Van Gogh and Britain

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Self-Portrait, 1889

Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) is one of the most famous names in the western art world. Everyone knows of the mentally unstable man who chopped his ear off before eventually committing suicide in 1890. His bright-coloured, swirly-lined paintings can be recognised by the majority of people and his Sunflowers are famous throughout the world. Yet, do we really know who Van Gogh was? Do we know his hopes and dreams, his likes and dislikes, or the inspiration for his artwork? Did you know, Van Gogh was only a painter for the last ten years of his life? What, therefore, was he doing before then? Did you know he spent three years living in Britain? Tate Britain comes to the rescue with their latest EY exhibition Van Gogh and Britain in which they explore his love of British culture and the impact it had on the style and subject matter of his art.

“How I love London.”
– Vincent van Gogh, 1875

The exhibition is curated in two parts; the first examines Van Gogh’s experience in London, his love of art and literature, and his journey to becoming an artist. The latter half focuses on the impact Van Gogh has had on British artists, particularly in the period between his death (1890) and the 1950s. Those who think they know Van Gogh have the veil lifted from their eyes as they view drawings and paintings that are rarely shown to the public.

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on 30th March 1853 in Groot-Zundert in the southern Netherlands. He was the eldest surviving son of Theodorus van Gogh, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, and Anna Cornelia Carbentus. Their first child, also named Vincent, was stillborn, however, the couple soon found themselves with a large family: Vincent, Theo (1857-91), Cor, Elisabeth, Anna and Willemina “Wil” (1862-1941).

Initially homeschooled, Van Gogh’s interest in art was encouraged by his mother from a young age. During his time at middle school, he was taught by the Dutch artist Constant Cornelis Huijsmans (1810-86), however, Van Gogh was deeply unhappy at the school and learnt little from his teacher. He later described his childhood as “austere and cold, and sterile.”

In July 1869, Van Gogh’s uncle got him a position with the art dealers Goupil & Cie in The Hague. After a few years of training, he was transferred to Goupil’s London branch at Southampton Street, which is where the exhibition’s story begins. Theo van Gogh believed this first year in London was Vincent’s happiest; that is until he fell in love with the unavailable Eugénie Loyer, the daughter of his landlady.

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L’Arlésienne, 1890.

The exhibition opens with Van Gogh’s L’Arlésienne (1890), a portrait of his friend Marie Ginoux who ran the train station café in Arles, France. Situated on a tabletop in front of her are two books: Contes de Noël (Christmas Books) by Charles Dickens (1812-70) and La Case de L’Oncle Tom (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96). These books were not in situ when Van Gogh painted the portrait but added purely because they were two of his favourite books.

In the same room as L’Arlésienne are a number of books by British authors that Van Gogh enjoyed. Amongst them are the works of Dickens, George Eliot (1819-80), Christina Rossetti (1830-94) and William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Unbeknownst to many, Van Gogh could speak in four languages, including English, and thus enjoyed reading English literature during his stay in London. Many of these books, particularly those by Dickens were an inspiration to him for the rest of his life.

“Reading books is like looking at paintings … one must find beautiful that which is beautiful.”
– Vincent van Gogh in a letter to Theo

From the age of twenty until twenty-two, Van Gogh worked in the Goupil offices near Covent Garden. He spent his days travelling to and from work via boat, underground and on foot. During this time, he witnessed the hardship of the working class and became concerned about their welfare. He also developed an interest in popular religion and, after he was dismissed from his job, tried out careers as a teacher and preacher in Kent and west London.

During his time as an art dealer, Van Gogh came across a number of works that stuck with him for the rest of his life. One of the most impactful was the book London: A Pilgrimage by William Blanchard Jerrold (1826-84), which contained 180 engravings by Gustave Doré. During his lifetime, Van Gogh collected seventeen prints of these engravings, which are on display in the exhibition.

Whilst in London, Van Gogh took the opportunity to visit museums, galleries and art dealer’s rooms where he discovered and was inspired by a number of paintings. Van Gogh became a fan of the Pre-Raphaelites and treasured the memory of bumping into John Everett Millais (1829-96) on the street. Van Gogh particularly admired Millais’ painting Chill October (1870).

