT loosing its edge. I actually think we live in one of the most exciting and plentiful times for commercial art, and one where the demand for original visual content is actually very high - and constantly rising. "Likeable" art (or, as my agent puts it: "approachable") is only one type - and there is exceptional good work being done in that field too, which stretches both taste and brain of the viewers.

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    I feel like illustration is in a great place right now. Norman Rockwell didn't live in a time of apps & websites and a connected world. There's a treasure trove of opportunities for all kinds of illustrations to shine now. Storytelling illustration is strong. Commercial illustration is strong. Concept art for games and movies are phenomenal. It's way easier for people to put their work out there, whatever kind of illustration it may be. It doesn't all have to be deep and meaningful and told in one panel.

    I personally am not interested in showing my work in a gallery. I want to make a graphic novel someone can hold in their hand, and capture their sense of adventure for awhile. Many panels to show my characters are alive (in a sense) and you can come on their journey.

    Bill Watterson (creator of the comic Calvin and Hobbes) was a believer that art should not be judged by the medium in which it was produced. We all make art that either speaks to someone, or doesn't.


  • @smceccarelli I agree 110%. A side point, I think an extremely important one, artist can work remotely and create art digitally. The "working from home" revolution is picking up more and more speed! The future star artist for the New Yorker could be living 300 miles away from the big city. With that said, the demand/need for "great" art is going to be extremely high in the future.

  • @smceccarelli I think you are right. I was a Little upset after watching one talented artist on his YouTube channel. The artist has great talent, but is doing the same for over like 4 years and is putting a lot of effort on his channel, a lot of good energy in the videos but little content. In other words, is building his "cult" his follovers. But they are not near good judges. I mean, you thank your mom or a fan when they tell you how incredibly good you are, but don't buy it. I have been struggling with the drawing all my life and I'm not even near as talented as this artist I talk about. I started thinking "what are you doing man, make a good use of your time". And I started thinking and write the post, but I see now that was a childish reaction on my part.

    Thank you for your answer and I'm going to take a look at the artist you mention.

    Can you share with us the story you see in that illustration you posted?

  • @carriecopa Thank you for your answer. I think you are right.

    By the way, that Calvin and Hobbes strip is hilarious. I even imagine a Roy Lichtenstein piece in the third panel. I think I'm going to read Calvin and Hobbes now!

    Art is the idea, the evolution, the tool we can use to evolve, to understand, to feel, etc. A mathematician can see art in equations that for other people are meaningless symbols. A person can see art in nature and another can't see art in the Sistine Chapel. No one has the right to say that something is art or not. There are only two possible answers to that, everything is art or nothing is art.
    Completely agree with Mr Bill Watterson.

    A graphic novel, sounds good! I hope we can have it soon

  • I'm a little confused about some of your points. We are talking illustration specifically, correct?

    You seem to equate gallery work, to illustration, where I'm not sure if that's a relevant comparison. Illustration in the past has typically been seen not in real life, but on a mass-produced scale, many of them in a small format. When Norman Rockwell was commissioned to paint his pieces for the saturday evening post, or for the boy scout calendar, was he painting them to be seen in a gallery? Or did he paint them first and foremost to fulfill the commission to be printed on a mass produced, smaller scale product? Was his work chosen by art directors because they saw it in a gallery and it was work only art connoisseurs could recognize as great work, or because he submitted it to them and they saw that it would appeal to a wider american audience? Remember that Rockwell was also snubbed from a lot of art critics of his time for being easily digestible for the masses and cliche.

    Artists still strive to get better and achieve quality with their work. There has always been "easy ways" to produce art and you can still tell if something is done with "skill", even on a mobile device.

    I think something that has perhaps changed is that illustrators can now become celebrities and entertainers in a different way than just purely through their art. If you look at Bob Ross, some might argue that he's not that great of an artist, but people still love to watch him and "hang out" with him. Same with some popular social media artists. There are a few youtubers where I don't particularly like their art, but I do like to watch their videos because I like their personality and their perceived lifestyle. It's like watching an interesting tv show or hanging out with a friend. It's entertainment.

