My preoccupations this week:
I recently started helping a friend teach figure drawing to her class, reaching into my fashion illustration skills from fashion school. The experience has been a refresher and I revisited the notion of extracting from that knowledge base and applying to my current art practice. One of the things on my to do list has been to construct a visual record the current political environment, and with a Senate hearing last week, I was taken back to another contentious, blood curdling one of some months ago—that of a new Supreme Court justice. So, I decided to depict an image from the protests that were taking place in DC at the time . The results, I thought, were underwhelming (but not distressing, like the fact).
My ambiguity about this image surfaces from, I think, the dilemma between “art” and “illustration” and the associated hierarchy within the art world. I looked for solace, and explanation in Nell Painter’s book, Old in Art School. She narrates an experience of wanting to paint her friends as subject matter (an impulse I share, often) but was told by her instructor, simply, “no.” Here is an excerpt of her working through the dilemma:
Teacher Stephen’s objection, I ultimately figured out, echoed The Art World’s prejudice against “illustration” as opposed to “art.” Illustration to make a point, illustration for pay, illustration as following someone else’s direction—someone with money—illustration as mere design, illustration as hack work, not fine art. In The Art World, illustration is inferior to art on account of serving an end that is not art. Illustration serves subject matter, in my case, my intention to depict my friends. Illustration belongs to the verbal world of meaning, serving verbal meaning’s purpose, whereas painting comes from the “context of art” (77,78).
That helps me define my discomfort and that’s where I plan to marinate for sometime. In “the context of art.” I think, like Painter, I will look for resolution in craftsmanship and technique, readily available through transcription, although I haven’t figured out which paintings to transcribe yet!