I keep thinking about some English paintings.
– Vincent van Gogh, 1884

After both Van Gogh’s career attempts at teaching and preaching failed, his brother Theo suggested that he take up art. Turning to the paintings he saw in London for inspiration, Van Gogh began producing his own works. Some of these replicated the nature scenes he witnessed in Britain, for example, Autumn Landscape (1885), which he painted while living in the Netherlands. The following year, he moved to Paris where he painted The Bois de Boulogne with People Walking (1886), whose style was influenced by the French impressionist painters. The thickness of the paint is also an indication of the route that would lead to Van Gogh’s mature style of art.

“When I was in London, how often I would stand on the Thames Embankment and draw as I made my way home from Southampton Street in the evening.”
– Vincent van Gogh, 1883

Of course, an exhibition about Van Gogh cannot exist without at least a handful of his well-known works. The first visitors come across is one of Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night canvases, which he painted after he moved to Provence in 1888. Whilst this shows the view of Arles across the River Rhône, Van Gogh was inspired by the River Thames in London, which was also lit up with a combination of artificial and natural light (moon and stars).

Van Gogh was also inspired by the black and white prints he encountered during his brief career in London. Doré’s work was one source of inspiration but Van Gogh also admired the illustrations in Charles Dickens’ books, which he felt complemented the stories. During his lifetime, Van Gogh collected over 2000 prints and it is from these that he taught himself to draw.

In 1882, Van Gogh’s uncle commissioned him to produce twelve views of The Hague. Whilst Van Gogh completed the request, his uncle was unimpressed with his nephew’s ‘resolute honesty’ of Doré’s style and was probably expecting something more picturesque. One of these paintings, Carpenter’s Yard and Laundry (1882) is on display and, if it were not for the accompanying label, could easily be dismissed as someone else’s work.

As well as illustrations in Victorian novels, Van Gogh admired the wood engravings of urban life in the social reforming newspaper The Graphic. Although he did not create many prints himself, it is evident that his graphite drawings are an attempt to replicate the line work in engravings. Van Gogh studied these black and white works and often produced portraits of people in a similar style, which he occasionally developed into full coloured paintings at a later date. One example is the etching of his doctor Paul Ferdinand Gachet. This was produced in 1890 not long before Van Gogh shot himself in the chest, which goes to show that these types of illustrations stayed with him for the rest of his life.

Whilst living in The Hague in 1882, Van Gogh aimed to draw full-figure portraits of the working class members he met in the street. His pictures of older men, for instance, Old Man Drinking Coffee (1882), were posed for by war veterans.

“I met a pregnant woman … who roamed the streets in winter – who had to earn her bread, you can imagine how. I took that woman as a model and worked with her the whole winter.”
– Vincent Van Gogh, 1882

The woman Van Gogh met was Sien Hoornik (1850-1904) and appears in a number of his sketches: Mourning Woman Seated on a Basket (1883) and Woman Seated (1882). Hoornik and her children lived with Van Gogh for a few months whilst he used her as a model. His relationship with Hoornik was platonic but it gave Van Gogh the experience of a domestic family home, however, he was soon urged by his brother Theo to move to another city to concentrate on other artwork.

Van Gogh’s favourite novels continued to play a role in his artwork. Although the title cannot be seen, Van Gogh drew war veteran Cornelis Schuitemaker with a book in Man Reading at the Fireside (1881). Other drawings of war veterans, such as Adrianus Zuyderland in At Eternity’s Gate, were influenced by illustrations in books such as Dickens’ Hard Times. This particular drawing was reworked as a painting in Van Gogh’s mature style in the final year of his life. In Sorrowing Old Man, the man represents Van Gogh who often sat with his head in his hands when he was unwell.

