The most powerful visual artists are illustrators, because their visuals narrate. In many ways this is more effective than writing, as visuals are a universal language. What makes illustration different from other art is that illustrators clarify rather than defuse.
If an illustration is misinterpreted, then like people who don’t get the joke to the point where they laugh, they don’t get it, because they don’t want to, rather than because it lacks clarity. Culturally symbols in pictures can also become strangely interpreted, even though visuals can be understood by most people around the world.
Judgements and deriding of illustration sometimes happens, even if it is well-loved artist. Artwork like ‘Percephlous’ can be seen as wrong by Muslim fundamentalists. But to other people a superb human rights comic. This perception is not so much about the clarity of the work so much as the judgement the artwork it is placed under.
There is a scene from ‘Percephlous’ that I feel can be easily misinterpreted in Australian society at the moment. Marj is diagnosed by psychiatrist and prescribed pills to overcome what is her suffering under the forced veil. Marj takes the pills prescribed, becomes no longer bright-eyed and expressive and starts thinking suicide. In the animated film there are cut backs to the bottle of pills and back to Marj’s chronic fatigue. She hasn’t yet taken too many, just the Doctor’s prescription. Then she decides to take more to stop that feeling. Marj’s actions are due her attempt to follow government law and trust an authority that says they will help, she forgets that that authority has called her fight sick. Marj’s way of overcoming that is by using her imagination to think of images of characters. Her thoughts go back to her childhood when she spoke to characters like God and George Washington. This reminds her what she can still have inside, even though she had to hide because of government policy. Many people just see this as a suicide scene, ‘things just getting worse for Marj despite the pills’ and miss the point that the pills are even sicker then the forced veil. Fighting by expressing what is within, without fear of being found out is the key and that’s what Marj Satrapi’s work does for people all over the world.
It is necessary for people who are in powerful positions to deride illustration, because it can talk about the stories the community want told, but those in power do not. Illustrations can be interpreted, but they are very revealing. If certain human rights violations are happening in society, crimes are being hidden, peoples are being discriminated against and society does feel it. It cannot be hidden forever, even if those illustrators working for newspapers are informed what is and is not okay with the censorship board and funding.
Michael Leunig’s anti-war cartoon, The Age refused to publish deeming it inappropriate, Thompson, Junk for code webblog,
<http://www.sauer-thompson.com/junkforcode/archi...;. February 14th 2006. Possibly just a sketch for something else that needed to be said about what happens during civil war, that was then entered in an Iranian competition, by someone pretending to be Leunig. When abusive governments use terms like ‘peace’ and ‘freedom’, they’re playing into a fearful idea, that love is hate and then people have to look beneath what is being hidden. Those who begin as swags and end as guns are bit curly and Leunig chooses topics that are that way and sometimes they don’t make immediate sense and end up causing offence to the wealthy.
Illustrators are often employed for propaganda, particularly long after their death. The etchings of Goya like, ‘The sleep of reason produces monsters,’ was used in the First World War to depict how people felt about thinking too much about what was going on between warring nations and to boost that idea of fear so that more people would put in a war effort to stop the fearful things from happening. Time allows humanity to find a scary illustration to be more acceptable and when used in propaganda it is iconic.
Many artists illustrate propaganda reluctantly, this is one way of keeping any powerful illustrator from drawing what is on their mind. Sometimes these illustrators can’t easily dismiss the problems that are being censored and hide things in symbols and humour. Some people will understand what they’re expressing subversively, others will not.
It is ridiculous to think various art forms have hierarchy. But there are reasons why art that lacks clarity and narrative and uses expensive medium, is given a higher position in society than illustration. Socialites do not want to see human rights and social justice plays, it makes them feel guilty. Then they have to donate funds or something to feel like they can make a change.
Ron Mueck’s sculptures illustrate expressions and ideas. He’s become highly regarded, beyond just realism. His models create actions and suspense and possible activity outside the character that the audience can guess at. His ‘Wild man’, looks at something on the ground that is bigger than this greatly bigger than life character. Muecks work is illustration, because it has narrative. Nudity has long been considered high art, as long as it plays in symbols that allow for various interpretations. There’s something frightening about what Mueck is saying though, I cannot however, say exactly what that is. It’s just something about what being naked does to a human being, it reveals too much and shows their raw emotions and what is not normally revealed.
Revealing ideas is important in illustration. The clay animation, ‘Mary and Max,’ made by Adam Elliot allows an entertaining narrative to reveal how people misunderstand what help means. Through amazingly intense characterisation which according to Darren Bell model maker was a massive project for Melbourne to have and a lot of fun and hard work. Funding for such films that are able to entertain because they have enough of a budget to be acceptable as high ranking film making, is not always something that can happen. But when it does a huge group of people get to work on creating a narrative, characterisation and cohesive flair. Creating a film about something such as a label given to a group of people for reasons of judgement and incarceration is a very sensitive area. Elliot does this quite well. I was surprised though how this film was reviewed, because they tended to focus on the idea of Max being an example of a person with a syndrome. But the film actually allows the audience to see why that’s sort of not an okay way to think about an individual.
Illustration is as diverse in its expression as the culture allows it to be. But even within the censors laws that restrict how symbols and ideas should and should not be depicted, what topics can be discussed and the way in which they can be expressed, illustration still has the ability to talk about the hidden, misunderstood and dangerous, in a way that is accessible and easily consumed by the public gaze.
Thompson, Junk for code webblog,
<http://www.sauer-thompson.com/junkforcode/archi...;. February 14th 2006, accessed 14/04/2010.
The Artchive, http://www.artchive.com/artchive/G/Goya_sleep_o..., accessed 14/04/2010
This article on illustration is available for purchase, for an agreed upon monetary sum in your magazine, journal, or newspaper.
Both illustrators and writers must earn an income or intelligence is lost forever, when certain companies think they can raid and loot writers to cover their crimes against humanity.