Picture book Illustrations At Last Recognized as 'Art'

March 14, 2008

     "Fluff for kids." "Enjoy it and forget it." "It's not art... it's popular and lowbrow." Such have been the comments on the state of both cartooning and picture book art. Both creative forms have suffered a miserable lack of respect from the art world. A similar problem has been found with commercially successful artists such as Robert Bateman, whose paintings have been collected around the world, but whose work was ignored, even snubbed by the arts community until just recently. But now, that low level of respect for picture book art is changing - the pictures are finally being seen in a new light. Picture book art has been declared to be Art, being collected, framed and hung on walls, featured in galleries, selling for good prices.

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     How could these pieces not have been classed as art? The pictures in kid's books are created with pen and ink and watercolours, like those delightful pictures of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Others paint with oils, acrylics, just as fine artists do. Perhaps sculpted with unusual media like Plasticene and clay, such as the work of Barbara Reid. Some are created digitally, just as many of the new-age artists do. The artists spend hours, days, perhaps weeks and months getting the picture just right, the image, the tone, the hues. The piece is then set onto a picture book page and copied for many to gaze at and enjoy.

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    Art lovers are finding galleries for picture book art. Museums are hosting picture book exhibits with great success, such as the Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts featuring the art of book illustrator Eric Carle, the Museum also hosts exhibits of other book artists on a regular basis. In Findlay, Ohio, the Mazza Museum of International Picture Book Art is a teaching museum, part of the University of Findlay. Other influential museums have taken an interest too, such as the Tacoma Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago, said Stephanie Reitz in a recent Associated Press article.

    A sign of good art is its ability to touch the viewer's heart, to provoke an emotion or to inspire. Who hasn't felt a lump in the throat when seeing Michael Marchenko's art in Love You Forever, written by Robert Munsch? Who hasn't been amazed at the ingenious way Barbara Reid takes a lump of clay and forms a face, an action. And the monsters in Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are bring a smile every time. From vibrant splashes of colour to delicate penwork, from cartoon to realism, abstract to wild imagination, the scope and variety is unending. Some pieces have become timeless: do images of Cat in the Hat, Curious George and Peter Rabbit pop into your mind? Sounds like art to me.

     Picture book illustrations are art, classic and modern, inventive and creative, fine and bold. As originals or in prints, they are worthy of collecting, of framing and hanging in prominent positions in any home, in any office, in any gallery along with the great artists. The picture book pieces are art, the creators are artists, plain and simple. It has taken much too long for such great work to be recognized.

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© Susanna McLeod 2008