Van Gogh’s love of Doré also lasted until his final days. In 1890, Van Gogh painted The Prison Courtyard as a “translation” of Doré’s Exercise Yard at Newgate Prison (1872) originally published in London: A Pilgrimage. Although the scene is almost exactly the same in Van Gogh’s painted version, he painted it as a response to the way he felt when residing at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy, where he had admitted himself due to his declining mental health. When writing about his life in hospital, Van Gogh said, “The prison was crushing me, and père Peyron [his doctor] didn’t pay the slightest attention to it.” He felt trapped, just like the prisoners in Newgate Prison.

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Self-Portrait with Felt Hat – Van Gogh, 1887

It is largely thanks to his brother Theo that Van Gogh developed into the painter he is remembered for today. At the age of 32, Van Gogh left the Netherlands for good and joined his brother in Paris. Theo was an art dealer, a more successful one than Vincent had been, and was able to introduce his brother to a number of artists. Some of these came from Britain and are included in the exhibition.

One particular artist became a close friend of Van Gogh during his time in Paris. Described as a neo-impressionist artist, Lucien Pissarro (1863-1944), the eldest son of Camille Pissarro (1830–1903), was experimenting with dots and dabs of contrasting colour in his paintings. Van Gogh came across a painting by Pissarro at the Salon des Indépendants annual art exhibition and was inspired by the technique.

Rather than replicate Pissarro’s technique, Van Gogh adopted the idea and made it his own. Whereas Pissarro’s dots and dabs were small and indistinct, Van Gogh went for bolder, more rapid strokes with a more noticeable contrast of colour. This was the beginning of the style of Van Gogh’s art that is famous today, yet, he only began working in this method during the final years of his life.

In the same way that he was inspired by Pissarro, other artists were in turn influenced by Van Gogh. Upcoming artists admired the use of colour and directional strokes of paint. Those who had never met Van Gogh in person began experimenting with his colourful technique. Even Pissarro was inspired by Van Gogh, despite having directed his artistic path in the first place.

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Vincent van Gogh in conversation – Pissarro, 1888

Van Gogh and Pissarro found they had a lot in common, for instance, they had both spent time working in Britain. They shared similar opinions about social ideals and were enthusiastic about the development of modern painting. During one of their meetings, Pissarro produced a sketch of Van Gogh in conversation with his brother Theo. This is the only known image of the brothers together.

As is the way with many famous names, Van Gogh only became well-known after his death. It was not until after twenty years had passed that Van Gogh was introduced to the British public. In 1910, organised by the critic Roger Fry (1866-1934) at London’s Grafton Galleries, the exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists displayed examples of Van Gogh’s work. It was also the first time the term “post-impressionist” had been used to describe artists of this nature. Others included Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859-91) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), all of whom were dead by then.

The artworks initially shocked people who were unfamiliar with the development of modern styles. Nonetheless, the exhibition attracted over 25,000 visitors and was a turning point in British culture. Many were influenced by the works they saw, including the sisters Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) and Vanessa Bell (1879-1961).

“A toi, Van Gogh!” – Harold Gilman

The exhibition includes a number of British artists who were influenced by Van Gogh’s work. One, in particular, was Harold Gilman (1876-1919) who was a founder-member of the Camden Town Group. He adapted Van Gogh’s colours, angles and distinct brushstrokes in his own work. Reportedly, Gilman kept a print of a Van Gogh self-portrait next to his easel and, before painting, would salute the portrait and declare, “A toi, Van Gogh!” (Cheers, Van Gogh)

Another member of the Camden Town Group, Spencer Gore (1878-1914), was equally impressed with Van Gogh’s work. He was particularly inspired by Van Gogh’s Yellow House (not shown in the exhibition). When staying with Gilman in 1912, Gore painted his friend’s house in a similar manner.

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Sunflowers – Van Gogh, 1888

Of course, the paintings that Van Gogh is remembered for most are his Sunflowers of which he produced several versions. Van Gogh initially painted these flowers to decorate the walls of his house in Arles, South France. They first came to London in 1910 for Roger Fry’s major exhibition followed by another in 1923.

