My year of chairing the Society of Illustrator’s annual show is over. Below is the blurb which will be published in the annual book. It’s a rah-rah speech, which I thought was appropriate to share today, when the Student Competition results were announced. The portrait above is by Kris Mukai.
I don’t think you’re allowed to declare a “Golden Age” while you’re living in it. But isn’t it fair to say that this is a particularly fruitful moment in illustration? Far from being the final deathblow, The Digital Revolution has reinvigorated our industry with new energy and enthusiasm thanks largely to the generation who grew up online.
Context used to define what illustration was. Then the pirate ship that is the Internet stripped illustration of that context, and to some degree, the client, which made us very unhappy and afraid. More fundamentally, this reversal also untethered our notions of what illustration should look like, where it should live, and what it should do. As a result, the community, which is now thriving online, is deeper and more diverse than it has ever been.
Young illustrators, seemingly unfazed by the fact illustration was declared dead 60 years ago, are getting on with the business of making stuff. Not only individual images, but also showcases for those images: anthologies, collaborations, galleries, self-published books, games, visual essays, products sold directly to fans. (Illustrators have fans now.) How thrilling to see illustration cross-pollinating with journalism, comics, design, art, animation, and other disciplines that barely have names yet. Conventional clients have taken note. Why wouldn’t they? It’s good work.
The best young artists are seeking to define their careers on their own terms. I see this in my students at the School of Visual Arts. For better or worse, they are not content to be someone’s hired hands. They desire to be professionals, yes, but not to create work that only “solves the problem”–it must be meaningful on a deeper level too. It must have soul. When I was a student, I was happy just to render fruit in markers, if that’s what was what my teachers requested.
I’m pleased to see so many new names in this year’s annual. Their work sits comfortably amongst that of seasoned professionals. And while I think there is still more work to be done, the Society of Illustrator’s mission of celebrating illustration and its evolving manifestations seems on track. Congrats to the selected winners of this year’s annual, particularly those new to the Society. Let’s push each other higher and harder and see where we go next.
Thank you again to the jurors of this year’s show, Chris Buzelli and John Hendrix for their help and guidance, Vivienne Flesher and Chelsea Cardinal for their work on the poster, Director Anelle Miller and her staff. Lastly, thank you to Kate Feirtag, my right-hand lady, for her patience, preparedness, and dedication to The Society.