Fine Cartoon Art

exaggerated, in a good way

What is “Fine Cartoon Art”?

Posted by jtebeau on February 17, 2010

When Picasso drew, that was considered art.

"Igor Stravinsky" by Pablo Picasso

When Vonnegut wrote, so was that.

Now, I ask you: why, when you combine the two (illustrated images plus text), why does it get such a bad rap? Why is drawing + art disparaged, out of hand, as junk? As not worthy of the moniker “art?” I’ll tell you why. Bad PR. Massive misunderstanding. An out-dated negative image perpetuated by not only detractors of the medium, but also by its so-called proponents. Think Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.

Worst Frontman Ever. Matt Groening's "Comic Book Guy"

Now, I’m not saying that all comics (and cartoons and other cousins and kin) are fine art. Maybe some aren’t even “art” (whatever that is). I’m just saying that, when done properly and with something to actually say by the artist and/or writer, comics are most certainly art. Sometimes damn fine art. Why wouldn’t they be? If a drawing is skillfully rendered and/or imbued with personal significance by the artist, and the text is likewise meaningful, striving to communicate something (story, feeling, POV, etc.), then of course it’s art. How “fine” it is is up to the reader/viewer to decide. But that’s always been the case, whether with books, paintings, music or movies.

Movies. There’s something we now consider art that at one time were dismissed as silly, frivolous, artless diversions. Some are bad art, some are great. But if the makers of a movie are trying to say something and to even the slightest degree succeeding, then it’s art. Maybe when Edison first filmed a guy sneezing that wasn’t (though Duchamp would probably say it was), but the medium grew up. Movies grew into their big-boy pants over the years and indisputably became art. Sounds about right. And comics have done the same, so let’s just accept that and move on. Comic, cartoons and all their ilk are art.

Now why the hell don’t most American museums (and most Americans, for that matter) feel that way? This is one of our art forms, like jazz, blues, rock and movies. Europe and Japan are getting it. It’s high time we Americans, all the way to the highest levels of the Art World (gag… it kills me that it’s called that, like it’s separate from the Rest of the World, us peons) get this. We should embrace comics and cartoons as real Art. Because it is. And if you disagree, you’re way behind the curve on this, like people who said genre painting (like that no-talent Vermeer) was junk, photography was malarkey, movies were a joke and that jungle music, “Jazz” was just noisy, heathen voodoo.

Comics are art. More on this later.



2 Responses to “What is “Fine Cartoon Art”?”

  1. Joanna said

    Ah, the argument of the ages! At least, among people who spend time sitting around and jawing about the definitive characteristics of the category of human production known as Art-with-a-capital-A… Which, let’s face it, is a fairly small group of people. But as a PhD student at the Institute of Fine Arts (!!!) I’m among them, and oh, I have so much to say about this.

    I’ll start here: Comics are absolutely art. Absolutely. And it’s not just because some well-known people who made Fine Art also made Comic Art (although so many of them did, at least as far back as the Renaissance and likely further, if only the evidence survived). And not even because comic art can be “skillfully rendered and/or imbued with personal significance by the artist,” or because it strives to communicate, though both things may be true. I argue that those things aren’t necessarily definitive of art, in and of themselves.

    So… what is? I have my ideas, but I like to be coy about them.

    Looking forward to future posts!

    • jtebeau said

      Thank you, Joanna. What makes art Art? You’re the PhD candidate, so I know that you know. (Why do you torture us so?) [smiley face goes here]

      I’m thinking about it right now, and we could get into the “Webster’s says THIS” and “Duchamp said THAT,” etc., but really, what I’m more concerned about is people trying to do just that: define absolutely what art is. This then creates a category of what art ISN’T, and that bugs me. It’s so limiting and subjective. And “art,” after all. is just a word, so it’s flawed from the start. A concept generally trumps a word, because the concept was there first, and a word is a feeble attempt to build a fence around that (possibly sprawling and limitless) concept.

      I’m reminded of a painter I once knew who categorically stated that Robert Crumb was absolutely not an artist. I thought it was a buffoonish, pompous thing to say, and it was the grain of sand that started this whole pearl.

      Thanks again, Joanna, You definitely class up the joint, and I look forward to hearing your ideas. Be as coy as you want, but please share them!

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