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The lost art of illustration

By Sebastian Smee   89

Not so long ago, our visual environment-by which I mean the non-stop urban theatre of billboards and posters, magazines, road signs and shop fronts-was dominated by a combination of typography and illustration. Today, typography still thrives, but the once-flourishing world of illustration has been cordoned off and left for dead.

Now photography is the preferred pictorial medium of both the advertising industry and the print media. Newspapers have decimated the ranks of their in-house illustrators. Only the most tradition-conscious magazines, such as the New Yorker and the Spectator (and occasionally Prospect) run cover illustrations. Today’s advertisers utilise the talents of…

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