In the spirit of October, I'm going to possibly create a monster here. Like all good monsters, this one may well come back and destroy me. If that happens, my only request is that you and the rest of the villagers form an angry yet organized mob replete with torches and pitchforks and hunt down the monster. Possibly with a pipe organ playing in the background.
People sometimes ask me what I like to be called in terms of my job. I always say "illustrator" as opposed to "artist". I draw for a living, but unlike an artist, I draw what other people hire me to draw. There's some creative freedom, but ultimately I am beholden to the goals and visions of the organizations and individuals who are nice enough to hire me. Also unlike art, illustration is created to serve a particular end (rather than being created for its own sake). In that respect, there are similarities between illustration and advertising.
I've often wondered whether or not I would eventually be approached by a client with whom I disagreed either politically or socially. I've worked with a wide variety of clients over the years and I have disagreed with many of them on any number of subjects. But the illustration never pertained to those disagreements and so the question remained academic, hypothetical. The illustrations I've done have never (to my knowledge) been implemented to accomplish something I found politically or morally objectionable.
But what if the opportunity came up? Would I, for instance, create illustrations for a cigarette company? I'd like to think the answer is no. But I've never been asked. What if I was broke? I'd like to think the answer would still be no, but I also know firsthand how stressful and upsetting money can be (in the interest of full disclosure, I've only ever experienced the stress that comes from too little money, though I'm perfectly willing to entertain the stress that comes from having too much if anyone wants to make a sizable donation to the Noah Kroese Live Like a Plutocrat Foundation). With all due respect to Biggie Smalls, I think he should have said "Mo' money, DIFFERENT problems".
Here's the bottom line: If I disagree with the statement or aim of an illustration and I do it anyway, does that damage my integrity? How do I think about myself as a person at that point? Do I divorce myself from the message, telling myself that I'm really just an illustrator, a hired hand doing a job? Or is that just a rationalization? Does that make me Practical Pete or Pontius Pilate? Both? Is it too idealistic to even bring this up? I don't have answers to any of these questions, by the way.
This all seems pretty melodramatic and, admittedly, it is. But it's a question I've thought about off and on for years and this was a good opportunity to bring it up.
Here's the illustration that fostered all this pontificating: The latest for ForexPros. The comic (subject written by ForexPros) intimates that, with the November election looming, the government is faking the unemployment numbers to get Barack Obama re-elected. Maybe this is super naive, but faking the unemployment numbers seems far-fetched to me. Seems like most if not all the data used to compile the unemployment figures are available to everyone, which would make corroborating those numbers a relatively straightforward process.
"Wait," I can hear you say in my head, "You made it sound like you'd just finished a series of promotional illustrations for the Westboro Baptist Church and it ended up just being about unemployment numbers?"
Well, critic in my head, I know it's not exactly the moral quandary of the decade. If anything, it's more of a gray area. But, like I said, I thought this was a good vehicle for discussion.
All that said, Barack Obama's face looks pretty good, right?