Monday, September 3, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - Art or wot?

PCO Chairman Andy Davey writes in response to this;

Ah, yes...defining art. This is a treacherous hole down which many a smart commentator has fallen. Any definition is fairly redundant under scrutiny but, personally, I’m with the very wonderful Scott McCloud who has written extensively on the “theory” of cartoon art (although he describes them as, “comics”).

McCloud defines pure art as “any human activity which doesn’t grow out of either of our species’ two basic instincts; survival and reproduction”. The muse is not important – high art has been hijacked variously to depict both the sacred and the profane. The compulsion to make stuff for its own sake and the joy of it is the defining criterion.

This allows you to walk rather smugly around the hole, although the hole is a pretty huge, all-encompassing one. It then simply reduces to a quantitative difference rather than a qualitative one; i.e. how much “art” does this work or activity or performance contain?

Of course, we cartoonists – like all “artists” - fail, by varying degrees, to meet the demanding criterion mentioned above, but it doesn’t mean that the whole genre should be filed under “not art”. Elements of the cartoonist’s art exist to varying levels across the spectrum of drawing and painting, from “Sun Fun” through Gerald Scarfe and probably even to Picasso or Magritte’s work. There are as many vacuous paintings as there are meaning-laden, thought-provoking cartoons.

Unfortunately, the real world is a bit different. Art is what the art establishment – people like Brian Sewell – says it is. As McCloud argues, the “comics” format (and by extension, cartoons) would be seen as art if you made it physical form (put it in a gilt frame), context (put it in a gallery in a glass case) or authorship (anything by Warhol or Hirst is art...isn’t it?). But the critical view is that it isn’t art. And that’s that.

I guess, as Bill says here, we shoot ourselves in the foot because we try to be funny. It’s probably a bit wider than that; not all cartoons are funny – some make painfully serious points with the point of a stiletto. The foot-shooting is as old as the format itself due to occasional association with non-serious content and sensationalism (saucy postcards, horror-comics and childrens’comic books).

Cartoon art is the mongrel born of a bit of guilt-laden inter-species rumpy-pumpy between pictures and words. Rejected by both parents, it’s had to make its own way in the treacherous worlds of art and commerce. With such a poor upbringing, it’s no surprise it lacks self-confidence. Poor genes, no schooling...there was no other logical outcome. It is compelled to start shouting and making a nuisance of itself down at Job Centre Plus.

So, I agree with you, Bill. Mr Sewell is wrong to dismiss a whole art form. His only legitimate function is to tell us what he likes and what he doesn’t.

The Bloghorn says, for Scott McCloud and his excellent, learned writing on where-do-cartoons-come-from, go here


Noel Ford said...

Or, as some might claim, a cartoon is art if it is done by Roy Lichtenstein, but not if it is done by a cartoonist.