After Van Gogh’s death and his brother’s six months later, his sister-in-law Johanna van Gogh-Bonger (1862-25) inherited all of Van Gogh’s paintings. So easily could Vincent’s paintings have been discarded at this point, however, knowing how much Vincent meant to Theo, Johanna was determined to promote his reputation. In 1924, she sold Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1888) to the National Gallery, Millbank (now Tate), stating, “… he himself, le ‘Peintre des Tournesoles’ [the ‘Painter of Sunflowers’], would have liked it to be there … It is a sacrifice for the sake of Vincent’s glory.” The painting was subsequently transferred to the National Gallery in 1961 where it has remained until now – this is the first time it has returned to Tate Britain.

“Modern European art has always mistreated flowers, dealing with them at best as aids to sentimentality until Van Gogh saw … the arrogant spirit that inhabits the sunflower.
– Art critic Roger Fry, 1910

Whilst some artists were inspired by Van Gogh’s style, his Sunflowers sparked a revival of flower painting. Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956), for example, produced his own Sunflowers after seeing Van Gogh’s work exhibited in Paris in 1895. Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), who was primarily a sculptor, took up flower painting later in life, trying to replicate the energy of Van Gogh’s brushwork and colour.

William Nicholson (1872-1949) was another British artist who produced Sunflowers in response to seeing Van Gogh’s version at the Tate Gallery. His style, however, differs slightly to the Dutch artist. Christopher Wood (1901-30), however, whilst inspired by Van Gogh’s work, chose to paint Yellow Chrysantheums (1925) instead. “I mean to paint my things in compositions of not more than three, often only two colours. I still admire Van Gogh tremendously.”

Between the two World Wars, Van Gogh’s reputation in Britain continued to rise after the publication of two biographies and a book of his letters. Artists continued to follow in his footsteps, experimenting with style and composition in the same manner as their hero.

“The drama of the man was predicted in his pictures… We race along with him, breathless – whither? No matter, for we follow a man, a hero, perhaps the last!”
– Julius Meier-Graefe in Vincent van Gogh, 1922

During the 1920s, Van Gogh’s work became collectors’ items and many galleries began to acquire them. Some were bought by other artists and remained in private collections until the owners’ deaths. One of these artists, Matthew Smith (1879-1959) not only purchased a painting by Van Gogh but also visited the areas Van Gogh had lived and worked, producing his own paintings of the landscapes.

After the second world war, Van Gogh continued to be celebrated in Britain with books, films and exhibitions, including the last Van Gogh exhibition to take place at Tate, in 1947. Viewed as a tragic and alienated artist, citizens were able to relate to Van Gogh as they came to terms with the aftermath of war.

Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh IV 1957 by Francis Bacon 1909-1992

Study for Portrait of Van Gogh IV – Francis Bacon, 1957

Today, as this exhibition proves, Van Gogh is celebrated for far more than his tragic story. By the 1950s, Vincent van Gogh was a household name and was continuing to inspire artists. The final paintings in the exhibition are by Francis Bacon (1902-92) who considered Van Gogh to be one of his greatest heroes. His brushwork was influenced by Van Gogh’s heavy use of paint during his mature years.

After reading some of Van Gogh’s letters, which had been published sometime after World War One, Bacon began to think of the artist as someone who was always on the road, travelling from place to place. In response to this, Bacon produced a series of artworks containing the figure of Van Gogh walking to an unknown destination.

Before visiting the exhibition, it is difficult to predict what Van Gogh and Britain will entail. Most people’s experience of Van Gogh is the handful of paintings in the National Gallery and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Whilst these galleries allow people to view the famous paintings or, in the case of the latter, tell his story from birth to death, they fail to examine the artist’s thoughts, inspiration and outcomes in the way Tate Britain has done. Rather than concentrating on Van Gogh’s mental health and tragic death, the exhibition takes a look at three years of his life in Britain and the impact it had on his consequent art career.

People often lament “If only Van Gogh had known how famous he would be …” but it is not just his worldwide fame that is important, it is the influence he had on so many artists during the first half of the twentieth century. Van Gogh did not belong to a particular group of artists with rules and beliefs, he was a private painter, often hidden away from the public eye, and yet he touched so many people’s hearts and minds.

