From Milton Glaser’s essay Dark and Light – The Strange Case of the Decline of Illustration

Photography has another intrinsic characteristic that illustration lacks. The innate sense of capturing a ‘real” moment in time proving that the subject actually existed. This separates it from other works of the imagination and makes it a perfect vehicle for advertising. Our society requires a culture based on images to furnish entertainment and to stimulate buying. Above all, photography seems to validate and protect the existing social conditions. Because of its believability, photography is unexcelled as a tool to generate desire, which in part explains the diminished role of illustration in advertising. In a culture that values commerce above all other things, the imaginative potential of illustration has become irrelevant.

For those who control the narrative of American life, illustration is now too idiosyncratic, harder to control and are less reassuring than the photographic imagery we have all grown up with. This is not to say that illustrators exist outside the world of commerce. On the contrary, we are all embedded in that world. But the need to express some aspect of our personal vision makes us suspect, at a time when the bottom line is the bottom line.

Glaser touches on many expressionist theory hot spots. I’m not sure if I’ve understood everything we’ve learned, so please correct my at my faults.

Photography captures ‘real’ moments in time. Plato said there was a true, authentic reality and art corrupts and distorts the world which exists. Glaser argues that photography can capture the ‘real’ moment, much better than illustration can. Plato would probably agree if he had the iPhone 4 camera too. But we all know that photographers can leverage the power of angles, shadows, cropping and light–not even considering the power of Photoshop now.

He then continues on to talk about the power of imagination, which is what makes it so powerful in advertising. Imagination, coming from a raw idea on the way to a materialized idea is something somewhat formed. Illustrations allow us to project an image of something more real than a drawing in our head. But a photograph, Glaser argues, let’s us, the view, leap forward and see the idea materialized. We see its realness. The photo gives the idea “believability” and when it has believability it generates desire.

Desire? Desire!? I believe desire is an emotion. It’s rooted in feeling. And, Wikipedia says its an emotion (just kidding, Jeff!). Glaser says photography is a tool to “generate emotion” which sounds a lot to me like evoking emotion from the viewer. Advertising photography is a craft. It is not primarily an expression of the photographer, it is a tool to make you feel things and in Glaser’s case to buy what they are selling.

Glaser argues that the people who consumer these advertisements understand that artists express their emotion through illustration and photography is more real by the nature of the technology. Therefor, it seems more honest and easier  to trust. We all know, now, that is certainly not the case. We know photographs can be manipulated. But where does that leave us when we get swept up in the emotional appeal of a photo (or video)? #marx

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