Why is an illustrator often considerd "not a real Artist"?

The title basically says it. I’ve gathered, over the years, a pretty definite impression that a visual artist who makes pictures for books and stories, is not usually thought of as "An Artist ", no matter how excellent their work may be.“That just don’t seem right” to me – illustrators are usually masters of technique at least, and I have been as deeply moved by pictures from books as by images seen in galleries and museums.

Out of all the theoretical arguments for this I can come up with, only this one is not irritatingly dependent on cultural snobbery: the idea that an artist who does pictures for a book, no matter how much talent and skill s/he puts into the work, is still drawing or painting pictures from the author’s mind and imagination, not her/his own; thus the illustrator is an extension or accessory of the real artistic effort, i.e. the written piece. That , at least,is an arguable point it seems to me .All the other reasons I can imagine seem rather elitist and high-handed to me – have I arrived at the real reason, then?

If a gallery/museum acclaimed visual artist agrees to illustrate a book – whether it’s becausae s/he digs the work and weants to collaborate or because they could use a nice check this week – does that smirch or lower their reputation and that of their previous works in the eyes of those who make that kind of call?

Because “real art” is art which is an expression of the artist’s own, what, issues? emotions? message, at any rate. Illustration is piecework; fulfilling someone else’s needs, not the artist’s.

I wonder how’s that different than any other commissioned work. Michealangelo certainly didn’t come up with any of the themes or characters he painted on the Sistine Chapel. Moreover, he took money for it and depended on his benefactor’s nod of approval, the whore.

Don’t mind me, though, I think all visual art from the past century or more is utter crap.

You can’t really use Michelangelo as a representative example. I mean, he was fucking Michelangelo. Some artists transcend their medium; most do not.

In general nobody gives a shit about illustration as opposed to painting. Painting is always seen as the higher-class, more impressive medium. Line drawing, even if it’s really detailed and depicts interesting and creative things, doesn’t get any respect. I don’t know why this is, but it is. This is why “underground comics” are underground - the people who draw them are amazing artists but nobody gives a shit about line drawing with pen and ink or pencils. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because pens and pencils are commonplace items that everyone uses, whereas paint is something that only PAINTERS use, and so a piece of artwork done in pen or pencil is seen as inferior.

At least that’s the impression I’m getting from this thread. I posted some of my drawings in there - post number seven. Nobody said anything about them - they just went by unnoticed. They’re good fucking drawings. But apparently not as interesting as all the painting and computer-art.

In other words I guess that would mean that Michelangelo is the exception that proves the rule. I don’t really like arguments that rest on an exception proving the rule. However, lissener, you have provided one of the best definitions of art that I’ve ever heard before. In fact I think the topic deserves its own thread. Someone should start one.


  1. My posted pieces received very little response too.

  2. We’re not always the best judge of our own work.

By that definition, the guys in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra are not real musicians because they’re just playing some shit that some old dead guy wrote, instead of expressing their own feelings.

Um, no. Very few things are 1:1 applicable across all analogs.

Actually, I think that your theory is a pretty good one, now that I think about it.

Who outside of the comic-book-fan community gives a shit about the artists who draw comic books? Nobody.

Who outside of (any random community) give a shit about the artists who (are not members of that community)? Nobody.

Actually, I think visual art in general is very unpopular right now. Music and film - those are the big, money-making forms of media entertainment. When it comes to visual art, whether it’s painting, drawing, sculpting, or anything else, do you think the average American can even name more than one visual artist who is currently working? If you asked an average person on the street “who’s your favorite contemporary painter?” he probably wouldn’t even have an answer.


Anyhow, as to the OP, there tends to be a distinction made (for right or wrong) between commercial arts and fine arts, which would be the difference between artist and Artist(e). The distinction is somewhat unfair, but it’s the difference between an artist creating something for its own purpose (art for art’s sake) versus a practical purpose (utilitarian art/commercial purposes/etc.) There are those that argue that art with a functional or practical use (like, say, decorative arts) is not Art.

Film isn’t visual art? :confused:

I think you know what I’m trying to say.

A sculpture, painting, drawing or photograph is ONLY visual. A movie is visual, but with the sound turned off, not worth a damn unless it’s a silent film or has unusually interesting cinematography and even in the latter case you’re missing the whole story.

Well, I guess I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t look at it that way. As a photographer, I look for inspiration in all visual arts, and film is most certainly a visual art for me, as are corporate logos, as is typography, as are decorative arts. I can find inspiration in a Paul Rand logo, a Tiffany lamp, a Michel Gondry video, an Emigre font. I’d argue that film is primarily a visual art.

Okay. Well let me change the wording then.

Film and music are popular right now. Painting, line drawing, block prints, sculpture, wood carving, scrimshaw, engraving, calligraphy, and anything else that is not film or music, is not popular right now.

Is that true if I write the story too? Because a lot of illustrators are writers as well.

William Blake would be a great example.

Do pardon me if I’m revealing my ignorance here, but haven’t the vast majority of well-known painters worked on commission at least half the time, and aren’t some of the world’s best-known paintings and sculptures essentially commission pieces, ranging from The Last Supper to Guernica?