Van Gogh and Britain brings together 50 works by Vincent van Gogh and a large number of paintings by those whose lives he touched, the majority from beyond the grave. This is the opportunity to see some of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings but also to discover some of his lesser-known underappreciated artworks. Although everyone has now heard of Van Gogh, this exhibition is guaranteed to increase people’s respect for the “tragic artist”.

The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain is open until 11th August 2019. Ticket prices are £22 for adults and £5 for 12-18-year-olds. Tate Members, as always, can visit for free.

The Pros and Cons of Digital Technology in Relation to Illustration

The following essay was originally written in 2011 during my second year studying BA Graphic Design.

This essay will talk about the development of technology from the 15th century until the digital technology of today. It will also explore in detail the effects, both positive and negative, of digital technology in relation to illustration.

Over thousands of years the idea of what illustration is has changed, especially in recent years. Illustration most likely began with someone drawing in the dirt with their finger however now illustrations are being produced for book covers, magazines, posters, websites, and so on. (Zeegen, 2009)

Over the past six or so centuries, technology has developed in ways that have changed the process of producing written and illustrative work. “It is hard to imagine a world in which every image was unique. Prior to the fifteenth century, images were not only-one-of-a-kind but rare.” (Thompson, 2003) [Online] Before the fifteenth century, all illustrated books were produced by hand, making them also very rare. (Mugnai, 2009a) This would have taken time meaning that books and illustrations would have been expensive due to the limited amounts of copies. So at this time copies of books or even the originals would have been found in select places of status such as palaces and churches. (Thompson, 2003)

During the 1400s the printing press was developed by Johannes Guttenberg resulting in the ability to reproduce thousands of identical images. However it was possible to reproduce images before this. In Europe in the 1390s woodcuts were used which then led onto etching and engraving in the middle ages. Some examples of etching are the illustrations by H.K. Browne for Charles Dickens’ novels. (Fig. 1) By the nineteenth century artists were finding ways to add colour into their prints. Books were now becoming easier and quicker to produce and hence costs were reduced rapidly. (Kreis, 2004) This also meant that individual people could then own a copy of a book rather than having to go to other places to look at or be read to from one.

Once methods of printing had been invented there were less hand-drawn books being produced. By the end of the 18th century lithography was invented but this was soon replaced by the end of the 19th century with “photomechanical processes that made possible the reproduction of a wide variety of painting and drawing techniques.” (Columbia University Press, 2007) [Online] The 19th century saw the development of the Golden Age of the Victorian Illustration and also the beginning of the Golden Age of Illustration in America. This period saw a rise in printed book and magazine illustration due to the developments in printing technology. Illustrators from this time were inspired by pre-Raphaelite art, Japanese colour prints and art nouveau style. (Wigan, 2009)

After the two world wars illustration styles changed as illustrators were influenced by the different artistic movements of the time, such as, Pop Art and Photorealism. (Mugnai, 2009c)

In the world today methods of illustration are completely different to those of the past. Bruce Wands suggests, “Computers and the Internet have revolutionized the way people communicate and how they produce media” (Wands, 2000:p40). Styles of illustration have changed to fit the growing developments, such as more visual content is needed on websites and blogs therefore digital approaches to illustrations have increased. (Tallon, 2008)

Picasso once said, “computers are worthless. They can only give you answers.” (Zeegen, 2007b:p41) However as Picasso died in 1973 he was not alive to see the development of digital illustration. In recent years the computer has provided illustrators with an additional means in the process of creating their work.

Digital technology was the next step for illustration and has altered the nature of the discipline. “The digital revolution would take no prisoners – it was clear, adapt or die!” (Computer Arts, 2006) [Online] It was in the early 1980s that the computer began to be used for illustration. At this time computer screens could not display extensive colours and everything was displayed in a low resolution. Therefore Pixel illustration, “is arguably where the whole digital illustration shebang began” (Goldman, 2011) [Online]

Although Goldman argues that digital illustration began in the 80s he also mentions that a different kind of illustration emerged in the 1990s. Adobe Photoshop fully emerged at the beginning of the decade but in 1995 once the software had been developed “digital photo illustration was born.” (Goldman, 2011) [Online]

Soon, although there were illustrators who still preferred to produce their work by hand, less hand drawn illustrations were being used in magazines or on book covers and “images composed of squiggles and geometric shapes, courtesy of Adobe and Apple” (Stermer,2000:p30) began to appear instead.

