The passing of Andrew Wyeth got me to thinking about the artist vs. illustrator debate. Shouldn’t the word ‘artist’ be a gift word? It should be a word that you can’t call yourself and that others should carefully choose to use when describing you. Some noted ‘illustrators’ from the past include, but are not limited to; da Vinci, Botticelli, William Morris, Matisse, Rouault, Picasso, Chagall, Dürer, Holbein, William Hogarth, William Blake, Manet, Winslow Homer, John Alvin , Norman Rockwell and Caravaggio. They all worked for money (money really is the defining factor in the argument,) “Hey, Leonardo, paint me a picture of the Virgin in the Rocks, here’s a deposit of gold coins. Let me know when you’re done and I’ll pay the balance.”
It’s been said that the marketing of your work is the true ‘artistic’ aspect of painting or illustrating. How good are you at selling yourself. As noted in earlier posts, contemporary artists such as Hirst and Murakami are brilliant marketers (whether their product is art remains to be seen, in spite of the critics/collector’s fawning.) O.K., Picasso was a great artist–I think all can agree–but wasn’t he also a masterful marketer of his ‘brand’? Of course, he was.
Some argue that ‘artists’ paint because they have to, ‘illustrators’ because they are getting paid to. I feel that an ‘artist’ is a creator (regardless of medium chosen, be it painting, sculpture, music, dance) whose work transcends the banal and illustrates, yes illustrates, the world in which we live–bringing us closer to a truth, or closer to an understanding of our lives. Whether or not they work in obscurity their entire lives or become giants in their field, lauded from continent to continent for their remarkable facility; artists, truly, can’t help themselves.
This would apply to those who earn their living as illustrators as well–if their work is truly transcendent, then they are artists. This is where we, as collectors (and those rapscallions, critics) come in. It’s up to us to discover, uncover, recover, and promote their creative output as significant and worthy of our time, consideration and enjoyment, regardless of how they make their living.