Illustration covers so many genres, styles, and purposes that it is difficult to encapsulate them with one definition. In the most broad sense, an illustration is a visual representation of a subject accomplished by means of a drawing, painting, or a photograph. The most traditional understanding of illustration is relegated to free-hand drawing, drawings reproduced as wood-cuts or etchings, and, in recent years, computer illustration.
Illustration not only works to describe textual information in practical applications, but also functions to interpret characters in a narrative, often expressing subtle concepts.
Illustration tends to be representational, and therefore, has often be relegated to the position of low art. This may have been exacerbated by its popularity in books and magazines, which hit an all time high during the first part of the twentieth century, illustration's Golden Age. The second, shorter Golden Age of illustration occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. Magazines and billboards used illustration and in the U.S., the work of Norman Rockwell was embraced as an affectionate reflection of 'everyday folks'.
The decline of traditional illustration came with the rising popularity of photography and design in visual communications. Yet with the advent of personal computer technology taking off in the 1990s, illustrators began to experiment with drawing software like Illustrator and Photoshop. The emergence of digital illustration has added a new dimension to the field, yet students are still trained in the traditional methods of illustration. Fusion illustration is a byproduct of this, crossing the boundaries of the hand-drawn and the computer drawn creating hybrid works that incorporate illustration, graphic design, typography, and photography.
Today illustration still struggles to find its place within the realm fine art, with its proponents working to reclaim a place in magazines and advertising and bring it back from the margins of the public imagination.