Where is the content? Where is the comment?

Illustration has become entrenched in navel-gazing and self-authorship, says Lawrence Zeegen. Obsessed with its own craft, it has withdrawn from society’s big debates to focus on the chit-chat of inner sanctum nothingness. It’s time for the profession to stop pleasing itself and engage with the world outside

Outside David Shrigley’s Brain Activity show at the Hayward Gallery, London. Photo: Siobhan Watts

Illustration has become entrenched in navel-gazing and self-authorship, says Lawrence Zeegen. Obsessed with its own craft, it has withdrawn from society’s big debates to focus on the chit-chat of inner sanctum nothingness. It’s time for the profession to stop pleasing itself and engage with the world outside

If you’ve crossed Waterloo Bridge recently, you’ve seen it. Fight The Nothingness is the rallying cry proclaimed by a billboard-sized hoarding hanging from the side of the Hayward Gallery – a made-large David Shrigley artwork that utilises his trademark hand-rendered type alongside a clenched fist, drawn in his own unique naïve illustrative style. Shrigley’s Fight The Nothingness says everything and says nothing–  a call-to-arms or bland sloganeering, a statement of intent or another vacuous dictum? Shrigley, a some-time illustrator, cartoonist and animator is an artist, and as an artist has the responsibility, and opportunity thanks to the Hayward, to pass comment on our society. However, viewed in a microcosm, Shrigley’s mantra could be seen as a wake-up call to contemporary graphic art and illustration, a discipline he has always been keen to distance himself from.

Just across the river from Shrigley and the Hayward Gallery, and yet conceptually a million miles away too, Somerset House launches Pick Me Up 2012, now in its third year, featuring the ‘newest, coolest and most exciting talent in the graphic art world’. Here is an opportunity for the discipline to take on Shrigley’s battle cry and fight the nothingness; stake a claim into new territories, challenge preconceptions, perceptions and conventions. But is anyone listening? Who outside of the cozy world of graphic art and illustration is stepping inside to sample the goods? And once inside, what is there to be discovered? Are we offered much more than contemporary eye candy? Are we offered much more than mere nothingness?

Illustration is, once again, in real danger of returning to its role as the cottage industry of the creative industries. The allure of the digital now over, the discipline has seemingly retreated into an analogue world of craft-driven aesthetics, where polite pleasantries are exchanged between illustrator and audience; an audience primarily comprised of other illustrators, albeit both student and professional.

Where is the content? Where is the comment? It’s all about the materials, rather than the message. It’s all about the quantity rather than the quality. It’s all about design doing rather than design thinking. It’s all style over content, function following form. Illustration has withdrawn from the big debates of our society to focus on the chit-chat and tittle-tattle of inner-sanctum nothingness.

Late last year’s announcement and launch of the Olympics Artists posters featuring gems by Tracey Emin, Gary Hume and Martin Creed (below) was decried nationally and internationally by graphic designers – how could such an opportunity be missed to commission the great and the good of the UK’s contemporary graphic design community?

Big protest noises from graphic design, yet deafening silence from graphic artists and illustrators. A prime example of a discipline so entrenched in navel-gazing and self-authorship that as another glossy new tome of back-to-back, jam-packed illustration arrives hot-off-the-press to take pride of place on the coffee table, it is clear that the discipline remains unable to peer over the fence at a world outside it’s own garden.

So where does illustration go next? How does the discipline move forward? If the subject has stalled, isn’t interested in reflecting upon the big issues or commenting upon the here and now, where is the future for the graphic arts? With today’s practitioners forging increasingly independent career trajectories, less dependent on commissions from within the creative industries and more focused on the creation of artefacts ­- prints, books, ‘zines, clothing, bags and badges – what drives a make-do-and-mend economy to step up and trade up? If social comment doesn’t float the boat, could big business fly the kite? Could the deciding factor in determining illustration’s future reside in a more pro-active and business-focused attitude being taken on by the sole-traders of the discipline?

