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Three ways in which art differs from illustration

2For the average person in the street, in the gallery or in the museum, the distinction between art and illustration is something of a grey area. If you glance at a simple illustration of a pastoral scene on a biscuit tin and then look at John Constable’s The Hay Wain, for example, is there a difference in what you’re seeing? And if there is, why should it be so?

Both of these images require talent to produce, and will be accurate reproductions of what the creator is looking at. The harsh truth is that only a small section of the population will be skilled enough to make them, yet one of them will definitely be regarded as a relatively simple illustration while the other will be thought of as fine art, and will be worth a fortune.

It’s all about the interpretation

One of the key factors which separate illustration and art is purely in the way we, as viewers, interpret the work that’s presented to us. We would perhaps be able to distinguish between the two by the way we absorb the visual information. The illustration conveys a simple message, perhaps to support some text, while the artwork encourages further investigation.

A professional illustrator will have worked hard to succeed in this competitive industry, and will no doubt have passed many an illustration course from IDI and other education providers, so his or her work is equally valid. But an artist’s work will be more open to individual interpretation from every man and woman who takes the time to look at it.

Working to a brief

The vast majority of commercial illustrators work to specific briefs from clients. They may be working on advertising campaigns for mobile phones one day and creating images for a children’s book the next. The artist will have more opportunity to draw or paint what is felt inside, and will invariably have the opportunity to include greater depth when working.

What does the image ask you to do?

The average illustration pretty much does what it says on the tin. It gives the viewer all the information that’s needed, enabling him or her to simply move on as soon as they’ve absorbed it. A work of art encourages the viewer to linger, to gain a fuller impact by further study, and to take in all the various themes that may or may not be included in the image.


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