Long time readers of Lines and Colors know that I take great pleasure in many types of visual art, and that I like to blur and cross the lines between genres. In particular, I like to point out the artificiality of the distinction between illustration and “fine art”.
Not that I don’t find it a useful distinction, the intention and approach are often different, but I object to the snobbery often found in “fine art” circles that says that illustration is “not art”. The insistence on this distinction can often be vehement, even to the point of lawsuits to declare a piece of illustration “not art”.
My favorite response to this is a quote from illustrator Brad Holland:
Almost everybody is an artist these days. Rock and Roll singers are artists. So are movie directors, performance artists, make-up artists, tattoo artists, con artists and rap artists. Movie stars are artists. Madonna is an artist, because she explores her own sexuality. Snoop Doggy Dogg is an artist because he explores other people’s sexuality. Victims who express their pain are artists. So are guys in prison who express themselves on shirt cardboard. Even consumers are artists when they express themselves in their selection of commodities. The only people left in America who seem not to be artists are illustrators.
This snobbery is essentially a form of class warfare; illustration is, after all, mass-reproduced art for the masses, and “fine art” is the domain of the wealthy (the ability to buy it not to create it, artists are supposed to live in noble poverty, while collectors, auction houses and speculators make the money).
Those of us who appreciate visual art in its many forms can revel in the “you don’t know what you’re missing” feeling of traversing the line between illustration and “fine art” at will, enjoying the best of what both worlds have to offer.
There is an exhibit currently on view at the Brandywine River Museum, always a bastion of great illustration art, that explores this often strained relationship. Double Lives: American Painters as Illustrators features both illustration by artists known mostly as “fine artists” and gallery paintings by illustrators, as well as paintings and drawings by these artists in their own genres.
The artists represented include American Impressionist Childe Hassam, who started his career illustrating children’s books, Winslow Homer, whose Civil War drawings appeared in Harper’s Weekly; and numerous other artists like Frederick Remington, John Sloan, Grant Wood, Rockwell Kent, William Glackens (image above, bottom left) and, of course, a number of striking pieces form the museum’s own collection of works by the great illustrator (and gallery artist) N.C. Wyeth (above, bottom right).
For those who are within visiting range, the exhibit is worth it just for a few outstanding pieces that are on loan, including Childe Hassam’s beautiful Jour du Grand Prix (image above, top, zoomable view here), from the New Britain Museum of American Art, which co-organized the exhibit; as well as a striking large piece by Edwin Austin Abbey, and other gems.
There is a catalog accompanying the exhibition, but I didn’t see it while I was at the museum, and I’m not certain if it’s been released yet.
Double Lives: American Painters as Illustrators runs at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA until November 23, 2008.