A recent lecture by Barcelona-based illustrator and graphic artist Javier Mariscal, hosted by Central Saint Martins in January, showcased the work of this master of the drawn line; yet as staggering as the work itself was the breadth of work. Mariscal, interestingly a one-time official artist for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and adept at running a creative studio as a successful business, presented an immense body of work; project after project, commission after commission for a vast array of international clients – from hotel chains to fashion retail companies, from banks and financial institutions to bars, restaurants (Tragaluz shown above) and furniture manufacturers. Each and every large-scale project presented was evidence of large-scale thinking, all emanating from a studio led with passion and vision by this illustrator with a big personality and unbelievable self-belief.

But the studio model isn’t a new model, it is just a very rare one that works well – think Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast at Pushpin Studios in 1950s New York (Bad Breath anti-Vietnam War poster, 1967, above), think George Hardie and Bush Hollyhead at NTA Studios in 1970s London, think Kiki and Loulou Picasso at Bazooka in 1970s Paris. Of course, there are models of good practice in the 21st century too, but the best of what is happening appears to be in home-grown niche publishing ventures – Nobrow, the London-based independent publishers of beautiful books by illustrators; Ditto Press, print-publishers specialising in digital and analogue print for illustrators and graphic artists, and then there’s Landfill Editions, Panther Club…. Where are the illustrators, studios and collectives coming from with a will to transcend the discipline of graphic art and explore the potential for working with and communicating to a wider audience?

Peepshow Collective, interestingly not that new – having set up in 2000 – but cool and exciting nevertheless, take up their 10-day residency at Pick Me Up 2012, following in the footsteps of Rob Ryan in 2010 and Anthony Burrill in 2011. But will they seize the opportunity to promote more than mere polite graphic sloganeering? Can Peepshow, through the presentation of their event, The Museum of Objects & Origins, take up the Shrigley challenge from across the Thames and Fight the Nothingness? And if they can, will anyone other than the new, cool and exciting be watching and listening?

Lawrence Zeegen is dean of design at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. David Shrigley: Brain Activity is at the Hayward Gallery until May 13. Pick Me Up is at Somerset House from March 22 to April 1


CR in Print

The above article also appears in the March issue of Creative Review magazine and is an example of the longer form content readers can enjoy in print. Our March issue is an illustration special whihc also has features on Clifford Richards, Pick Me Up, the relationship between illustrators and writers and the making of the cover of the New York Times Magazine.

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  • Interesting article by the dean of design – what a cool job title.

  • Very interesting – quite a battle cry in itself. It’ll be interesting to see what comments transpire from such a provocative article.

  • alex

    south east london has your answer…

  • Helene Smith

    Dear Lawrence/editors, If I were forced to narrow it down, I would say that the difference between a graphic designer and an artist was the difference between commissioned work and creations unencumbered by specs or ANY parameters. Like everything else — and especially the creative fields — in 2012 you need to have the “luxury” of being an artist. Whether it be money, reputation, political persuasion — whatever — the ability to reflect or comment on the outside world takes courage when we’re all on the grid.

  • RSW

    If I see another mid century Edward Bawden/Ravilious lino folksy twee illustration I will kill myself.

  • No mention of comics or graphic novels?

  • Abi

    I’m an illustrator and found this article quite interesting as it doesn’t really reflect my own experience of the industry lately. In recent months I’ve been lucky enough to receive some fascinating commissions from clients with a great understanding of how they wish to use illustration in their project. None of my work is especially fashionable or has attracted a lot of publicity, but from my experience, at least, there seems to be a perfectly thriving illustration industry out there, producing interesting work and operating in much the same way as illustrators have done in the past.

  • Very interesting.

    The important thing is to see illustration and graphic art that is solving problems and answering brief to create work that communicates to real people and serves a purpose.

    The style should then grow in answer to this brief and if a successful solution is a mid century lino folksy twee illustration then no-one can argue with that.

    But we are seeing a lot of self invented opportunities for people to draw what they want and inevitably follow syles that are too often seen then filling blogs and websites.

    But I wonder what the root of this is. Not enough opportunity in the commercial world, perhaps not enough freedom. I don’t know.

  • Ed

    I’m confused as to the point of the article. On the one hand it’s calling for illustrators to address the bigger issues (ie. self-published, reflective work) and on the other it’s calling for more involvement in the wider world (ie. collaboration). You’re treating it as if it’s an isolated industry that you want to dig itself out of a perceived hole.

