Monday, 26 October 2015

Speculation and Discussion on the Arisman's short thesis Is There a Fine Art to Illustration?

Marshall Arisman states in his short thesis Is There a Fine Art to Illustration?  that there is an 'outdated formula created by the art faculty' (the art faculty referring to the broader classification of art education across a range of universities) and that in relation to this outmoded contextualisation that 'All painters know that the word "illustration" is the kiss of death."

In his extravagantly written extolment, that sits proud at the front of a series of essays dealing with the identity of Illustration, he punctuates his distaste of the institutionalisation of art and the perception of illustrator. He says, "The fine arts world does not want illustrators in their club".

But he writes about a process of integration between Fine Art and Illustration and briefly explains a process that he himself introduces to the classroom. He explains that "working in a series allows students to introduce the concept of time into their work and pushes them out of the habit of creating single symbolic images, which is the trend in illustration."

For me the interesting words here are 'series' and 'time' which I discuss here:



If the role of Illustrator is to translate a language or statement of meaning into image, as an example of a how some may perceive the word illustration, then what place does series have? How can an image take on a series of meanings. The context in which Arisman uses the word series seems to imply an exploration of the theme? Yet does this not imply that the illustrator is expanding beyond the meaning?

If a series is produced based upon a statement of any length then potentially many images are taken as a narrative or a proceed collection of elements of the story. If a single statement is made with limited input, for example five words or line from a poem, then the expansion of the content is purely in the hands of the illustrator? At what stage does this become more about the illustrator's mind and experiences and less about the content of the meaning of the script, a script being a fragment from another individual's creation, within which the originator has their own set of conceptions and understandings.

How can a series of images work beyond the pure definition of the text without the illustrator becoming a fine artist? Where does the artist appear beyond the first drawing in a series? At what boundary does the Illustrator disappear?



'Introducing the concept of time into their work'? To think of time draws us into an illustrative process. Whether this be a memory or a tool to pictorially display the passing of time it is a process we try to crystallise and understand but ultimately it is very difficult to understand what Arisman means when he says time.

Could time mean cycle and then be a reference to series? Is the use of time a nod to evolution, a process that allows us to see change. But ultimately the result of time is the diminishing of everything, the death of everything.

Is the subconscious meaning behind this use of Time a direct reference to the death of what we know as Illustration and that in the end we must consider the illustrator an artist and not bracket them into a single place in time with archaic labels because in the end  Arisman finishes with a roll call of sorts, "I believe that it is possible to expand the boundaries where fine art and illustration meet into an image-making process that redefines our tired old definitions." 

ARISMAN, M. (2000) Is there a fine art to illustration? In: Heller, S & Arisman, M. (eds). The Education of an Illustrator. New York, USA: Allworth Press

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Does Illustration even Exist?

Edward Lucie-Smith in “Homage to Leonard Baskin” makes this powerful statement about the artist Leonard Baskin:

“I must point to the fact that Baskin’s preoccupation with words, his love of literature, make him not
Leonard Baskin: Hanged Man (1962) Woodcut
only a marvellous printmaker but perhaps the best illustrator of our time – something slightly different, since it implies not only the power to create images but the power to penetrate a text”

It is as if Lucie-Smith is saying that the meaning of the words connects directly with the meaning of the illustration but so appropriately that they become one. The words ‘power to penetrate’ embodies the text with some deeper form of expression into which the visual penetrates. It implies a form of pictorial resonance of the words, a true representation of the expression behind the meaning of the composition.

The implication in this exert also highlights that illustration is 'something slightly different' and is ultimately bound to a relationship with text. The narrative element of the text whether liner or abstract is lending elements to the image and therefore making it an illustration. But does Baskin's style of illustration not simply demonstrate the mirror of his own personal emotions and experiences?

This for me says a lot about the role of the illustrator. Baskin’s style is an integral part of his expression. Does an illustrator have to hide the inner expression to create a truly representative illustration or does his style need to match the emotional ties of the text, a match that either author or illustrator may identify.

When an artwork, that for many is not an illustration, is created does it not have a narrative? In fact does illustration even exist or is it a word used to identify an artwork with a narrative?

Lucie-Smith, E. Homage to Leonard Baskin. (1982) Reading Museum and Art Gallery: Reading

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Examining the opening Prepace of Alan Male’s “Illustration: A theoretical and Contextual Perspective”

The preface to Alan Male’s “Illustration: A theoretical and Contextual Perspective” leads with “Illustration: a definition. Applied Imagery; a ‘working art’ that visually communicates context to

It seems like a straight forward approach to start with the dictionary definition but in the delicate understanding of what something actually is it can throw up more questions than answers. What is a working art? What is applied imagery? And what is the context being communicated to the audience? This could be a context of understanding, but realistically this would be many contexts, every situation a bridge between numerous perceived cultural contexts or situations. Also is the assumption that it is a context which is communicated visually?

This definition does not actually say how the illustration physically manifests. What actually is an illustration? How can we identify an illustration from another image that, through a range of satisfied agendas, is seen as something different?

Potential the word ‘narrative’ could exist within the canon the words that classify illustration. To illustrate is to tell? Is the definition of Illustration illusive or does it even exist? Alan Male says in his preface, “Illustration can also be applied to anything and is not driven purely by fad or trend.” This implies that Illustration can indeed take on the disguise of ‘anything’ it likes, as if it floats freely absorbing a range of cultural and technological tools for its own use.

