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It's life, but is it art ?
on 1 December 2011
Two or three years ago I bought "An illustrated life" by Danny Gregory, an anthology of extracts from the notebooks and journals of professional artists, illustrators and designers.An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers I was enchanted by it, and following the enthusiasm with which this later publication has been greeted, I felt sure that I would enjoy this one too.
Regrettably, this volume is a totally different kettle of fish; or should that be can of worms.
Firstly, it is very badly produced. A glance through the pages will reveal that most of the contributors prefer the portrait format for journals; so why is this book produced in a square format ? Answer, so that four portrait format pages -- presumably A4 in the original -- can be produced on one page.
Whilst my eyesight is perfectly adequate for reading normal print, this huge compression renders even normal scripts unreadable without a magnifying glass. But perhaps it doesn't matter. Most of the contributors prefer, or are only capable of, illegible scripts, and like to place them against backgrounds which make them still more illegible anyway; and those that are legible make far from pleasant reading.
After browsing this book, my overwhelming feeling was one of pity for the contributors, who appear to have the most miserable lives; a powerful magnifying glass reveals that many of them are telling themselves to cheer up, think positive, relax, forget, lose weight, or reassuring themselves that they are superior to everyone else, or offering sad and wistful expressions of unrequited love, together with rants against employers, lovers, friends and colleagues. (What can we conclude, I wonder, from the fact that the vast majority of contributors appear to be female ? As is the compiler).
Not all contributors are tarred with the same brush. For example, I make a notable exception of the assured, elegant pen sketches and legible script of Glaucia Mir, Julia Molina's smart little montages, and Paul Abadilla's great character studies. There are others but they are few and far between, occasional jewels floating on a sea of angst and scruffy, unintelligible psychobabble.
The Journal genre has grown in popularity in recent years, starting with extracts from artists' sketchbooks and gradually evolving -- I would say deteriorating -- into the form we have here. This newest form is unquestionably a large market, as all the favourable reviews illustrate; but Art is a very subjective field, and publishers -- and reviewers -- need to make clear the kind of taste being catered for. These are mostly not extracts from artists' journals, but from teenagers' illustrated diaries. It's art, Jim, but not as we know it...