    If you’re looking for innovation and development in communication then I’d argue you need to broaden your scope to include people who ignore such titles as ‘illustrator’ and ‘graphic artist’. I couldn’t really tell you what either of those terms mean any more, and in my opinion antiquated titles like that are what cause things to regress into cottage industry.

    Look towards BERG, RIG, Troika etc. – People working in and around the fringes of many disciplines at once (in collaborative teams) spanning engineering, fine art, architecture, graphic design, interactive media, illustration, film, music (the list goes on). If you focussed on any one of those areas in isolation they’d all look boring and backwards. Most of them have their own ‘produced for industry’ circles too (esp. graphic design).

    It just seems a bit odd to me to narrow the focus of your criticism to one particular industry only then to criticise it for being too narrowly focussed.

  • I agree with Ed on this. I find the the criticism of this particular industry rather perplexing.

    I’m not sure where the author is getting at when he balks at illustrators’ self-authorship when it is mostly through self-authorship that an illustrator gets to communicate their own ideas without fearing repercussions or censure.

    Illustrations have always been about solving problems, most of which are received through client’s briefs. If illustrators get to voice their opinions through these channels then that’s all nice and dandy, but the reality is that they are helping their clients communicate a message, not necessarily of their own. They’re merely applying themselves and bridging the divide between content and art, making it digestible for their intended audience.

    I’ve heard rumblings of discontent from various illustrators on the lack of commissions these days, and instead of sitting down and gazing at their navels, they have turned instead to honing their skills of self-expression and have immersed themselves into commercializing their products and experimenting with various other forms of communication/distribution methods, even if they are delivered via zines, posters and the like.

    It seems to me that instead of waiting for other people’s brief in order to speak up (which might not necessarily happen), illustrators are finding their own voice instead in the work that they do and I think it’s a step in the right direction.

  • joebaglow

    Couldn’t agree more, I gave up on illustration to become a rock and roll star, the latter being a more likely career choice.

  • Bo

    Dear Lawrence,
    I do think that you are right about the practice of many illustrators. Lots of stupid vinyl toys and self published fluff. But these are just vehicles for illustrators to make money outside of the conventional commissioning process. Most illustrators have shops on their websites and this can be very empowering.

    Regarding the content of the work, your article prompted me to have a quick browse through the CR 2011 Illustration Annual and your argument about the ‘chit chat of inner sanctum nothingness’ depressingly rings true!!!!
    Although one image stood out – it was an image by the illustrator Billie Jean about factory farmed chickens. A perfect example of how illustration can engage with ‘society’s big debates’. Granted it was the only image that did this, but a lot of the images were commissioned and it’s a cheap shot to blame illustrators for the commissions they get.

  • Great article. I think it’s a good point to make about illustration needing to have more of a meaning. Although individuals who do not work or have a day to day interest in the area of illustration may not be aware of some of the recent trends, I still think illustration backed up with a good concept and communicating something meaningful is far more appealing.

  • lesley

    look here: aardvarkonsea.com

  • I don’t entirely recognise the illustrator you talk about in the article – like Abi says above, the vast majority of my income comes from commissions that steadily come in and we all just get on with it. It’s the same for a lot of my peers, I think. One thing that’s happened on occasion is being asked to tone something down by those commissioning the work – any hint of controversy is often taken out at a higher level, either by the designers or the client.

    You could argue that in that case, well, self-initiated work, that’s the time for the powerful message, right? I would argue that a lot of the inward-focused artefacts you talk about *have* come from a pro-active and business-focused attitude that an awful lot of illustrators possess. A lot of illustrators are very good entrepreneurs who successfully build a brand and sell that brand (as Pikaland says above). People buy nice looking stuff. People admire political statements and clever comments, sure, and people “like” it and they retweet it – but then they buy the nice picture for their wall. My bank doesn’t take retweets as payment for my mortgage (so unreasonable, I know. Bankers, eh?).

    It’s been such a difficult few years to be an illustrator. I went full time in 2008, and boy, was that a tricky time to start. The end of last year was worse. Really tough. This year, thankfully, has exploded in nearly more commissions than I know what to do with, much to my relief, but I’m not ashamed to say that it’s not been easy recently, and I know a lot of other people struggled last year too.

