One issue that I grapple with frequently is the difference between "art" and "illustration". In the world of fine art illustrators are generally looked on as an inferior breed by the critics. In his introduction to "Hardyware" David A. Hardy expresses his reproof at modern art's derision of anything beautiful or representational.
This got me thinking. If SF art is "mere illustration" as an art critic would say, what about all those historical paintings of heaven and hell, the last judgement and armageddon? Critics seem to love those.
But I digress. SF art does have its place, and it plays an important role. The main body of "Hardyware" gives us a glimpse of the possibilties that await us in the future. If things turn out properly and we don't destroy ourselves, our descendents will become great builders with the potential to conquer the stars. Most of the artwork in this collection is done in gouache and acrylic, although more recently the artist has turned to digital media.
We see visions of the past as well as the future. One of my favourite pieces is a scene from "The War of the Worlds". I remember seeing that image on a cover jacket when I was 12, although I didn't know who the artist was back then. The image of a dinosaur looking up at a descending asteroid is hauntingly grim.
I often think SF artists are underrated. Though they are often proved wrong, their visions provide a valuable contribution to the development of our civilization, giving inspiration to those who have the ability to make fantasy a reality.