Taschen's '100 Contemporary Artists', when I first picked it up a few years ago, introduced me to some of the best and brightest in the post-post modern Art world; Walton Ford, Glenn Brown, Raqib Shaw, John Currin, Daniel Richter, Richard Phillips, and Peter Doig. There were others, but the majority of the artists profiled were of the 'Conceptual' variety -- producing cold, pseudo-philosphical and/or ridiculously overwrought attempts at sustaining the illusion of intelligence. It seems as if art thinks itself indentured to science in abandoning Newtonian concepts of certainty -- every work must exist in a quantum super-position of meanings, baffling the viewer even as they collapse the wave-function of probabilities by viewing it, passing unspoken judgement and forcing the work to define itself. Thus, terrible, terrible art is sold, everyone craving a piece of ugly crap by the clever young artist who is more like a spokesmodel-carnival huckster. If I sound like someone who despises the contemporary art world, I'm giving a false impression; I am fascinated by many post-modern painters and sculptors: the Chapman Bros., Ron Mueck, Ali Banisadr, Darren Waterston, etc., etc. The problem with modern art is identical to that of Literature, Film, and Sequential Art; most of the works produced are crap, mediocre at best, in any artistic medium. In every medium there exists critical con-artists who push undeserving creators into the spotlight, though they are not members of the 7% minority who are truly brilliant. The Contemporary art world is far less likely than the other mediums to celebrate the fakers and posers while the most talented languish in obscurity. This injustice makes finding these artists out feel important and rewarding.
In contrast, Taschen's '100 Illustrators' requires far less searching to find interesting and intelligent artists, every single one a talented craftsman in the old tradition, even though many of them do not use traditional tools. I used to find it strange and irritating that there was a distinction made between 'Artists' and 'Illustrators'; the latter term seemed almost like an insult, a way of diminishing the importance or validity of a persons' works. I've since realized that it's an entirely practical distinction -- Artists create works for gallery spaces, Illustrators create work for print or digital reproduction, often basing their works on the stated needs and parameters of a client. It is often not so clear, however, with gallery artists straying into the territory of illustration, and Illustrator-artists like James Jean and Dave Cooper comfortably straddling the divide. This beautifully produced two-volume slipcase-set is, fittingly, far more impressively designed than the 100 Contemporary Artist set, and feels far richer, in a way. Every page provides you with an interesting new artist (sorry, illustrator) to discover or rediscover. There are many familiar names: Gary Baseman, Tim Biskup, Eboy, Tomer Hanuka, Jeremyville, Tara McPherson, and Yuko Shimizu, all of whom are popular, exciting and accessible artists who manage to surprise and shock regardless where there work ends up. But most importantly, there are many more artists in this 720 page beast that are every bit as talented as their more popular peers. At 10" wide x 13" tall, with thick covers and heavy, glossy, high-quality stock, this is a heavy set; splitting it into two volumes was a wise decision. A great book, highly recommended.