Art or Illustration

By Armand Cabrera


       N.C. Wyeth

The conversation about art and illustration keeps coming up. People want to draw a line making one better than the other. I think this is foolish.

Since I work both sides of the fence as it were, I thought I would lay out a couple of things I’ve noticed about the different disciplines and maybe help dispel some myths about both along the way.

Aldro Hibbard

First myth, gallery artists have to sell which means they have to paint what people want and that means they are just like illustrators. Wrong. In gallery work people may commission you to paint a painting, they may even ask you to paint a specific scene but what they don’t do is ask you to submit roughs, then color studies and then fiddle with your picture as you paint it. Gallery artists paint what they want to paint and then take it to a gallery that sells it for them. No one has ever told me to fix or change a painting that I have delivered to a gallery. This happens all the time in illustration. Very few illustrators get a phone call for work, come up with an idea and paint an image for the client without outside feedback on that image.

Second myth, gallery artists are more artistic than illustrators. Wrong. The level of artistic accomplishment lays with the individual not the profession. Many golden age illustrators have stood the test of time and the works they created are now considered art. I would argue their work was always art. Their work has transcended the original intent of the painting. Some gallery work on the other hand has not done so well because of its trite treatment or overly sentimental subject matter.

Jeff Jones

Third myth, if you take money for your art you are selling out. Wrong. Selling out is a term that gets thrown about quite a bit in the artist versus illustrator discussion. Artists look at illustrators as sellouts for offering their work as a commodity designed by a committee. Those same artists have no problem giving up their self-respect begging for grant money to fund their projects or going to openings trying to sell paintings at a show of their work. I think selling out is copying another artists style for monetary gain. Neither profession can claim the high ground here. And both fields have their hacks that chase the style of whatever artist is commanding the most work and highest prices. I see it in galleries and illustration.

People who respect their craft and their profession create things worthy of any museum; to label it unworthy because of the original intent is ignorant. All creative work is communication and will be judged by the ability to reach other people. An artist must impart truth to what they create for it to have value beyond the moment. Successful artists must satisfy the needs of their profession and the desires of their soul if they wish to survive and continue to create works that can stand the test of time.

Dennis Miller Bunker

All art for this article is copyrighted to the respective artists, their estates or the artwork owners

8 thoughts on “Art or Illustration

  1. Excellent article, Armand!
    I have been thinking about this topic lately as I have been on the WetCanvas forums lately. Fine artists seem to denegrate illustration like it has no worth.

  2. It’s unfortunate that amateur sites like wet canvas devolve into those types of discussions.

    In my opinion the best representational art created in the last hundred years came from the fields of illustration and production art for movies. One of the reasons for that is the ability to draw. Most gallery artists can't draw their way out of a paper bag and this leads to formulaic approaches and weak handling.

  3. Really great post, Armand. I've also seen this discussion come up time and again, and as you say, it is foolish. To me, it is nothing more than a type of class warfare within the artist community (similar to the plein air vs. studio, oil vs. acrylics, realism vs expressionism, etc…) designed to make one group feel better about themselves and their work by denigrating others. It's always the small-minded and insecure that feel the need to engage in such petty and unproductive discussion.

    I did do commissioned work for a few years (medical illustration, back when my drawing skills were sharp), and I loved it! Getting paid to draw was great, and the challenges of interpreting an idea into a tangible design were a challenge I enjoyed.

    Heck, I have a slight degree of envy and definite admiration for successful illustrators simply because they posses a degree of discipline to create that I do not have, at least not on a daily basis.

    BTW, that portrait by Jeff Jones is absolutely wonderful.

  4. This is the clearest-headed presentation of art vs. illustration that I've ever read. Thank you, it all makes sense now!

    According to the Brothers Hildebrandt, artists stand up to paint while illustrators sit down. 🙂

  5. Do you know where I could find some other large Aldro Hibbard images? I would like to see more of his paintings in detail like the image you used.

    I always learn something from your blog. Thank you,


  6. Judy,

    Just google his name and you will find some. I collected mine from auction catalogs. Most of the auction houses have a searchable database once you sign up. Membership is free.

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