Endless Question

As I sit here avoiding the work I have to do on an illustration for a graphic novel I am working on, I try to figure out why I am so afraid of starting it. I have such confidence in other areas of my work and my life, but not this. Drawing terrifies me. As I grapple with “why,” my thoughts turn toward a question that came up in one of my illustration classes and again in a life studio class while I was in college.

What is the difference between a work of art and an illustration? When I was young, I argued that there was no difference. My fellow students disagreed with me. They were of the mind that there were two camps: those that were artists and therefore creators, and the others, those that were mere renderers.  

The argument was that an artist portrays the soul while an illustrator merely depicts what is seen.

I always took offense to this. At the time, I was preparing to become a scientific illustrator, eventually focusing on botanical illustration. When I studied a plant, was I less of an artist because I strove to capture the reality of it instead of its essence? Or did I capture both with my intense scrutiny of its architecture?

What is architecture? Everything in this three-dimensional world is built with arranged atoms, electro-magnetic force, and desire to hold a shape, the tao of becoming, if you will. Eventually, energy dissipates, chaos wins, and the physical form dissolves. However, for that moment in time when all is organized and held together in perfect order, a miracle has transpired – in the case of my study, a plant shimmers in Light. At this point, it does indeed appear that Life is the artist, and I, the mere observer of its architecture.

However, what happens the moment a person captures that plant by pencil, ink, paint, three-dimensional or soft media, or even film? Is this a mere portrait of its architecture? Do we call it illustration or art? What if that plant is captured in the agony of dissolution as chaos overwhelms it? Is this then art because of a possible emotional component, or is it still mere illustration? If not art, what is the additional ingredient that makes it more than “mere.”

In my opinion, anyone who attempts to communicate by form or picture creates art. By the very act of attempting, that extra “something” occurs. The renderer adds Self in the act of observing and recording. No one can negate this factor.

Is every attempt to intentionally render order to be considered art? I found strength for this conviction decades after attending college for the first time, when I re-enrolled to work with clay. In class, the age-old argument was still taking place. What is the difference between a potter and a sculptor? One is utilitarian; the other creates. Really? The professor was lovely, stating that even though one threw a pot that conformed to size, shape, and utility, no two could ever be alike because each potter put his or her hands on the object, thereby changing it and making it uniquely precious.

Her words struck me.

The truth is: There is no difference. The instant a person picks up a lump of clay and squishes it into his or her hand, the mille-second a thought forms as to what that lump of clay will become, creation takes place. The holder of the clay ceases to be merely human and instead becomes creator, transferring essence from Self to object, thereby creating art.

It is the same with everything we do. When clothing is folded with care into a converted shape to accommodate placement into a drawer in such a manner that it won’t lose texture, art has taken place. When dishes are lovingly stacked in a rack to dry in an order specific to the person stacking them, art has taken place. When a shovel is shoved into the ground with the intent of the shoveler’s vision of change upon Earth, art has taken place. When (insert an activity, any activity) is done with intent, art has taken place.

Finally, when an illustrator puts pen to paper and creates an image where there was none – art is created. The question “what is the difference between art and illustration?” is ridiculous, because there is no difference.

I suppose professors will continue to allow the argument to zing around their classrooms, lovingly aware that each artist has to form a conclusion for him or herself.

Right now, it is time for me to stop worrying whether or not these illustrations are “art enough” and just become the artist that I am. 

It’s time to draw.

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