  • @tessaw Good point. Yes, in YouTube are a lot of channels for the same thing and the way they really can separate themselves from the rest is with is personality. Which by the way is an art in itself.

    About "There has always been "easy ways" to produce art and you can still tell if something is done with "skill", even on a mobile device." I don't think that that is always the case. A lot of times I thought that something it was good in the thumbnail or a Little image and when you turn it big are nothing alike. It happened to me with photography, illustration, and tattoo flash a lot. But again, my mobile has like 6 years which today is a lot of time, and I chose the small I could find. If you mean a "flat-screen type mobile", it can be...
    About this theme, did you watch the documentary "Exit Through The Gift Shop"? If not, I recommended it, is clever and funny as hell!

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    @zombie-rhythm Yes, I know a couple of artists like that, and yet I still have fun watching their videos 😉 They fulfil a different role than doing great illustration - or maybe sometimes in addition to doing great illustration. I'm glad there are people who invest the time and the effort to talk to other artists in a compelling way, maybe teach some or share some of their experience. I love listening to many of them while I paint and I appreciate how much time and effort and charisma flows into making a good YouTube channel. It's just not the same as doing illustration and the two don't necessarily always go well together.
    James Jean, a uniquely successful artist living in Japan, did not even have a website until not long ago, let alone a social media presence. Now he has an incredibly successful Instagram channel (things change!) but I wouldn't be surprised if he had a team behind, including a social media manager.
    As for Peter DeSeve covers - I only chose one of many. His images often convey some form of social criticism in a humorous way. In this case, it's about a high society dame's fear of walking a lonely road in the dark - but the potential robber is actually a racoon who would have all reason to take vengeance...and she knows it.
    Here is another famous one: the title is "Spctclr Riv Vu" - I think it speaks for itself:
    alt text

  • Are thumbnails a 100% fool proof method of skill evaluation? No. Have I been fooled before and find a thumbnail is not as great as I expected? Probably. But in my greater experience, thumbnails are a pretty good indication of what a piece will look like. I would also argue that sometimes the opposite is true, and when you view a larger image of the same piece it looks even better.

    Right now there's a popular trend on instagram of people drawing the same subjects, but in their own style. If you search the hashtag #drawthisinyourstyle you can see the same art topics done in a variety of skill levels and art styles. When I enlarge those thumbnails, they are generally in the style and skill set I'm expecting to see in the smaller version.

    If your argument is that because a lot of people see art at thumbnail size, in return artists do not have the incentive to produce good work- I don't agree. Illustration is being experienced in a massive degree beyond tiny thumbnails on a phone screen. If someone is interested in producing art, I don't think that they are typically just viewing artwork at thumbnail size on their phone.

    But if we do look at artwork that has traditionally been viewed at thumbnail size- Magic the Gathering cards- by your theory, artwork for these cards should be getting worse throughout time. I would argue that artwork for these cards have gotten better and that you can tell, even in their smaller size. This is of course subjective to my own tastes.

    No I haven't seen that documentary. It came out when I was kind of sick of Banksy already, but I'd give it a shot!

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    @tessaw @Zombie-Rhythm I actually have the opposite problem. Some sizing for book spreads is huge - 22 inches across at 450 dpi on what I’m working right now. . It`s a lot of work to make every mark look good at that size!
    The greatest majority of commercial art is not produced to be viewed on small screens.The biggest image I’ve ever made was printed at 18 ft - for a billboard advertisement - luckily it was black and white....but it was still several weeks of work. If you see small „rough“ images on social media, often they are intended to be sketches or studies and are knowingly done small. I actually post very small color studies on my IG channel now and then which are very rough - knowing that they will only be viewed small. Sometimes it´s experiments. Sometimes there’s no time for anything else....

  • @smceccarelli Exactly. Which is why I think that illustration will be just fine and illustrators won't suddenly become skill-less, just because people view some artwork on their phones.

    It can be hard to make art look good at any size, big or small. I just personally feel that you can generally tell if artwork is "skilled" (subjective as that is) even at a smaller size.

