While perusing through an online news magazine (NPR) the other day, I came across the above illustrations. Every time I see this kind of art, I want to cringe. It is this kind of display that makes me almost ashamed to call myself an illustrator. This is the state of current artwork shown in magazines and online sites, the kind of art that accompanies editorial articles these days.
There isn’t a colleague of mine who wouldn’t refer to this as anything other than garbage.
I was an illustrator in the 1970s and 1980s in Chicago, where drawing ability was a necessary factor in getting freelance assignments. In fact, you almost had to have an art rep in order to get in the door just to have a prospective client review your art portfolio, and art reps wouldn’t even begin to consider you as a talent without drawing ability.
By drawing ability, I’m referring to the acumen needed to draw realistic anatomy, features on faces and hands. There were other talented illustrators who could draw humorously with less realistic detail, but their style still required drawing faces and hands that showed they could articulate the actions needed to depict their figures’ agility. No matter your style, trying to get by without drawing those things would put you out on the street.
The Golden Age of illustration was early in the last century, when artists such as Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth were at the height of their careers. Drawing and painting were equally admired, each in different ways: drawing for the artists’ ability to depict realistic detail, and painting that showed color in a way that added mood or beauty to the drawn composition.
When I was in art & design school in the late 1960s, the admired illustrators like Bernie Fuchs, Mark English, and Bob Peak. These were illustrators in and around New York City, whose careers took them from the far corners of commercial art for advertising to the wider expanses of editorial art for magazines. They painted beautiful art for anything from Cadillac advertisements to movie posters, from simple splashy spots for soft drinks to story illustrations in Redbook and Ladie’s Home Journal.
I also admired Milton Glaser, a New York artist and designer who could do everything and often did both in an ad or design.
This was artwork. I can’t say the same about what’s displayed today.
These days, the illustration classes in art schools do not require the ability to draw, and it seems they prefer that you don’t. (My inquiring letter to Melanie Corn, the president of a well-known art school in the midwest, remains unanswered; I asked her if anatomy is still taught at her school, and if not, then why not.)
The art now shown in magazines and in online editorials seems to require that you have to visualize only internal feelings, such as anguish, hate, and frustration. If none of those, then only the ability to use tools such as Adobe Illustrator (third example, top right).
I’ve often told colleagues that the name Adobe Illustrator is a misnomer: you can draw with it only to a very limited degree, and then only mechanically in a very stilted way, that takes hours to do what would normally take—with a pencil—only minutes. There’s nothing intuitive about it. In the grand landscape of all art, Adobe Illustrator is more a design tool than anything. We use it in package design as a composition and production application.
So it appears anyone can become an illustrator now. No need to draw. Just scribble what depicts fear and anxiety. There is no more beauty—and real art—in today’s illustration. And that’s a real shame.