Caricatures, Cartoons, and Art: Overlapping Curiosities

Some of my fondest memories as a child were days sitting on my grandparents’ porch reading the Sunday funnies.  The reading part was the priority in those days.  These days, however, a good portion of my time “reading” the newspaper comics tends towards simply looking at the drawings themselves.  Every once in awhile, an illustration will really fascinate me and beg the question: “is this Art?”

Now enter the opened can of worms.

In general, I stand firm that most of those cartoons are not Art.  Yet, there is a fine line between a cartoon, a caricature, and a simple (dare I say minimalistic?) drawing that truly captures the essence of things.  There is beauty in the economy of a cartoon and meaning echoed in the exaggerations of a caricature.

First thing’s first: what’s the difference between the a caricature and cartoon?

car·i·ca·ture
noun

  1. A picture, description, or imitation of a person or thing in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect
  2. The art or style of such exaggerated representation

car·toon
noun

  1. A simple drawing showing the features of its subjects in a humorously exaggerated way, esp. a satirical one in a newspaper or magazine
  2. A simplified or exaggerated version or interpretation of something

The dictionary’s descriptions seem extremely similar to me.  At its core, the cartoon and caricature are the same: a drawing of something with exaggerated features. However, caricatures are generally meant to be portraits of sorts, for the viewer recognizes the contents as a specific person/place/thing from their own reality.  A cartoon is a more general term for a simple, yet exaggerated, style of drawing.

But would I be willing to say that Daumier composed many fine cartoons in his career? Or that Hokusai was an extremely talented cartoonist? I don’t know about that.  But it’s worth checking out, say, the New York Times cartoons every once in awhile, because you never know when you’ll have a chance encounter with something that seems awfully like Art…when the visual forms take on a new meaning, and there is depth of meaning.

p.s. I would definitely recommend buying a treasury of New York Times cartoons.  Some of them are really fascinating…fine artistic pieces more than mere social commentary.  I have this one!

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