    So, yes, in an ideal world illustration would be clever and socially aware and beautiful. But at the end of last year, if someone was willing to buy a lenticular iPhone case with a picture of my quivering bosoms on it and emblazoned with a Papyrus “LOL”, I’d have been sorely tempted. Things are picking up if my experience is anything to go by. You will all be grateful to hear that, no doubt, given that iPhone case. If we’re paying the mortgage with commissions, maybe there’s the room to create something for the message of it without thinking about sales. Maybe customers who feel more financially and politically secure even change what they buy a little bit. It’s known that people look for escapism during recessions. But I’m not ashamed to say that it’s about making money – it’s my job after all. I’d be a bad illustrator if I lost money doing this.

  • I agree in principle to a lot of what Mr.Zeegan is expressing in this article, in terms of taking more of an interest in social matters and translating this into creative endeavor as well as the nature of the industry at present.

    However having experienced Pick Me Up (and events like it) first hand, it simply isn’t viable to be creating things with the sole purpose of tackling social issues, plus to some extent this notion undermines & confuses the humble purpose of illustration. Mr.Zeegan is right about the the exhibitions being at other ends of spectrum. Shrigley’s exhibition is funded by the public & attending audience, Pick Me Up is funded by the audience as well as the participants, through sales. The reason Pick Me Up exists and Graphic Art has found it’s way into Somerset House is because these creatives have started using their initiative to create there own products, it’s the whole premise of the event.

    It appears the vantage point of the debate is top down and doesn’t reflect the situation most people invited to participate in these events find themselves in. Granted illustrators and Graphic Artists could be more inventive in devising of ways to challenge subjects in society at public events like Pick Me Up. There’s literally nothing more I’d like to be doing than conjuring ways of contributing toward social development, I haven’t yet got to a point where this kind of practice is sustainable and supported by anyone and don’t see it happening in the near future.

    I admire Mr.Zeegans passion and belief in Illustration and Graphic Art as a potential power for good. But personally feel it’s a tall order for a discipline that struggles as much as it does, when most don’t have the liberty of regular, well paid work.

    I also appreciate the speculative nature of this article in regard to existing practice, but perhaps in response to these criticisms, someone could organise an event with an alternative financial structure. Supportive of illustrators, allowing them to express their personal perspective on social issues, rather than them having to take these opportunities to make an extra bit of cash.

    I don’t like or agree conceptually with a lot of work that is published (even my own) and personally speaking don’t find it very interesting or challenging. But I am wholly sympathetic of the struggle and the compromises creatives have to make.

  • also is it not true that devid shrigley classes himeslf as a ‘fine artist’ rather tah an illustrator?

  • I feel the issue of ‘style over content’ may be the ultimate curse of the illustration industry.

    The problem, if it can be called that, seems to be that commissioners of illustration generally want to know what they are going to get (and who can blame them?). This fuels the importance of stylistic consistency or illustrator as ‘brand’ and makes those who use varying methods, appropriate or not, seem untrustworthy. This is compounded by Illustration agencies, many of which allow the potential commissioner to search their portfolios via ‘style’.

  • Sarah

    One thing to bear in mind is that if you are judging the illustration industry by the work you see in competitions and annuals, you will not be getting a true picture of the industry as a whole. These things often require a prohibitively large fee to be paid for your work to be considered for inclusion, which means a lot of people just can’t take part. As a designer, I work with a wide range of illustrators who all have something to say and are not just ‘decorators’, so I don’t feel this article is a fair representation of the current state of illustration at all. It is the responsibility of the art director or designer, if there is one, to make sure illustrators are used to their full potential too.

    I wonder if there is also a slight suggestion here that artwork needs to be serious to be worthwhile, which I don’t think is necessarily so – it just needs to connect with people. Sometimes the message may not be overt to you personally, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a message there for someone.