But it seems that Alan Male is concerned that this appropriation can be seen as devaluing the basis of Illustration when he says, “The notion of illustrator as ‘colouring-in technician’ must be discarded!” This for me says that the identity of Illustration is open for debate in many discussions and potentially revealed an underlying worry in Male’s mind about the credibility of Illustration as its own unique and valued art practice. How can we discerned illustration?


Illustration: A Theoretical and Contextual Perspective - Alan Male - AVA Publishing SA 2007

Monday, 12 October 2015

Discussion on "What is the Contemporary" by Giorgio Agamben

by Toby Lattimore

There are a number of interesting areas in the essay that I discuss here.


Agamben says that a Contemporary is “more capable than others of perceiving and grasping their own time describing it as a “disconnection and out-of-jointness.” Further explaining that “those who are truly contemporary, who truly belong to their time, are those who neither perfectly coincide with it nor adjust themselves to its demands.”

I am interested in this placement of the contemporary. What creates such awareness? For me the displacement from a time, allowing the contemporary to form a reflective outlook, seems the root of the issue. Whereas Agamben looks to explain what and where the contemporary exists and find themselves I cannot help but focus on how they arrive there in the first place, potentially with some greater understand of the “darkness” that Agamben goes on to discuss in his essay. Not the moment when the contemporary recognises clarity but when this reflective mind set finds seed.

Agamben goes on to talk about the “Archaic” and how the light, or darkness, of now is present in the past and that this will inform the contemporary. “It is as if this invisible light that is the darkness of the present cast its shadow on the past, so that the past, touched by this shadow, acquired the ability to respond to the darkness of now.”

This is striking. He stretches his umbrella across the definition of the contemporary. For me he seems to be saying that some aspect unifies those who we perceived to be contemporary. That the past must be seen in the context of now and that this weighing of perceptions will allow a form of transition into realisation of contemporariness. Yet, I feel that this is too broad a definition of an aspect of what it is to be contemporary. History is a marred arena. The perception of past events is second hand, no matter what the source. Even our own experiences are clouded by circumstance, many of which we are unaware of at the time and never discover, so how can we see light hear if it is obscured?

The isolation of the person surely guides the contemporary. The role of history is surely to mislead the contemporary, the darkness of now, as Agamben cites it, is surely a more intense and distant reflection of the darkness that existed when the past moment happened in the then present. This is on many levels subconscious. Our perception of a set of circumstances is guided by our own experiences. Our now is a culmination of past events, a combination of histories, some told to us, some we read, some we gather and forget.

The forming of the subconscious mind surely has a greater say in the contemporary’s makeup, not the reflection of the light of the past. It is the darkness of now and how we reflect it into the mirror we create, no matter how cracked, that allows us to disconnect from what we see. More so it is this light that we look from within that guides us to the darkness. The observation of ourselves as a being within a given circumstance is the grounding factor.

Agamben says “He (The contemporary) is able to read history in unforeseen ways” and that this is “according to a necessity that does not arise in any way from his will, but from an exigency to which he cannot not respond”. This choice of action is from my perspective problematic. We are aware of many contemporaries but there are also many who, within our realm, we are not. It seems to me the choice to be contemporary is evident if the action that makes you contemporary needs to make you known. If you pass into history in obscurity does this in fact mean you were not contemporary.


Agamben says "The contemporary is the one whose eyes are struck by the beam of darkness that comes from his own time". This darkness that he talks about reflects the contemporary's "gaze on the darkness of the epoch" a sight on the now that is seeming dark in nature. This definition of what the darkness is, speaks of the problems of an age or moment, potentially a backward nature or situation that should be remedied and can be by the presence of a contemporary. He goes further and firmly states that the role is to also "perceive in this darkness a light."

This assumption of a balance of power and a responsibility has further connotations and Agamben goes on to say that "to be contemporary is, first and foremost, a question of courage." By making this statement he is elevating the contemporary but also maybe endangering them. The fear of change is strongly represented at times of revolution and advancement throughout history. If such an advancement threatens someone's position, or seems too radical to accept, this misunderstood revelation will be seen as a threat. But is the contemporary perceiving the light in the darkness.

The relationship to darkness is awkward. Darkness as a concept is absent. An animal that is nocturnal is perceived as a danger because it lurks in the night or the shadows but the reality is they hunt at night to escape the day and those who inhabit the light.

Radical thinkers, if that is indeed how we classify the contemporary in this context, are potentially feared because they can expose the darkness of society. Are we subconsciously evolved to recognise the contemporary as a threat to our society. This indeed may be a defence mechanism and only now that society has advanced to its current state can we recognise that contemporary minds are not the result of genetic anomalies but are the product of environment and the pressures put upon them and so a reflection of its identity and a product to be explored.


Agamben quotes from biblical texts as historical references. Surely if he wants to quote from a text such as the bible the contemporariness is that of the translator and not the character in the story which he seems to take as gospel.

"(thus Adam, through whom humanity received death and sin, is a "type" or figure of the Messiah, who brings about redemption and life to men)."

This bracketed statement seems very removed from contemporariness. This is not a reflection of the light of the past more the darkness of a translated text in a presence. Is using a disputed historical text contemporary?

Discussion on "What is Contemporary" by Giorgio Agamben from the collection What is Apparatus and other Essays - Translated David Kizhik, Stefan Pedatella - Stanford, Stanford, 2009