Commercial Images: An Evolutionary Scheme

A while back we had a roundabout discussion about the term illustration and its limitations.Bob Flynn and Jaleen Grove both pushed back a little against my impatience with the term, and the supposed tyranny of the word which I decried. 

I have been thinking about the traditions of illustration and cartooning a great deal, in part because, as I have noted, that discussions of same have tended to be more biographical than analytic. And by thinking about the derivation of the term, the field of activity as conventionally defined and especially the values that illustrators consistently bring to their work, it has occurred to me that Bob and Jaleen were correct. It is what it is. Illustration, I am coming to recognize, must be seen as a fundamentally interpretive art, much like theatrical direction. The text or message or content or data does precede the making of the picture. Yes, there are gray areas, but in the main there is little evidence to defeat the position that illustration is occupied with reportage, explication and re-presentation. It's typically didactic.

Frustrated by the lack of a larger narrative in which to locate genres, careers, and achievements, I have been working on visualizations of the development of commerical images. This week I have blundered into print with one such attempt: Commercial Images: An Evolutionary Scheme, a two-page infographic that occupies a central spread in the new Modern Graphic History Library catalogue, out this week. It posits two basic strands in commercial image history: illustration and cartooning, increasingly intermingled but distinct. 

The graphic runs across the top of this post. I will be eager to field queries, objections, etc. It's a jpeg, so will break down a little when you magnify it. If you want a pdf, contact me and I will email you one.

Content copyright DB Dowd, 2007; design by Mike Costelloe; art direction by Sarah Phares