Fine Art VS Illustration?

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  1. #1
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    Fine Art VS Illustration?

    I apologize if there's already a thread about this but if so, my search abilities are weak and I would appreciate a redirection.

    So, I decided that my major would be Illustration, that way I can do commercial work that would involve comics (which isn't really my main goal) and all sorts of similar stuff. You know, like what alot of lowbrow artists are doing. Actually no, I don't really know what most of them do outside of showing their work in galleries but that's one of the main things I want to do. Make a living off my art basically. The thing is Fine Art and Illustration sort of seems the same to me. The latter only seeming like it's for more commercial art compared to the former which seems more focused on just personal art. I could be wrong, but this is why I'm asking. What is the difference between Fine Art and Illustration as majors? What are the differences between the two professionally, as in where will/can I end up professionally? Do you learn different things? What are the pros and cons?

    Thank in advance.

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  3. #2
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    In most schools that offer both majors, the illustration department will have more emphasis on representational work. In practice, the only real difference is that illustration gets reproduced, fine art goes on your wall. You may get flack for doing "illustrative" work in a fine arts department, while most illustration departments are open to or even encouraging about doing gallery work.

    Last edited by Elwell; July 31st, 2008 at 11:08 PM.

    Tristan Elwell
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    The best Illustrators have a fine art background. They'll know how to paint and render forms like fine artists can.

    Honestly, your post seems pretty snobby- you are calling comic book illustrators "low brow?" in an illustration forum? Kind of funny.

    What you end up doing professionally is in your hands. My old advisor and good friend is an amazing illustrator and professor of graphic design, but he has in BFA and MFA in Painting. Just last year, he created a wine label for a napa valley winery, published a childrens book, and showed in two fine art shows.

    I had another professor who is part of an exclusive gallery in New York and is well known for his landscapes and still lives, but who also created a line of paintings for Coca Cola.

    If you are more into abstract artwork and highly conceptual pieces, and do not have an immediate desire to do, erm, "low brow" work as you say, then go ahead and study Fine Art.

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    Quote Originally Posted by UrsusArctos View Post
    The best Illustrators have a fine art background. They'll know how to paint and render forms like fine artists can.
    This is a nonsensical statement. Neither painting nor rendering forms are intrinsic to either fine art or illustration. In your attempt to legitimize illustration, you are falling victim to the same false hierarchy of fields that you accuse the OP of.
    Quote Originally Posted by UrsusArctos View Post
    Honestly, your post seems pretty snobby- you are calling comic book illustrators "low brow?" in an illustration forum? Kind of funny.
    "Lowbrow" is a school of art, primarily centered in California, also called "pop surrealism." Most Lowbrow artist have an illustration background, and move back and forth between the illustration and gallery worlds.

    Last edited by Elwell; August 6th, 2008 at 08:45 PM.

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    Every decent illustration program will teach students the fine art basics first- chairoscuro, oil painting, figure drawing, perspective. This is what I mean. I am trying to show that illustrators DO learn many of the same initial things as fine artists. Perhaps I should say they share the same Foundations, rather than Fine Art background- though the two are interconnected.

    And sorry I hadn't heard of the term before- I'm just used to the original meaning of lowbrow, and not the new hip version. My mistake.

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    Quote Originally Posted by UrsusArctos View Post
    Every decent illustration program will teach students the fine art basics first- chairoscuro, oil painting, figure drawing, perspective.
    But not every fine arts program will. These aren't fine arts or illustration basics, they're representational art basics. All illustrators are representational artists to some degree, because illustration is visual storytelling, and there has to be a common vocabulary between the artist and a mass audience. But representation hasn't been dominant, or even necessary, in fine arts for almost a century.
    Quote Originally Posted by UrsusArctos View Post
    Perhaps I should say they share the same Foundations, rather than Fine Art background- though the two are interconnected.
    Yes.

    Last edited by Elwell; July 31st, 2008 at 11:05 PM.

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    Oh the mighty pro/con debate. This is an argument that is very circular in general. There really is no definitive answer other than one that is forced by the Universities to label programs and concentrations of study. It's like saying painting and drawing are the same thing. I would have to agree though that illustration does lean heavily towards a narrative communication whereas Fine art is more of a personal study of form etc. The reason it is hard to distinguish the two is because both disciplines have become hybridized over the last 50 years or so. A lot of those "Lowbrow" kids in Juxtapoz have really pushed whether their paintings are narrative or whatnot. Most of it is just eye candy to me these days. I used to love a lot of those artists but they have changed over the last 10 years into money hungry opportunists. Really sad.

    I would encourage anyone to pursue a Fine Arts direction in a school that encourages the students to roam all areas and mediums as possible. Blend all of it together. Avoid the temptation to concentrate on one particular medium.
    It will limit your abilities in the long run. If you ever get burnt out down the road you will not have anything to back up on. There is nothing wrong with being a "Jack of All Trades". To be a conceptual individual you should know as many techniques and mediums possible. It all intertwines in one way or another.

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    I was questioning whether or not to study Illustration vs. Fine Arts myself and what helped me was to look at the exact curriculum for each major, and look at the course descriptions within each major.

    I ultimately chose Illustration because the classes seem more interesting to me and I do think that it gives me more career options.

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    Quote Originally Posted by emifinan View Post
    I ultimately chose Illustration because the classes seem more interesting to me and I do think that it gives me more career options.
    I think this is the ideal way to choose. Go into it with a sense of passion. If one feels more passion towards exploring oneself then go with the Fine Art side and if one wants to do more applied work, then go into Illustration.

