Educate Agitate Abdicate

The abdication of a moral duty by the illustration professional class.

December 11th, 2017

One of the key purposes of the illustrator is to bridge the gaps between: The elitist, opulent, academic culture of large areas of fine art practice: the historically manacled, fetishistic practices of sections within graphic design and the commercial plagiarism and moral bankruptcy of a swathe of advertising.

The illustrator alongside their commercial ventures must produce communication that transcends the class and cultural barriers propped up by the other creative disciplines and their practitioners. We must attempt to communicate what is wrong with the world and indeed, what is right.

A generation of ‘professional, complacent uk illustrators’ and academics who have become successful and established, who appear at elitist forums, who pronounce a new illustration is needed, perhaps expect young illustrators and students to pick up a political and social baton dropped by them. This expectation on the younger illustrator has created an abdication, an abandoning of a moral responsibility amongst an elite ‘illustrative professional class.’ The baton must be picked up by this ‘class’. It must be used. This societal responsibility should never have been abdicated.

It is not for the students or young professional illustrators, for those who are starting their careers to feel the pressure to shine a light on the ills of the world geographic. Social or political. They must be allowed: their first pay cheques, their chance to breathe commercially, their freedom to make mistakes.

Young illustrators and students in the UK must ask their older peers, their tutors, and their golden idols what are you doing for change? How are you communicating injustice? Young illustrators must question, confront, dissect the careerist sound bites from the established illustration community, dismantle the bland, self-service statements uttered at illustration symposiums, on-line forums and editorials.

‘Professional, wage-earning illustrators’ must start to not consider what shall I represent for this subject matter but is the subject matter worth being represented. Commercial work can exist beside work that exposes injustice, questions our lives, and helps understanding. Commercialism and commentary for change are not creatively in opposition. Time must be allocated to develop work and communication questioning injustice. There is still enough time in a day, a week, and a year to be commercially viable. Commercial work and politically based work are not mutually opposed. They are a creative life as a whole. Illustrators must climb out of history, pull down their statues, consider that visual virtuosity is not enough. It says nothing. It is empty, soulless. It is wallpaper, beautiful craft must communicate something.

Grenfell. Brexit. Birth. Life. Death. NHS protection. Wage inequality. Equality in education. Gender labelling. Race. Dignity the elderly. Digital giants lobbying. Student fees. Affordable housing. Arms sales. Saudi Arabia. Charlottesville. Syria. Yemen.

The time to form positions, to produce communication that matters, to involve communities via the work we produce. To connect with the widest possible audience in the UK, is now. The time for those of us who have achieved a number of commissions, who earn well above the minimum wage, who have steady incomes to look outwards, is now. The gratuitous, self-congratulatory obsession with our world of illustration must be replaced by a desire to also comment on the world around us. The issue is not: What is illustration? It is: What use is it? What good can it do? Ultimately: What use are we?

— Paul Bowman, 2017