|"Girl With A Balloon" By Banksy|
As a young person grows, there is a struggle between this joy of simple mark making, and the desire to represent reality. Initially there is delight in drawing something recognizable, even if the figures are stick people. Everyone's path is unique, but many young artists doggedly study how to improve their drafting skills as a primary goal in improving their art.
Somewhere along the line, when an artist has achieved some mastery over drawing, the focus shifts from HOW to draw, to the more meaningful, WHAT to draw. And in this question, we see art become more than a pretty picture. Artists begin to express their personal views–whether funny or dramatic. When the desire to draw something specific falls short of skill, the artist returns to studying the medium again. This balance between technique and concept is important–something all working artists live with regularly.
So why do we have this drive? What is the use of these skills, especially after years and years of struggle? From my experience, my best guess is that pictorial communication was the earliest form of written communication–and is one of the tools we humans have for more efficient survival. Perhaps this is ingrained in us from thousands of years of depending on information derived soley from pictures. I've never been to the caves in Lascaux, France, but I did get to see pictographs by the ancient Puebloans in the Southwest of the United States. Rock paintings of animals were left to communicate with others on the same route, as to where to find food and water. While people must have had a drive to learn how to create these images for communication, people also must have learned to keep their eyes alert for these images.
Art making, then, originated to communicate. Today, fine art is under no obligation to communicate a specific message to everyone. And we have accepted this. But illustration remains obliged to communicate–at least a main message. Subtleties and nuances can be included for some to discover and some to miss, but illustration remains the form of pictorial communication began by our ancient ancestors.
So why bring this up now? After a week where the political climate has been highly charged, and folks are eager to support their causes, I think about pictorial communication and how art-makers can effect change through imagery. For years artists have made posters protesting wars or unfair treatment of people. Artists have also been commissioned to make art for logos and campaigns to sway customers and voters. And of course, in the past designers had the darker purpose of creating graphic design for the Third Reich. This imagery really does what the cliché suggests–replace a thousand words. For better or worse.
Without taking a political stand, I encourage the communicative arts community to make work that expresses their views. My hope, of course, that it is with kindness and love and inclusion. Right now we are walking down the trail with our eyes alert to signs of what's ahead. Unlike our ancient ancestors, we aren't just looking for food and water, but the depth and breadth of our humanity.