February 01, 2004

Illustration and Politics

WSJ.com - Just Where Does An Illustrator Draw the Line?

This posits -- and sadly comes to a poor and un-well-thought-out conclusion -- an interesting dilemna that I've had to deal with as an illustrator from time to time. It's a basic question: what do you do when you encounter an offern to illustrate something that you don't believe in?

The conclusion the Wall Street Journal editor comes up with is both a little harsh, and a little soft. His point is that, as an illustrator, you don't really get the choice. You take it and like it, or your a jerk.

My point is this: I shouldn't have to say to the Wall Street Journal that an illustrator is an independent business person, and flat out has the right to make independent decisions about his business -- whether you agree with the decision or not.

Sometimes you do have to swallow your pride, and take jobs you don't like. Sometimes it doesn't matter, you have no opinion about an issue. On some issues, heck, I could care less.

On a few issues, though, I care deeply and don't particularly want to do business with companies that take positions directly opposite of mine. And it's not just because of the position they're taking -- it's for sound business reasons.

First, in theory, my illustration could be both helping convince and putting forth the idea that I agree with the position. Most people tend not to distinguish that doing business with and supporting a business are two seperate things: this is especially true with creative endeavors. So if I do business with a group I find particularly despicable, I might injure my image with other clients. Generally, it's rare -- most of the time people recognize that an artist is a gun-for-hire, not a loyal retainer. But I do know of it happening.

Next, I've encountered a few times when, dammit, I *can't* draw for something I don't believe in. Skip the ability to draw for a second: really what illustrators sell is the ability to create interesting ideas. Ideas have to come if you want to make money, and on occasion, especially when I'm passionate about an issue, I can't come up with ideas as good. That's not fair to a client.

Third, and I really want to emphasize this: illustration holds many perils, and with those perils come a few, dearly held rewards. One of those is, as an independent business person, I own my own fate. Simple, really, and one of the most appealing things to capitalism. You own the business, you end up with the responsibility. Granted, people goof it up; but that's his right and choice, not the editors. And he should be left alone with his choice, not ridiculed in a paper for it.

Having said all of this, I do agree with the editor that this gentleman was not within his rights to withold agreement until reading: that's not always possible, and is worse when you're doing a daily paper. But his demand was unreasonable; not his position.

One quote really drew my attention, though:

: "People sometimes ask me if I'm an 'artist.' I tell them I'm an 'illustrator.' The difference defines your prickly encounter with the person who makes his living as an illustrator but somehow thinks of himself as an artist."

This was from another illustrator, who was asked by the editor to comment on the whole debacle. I agree to a point: an artist is someone who creates what he feels, while an illustrator creates what others ask him to. But an illustrator is, and can be, an artist; it's not an absolute line.

If nothing else, I pity both of the WSJ workers; they've drawn an absolute where none existed, and took a petty sqabble onto the pages of a paper out of spite. All of them should be ashamed; it brings the illustrious history of newspapers down just one more notch when such nattering appears in a nationally seen paper.

Posted by Ted Stevko at February 1, 2004 07:22 PM | TrackBack