  • @zombie-rhythm I firstly want to say that understand your sentiments about social media. I get that frustration and where you are coming from. But I disagree with some of your arguments.

    While Norman Rockwell painted very large, participated in gallery shows, and now has a museum dedicated to him, just as @smceccarelli said, he did hundreds of Saturday Evening Post covers, not to mention other magazines, publications, greeting cards, calendars etc, that scaled his work down a lot and were provided to the masses. I'd say it is safe to say that his reproduced work has been viewed in these small formats by millions upon millions more people than those who have seen original or life-sized versions of his paintings. Not to diminish the glory of seeing the art as it was created, but for centuries illustrators have created work that is shrunken and mass produced. (Also almost every single instructor I've had and plenty of established artists I've talked to or heard speak have said that as a general rule, if it doesn't work at thumbnail stage or small, then it doesn't work. And though there are exceptions, I'm inclined to agree with that.) Classic and master artists like Rubens, Da Vinci, (and many illustrators as well) etc worked largely by commissions, patrons, books, and the like and not with the intention of having all their work to be enjoyed and displayed in galleries or museums. If you look up the history of many older paintings and pieces in museums, the artist didn't usually complete them and ship them to a gallery for public viewing.

    Illustrators, by the nature of the job, are always judged by the mass public, as those are our customers. Whether they are judging with their money or their likes, the general public is giving their opinion. I don't feel illustration has the same gilded gates that fine art does. Instead of a piece not getting likes, before social media, people just didn't by it, or complain to the publisher, and the illustrator would stop getting work. Rockwell's work was super popular and in line with the times. He's considered America's Favorite Illustrator, and his work wasn't even that 'edgy' or innovative in the content until the latter part of his career.

    In my opinion, illustration is about 'communication' not necessarily 'storytelling' of the traditional sense, even though that is certainly included. It's about the artist intentionally communicating something to the viewer whether that be with an overt narrative or another device. There are more facets to the illustration industry than narrative storytelling. That's what I feel differentiates it from plain artistic expression or fine arts.

    Yes, change does make people suffer, but it also frees people and helps them thrive. Saying very good musicians couldn't earn a living and that talentless ones are charting, is a bit short-sighted and a fallacy of an argument. Are only professionals allowed to judge what 'good' music is or what 'good' art is? What does good even mean? Are they not creating commercial stuff for a market? It might not be a timeless piece, but being popular is not necessarily bad either. Your argument sounds like the artists who diminished what illustration was in the days of Pyle and Rockwell and said that it was a lesser art form because it was made for the public.

    Illustration is doing great right now, and there are so many avenues people can work now that technology has served to help. Yes we get to see more stuff and it's not always that great, but isn't it amazing that we get to see it at all and see people grow? You speak as if people only view art on phones, but that isn't true or else many of us would be out of jobs. Artists might not have to create great levels of quality, but many, many artists do. Social media is also a tool in the journey, and not really the end of the journey. So what if they only draw a posed character? Social media is like a public sketchbook so people can see what you're working on, who you are, and how you work. That doesn't translate to ego to me. I love that I get to see and know artist's lives and working process, things that before our time could only have been learned maybe in an obscure book somewhere a little bit or posthumously through letters and correspondence. (Websites do exist of finished polished work, not to mention the actual products that illustrators work on) There is so much I wouldn't know about art if not for the accessibility of it. I certainly wouldn't be pursuing this field, that's for sure.

    It's a massive advertising tool, and if you think that many of the artists of old if they had the chance wouldn't have posted on social media or the internet so more people could be reached and experience their work, I think you are mistaken. I mean, to think that illustrators like Rockwell, Leyendecker, Parrish, Mucha, Coles Phillips, Sundbloom, Tenniel, Nast, Homer, Toulouse-Lautrec, who literally painted covers, advertisements, political cartoons, and posters for mass market, and even painters like Sargent, Monet, Rembrandt, or Michelangelo who generated a massive body of work and whose livelihood depended on the goodwill and reputation they held with wealthy patrons, would not have made their art accessible on some level to as many people as possible and instead relegated it to only galleries or museums is absurd to me.