The invention of programmes such as Photoshop meant that illustrators could edit their work digitally. For example, as Wands pointed out, illustrators could now work purely in black and white then scan their work into a computer and using digital software manipulate elements and apply colour on screen. This meant that artists no longer had to spend hours producing everything by hand and starting again when corrections were required. As well as Photoshop there was Adobe Illustrator, which allowed artists to create illustrations and enlarge them to any size due to the flexibility of such vector software. (Wands, 2000)

Photoshop and other software in theory offer more savings in relation to production. Today many comic book artists draw their work by hand but choose to add colour using digital software. In Goldman’s article he mentions another specialised software, Corel Painter. In similar ways to Photoshop this programme can be used to edit illustrations and photographs or create illustrations from scratch, however in a way that can imitate “the way that watercolour Paints behave when wet, with drips, runs and splashes.” (Goldman, 2011) [Online] This software is time saving as it is possible to produce something comparatively quickly with it, whereas to do the same by hand, for many people, would take a long time as the artist or illustrator may not have skills in a range of media and digital simulation may offer an alternative solution.

Digital technology has given those that are not confident at drawing by hand the opportunity to become illustrators. Computers have opened up new styles of illustration such as Pixel Illustration, as mentioned earlier, and Vector Art. Vector Art is an appropriate type of illustration to be used on websites as files are small in size whilst retaining clarity and are quick to download. Vector illustrations can also be reproduced at any scale without losing clarity and sharpness. Artists usually use photos or hand drawn materials as a template to draw around using digital software. (Goldman, 2011)

However, even though digital technology has become popular in relation to illustration, this does not mean that all illustration has to be entirely digital. Since the development of digital technology there has been a rise in multimedia art. This is where more than one type of media is used within an artwork for example painting, print and photography, and now more recently, digital images. This style of art was fairly popular in the 1990s where technological advancements were giving illustrators and designers new methods to experiment with. (Mèredieu, 2003)

Dave McKean is an example of an illustrator that uses a multimedia approach in his work. He has made many illustrations for book covers, CD covers and graphic novels. He has become widely known for his work with the writer, Neil Gaiman. McKean uses the computer to layer his multimedia compositions, a lot of which are often made by hand. He has a fairly positive opinion about the use of digital technology when producing illustrations. He has suggested that with a computer there is “obviously incredible control” (Miller, 2004) [Online] and it is a good way of layering images no matter what the media; digital or handmade work. McKean is a skilled draughtsman so combines traditional practices with the flexibility offered by digital software. (Fig.2)

His main negative view of digital technology is not one that really relates to illustration work but only that people end up spending most of their time sitting in front of a computer. He also says that many people assume that it is possible to use digital software to edit photographs to get the required affect, however depending on the image this is not always possible.

Despite McKean having positive views on digital technology he believes that illustration is in trouble. “I’m sure this is just the computer’s honeymoon period, but in the meantime, illustrators are having a tough time getting work.” (Miller, 2004) [Online]

Although digital technology has its positive aspects there are other people who have negative views on such developments. Roger Parker believes “recent advances in computer imaging are blurring the line between photos and illustrations”. (Parker, 1998:p93) Caplin and Banks tell us to “forget the ‘photograph’. Nowadays it is just another word for an image. All images are images, however they are produced.” (2003:p6) Françoise Holtz-Bonneau points out that digital images produced on a computer are either overly geometric or they are “excessively realistic in an all too perfect way”. (Mèredieu, 2003:p109) Rick Poynor argues that illustration generated using a computer has become “predictable and trite”. (1999) [Online] Many people have learnt how to use digital methods to produce illustrations, which after a while have become similar and clichéd.

