A forgotten art?

November 28, 2014 By Hughes

I was uplifted this morning to see this Guardian article about the use of illustration in advertising. It’s always a joy to see some beautiful imagery, in whatever form, but it was particularly thought provoking to see the use of some stunning art in a commercial context. We’ve got a card on the notice board here at Hughes HQ which quotes: “Industry without art is brutality” (John Ruskin). Without really knowing why, the quote struck a deep emotional chord when I saw it at the Hay Festival earlier this year and, although I had no one to send it to, I had to have it.

What really struck me about the illustrations shown in the article is the impact their uniqueness has. That stands whether the illustration is extremely complex and technically brilliant, as in the airbrush work for Penguin, or at the opposite end of the ‘technical scale’ where the simplicity of the World Wildlife Fund and Guinness campaigns has equal dramatic effect.

The growth and accessibility of stock photography has proved a double-edged sword in the world of creative communications. On the one hand it offers us designer types and our clients the benefit of the ‘instant hit’ of seeing a creative idea or concept come to life before our very eyes, and at a budget cost that we could only have dreamed about 5 or 6 years ago, let alone back in the days before the web became the normal way of sharing everything. But at what cost? While the clever use of Photoshop on a stock image can in itself be ‘art’, we all have to be wary of the loss of individuality and uniqueness, which are of extreme importance in the building of a brand.

It has become increasingly difficult to sell creative concepts which can only ever be truly created form ‘scratch’. At the risk of sounding like an old codger, declaring “when I were a lad…”, I will admit to being old enough to remember the days when a concept would be sold from a clever and quickly drawn up Pantone marker visual (not quite back in the ‘Mad Men’ era, but you get the gist). We were able to sell the look and gut feel of the core creative message from that alone, and then produce, create or commission photography and illustration to fulfill its potential in a unique way. It may be a problem that particularly afflicts smaller, regional creative companies, but nowadays it seems that everyone wants a complete ‘what you see is what you get’ ‘view before you buy’ kind of experience.

But that may be because they are just not aware that it is easier and more affordable than you think to remove the blinkers and see beyond the photolibrary convenience store. So as a team, we are going to take Ruskin’s quote as inspiration to flex our creative muscles even further and bring a touch more uniqueness through art.

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