    Rockwell and other brilliant illustrators did not make illustrations for other artists to coo and caw over. (Especially Rockwell, who made art depicting everyday people and everyday situations) They made illustrations for everyone. And so should we.

    Thanks for starting this discussion.

  • @tessaw Perhaps we don't look for the same things... for example, I valiu a lot that the art doesn't feel forced. This is very obvious in the strokes of a painting, to put an example, and not so obvious in other cases. And I give you that have a factor of subjectivity. Anyway, in the former post, you put "skills" between quotation marks and I understood instantly. Is not easy to grasp what elements define great art. And they can be, and in fact they are, different for different people.

    You mean you are sick of Banksy's art because you feel like bombarded? In another case, I don't understand.
    Here is where I make the difference between art and piece of art. Art is what makes us think and realized, the meaning, the sense, the cry for awareness, etc. We don't have to like the art, the style, etc to recognize the good art. Me, for example, I can't stand Andy Warhol nor his work, but I have great respect for his art, which message is very similar to Banksy's.
    And for the art to be good, doesn't need the piece of art to be good, or to be made with skills. Jackson Pollock is here the perfect example.
    I can't ever be sick of Banksy's message the same I can't ever be sick of N.C. Wyeth illustrations or Amy Winehouse songs.

  • @smceccarelli Some photographers analized how big an image has to be for a Billboard and the thing is, Billboards are design to be look at from a distance. They conclude that 2 Mp was enough, which it wasn't really a surprise. The reasons why photographers shot very large resolution images are others like elasticity when you are retouching, etc.

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    @zombie-rhythm 🙂
    This particular billboard is in the corridor of an airport and the viewing distance is a mere 6 ft. You get carried along it by the conveyor strip.

  • @tessaw Yes Illustration is in his best historic moment and is going to be better and better. I agree on that. In his good side. But when you have that, you have the other side two. One without the other it can't be. And we can learn sometimes even more from the bad side than from the good one.
    Communication and discussion about this themes makes us evolve and grow unles we are close in a side.

    And I never said that Illustrators are going to become skillless. You did.

  • @smceccarelli My God!!!!!

  • @teju-abiola Thanks for your contribution. Is very rich and make me think in the subject from a different point of view.

    I'm so glad that you mentioned a lot of artists that if fact I know. Because I was disconnected from illustration since 2000 when I started working as a full-time tattoo artist and I think the last "new" artist I discovered was Simon Bisley :D, so you can imagine... Now I have to google search for every artist mentioned in the fórum so I can keep the pace of the conversation.
    Yeah, I'm stuck in Pyle , N.C. Wyeth, Jefrey Jones, Frazetta... etc era. I think I have to learn a lot now and watch a lot of new artists and new médiums and possibilities and not let one simple YouTube channel to make such an impression on me.

    One thing, changes don't make people suffer. Sudden changes does. Perhaps I explained myself badly.

    I don't think that my argument is a fallacy. For me is a fact that in all fields there are people with talent who don't have success and people without talent who has success. I don't say that that is a bad thing or a good one. is simply a fact, a circumstance.
    Of course good or bad is subjective, But I value the opinion about my work from someone who I consider a master and I respect more than the opinion of some random person who doesn't work in my field. Anyway, there a lot of things that are not so subjective, all things related to technique and hours of experience. And for someone to say if something is bad or good, the natural thing to do is compare it with the rest of the art from the same time, and find a place for there. Of course everyone probably is going to find a different place but I suspect that in general is going to be very tight.

    Rockwell was very well known and loved for most of the people. I think his worst critique was himself. He lived regretting that couldn't be a fine art painter and that is reflected in all interviews I watched. Is so common a phenomenon, cartoonist Hal Foster wanted to be an illustrator and Frazetta wanted to be a professional baseball player.

    Like I said thank you very much for taken the time to answer the post with such detail. I appreciate it!

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