Credit where credit’s due: how illustrators get a raw deal when it comes to awards

words and illustration by Steve McCarthy

The song ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ was written by Mick Jagger, the play Othello was written by Sir Walter Raleigh and the Godfather II was one of Quentin Tarantino's best works. That hurts doesn’t it? It gets under your skin to see people miscredited, it’s a small but affecting injustice. Worse than having work wrongly attributed to someone else, is having your name entirely omitted from your work. It’s a practice that seems bizarrely commonplace in the Irish creative world, and notably in my chosen passion, illustration.

At this year’s Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards, Irish illustrators were inexplicably ignored in favour of putting writers centre-stage.

The winner of children’s ‘junior category’ this year was a charming book called Pigín of Howth, illustrated by Margaret Anne Suggs and written by someone, we assume, there’s no reason to point out who they are, right? You can go look it up!

Kathleen Watkins (the writer) was (all joking aside) worthy of the accolade and was called to the stage to receive her award for a picture book (nota bene), whilst the Illustrator wasn’t even called by name! At this years Institute of Designers Ireland awards, illustrator Fatti Burke wasn’t even informed, let alone credited, for something she had designed, which then won Best Product Design! 

The Irish Times posted a piece yesterday titled:“Pigín of Howth book award controversy: three sides of the story”, with statements from Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards and Gill Books neither of which seemed to address the underlying issue directly. Today the Illustrators’ Guild Ireland responded in The Irish Times by pointing out the inherent unfairness of the the way we’re treated entitled: “Do you need me to draw you a picture?”

Nobody is inherently to blame, and therein lies the problem.

It’s a lazy collective attitude, a convoluted notion of what does and doesn’t constitute art, what categories art fits into, and who is an artist and who isn’t.

It’s the kind of bizarre attitude that led the Taoiseach to name an Irish Navy patrol ship after the exiled Samuel Beckett, then massively reduce arts funding while visiting Washington DC for the launch of the Ireland 100 Arts Festival, while quoting JFK  saying, “I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the artist.”

We have a toxic attitude to the arts in this country, a misguided notion that art is its own reward, when in fact it’s everyone’s reward for creating an atmosphere where it can manifest itself.

On the one hand we celebrate our designers, artists, illustrators and creatives as the best in the world, and on the other we reduce their worth, limit their involvement and systematically exclude them from their achievements and awards ceremonies.

It's simply embarrassing.

Illustration by Steve McCarthy

Illustration by Steve McCarthy

We are lucky to have found ourselves with such a vibrant creative community, and we can no longer afford to be the bad boyfriend to our dearest sweetheart.

So the next time you see an artist getting a raw deal be the first to step up and ask for them to be shown some respect.