Q: Hi Tom, please don’t get me wrong. We love your work but doesn’t it get a bit mechanical/ boring/ task like to do same kind of work day in and day out? I know you have chosen your favorite field of profession but since most of the work is almost same style/type do you ever give a thought about say becoming a painter/ artist as in painting exhibition? Does it ever crosses your mind that you (illustrators) have to deal in volumes to make a good living while say an abstract/contemporary art painter puts in less than half the time earns a lot more, both money and respect (unfortunately illustrators, especially humorous illustrator, due to lack of knowledge in public are not as respected or considered to be doing something ‘intellectual’ as say an abstract artist) plus no deadlines, and carrying your computer/tab etc along with you?
A: Wow, I am not sure where to even begin with that…
First off, I don’t do the same thing day in and day out. Quite the opposite. Every job I get has different challenges and poses a different set of problems that need solving. I don’t draw pictures of lawn mowers or roast beef sandwiches for ads. What I do has narrative… even single spot illustrations are storytelling. I have a story to visually tell with every image, either in the literal sense in the case of a comic or one of the MAD parodies I do, or in the sense that I am reinforcing the message of the article or concept of the client. No part of that is boring.
Secondly, you are mistaken if you think that a “fine” artist (for lack of a better term, let this stand for an artist would creates are he/she sells as prints, originals, sculptures, etc in galleries to private collectors) is not a “commercial” artist, or that they do not have to work hard to achieve the kind of financial success you are talking about.¬¨‚Ä† They have to highly commercialize their work, creating and marketing limited edition giclees, prints the artist does a small amount of hand-embellishing on, artist proofs, etc. etc. I just got back from a trip where I saw some of the greatest works of art ever created–Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Caravaggio–every one of their masterpieces were commercial jobs, done for clients. Financial success only comes from commercialization of one’s work. How is doing a series of paintings and selling them as prints any different than an illustrator doing a print of their work and selling it as a poster, or doing a comic book and selling it?
Thirdly, do you think a fine artist achieving that kind of financial success is easy? It’s at least as unlikely as a cartoonist becoming commercially successful with their work, if not more so. Most fine artists struggle to make a living as much or more than your average illustrator does. What you describe, where an artist paints whatever they fancy and whenever they feel like it, and then sits back and collects lots of money from the sales generated from a few pieces, as an EXTREMELY rare case. Most fine artists have to work very hard creating lots of artwork and searching for a market for it to maket any kind of living.
Finally, I disagree that illustrators, especially humorous illustrators, get no respect¬¨‚Ä† from the public. In fact, I’d argue that to the GENERAL public, a humorous illustrator or cartoonist is far better known and respected that most fine artists. If you go up to a man-on-the-street and start naming or showing them the work of folks like Jack Davis, Jack Kirby, Chuck Jones, Charles Schulz, etc. etc, many will recognize the name or at least the work. Then ask them or show them the work of Eduardo Berliner or Hernan Bas, almost 100% of them will have never heard of or seen their work, despite their being highly regarded contemporary artists. As far as respect goes, that’s a subjective thing. How must respect does Thomas Kinkade get in fine art circles? Basically zero, yet he was arguable the most financially successful contemporary painter of the 20th century, and would be someone that previously mentioned man-on-the-street would probably recognize and likely say they liked his work. How important is it to me to have the respect of a bunch of snooty, pseudo-intellectuals who think they know what “real art” is? That ranks in importance to me right around the the same level as wanting to get a root canal. In other words, I could not care less.
I do what I do, and greatly enjoy what I do. I’m very fortunate to make a living from it. There are probably some people who think what I do and my work is low-brow garbage. That’s their opinion, and I honestly don’t care what they think. The only people whose opinions of my work I care about are my peers and those who I respect in the illustration and cartooning world. It’s wonderful and very gratifying when people tell me they enjoy my work, but even if no one ever did, I would still do what I do. I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else.
Thanks to Nice for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!
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