A police detective like Sargent Joe Friday is after facts, and doesn't want to be distracted by anything else. But David Byrne complains that "facts are simple and facts are straight" --that as a means of describing our lived reality, facts are inadequate and therefore misleading to the point of a kind of paradoxical falsehood. "Facts just twist the world around, facts are living turned inside out." As a fan of hunches, ambiguities, premonitions, and the color grey, I can align with my art school crush quite happily around his imperative to stop making sense. Then, at other times I also am keenly (sometimes painfully) aware of the value of keeping one's eye on the ball, and the kind of straight-ahead pragmatism needed in (professional) practice.
In editorial illustration, you are are often called upon to replicate as visual images the information contained in an article: to represent the Federal Reserve, to convey that the people in this story are doctors, to symbolize ”retirement account, ” The Law,” “France”– whatever the topic is. This is the game, making a picture correspond to/reflect a particular reality, to put an idea into the reader's mind, consciously or subconsciously: to get them to make a connection. Even when it is quite literal, concept-crunching can be a fun, like a puzzle, and give satisfaction. But games can be tedious, or feel trivial, too. A one-to-one correspondence between the denoted content of the article and the denoted content of the illustration can sometimes feel labored.
Your image is there to make the viewer curious, to make them want to read the text. Something that is purely about information is not necessarily that fun to look at , and (on a related note) not that fun to produce. "Not bloody funny, get on your bicycle and go home, " as Mike Meyers says, imitating his Scottish father who held everyone up to the same criterion (is he or she funny). And really, what is more important than amusement? For a yardstick to hold up to a commercial art form that's there to be liked, one could do worse, much worse. If people don't find an illustration pleasurable (or at least, engaging), really, what is the point?
The poet Frost offers this helpful rule of thumb: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." What I notice I enjoy most, and find most rewarding, in the realm of editorial problem-solving, (ie, coping with the imperative to communicate meaning (s) in illustration) --and also, not coincidentally, when the results seem to work best for others --is when the visual is based on feeling, rather than on something intellect-driven. That’s when intuition can step into your process; when the expression of emotion, or a "sense of" something, becomes more important than description of the circumstances of the case. That's when it might stop feeling to you like work, and when you might be surprised what (sometimes, seemingly, without effort or thought) comes out.