Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Creative Review: Where is the content? - Lawrence Zeegan

This article from a recent edition of Creative Review was recommended to us, and is written by Lawrence Zeegan, who has some interesting views on the state of the illustration industry at the moment, and compares illustration to current/recent London art exhibitions in order to make his point.

Zeegan is an 'educator, illustrator and writer' with over 20 years experience in the industry, so writes authoritatively, however the article seems to be a bit controversial with some people who read it.  
In the article, Zeegan describes illustration as being...

"Obsessed with its own craft, it has withdrawn from society's big debates to focus on the chit-chat of inner sanctum nothingness."

He compares the recent David Shrigley exhibition in London, with the Pick Me Up graphic arts fair across the river, both of which some of us visited when I was down in London. 

He asks the question "Are we offered mere nothingness?" about the work at Pick Me Up. He makes the point throughout the article, about illustration reverting back to a "cottage industry" where illustrators are creating work that is in fashion and looks good, but with no real message or substance, and that the audience they are creating it for is mostly small and comprised of other illustrators. He writes about how illustration should aim to reach a wider audience and should be able to comment on the surround world in the way an 'artist' does. It comes across that he's frustrated that the industry he's, in part, involved in (he is an illustrator after all) is stepping backwards rather than forwards, and not taking the opportunity to really affect change or be used to create strong messages in the way perhaps graphic design does.  

 It seems as though he's just very keen to have illustration come to the fore, whether it be to spread a message or even just for the money. He acknowledges the pull for illustrators to make their own products; zines, prints, clothes etc. in the "make-do-and-mend economy", but asks what will it take for them to take the step to a bigger platform, and maybe being more business minded might be the way to landing bigger commissions in the industry.

To be honest, I thought this article was really interesting and made think about what illustrators could or should aim to achieve. I didn't find any of the things he was writing about particularly controversial myself, it seemed more like he was frustrated with seeing the same sort of superficial work being created in an introverted fashion, rather than seeing powerful illustration being used to spread a message or communicating with a wider audience, which it of course has the potential to do.

Obviously as a student I can't say I have much experience of the industry myself, and there's probably hundreds of illustrators out there making a huge positive change through their work, but I do think it's true that 'artists' or fine artists do get the majority of that limelight, its not often you see an illustrator on the news for a controversial piece of work for example. A lot people don't even know what illustration is when I tell them! Step out of your own world for a bit and you realise most people don't know what sort of work illustrators do a lot of the time.

Throughout the article Zeegan writes most of his comments as questions, suggesting he just wants people to think about the ideas he's talking about, such as style of substance, and questioning why you are creating work and who for. The main thing I got out of the article was to aim high. I think that it is something uni have tried to teach us too, I remember we were told to aim high when trying to get meetings with clients in London, but on the other hand we've also had projects on creating our own products and publications as another way of getting our work out there and making money. So I think aiming for the best of both worlds is probably the way to go....

Check out the article here, and there are also some interesting responses in the comment section too. Peace.


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