Cartoonery is not art. By which I mean nothing disparaging. There’s a mystery to most art making. Picasso said “If your painting doesn’t go wrong it will be no good.” Duchamp stated “There doesn’t exist a painter who knows himself or knows what he is doing” and Lucian Freud noted that every strong painting needs “a little bit of poison.” “Pictures which are interpretable, and which contain a meaning, are bad pictures,” said Gerhard Richter. Most artists will agree that accident may be important, putting into a piece something he or she didn’t intend. Two of Hilma af Klint’s work principles hung on the wall at her 2018/2019 show at the Guggenheim, one being: Understand Only In Part.
Cartoonery is utterly different. A cartoon may be intended to express a thought, channel a feeling, puncture a fantasy, comment on a modish style, ridicule what the cartoonist considers a deserving target, whatever, but it must do so succintly and quickly or the humor dies. A cartoonist is not mysterious, unless, of course—loophole alert—that’s the point of the cartoon.
The thing is this. The World of Words in which I grew up has been turned by screens into a World of Images, which itself is evolving fast. In art the narrative of Modernism, the on-rush of Isms, is done, and now it’s everyone for his or her self. And photography? The photograph, a powerful presence when made by the reportage greats like Cartier-Bresson or studio maestros, such as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, has been rendered banal by iPhonery and drained of trust by AI and Deep Fakes.
All of which gives cartoonery an opening. The threat of AI? Robots can’t tell jokes! It seems good timing for the return of the cartoon eye, the cartoon voice, once an American glory. So cartoonery is not art? Okay! But can a cartoon hold a page or a wall as well as art? Of course. But I would say that, wouldn’t I? Here are some of mine.
Anthony Haden Guest
PS. Don’t want to be pushy, all! But there’s a book of ‘em out, Fun Times. Here’s the link.