  • I see where Lawrence is coming from, but illustrators are like actors- their output depends on the material they’re given to interpret and for Art Directors to have the balls to commission more illustration to illustrate exciting/important subject matter. Illustrators are generally commissioned to produce ‘more of the same’ rather than to take any risks or push any boundaries. They become ‘type cast’. Obviously if illustrators have the opportunity to initiate their own projects or are given full creative freedom then good for them- may they use it wisely and kick as much political ass as they see fit.

    If it’s not illustrating anything then it’s personal commercial art work. And yes, like popular music there’s not enough social commentry going on there. Even Wham! managed to write ‘Wham Rap’ back in the ’80s!

  • I find the reference to David Shrigley’s banner kind of perplexing. Although I have seen his talks and I am a big fan of this work and humor I feel that the reference of the image undermines your entire argument.

    The use of the internet as a tool for “self-authorship” is precisely the reason why many a thousand works and illustrators are being taken out of context as self indulgent and mis-understood. One only has to trawl ffffound.com to see an assorted mixture of bizarre type captions next to absurd but often brilliant images. In their own right, each idea had place and a though but as a collective you being to feel over-whelmed with indulgent trivia.

    If I has seen shrigleys work in this context, I would have immediately groped it into one of these fleeting images void of context and meaning. To finalise my point, I find the use of his work referenced for your point to be quite ironic.

  • ” illustrators are like actors- their output depends on the material they’re given to interpret and for Art Directors to have the balls to commission more illustration to illustrate exciting/important subject matter. Illustrators are generally commissioned to produce ‘more of the same’ rather than to take any risks or push any boundaries. They become ‘type cast'”

    Thank you, David Heulun!

    Further to that:

    Illustrators provide a service and are at the mercy of those who hire us. Very few have the luxury of dictating content. We are entrepreneurial by nature, so go where the work is. As for making a statement, I do my best, and in a way that works for my clients. As do most successful illustrators I know.

  • Duncan MacDonald

    As a digital designer and developer, who became better known as an illustrator, I couldn’t agree more with this, although I can see why some of the commenters are missing the point. Over the last five years I’ve seen swathes and swathes of graduates pour out of art schools with the intention of becoming an illustrator.
    and agencies like YCN do nothing to help this, by promoting graphic designers who are predominantly illustrators, and feeding the lie that it’s a valid career option for most of those youngsters.
    It just isn’t.

    After trying to survive as an illustrator for 4 years, I gave up.
    Even with an agent, global clients, I simply wasn’t able to make a living, in part because clients and agencies simply weren’t willing to pay an illustrator the same kinds of fee they would pay a designer, and in part because I was ‘type-cast’ as someone said earlier, by narrow minded marketing managers (not creative directors or art directors, marketeers).
    The typical value placed on a single piece of illustration, regardless of the person creating it, is about £100-£300. Consider that it might take one illustrator a few days to complete said piece, and you can see why it’s not commercially viable for anyone except the most privileged, and that’s what I began to find, that the majority of illustrators I came across were young, privileged, and had wealthy benefactors (parents, partners et al) who could help fund them while they ‘established’ themselves.
    In almost all other instances, illustration was simply one feather in someone’s cap, along with graphic design, artworking, or development.
    That’s why I think illustration has become this slow, self-indulgent world of copy-cats, because it’s no longer seen as a profession, and is now seen as a lifestyle choice, much like being an artist, or an actor, or a musician. Until we can break that image, illustration is going to continue eating itself.

  • sean

    I agree with most of the comments above from the Creative readers.

    Mr Zeegen is in a privileged and a very financially comfortable position of being the dean of design at the LCC. He is ofcourse entitled to his opinion. But he has to remember that the vast majority of illustrators are pleased for any commission that comes their way. Why not also have a go at graphic designers, typographers, animators and advertising creatives for the “mere nothingness” in their work?

    You need to hold a mirror up to your own illustration work Mr. Zeegen. If the content of your own work has everything that you say is lacking in other illustrators work, then fine, you make a valid point.

    Walk the talk.

  • Here’s what I think: Because of the global economic slowdown there are fewer paid and inspiring outlets for provocative illustration and design. This fact coupled with an abundance of time, talent, anxiety and bandwidth, entrepreneurs are cranking out lots of personal work in multiple genres and publishing it cheaply on the internet in hopes of catching a wave. I think there’s a lot of great work being done right now by all sorts of people. Some of it will be inspiring enough so that it will generate its own opportunities (and money). Other work will catch fire as soon as the opportunities and cash begin to flow. Be patient Mr Zeegan. Artists don’t have the luxury to be pessimists!

