SCIART-L Archives

SciArt-L Discussion List-for Natural Science Illustration-


Options: Use Forum View

Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
"Barry K. MacKay" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
SciArt-L Discussion List-for Natural Science Illustration- <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 19 Aug 2015 19:32:42 -0400
text/plain (86 lines)
I've enjoyed this thread and I agree that "arty" is normally used as a pejorative, and especially when directed toward us guys.   

I think that "technical illustration" as described in Taina's thoughtful post can fall outside the boundaries of what I think could reasonably be called "art", but I hold on to the caveat that, in effect, what is determined to be art is determined by the people who determine what is art, and that is rarely the artist.

With the advent of photography (also a visual art form) we have taken away, I think, at least some of the "role" of the artist as chronicler, but also provided a tool that reduces certain needs, such as an ability to draw (although not as much as some non-artists might think).   

I remember once in London I was in a wealthy man's house and he politely reproved me for picking up a small ornament that was made of wire and a couple of bits of metal, soldered together to resemble a caricature of Don Quixote .  It was very valuable, he said.  I was too polite to ask why, which was my first thought, and he clearly wanted me to know, so he added, "It's a Picasso."

What made it a very valuable piece of art, apparently, was not the inherent thought or effort that went into it, but who did it.   I've seen many pieces like it, by non-name artists, that would sell for one percent of what that bit of work was worth, but that's the nature of art, and I was careful to touch nothing else.

However, apart from resell value, I prefer those wonderful ceramics.  

They would be dismissed by that class of people I'm calling "art snobs" as "crafts", a lesser form of creative work.   But these things come and go.   It is part of the nature of the art snob world to invent all manner of genres and subgenres and schools and periods and what have you, to pigeonhole that which, really, has value that is partly functional (and very much so in much of what the good folks on this list do) but also whose value is very much subjective.

It can't really be any other way.

I just think it is unfortunate, and in a way, the losers are the art admirers themselves.

Finally, I don't like the term "wildlife artist", which is what I get called.  I suppose that's the snob in me but it is far too limiting, in part because as a genre it has such a wide appeal to the degree that it winds up being derivative.   

But that said, those who paint animals more or less in natural settings are also hampered by the fact that the would-be "art deciders", be they snobs or not, really can't understand the rules people like me play with.  Like a good poem, or piece of music, I impose "rules".  All visual more or less realistic art does, even if whimsical, and that means that while one does not reproduce reality, that's impossible, one does not invent beyond the confines of reality.  But what art dealer knows how many primary feathers an Osprey has, or the dentition of a snarling wolf.  And even if one is painting very broadly, one "has" to follow the conventions imposed upon biology.

That should not isolate what we do from more "accepted" art, it's just that it requires knowledge that evaluating a portrait, or still life, or landscape, usually does not.  The sincerity of folk art comes through; the sincerity of a lover of chipmunks or chickadees, perhaps less so.

I think that, plus natural hubris...the tendency to see things as valued only to the degree they pertain to the human condition, tend to squeeze out any appreciation of that sub-sub-genre I happen to be in.



Barry Kent MacKay
Bird Artist, Illustrator
Studio: (905)-472-9731
[log in to unmask]

-----Original Message-----
From: SciArt-L Discussion List-for Natural Science Illustration- [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Will Smith
Sent: August-19-15 6:52 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [SCIART] Is it ART?

Now you have sorted that out can you get people in the sciences to stop calling everything we do "arty" in a disparaging way, which often carries with it the connotation that it can't really be a manly activity.

Will Smith
Queensland Herbarium
Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Mt Coot-tha
Mt Coot-tha Road, Toowong Qld 4066, Australia Email [log in to unmask]

-----Original Message-----
From: SciArt-L Discussion List-for Natural Science Illustration- [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Taina Litwak
Sent: Thursday, 20 August 2015 1:32 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [SCIART] Is it ART?

“Art”.   The modern understanding of the term, I believe, includes the concept that the maker emotionally and intellectually is working on expressing him/herself in some manner on the worthy topic of the human condition and culture.   Plays, novels, fine art painting, landscapes, still life, abstractions, conceptual stuff, sculpture, film, any image making…. One topic, 7 billion interpretations.

This is where illustration – the goal of which is inherently to tell a story or explain a specific something - falls a bit outside. Editorial illustration, which is often conceptual and if its any good IS evocative, frequently address aspects of the human condition (or situations) and gets so some slack. So it is sometimes reluctantly included as “art”.

Technical illustration – scientific and natural history included - does not deal with  this and so we are not invited under the umbrella of “art”.  Some good scientific illustration is emotionally evocative of course, but much is not.   It is not the goal of the work.  We make images that society has come to value as the way our culture sees Science changes.  What we do with our images CAN put our output on a more meta level, and the resulting self-aware product can jump into the traditional sphere of “Art".   But usually our clients have no interest in doing that.  They just need us to explain the facts, in the vehicle of their choice.  This is what I have made a living doing for the past 35 years.  Image making - I love it. It has value, but it's not “art”.


Litwak Illustration Studio
13029 Chestnut Oak Drive
Darnestown, MD 20878

tel: 301-527-0569
mobile: 240-750-9245

Need to leave or subscribe to the Sciart-L listserv? Follow the instructions at
This E-Mail is intended only for the addressee. Its use is limited to that intended by the author at the time and it is not to be distributed without the author's consent. Unless otherwise stated, the State of Queensland accepts no liability for the contents of this E-Mail except where subsequently confirmed in writing. The opinions expressed in this E-Mail are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the State of Queensland. This E-Mail is confidential and may be subject to a claim of legal privilege. If you have received this E-Mail in error, please notify the author and delete this message immediately.

Need to leave or subscribe to the Sciart-L listserv? Follow the instructions at

Need to leave or subscribe to the Sciart-L listserv? Follow the instructions at