The Department of Illustration

Steve Braund interview by Gary Buckley

Posted in Uncategorized by The Department of Illustration on December 15, 2010

GB asked ‘is there a place for illustration in a gallery’ as an ongoing investigation into how illustration defines itself in relation to ‘fine art’. Here are some great responses from Steve Braund, course leader of the MA in Authorial Illustration at Falmouth. (reproduced with permission)

Is there a place for illustration in a gallery?

Yes. Much contemporary fine art in galleries

actually could be described as functioning as illustration. This kind of

work borrows from illustration skills in sequential

story-telling and narrative. See David Shrigley or Ana Maria Pacheco,

Paula Rego or Jamie Shovlin. But illustrators have always shown their

work in galleries; often not receiving the critical acclaim of fine

artists though. Jonny Hannah, sara Fanelli, etc.

regularly exhibit. Actually most probably do to some extent. Paul

Slater regularly exhibits his illustrations/paintings in a Cork Street

gallery.

What do you think illustration is

and how would you define it?

It depends from which perspective you ask this

question. I prefer the most open definition of illustration which

doesn’t restrict the creative potential of the discipline.

Some people only define it within commercial terms. But commerce

imposes all kinds of limitations that are, in my view, only of secondary

importance. Illustration sheds light on things (latin root ‘lustrare’

to illuminate); it tells stories about things, sometimes

fictional sometimes factual; sometimes nonsensical: It lights up, draws

attention towards and makes subject matter enchanting. Importantly, all

this implies an awareness of its audience.

How is illustration intrinsically

different from fine art?

As mentioned above illustration considers its message in relation to an

audience. This often means that there is a clearly intended visual

communication to a clearly targeted audience. Fine art creates works

without this pre-condition. There are always exceptions

to the rule. And there are cross-over’s of the disciplines where you

could describe them working as both illustration and fine art. Or to put

it another way. the same piece of work could be used in a context as a

piece of illustration, and in another context,

as a piece of fine art. I guess, to address your question, as soon as

you place an illustration into a gallery context, in a sense it becomes

fine art. The biggest problem is trying to define these things. Do

definitions really help? Does creativity gain from

definitions? Creativity knows no bounds! Defining things is a job that

often masks commercial ideology.

Do you think curators and artists

hold different attitudes about fine art and illustration?

Yes, for sure. Our culture doesn’t

place illustration on a very high cultural level. Other countries do to

some extent (France, Japan). The reason for curators

and fine artists holding different attitudes is I think as I’ve

indicated, due to a power relationship and to commercial value. To

maintain power. One thing that is a threat to this cultural hierarchy is

this: what would happen if the British public started

to pick up on the amazing art of illustration, graphic novels, comics,

drawing ability, storytelling. Other cultures have done so. What if they

started desiring it, buying it, collecting it. The power dynamic could

shift.

How do you define ‘authorial’, and

how do you believe that definition relates to illustration and to fine

art?

Authorial illustration is concerned with those areas where the

illustrator creates, originates, influences or considers the content of

the communication. Typically, the term ‘authorial’ continues to be used

within the context of illustration to describe medium

to long-term projects, often involving narrative and storytelling, and

the design of sequential imagery, such as children’s books, graphic

novels, picture essays, comic books or other forms of graphic

literature, screen-based production, installation or gallery

work. We encourage students to play to their strengths and aptitudes in

developing an authorial practice which requires them to identify

content, address and recognise issues, and to think creatively about

outlets for their work, developing an entrepreneurial

approach.

A fine artist can be said to be

the author of their own work too. Or a film director ‘auteur’, etc. The

reason the definition is pertinent to illustration is

because it is necessary due to the nature of illustration’s commercial

application, to separate out the personal ‘authorial’ input from what is

very often a prescribed brief from client or art director who leaves

little room for creative expression, and simply

wants you to illustrate their idea. How about your idea?

What is your definition of a gallery?

I suppose a gallery is any space where art

works are placed for exhibition and, in many cases, for sale within the

public domain.

Is there a place for illustration

in a gallery?

Yes. I guess the development of ‘The House of

Illustration’ in London imply that there is a place for illustration in a

gallery or museum. After all illustration is just

a description of another type of artform. It’s close historical

association to commerce has just given it a low cultural status. The

V&A Illustration Awards and illustrated book collection are good

examples of cultural interest growing for illustration.

What are your reasons for your

answer to Question 6 above?

Because I think galleries and museums should

show all forms of creative endeavour.

Can illustration sit in a gallery

side by side with fine art?

Yes, you do see examples of this. The famous

American illustrator Norman Rockwell eventually had a major

retrospective in the Guggenheim in New York, and is now thought of

as, at least in part, as an important American artist of the mid

twentieth century. Or a contemporary example, like Jonathon Rosen, in

America, who works seamlessly across animation, fine art and

illustration commissions.

Do you think there are hierarchies

in the art world today, and does this have an

effect  on illustrative work being exhibited?

Yes, of course there are. And they

are complex and ultimately all money driven. Creativity itself (if you

look through art history) doesn’t need much money, so

who is the one who needs the money?

If illustrative work is crossing into the boundaries of fine art, is it worthy of a space in a gallery, or is it now classed as fine art?

Like my examples show, fine art will embrace

any artform if it chooses if it is advantageous to do so. It is

important to understand that fine art has a very well established

critical framework and illustration doesn’t. This may be the main

reason for illustration struggling for some kind of recognition.

Illustration hasn’t been properly subjected to critical analysis and

theoretical examination, and sadly a huge proportion of

illustrators’ practices wouldn’t stand up to the rigorous critical

examination that fine artists are used to.

Are there any galleries or places that you think illustration is best

displayed?

Any would be welcome I’d imagine. I’d love to

see some of the best examples of the art of illustration in the Tate for

example.

In your experience, does this differ in different parts of the world?

I think others cultures are much more aware of

the amazing qualities that illustration displays.

Where do you prefer your work to be exhibited

and what are your reasons for this?

Anywhere where it will reach the audience it is

aimed at, or best suited to receive it. That could be 6 people or 6

thousand.

Does using certain types of media in producing a

piece of work determine what classification it has, and where it is

displayed?

It shouldn’t, but it certainly does in the

commercial world. For example, certain publications wanting to present a

certain image to the world, will be very discerning about

their choice of imagery.

What do you think the criteria for putting art

in a gallery should be?

I think I’ve answered this above.

Has your work always been illustrative?

I do seem to fall naturally into this area. I

think it’s because I love visual storytelling.

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