  • All of the fine and well argued responses aside, I thought the Shrigley banner was one of the least thought-engaging images I ‘ve seen from his hand. The hallmark of Shrigley’s work is poignancy, yet I see none of this in the banner art or message. It’s had to see the point of it. It may be likely that the proximity of it to Somerset House was a coincidental to Pick Me Up being there, and in fact not a message to the graphic arts world, but rather a convenient occasion for Mr Zeegan to make his point. There is alot of “stuff” being made that is not deeply meaningful, but that’s not news. As many commenters have pointed out, times are financially tough and this circumstance has hit just as illustrators were realizing that they had to be the shepherds of their own futures. Certainly the commercial world they’d served for so long had shown it’s hand in the last decade with bad contracts and diminishing fees. You know the song lyric “Sisters are doin’ it for themselves”? Well, that’s what illustrators are doing. Once solidly there, they’ll take care of the seeming void of “important” content. Don’t worry. Just keep in mind that in the midst of war, people need relief from it…or they go mad.

  • There’s no money left Lawrence so I’m making art to make ends meet.
    My opinions have scared my clients away. I want to give a shit, but I also want to be a dad.
    You can see my work at Pick Me Up this year. Come and have a chat, I’d love to talk with you about this

  • Liliana

    boohoo, the industry is changing.
    Poor you, Lawrence.
    Who says you have the responsibility to pass comment on society? Oh yes, YOU do. Then do so with your own work please, be my guest. Stop whining about people who create work they love and who don’t care whether you like it or not.

  • Dave

    I find it slightly hypocritical that Lawrence Zeegan should write an article about being self-absorbed.

  • besheer

    Sounds a bit institutional to me. Zeegan’s generation were very much designers with comment. A privilege within an art school setting. A burden with your graduate portfolio.
    I think Zeegan’s rallying cry is an interesting ideal however as someone else commented, he does not walk the walk. I would like to see his vision communicated in his portfolio but sadly I do not. After all, what we do has to be borne out in what we do visually, not what we say. If illustrators were to bash people over the head with their opinions I think the industry would quickly give up on us.

  • besheer

    Sounds a bit institutional to me. Zeegan’s generation were very much designers with comment. A privilege within an art school setting. A burden with your graduate portfolio.
    I think Zeegan’s rallying cry is an interesting ideal however as someone else commented, he does not walk the walk. I would like to see his vision communicated in his portfolio but sadly I do not. After all, what we do has to be borne out in what we do visually, not what we say. If illustrators were to bash people over the head with their opinions I think the industry would quickly give up on us.

  • …”that as another glossy new tome of back-to-back, jam-packed illustration arrives hot-off-the-press to take pride of place on the coffee table”… a lot of these written by Lawrence Zeegen himself. A case of devil’s advocate Lawrence?
    You wouldn’t believe the amount of commissions I’ve lost due to timid clients and fearful art directors. I can’t work without content or comment, I have to disguise it with happy shapes. Maybe you are not looking hard enough;–P

  • Ed

    Agree with the article. While there is great illustration with content to be found, there’s a general issue within the wider design field of self congratulating likedy-like posturing that’s perpetuated by uncritical Grafik style guides seeking such work. It’s especially worrying when so much of the above work featured is self-initiated, free of the limitations that can dumb down work. I spent three years surrounded by identical twee illustrations and centred big slogan posters.
    Also, given his work, Shrigley’s hoarding looks to be an ironic half-cry with a smirk, which is just as corrosive.

  • Nolan

    Interesting article!

    There are enough loud messages out there already. An illustration helps set a tone for an article, and I don’t think it always needs some ham-fisted message behind it. The style of an illustration often IS the message, and there is nothing wrong with that. Also, any art has meaning since it’s shaped by the artist’s experiences and worldview.

