It is interesting. When someone asks me what I do for a living, I tell them that I am working as an illustrator. The blank expression on most of their faces is worth watching. Some of them even thought I work for the children’s books. Illustration nowadays is treated as a poor relation of graphic design. Many people have the misapprehension that illustrators are graphic designers. So, I hope that this blog will bring some change to the perception of people towards the art of illustration and illustrators.
Understanding the role of illustrations for Over a Century
The problem does not lie in the way illustration is understood because there has been no understanding at all. If we look back to the first few years of the twentieth century, there won’t be any sort of confusion regarding the role of illustrators. During that period the newspapers, magazines, posters, advertisements, and editorial pages were all accompanied by illustrations. For many of the young artists these materials were enough to get inspired and encouraged to take up the path of illustration. It was a time when everyone knew about illustration.
At that time, if you asked anyone outside the designing industry and their clients about graphic designing, then you can expect the same blank look that I received before. During that period self-promotion was not that much in practice and the artists themselves prefer to remain in the background. Illustration is a piece of art that was trained, published and understood during the early periods. But it is not clear how the knowledge about illustration disappeared entirely from the conscience of people so fast.
Marginalization of Illustrations
Today debates are going on about how illustration became marginalised. And the blame is put on the lousy art directors, blind editors, greedy stock agencies, and many others who don’t take the art of illustration seriously and threaten it as a commodity. It is difficult to say when the whole situation for illustration changed. I tried to analyse when the change happened by scanning through my professional tenure but in vain. Images are used everywhere- newspapers, magazines, websites, advertisements, posters, etc. Those images are worth the money.
But the people who purchased images invested huge amounts in images that had less value. The originality of images was not a criterion for choosing and investing and this brought a huge change to the way illustrations were viewed. During this time, the illustrations on magazine covers and advertisements were replaced by photographs but there were a few exceptions. Even during the golden period of illustrations, there were a few magazines and newspapers that opted for photographs on the front and inside pages instead of illustrations. Celebrity journalism has had a huge impact on all kinds of publications. But still there is demand for excellent caricatures.
It is thought that using photographs is risk free. One of the famous art directors I know who works for a reputed newspaper has told me that the marketing people are not allowing them to use illustrations in their newspaper since it irritates the readers. This is not an isolated case. This situation is very common in most of the publications that worry a lot about investment. Since people are more concerned about taking less risk there is an increase in the use of stock illustrations. This only results in the enrichment of the stock houses.
Illustrations on Contractual Demands
There are few who still use illustrations but are doing so in terms of contractual demands. According to the contract, the artist will have no right to what he or she has created. But they don’t understand that they cannot gain any profit by buying the rights of the image from the artists. Even if there is it is minimal. We all know that the numbers of pages have increased from time to time. This has caused a major problem. Another factor that has affected the growth of illustration is the increase in the use of television and internet.
Our previous generations used to spend money on newspapers and magazines for receiving information. Now, we can get it through television, internet and mobile phones. It should be admitted with guilt that the illustrators have failed to adapt their work to this new media. But designers have succeeded in doing so and they are effectively using the new media to showcase their talent. But illustrators still think of the printed pages while the public has moved on to the digital and electronic media. There are many other factors that worked in diminishing the value of illustration. At the moment, the growth of illustration has stagnated.
Illustrators striving to provide Unique values for Illustrations
Despite all these conditions, there are a few illustrators who are striving to prove that illustration has a unique character and value. These bright and skilled artists are trying to prove a point through their illustrations. Interpreting life, visually, is something that illustrators do perfectly. Some of the illustrators have found a new outlet in the form of illustration or graphic novels and animation where illustrations are extensively used to tell stories. Others have gone to start new publication companies.
Internet Expanding the world for Illustrations
The Web has developed as a major source of all kinds of information and entertainment. When you open a website, there are pictures everywhere. But there are not enough illustrations, not yet. For the illustration to survive in the years to come there has to be a solution. Technology has changed the way we think and view the world. But still people enjoy the old and new things in the same way. So how can we lift illustration from the ashes? I think we all need to sit together, all the veteran and young artists, and find a practical solution to the problem that illustration is facing.