Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Brave New World of "Graphic Journalism"

Illustration by Ralph Steadman

With the recent success of my Urban Sketching course at the Ottawa School of Art (Ottawa's first-ever USK course!), I've been keeping my ear to the ground for topics relating to the brave new world of urban sketching, sketch journalism, etc.

Here's an article by Samuel Burr about "Graphic Journalism," which I came across this morning in American Reader. While tangential to Urban Sketching, Graphic Journalism interests me nonetheless because of the inventive and genre-bending way it combines text with images (urban sketches also often use text; however, they more clearly favour the image). One of the things we cover in my Urban Sketching class at the OSA is how urban sketching differs from visual journalism. The two are obviously closely related as well (kind of like cousins...).

I find Burr's description of how one encounters images within the body of text in graphic journalism very interesting. I've reproduced this discussion below. For the full article, click here.

Evidence of this is a new form of journalism, which is edging its way into the mainstream—graphic journalism. Signs that this form of journalism is very much on the ascent have glowed bright neon for a while now. Ralph Steadman’s illustrations combined with Hunter S. Thompson’s text in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas laid some ground work. Still, it was not quite graphic journalism. An influence, certainly. A foundation, not exactly. Graphic journalism mixes coverage of real events of a broad scope (investigative journalism, event coverage, even critical examinations and first person accounts of travel, media, et cetera) with illustrations, as Lucy Knisley’s current piece “The New Life of the… COMIC BOOK” demonstrates. Artists with rooted interest in graphic journalism at this early stage, such as Ms. Knisley, are not only pioneers, but they are progressively shepherding this new form of journalism towards a wider audience. When it will truly “arrive” is up for debate, but the mainstream (though it is this form’s inevitable destination) has no purchase on graphic journalism from an artistic standpoint. So, enjoy graphic journalism now, as these roots are as plentiful as they are pulchritudinous.
One of the fascinating elements of this genre is the manner in which the illustrations that break up the passages not only leaven the text as artistic evidence of sorts, but also allows one’s mind to engage the subject and go places that one does not when reading a text-only article. The pauses engendered by the pictorial breaks recall the experience of viewing art in general. That affinity between the calm act of encounter and the pause the reader must take in the midst of reading is a curious and important one.
But how these two experiences—encountering illustrations in graphic journalism and viewing art in a traditional gallery setting—differ is perhaps most interesting. When you meet with an illustration in a work of graphic journalism, you are in the midst of an unfolding narrative that is not your own; you have a story; you’re already implicated in another world by proxy of the text. When viewing art in a traditional setting, however, you may go into the gallery thinking about your daily to-do list: perhaps worrying about your laundry, your girlfriend, your life—you go in thinking of something, and so, in an important sense, your mind is not free. Because the artistic act is doubled in graphic journalism—because you first give yourself into a written narrative, and then to a visual one—your mind is free (or at least, freer). Your mind, perhaps subconsciously, absconds from the quotidian, from your lamentations of the past and your presentiments of the future. It is more possible to live in the moment, however fleetingly, because you have here, in one contained genre, two modes of escape, two accomplices. And so, in an interesting and deeply compelling way, this newest instantiation of the doubled art experience opens new avenues to the imagination, new ways of engaging the senses.

(Again, for the full article by Samuel Burr in American Reader, please click here).