    Once you're out of school though, it comes down to making a buck with those skills- whether it's called a commission or a job, it's still about you making images for a living.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MCM View Post
    Oh the mighty pro/con debate. This is an argument that is very circular in general. There really is no definitive answer other than one that is forced by the Universities to label programs and concentrations of study. It's like saying painting and drawing are the same thing. I would have to agree though that illustration does lean heavily towards a narrative communication whereas Fine art is more of a personal study of form etc. The reason it is hard to distinguish the two is because both disciplines have become hybridized over the last 50 years or so. A lot of those "Lowbrow" kids in Juxtapoz have really pushed whether their paintings are narrative or whatnot. Most of it is just eye candy to me these days. I used to love a lot of those artists but they have changed over the last 10 years into money hungry opportunists. Really sad.
    Yeah that's how it's starting to look, that and/or it's the gallery that's being the opportunists. Although, there is still a good amount of artists out there that choose not to be part of the whole money grubbing scene.

    Quote Originally Posted by MCM View Post
    I would encourage anyone to pursue a Fine Arts direction in a school that encourages the students to roam all areas and mediums as possible. Blend all of it together. Avoid the temptation to concentrate on one particular medium.
    It will limit your abilities in the long run. If you ever get burnt out down the road you will not have anything to back up on. There is nothing wrong with being a "Jack of All Trades". To be a conceptual individual you should know as many techniques and mediums possible. It all intertwines in one way or another.
    From what I've seen (or what I've been told) from a friend of mine which is an Illustration major at the Art Center, a lot of her class work is very diverse. From traditional art, to digital art, to mixed media art. I personally never intended to be stuck in just one medium (for it gets boring), so I guess that's a personal plus for me. Fine Arts just seems so traditional, like when I think of it, I think of 15th century artists whereas when I think of Illustration, it's sort of a neo-renaissance (for me at least) incorporating the traditional and the modern. And I feel like I'm going to have a harder time finding a job if I major in Fine Arts, but I am most likely wrong in that department. Elwell's first response sort of summed it up for me a bit, or at least made the choice much easier:

    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    In most schools that offer both majors, the illustration department will have more emphasis on representational work. In practice, the only real difference is that illustration gets reproduced, fine art goes on your wall. You may get flack for doing "illustrative" work in a fine arts department, while most illustration departments are open to or even encouraging about doing gallery work.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Storyboard Dave View Post
    I think this is the ideal way to choose. Go into it with a sense of passion. If one feels more passion towards exploring oneself then go with the Fine Art side and if one wants to do more applied work, then go into Illustration.

    Once you're out of school though, it comes down to making a buck with those skills- whether it's called a commission or a job, it's still about you making images for a living.
    Can't I "explore" myself even if I'm in Illustration? Or are you referring to how Fine Arts is more specialized in that department?

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    From an outsider's perspective, I would say go for illustration. It seems to be the more inclusive branch of the discipline, and most of the illustrators I've met are good people. Plus reproduction is power to the people, so there's that too. Really though, it probably all comes down to the individual department and its teachers.


    I think it's fascinating how much faction there is in the academy. Every college of the arts and sciences has like two camps, and everyone seems to click with one side or the other. Its probably designed that way to ensure the publication of more academic journals.

    Last edited by Jasonwclark; August 9th, 2008 at 04:56 AM.
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    the difference between the two as far as what I observe at art center is illustration students have the foundation which is super important, and the fine art students do not. The majority of my favorite gallery painters have an illustration background and then turned to fine arts because they could.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sleep_Eden_sleep View Post
    Can't I "explore" myself even if I'm in Illustration? Or are you referring to how Fine Arts is more specialized in that department?

    I can't speak for how other schools tech Illustration but where I teach, we feel as though we can give out an Illustration assignment and have each individual artist put their own exploration and spin on things. Obviously we want each person to develop their own voice and draw from their own unique experiences, but to me- one of the biggest differences I see is that we'll also attempt to look at the piece from the business side of things too.

    -does the piece solve the problem?
    -was each step's deadlines met?
    -was it delivered digitally in a proper format?
    -what would be fair compensation for a piece like this?

    As an Illustration instructor in these classes, not only do I have to be aware of techniques and personal vision, I also have to be able to play the role of client/ art director when this piece is due. Students need to be able to hear the words, "No, I don't like it. Change it." and be able to do so without fight or attitude- there will always be business & industry standards preached as well. I can't do it to my real world clients nor would I expect to hear that from my students. Those sort of habits & business practices need to be taught right there and the students need to understand the cold hard side of the business too.

    Illustrators work in the field of "commercial art"- so they'd best be prepared to deal with the commerce end of things.

    But to answer your initial question, yes... you are expected to explore yourself, but realize that what you consider might be a great idea- it's also our role as working illustrators/ instructors to be able to tell you it might not work based upon our experience dealing with clientele and tell you why it won't fly.

    After all, that's what you're paying the tuition for, isn't it?

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    How strange...I have never had trouble making a clear distinction between the two in my head, whether one is refering to career path, educational path, or application differences between the two.

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    it just feel that unless you are damn rich or super passion about your personal art, don't go for fine art @ . @

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    Would it be wise to get a bacherlors in painting and a masters in illustration? that way u get the best of both worlds? XD dunno, this is what Im thinking of doing..

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  20. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by fredcheng1987 View Post
    it just feel that unless you are damn rich or super passion about your personal art, don't go for fine art @ . @
    You should be super passionate about your art regardless of what path you take- whether it's in the applied arts or the fine arts. Beyond the educational path, once you get out of school - you'll still have to compete against seasoned pros once you get out.

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