Cartoons and "Art"

I was asked to write an article for the Australian Cartoonists' Association magazine Inkspot so I picked the subject of cartoons and their relationship to "Art" ... consequently I was a little confused to see the mag yesterday and find that that the opening paragraph is not mine and is about avian flu!

Then I got an email from my cartoonist colleague Clive Collins who was equally confused, saying it's his intro, from an earlier issue. I'm guessing that some page over-writing went on here. I thought I'd mention it on my blog in case anyone who read it thought I'd gone insane (perhaps affected by avian flu).

Below is a cartoon which accompanied the article (which I'll be reproducing on a Big Board at the Shrewsbury Cartoon Festival next month) and the article itself ... as it was meant to be seen.

The subject of Art, with a capital A, and its relation to cartoons, or otherwise, has been much discussed among the UK’s cartooning community lately.

This was partly prompted by an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London, which was all about “laughing” and aimed to see if Art can be funny. So there was a machine that tells jokes, photographs of a man trying to fly, a video installation of a clown struggling through a forest – stop! Oh, my aching sides!

But the work of cartoonists, whose work is usually funny in a far less ham-fisted way, was not included. Cartoons, of course, are not seen as Art. There’s that capital letter again.

Another reason that Art is prominent in the minds of UK cartoonists is that it is also the theme of this year’s Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival, which takes place on the weekend of April 18-20. Many cartoonists have already submitted cartoons on the theme “But is it Art?” for the festival’s exhibition and are now limbering up to produce a “Big Board” on the subject in the market square during the festival.

So, can cartoons be Art? The problem is that it’s one of those words, like “cartoons” and “comics” that can be interpreted in different ways. We all talk about producing artwork, but how many would claim they are works of Art?

I’ve decided that, really, I don’t care. And although I’m happy to see cartoon exhibitions promoting our industry, such as those at Shrewsbury, I always feel that cartoons look best where they belong: on the page. I recently attended an exhibition of work by Heath Robinson, but I had a pressing appointment and didn’t allow myself enough time to take it all in. But it didn’t matter; I just bought the programme and looked at the cartoons at my leisure in the format in which they were meant to be seen.

Cartoons, at the risk of sounding a bit Tony Blair, are The People’s Art. They belong in newspapers, magazines and books, more so than galleries. And when they are there, you can bet that they’re far, far funnier than a film of a clown stuck in a forest.

The Shrewsbury Cartoon Festival runs from April 18-20. The "But is it Art?" exhibition opens today (March 30) and runs until April 26.

Cartoons by Royston