When a person I don’t know finds out that I draw and paint, the comment is always there: “So you are an artist!”
“No”, I always correct them. “Not an artist. An illustrator”. But what’s the difference?
This is one of those subtle things that may make sense only to me. I will try to explain what I mean.
Let’s start with ancient art. Rock carvings, Greek statues, Roman mosaics, Byzantine paintings… Almost any piece of art before 19th century is supposed to represent a real thing, person or situation. Choose your technique, your medium, your style, but you always find something real or realistic. Even the mythological beasts, the dragons, the deities, they are always based on people or existing animals. “Ancient” art (I use this term very broadly) is all about illustration. Figurative art, anyone?
Then, things began to change. Photograph was introduced, and paintings that reproduced reality were no longer required. Figurative arts began to switch towards the imaginative world, the ideas, the concepts. Expressionism, cubism, dada… an uninterrupted slide towards the mind instead of the world. As Renaissance gave us Humanism, the centering of all things around the Man, so the modern era gave us Mindism. The interior world has never been so praised. I prefer to call this period’s art “imaginative” instead of “figurative”.
No need to hide it: I don’t like the modern approach to art. The “meaning” of the work of art slowly surpassed the form of it. Now you don’t need years of training with oil colors: it’s enough to have a concept, and then you can use anything to realize it: pasting brushes to a canvas, piling random objects, breaking a glass pane… you can imagine it, you can do it. Nothing is forbidden in art. It seems to me that effort and improving are no more needed; that is enough to do something original and shocking, and then work some philosophical explanation. I broke a glass pane? That’s because I wanted to represent the shattering of our image in the modern world and so on. If you are good enough with words, you can find meaning and symbolism in anything.
I don’t want to put meaning and symbolism in what I do. I just want to tell stories, represent an event, make portraits of people I like. I want to improve my techniques, learn how to manage watercolors, refine my control over acrylics. I want to do figurative art, that unfortunately is no longer called art. Now it is illustration.