As now it is not essential to be able to draw to be able to produce illustrations, Milton Glaser argues that the invention of computers has made illustrators unnecessary. (Arisman, 2000) If people can produce their own illustrations easily then they will not need to hire illustrators to do this for them. Karl Marx predicted a society where there would not be any professional artists as all people would be artists. “The particular way in which art is expanding and becoming diluted at present” would not please Marx, however he did foresee the possibility of these things occurring such as the blurring of the boundaries of the disciplines. (Mèredieu, 2003:p222)

“Anyone with a computer and a printer now has an artist’s studio, photography studio, film studio, printing press, and laboratory on their desk.” (Herriott, 2009:p6) Although this was said as a positive response to the advancements of technology, it backs up Marx’s view that it is possible that all men will be artists. Everyone will have access to technology that gives them the ability to make their own illustrations, which “makes illustrators unnecessary”. (Arisman, 2000:p55)

Neil Churcher writes about Marion Deuchars, a tutor from the Royal College of Art, in an article saying that she believes that drawing by hand, for example into a sketchbook, shows that the illustrator has design skills. However she thinks that computer aided design has lessened this importance as now it appears the most important thing is digital visualisation. Churcher refers to the graphic designer, Phil Carter, who says that “drawing is a skill that is sadly being lost”. (Churcher, 2002) [Online]

Steven Heller writes in his essay, The End of Illustration, that people are digitally changing aspects of others art works without their permission. (Heller, 2000) Therefore some artists have “willingly offered their pictures, carefully crafted over a career of individual commissions, to be used and misused… altered beyond recognition on attribution.” (Stermer, 2000:p30)

Milton Glaser has written about how he was once approached about a business plan, which would involve compiling a disk of illustrations that people could buy and use as they wished. So someone could buy the disk and then “use any image, for any purpose, modified as desired, combined with any other images, recoloured, reshaped, reconfigured… forever.” Illustrations, therefore, would no longer be unique. (Glaser, 1997:p258)

Glaser fears that the profession of illustration will eventually disappear especially if business plans such as these go ahead and succeed. If people are able to get their hands on such disks then the professional illustrator would no longer be needed or even wanted because, as Glaser points out, it is doubtful that clients will want to pay for illustrations when something similar could be acquired for nothing. For persisting image-makers, such as illustrators, artists and photographers, there is the risk they will not be well known, as they will just be “reduced to the level of anonymous image providers.” (Glaser, 1997:p259) If a disk such as this had ever been produced then illustrations would have become standard images that would get overused and boring. On the other hand, because of the overuse of the same illustrations again and again, people may desire new original visual approaches.

Traditionally a work of art was a unique thing as it was made only the once; there was only one copy. Nevertheless, once technology began to develop it was possible to make copies of these unique art works. The copy, however, would “lack the authenticity and aura of the original work, so be worthless.” (Hillis Miller, 1992:p20)

“That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.” (Benjamin, 1936) [Online] Walter Benjamin wrote an essay in which he suggested the idea of aura in relation to artwork and the effect that mechanical reproduction had on this. By reproducing a work of art, for example, it is removing the original from its “domain of tradition”. (Benjamin, 1936) [Online] So even if the reproduction of the artwork is faultless, it is still lacking in something: “its presence in time and space”. (Benjamin, 1936) [Online] The work of art has been removed out of its original context. For example a religious painting would have an aura in the museum or church in which it is displayed, but this aura would be destroyed if it were to be used as a magazine cover as it has been removed from its original domain. Technology has also changed peoples reaction towards hand produced art because original artwork, such as a painting, was only “viewed by one person or by a few” (Benjamin, 1936) [Online] and its aura could only be appreciated by these people. However, once copies could be produced, these art works, now lacking in aura, were viewable by the public who would not value them in the same way as someone who viewed them in their original domain.

This essay was written before the digital technologies of today, as the first computers did not appear until the 1940s (Mèredieu, 2003). However Benjamin’s argument is still relevant today because it can be applied to digital technologies.

