Steve Braund interview by Gary Buckley
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
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
How do you define ‘authorial’, and
how do you believe that definition relates to illustration and to fine
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
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
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
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
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
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
Does using certain types of media in producing a
piece of work determine what classification it has, and where it is
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.