The State of Art at the Cusp of the Millennium
From the prehistoric drawings discovered in the Lascaux caves to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to whimsical cartoons in our local newspapers, images have always been mankind's most evocative and immediate expression of creativity, as well as the quickest way to get your point across.
Illustration—art, to use a loftier title—was the fastest, most emotional way of communication, ably assisted by Gutenberg's moveable type, until it was shouldered aside by that upstart new technology, photography, in the last century. And what a change that ushered in.
Many artists of the time complained that it would put them out of business, for how could they illustrate with photographic likeness? The impressionists used this perceived misfortune to create a new definition of art. Looking back, we see that the birth of impressionism nurtured an outpouring of creativity that redefined the worlds of literature, music and dance.
Photography, of course, is a wonderful medium, and nothing beats it for showing real, tangible objects. It is no surprise that it quickly became the advertising community's medium of choice. It's a wonderful substitute for an actual product sample. Take food, for example. Nothing starts your mouth watering like an exquisite shot of your favorite meal. This is one of photography's greatest strengths, along with its ability to faithfully record history.
When it comes to communicating abstract ideas or concepts, however, nothing aspires to the level of illustration. Personally, I prefer illustration to gallery art; I think it's much more clever and difficult to do well. No visual medium can extract visions from within the human mind like a paintbrush (or cursor) in the hands of a talented artist. I've seen many tortured attempts to use photography—usually computer manipulated—to portray abstract visions, but few manage to pull it off convincingly, and their efforts appear contrived.