Thinking a little on the relationship between commerce [perhaps better thought of as economics?] and Illustrative practice perhaps its good to look at its relationship over the past 'epoch' that has seen the rise of capitalism and consumer society. I recently watched an interesting TED talk that presented ideas around current economic models and the environment. It described a very simple relationship between manufacturer and consumer. One element in the cyclical pattern of activity was the human desire for novelty - new stuff. Marketing things that we buy is part of the remit of illustration, Illustrators are 'novelty' mongers. The need to develop new ways of communicating complex ideas [around brand identity/aspiration/desire/ego] falls to Illustrators clients and eventually to Illustrators. The part played in that role ought to be explored further.
So, thinking about the excellent points made by both Geoff and Roderick - it would be good to identify a number of key questions that form the basis for an event of some sort. Clearly we are all coming from a similar direction; having concerns about 'what Illustration is', its role and the drivers for its production.
Geoff talks about the disadvantages that diversity of approach brings - it can make Illustrative practice seem unwieldy and vague. However it may be worth looking at this in relation to a critical framework for the subject [if, indeed, it is necessary] in a totally different way. In other words to remove it from the academic and locate it in the 'real' world. If we were to suggest that the Illustration is the artwork in its mediated form [print/screen etc] we could back peddle and look at why it exists in that form. Who commissions it? I can hear the collective groans - not another discussion that descends in to endless bellyaching about clients misunderstanding and mistreatment of Illustrators. No, that is not what I am saying - but I would suggest that if we are to suggest a critical framework for the subject we should consider commerce.
Rod, you have eloquently approached the relationship between technological development in media and the evolution of the subject. Some of the opportunities that technology, the web and new media offer, bypass the traditional role of client and Illustrator. This is interesting when considering the subject because, increasingly, Illustrators are trading off their ability to generate content. Illustrators becoming auteurs? Illustrator becomes client?
It is interesting to consider how this affects the 'discipline' of Illustration.
Much has been made of the lack of editorial control over content online. Previously that control came through conventional roles within media organisations but the ease with which work can be published has removed the need to negotiate an appropriate solution to a visual problem. The editor has been bypassed. It is possible in this scenario that the 'discipline' can be eroded. We are also witnessing a shift in the nature and role of commerce.
So, the realm of commerce forms part of the critical framework that Illustration inhabits. I suppose then the difficulty is shaping this monumental territory in to something navigable - not easy!
One way may be to dis-aggregate the territory, think about types of work and types of client. [Alan Male in Illustration; a critical and theoretical perspective talks about 5 key types of Illustration - this may be an interesting start point?]
In the brief, original, post I stated that Illustration had no critical framework to speak of. The implication was that this was bad as, arguably, Illustration as a subject has had to assume a role in the visual arts that lacks theoretical substance and therefore value. The latter part of this statement is not true but it does describe an attitude towards the word in its adjectival sense if nothing else. So perhaps our sensitivity to the use of Illustrative as a derogatory term is a semantic issue? However I digress - I wanted to look at the notion of a critical framework for Illustration and turn the contention on its head. Is it important to have a critical and theoretical framework for a subject like Illustration? If we talk about it as a 'subject' then possibly yes. Subject implies that it is a thing that is removed from us, something that we study and observe - it is an academic term. In order to understand subjects like Illustration we often need to ascribe ideas to help us locate the work contextually. In short, to better understand the whys and wherefores of the work's production. So we can look at it from a perspective - historical for instance or through the lens of Marxism or De-constructivism. Subjects in the Visual Arts have numerous lens through which to locate their work - it is arguable that these approaches are inward looking and often self referential. In some ways they are enabling but in others they can be limiting, exclusive rather than inclusive.
We could also talk about a 'discipline' of Illustration. Discipline could infer a kind of acquired behaviour [or even training?], a way of thinking or an approach to subject. Running practical courses it may be fair to say that we concentrate more on the discipline of Illustration than the subject - our goal may well be to help students evolve and develop their behaviour in order to become better visual communicators. If this is the case should we be bothered about a critical framework? I do not believe this to be entirely the case - but more in a while.
The revised question was; "Is it important to have a critical framework for Illustration?"
Here is a recent use of Illustration in a derogative context.
What is perhaps more worrying is that it came from within the design community:
'But when I showed this cover to my friend Henrik Kubel, he was, to my dismay, not overwhelmed. He thought the spine was a joke, or an obvious stroke of supreme laziness (which it was). He finally said the design looked "Illustrator-y". Whether true or not, there's not a worse adjective he could have used - it went straight to the heart of my insecurity and I instantly knew I had to start again.'
Marian Bantjes & Jessica Helfand
'The Bantjes Covers'
The advent of the iPad poses many questions about the future of illustration.
Yet as with the introduction of the Mac into the industry I might suggest that illustration will adapt & meet the challenges that it faces.
Undoubtedly publishing will change, but we already see signs of where possibly magazines will develop, through a greater emphasis on print quality - the emergence of boutique publications such as 'Nobrow' & 'NVA'. these titles emphasize high quality productions & imagery, with relatively low print runs.
In an age of blogs the audience will require something else, something special from magazines.
Weekly news, newspapers will migrate to online editions, leaving special bespoke magazines - they will always retain that special experience, object.
The iPad begins to mimic certain qualities of reading magazines & books. Touch screens allow us to flick pages, more akin to how we read - providing a more visceral experience. As graphic novels begin to appear on such media the way that you read, navigate stories will change, be adapted.
In a time of over-saturation of illustration, a greater need for the author of this imagery to have an agenda, viewpoint, a narrative to their work will be increasingly necessary in order to stand out against the plethora of style merchants chewed up in a constant flow of fashion. Also how software is effecting the style of much work.
Within technology also the possibilities to self-publish work/ideas through the internet are great opportunities for illustrators to make work. Now more than ever the technology to make moving image/animation has enlarged the canvas for illustrators to tell stories - As Marshall Arisman pointed out, it is vital for illustrators to use technology & tell their stories through print & through the internet.
As more work migrates into screen-based technologies illustrators have the opportunities to enlarge their visual worlds to encompass both sequencing. movement, & sound of their work.
Not only can drawings be animated, but there also exists a narrative in how the copy appears on the screen - whether in real time as the blog is written & the image develops, or as you scroll down, click to reveal further content. Interactive work will push how illustrations can tell a variety of narratives within a single piece.
An understanding, awareness of the possibilities that screen-based work offers to the illustrators will be ever important, to command the possibilities of the effects of drawings as you navigate sites.
As is becomes ever easier to source visual artist's work on the internet, styles & influences are merging at an accelerated rate. people are rapidly using a combination of means to communicate & accessing a greater amount of reference materials.
The unique singular voice of the illustrator will be necessary to stand out - using the greater availability of equipment/technology to express ideas, or stories without losing it's individuality.
All of this provides many exciting outlets for illustrators to tell their unique stories.
How illustrators are found now via the web has changed ideas of self promotion. the New York Times receives less direct mailers these days, resorting instead to searching online for visual image makers across the globe.