The idea of a loss of aura is evident in “photographs of photographs, photocopies of photocopies, and copies of video tapes” (Mitchell, 2004:p5) where each copy has a lower quality than the original. Matt Soar mentioned this idea of an aura: “that illustration beginning with the hand and ending with pens, brushes, or pencils has an affective quality – an aura”. (Soar, 2000:p33) He says that this quality cannot be created by digital processes such as photography and computer software.

Another example of this lack of aura are photographs of things. A photograph of an object is just that, a photograph of an object. By looking at it no one actually sees the original object, what is actually seen is “the original of a reproduction – with all the associated loss of aura.” (Rodman, 2007) [Online] Howard Rodman uses as an example the Eiffel Tower. The actual tower has an aura whereas the postcards, t-shirts and other merchandises do not have this aura.

Lucinda Rogers is an illustrator who produces everything by hand. This consists of mainly reportage drawing which involves her drawing on the spot. Deuchars says that when drawing no one can tell what the final outcome will be like, or whether it will be good, until it is finished. “You have to let it go on its own journey. What you have to do is to start without thinking.” (Churcher, 2002) [Online] With digital technology this is not possible in the same way.

Although many believe digital technology to have caused problems for illustrators and maybe even the end of illustration, Zeegen writes that before digital illustration grew in popularity, illustration was “only moments away from the final nail being hammered into the coffin.” (2010) [Online] Whereas some illustrators believed that all was not well for illustration, Zeegen (2007a) [Online] poses the question “Where did it all go right?” Therefore, digital technology has for some brought new life into the discipline, especially, as Zeegen also points out, through the growth of the Internet where “illustration has become more noticed on an increasingly global scale”. (Zeegen, 2010) [Online]

Overall there are many different opinions about digital technology and its effect on illustration. A Scottish illustrator, Bernie Reid assumes that digital illustration will begin to decline, whereas Michelle Thompson has expressed the view that she believes that both hand-rendered and digital illustration can both exist together especially as image-makers are benefitting from digital techniques within their hand produced illustrations. Peter Arkle, another illustrator, feels that there should be a growing interest in work that shows evidence of being produced by a human hand even if some of the illustration is digital as it really stands out. (Hyland and Bell, 2003)

Although digital technology may be an exciting new method and has made it easier and quicker to produce illustrations, Steven Wilson, who has done illustrations for The Guardian argues that it is “only as exciting as the ideas you have inside your head”. (Computer Arts, 2006) [Online] So illustrators are still needed to come up with the ideas for illustrations. Emily Alston, who uses digital methods, points out that “every illustrator and designer has the very same technology available to them, and if everyone uses the tools in the same way, nothing would ever stand out as different or original.” (Computer Arts, 2006) [Online]

Caplin and Banks believe that digital technology is a positive thing due to the fact that designs and illustrations can be produced faster than by hand but also they point out that “from cave painting on, image making has followed technological advancements and will continue to do so.” (2003:p7) So just as with development of the printing press, lithography and so on, digital technology is simply the next advancement of an ancient and continually evolving process.

On the whole digital technology has had a positive effect on illustration as it has brought new opportunities and methods to the field. With the development of technology, illustrations have become quicker to produce both from the reproduction point of view, with the development of the printing press and later computers; and also in producing the original image, thanks to digital software. There are, on the other hand, negative view points about digital technology as some artists fear that the more traditional methods will be abandoned and that the profession of illustrators will slowly decline because of the ability of everyone being able to produce or copy others work using software available to all. Overall, every time that technology advances, illustration is able to adapt to the new methods of producing, whilst still being able to integrate traditional methods. Therefore, digital technology is the next step in the continually evolving creative activity known as illustration.

6

Fig. 1

Browne, H. (1849) My Musical Breakfast [Online]. Available from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/4/4f/Pickwick_papers27.jpg/220px-Pickwick_papers27.jpg [Accessed: 16th November 2011]

1

Fig. 2

McKean, D. (2008) Big Fat Duck Cookbook Sample 8 [Online]. Available from http://www.mckean-art.co.uk/ [Accessed: 16th November 2011]

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