    Perhaps you’re not looking for the meaning hard enough? Ben Shahn is one of my all time favorite illustrators, and his work often had a political bent. The way he simply renders a scene tells so much more than a million high concept illustrations chock full of symbolism and “meaning”. Shahn’s book “The Shape of Content” touches on some of the issues discussed in your article.

  • Sal

    Yawn, Yawn!

    More naval-gazing opinion from the land of academia.

  • Dominika

    ‘Graphic designers are to our information age what engineers were to the industrial age and what scientists were to the age of reason. They set the mood for the mental environment. They stoke the desire that fuels the consumerist economy. Wielding such power, what moral responsibility do designers, visual communicators and artists bear?’
    Adbusters is currently re-renewing the ‘First Things First Manifesto’ on the pages of their current Issue #100.
    I find it ever relevant. Have a look: http://www.designishistory.com/1960/first-things-first/

  • David Shrigley’s exhibition should have been titled “Lack of brain activity”.

  • I agree with Ed (2012-02-28 14:26:20) and Amy (@ Pikaland 2012-02-28 14:55:20) in their comments of this article and also with Emma (2012-02-28 13:13:09) who says: “No mention of comics or graphic novels?”

    I would like to add a simple comment here, in the same vain as Emma’s, which is: “No mention of the gaming and movie industries either and all of the concept designers?”

    I feel that the article author didn’t consider all of the facts when making his argument and has overlooked much of the world of illustration outside of the famous studio work. I do agree with some of the points he is making but feel that this wasn’t a fully researched article.

    But what do I know? I’m just an illustrator without something important to say…

  • I look at the growth in authorial practice in a very different way to Lawrence Zeegans perspective. The work he is so critical of i see as immensely exciting, young illustrators finding their voices starting to grow their ideas. A strong personal voice does not simply pop out of nowhere, like any decent author it takes a bit of time. Rob Ryan is a good example of this, his distinctive voice took years to grow and develop. His ‘chit-chat or tittle-tattle’ is personal and his observations ‘small’ but there in lies their power. BIg issues dealt with in a gentle way ‘small’way.
    I see a button badge or a tee-shirt or a zine as a seed, a first chord, a foothold. Its how i started out making tee-shirts by hand in a kitchen with Pete Fowler and Rob Ramsden many years ago. I only really feel that my work has matured in the last few years, its a long road but if i didn’t do my comics and merch at the start of it all i know my work would not of grown to where it has now. There is definitely a change taking place, illustrators are now increasingly able to operate autonomously and speak straight to the public and sell straight to the public. Not needing to, well also not being able to! rely so much on commissions. Now this changes everything, this is authorship and its to a different audience from the broad shotgun consensus sloganeering that this article pines for. An author needs to make their big points in a different way, think of any great author, do they shout at you or do they make quiet observations drawn from their lives and their imaginations and weave them into something compelling? This is what the truly great illustrators could do. M. Peake, Ben Shahn (Nolan above makes a good point using Shahn see above) Its this older tradition of illustration and literature that illustrators are migrating towards as they operate in this authorial way, and as publishing changes and fragments, they may well find that there are more and more outlets online for this kind of work.
    Nurturing this generation, who, as i said feel full of potential, could create a wave of very good visually authored work in years to come. Although i suspect it will be equally effective to write articles like this that wag the finger and tell them all they are all very naughty for making personal work! These illustrators may not be dancing to a tune your recognise and it is a quiet revolution but that doesn’t make it any less revolutionary. I just don’t have any problem at all with navel gazing, i hope Illustrators disappear even farther into themselves, it just means that when they do work on commissions they come at it in a more original way. A great example of this would be Jack Teagle who balances personal and commercial extremely well but when i was teaching him i was encouraging him to dig deep into his imagination and take a very personal inward journey. He and many of my other former students have had to do this to survive, fees are bloody scandalous, £150 for Sunday Times Half page WTF! The personal work is not self indulgence, its a way of keeping going, but what might be perceived as a negative period for illustration as we limp through the recession, is, i feel, having the positive impact i have described above. And the voices that will slowly grow in this period will actually have more ability to alter peoples opinions and touch them in a far more emotive way.

  • Crisiswotcrisis

    The words Ivory and tower come to mind Mr Zeegen.