Tuesday, June 29, 2010

See http://www.facebook.com/mark.newgarden?v=wall&story_fbid=133625516666150 for a discussion of some Soviet propaganda and stereotypes from the mid-20th Century. The animations can be found at YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taA1cr85-L8&feature=related

The comment above mine congratulates ourselves (early 21st Century folks) for being SO much more enlightened and advanced than our predecessors.

Not so fast!

My view as a satirist is that we have not progressed. In fact we have regressed. We've just substituted one form of dumbed-down intolerance for another. Or should I say several forms for several others. Here was the writer's comment, to which I responded below:

To a modern audience these anti-Nazi and anti-"Jap" cartoons seem like remnants from another civilization--racist and oversimplified to the intellectual level of a little child.

But the emergency wrought by Hitler (and Japan) was so very clear-cut and the danger to civilization itself so pressing that the American administration hadn't the luxury of complex and subtle reasoning. We had to win. Whatever it took. And that was that.

My reply:

I really enjoyed looking at the Soviet animations, and this is a great discussion! As a longtime satirist who started doing political cartoons in the 1960s (as a high school kid), I want to point out that our "modern" audience is equally guilty of an oversimplified and childish intellectual level. Today it's a PC version, but it's just as stupid as... See More what existed in the 20th Midcentury, and equally based in cheap political power-mongering by various groups within society.

In the 1940s-50s-early 60s, demonization in anti-Nazi and anti-"Jap" cartoons was the norm. Today, demonization of anyone who thought that way is ALSO highly oversimplified. There is little or no effort to understand these images in their own context. People today are guilty of contextualizing everything in purely present-day terms. They are just as kneejerk and unsophisticated as ever. Today they have been trained to see racism and sexism and homophobia as bad, but they do not generalize from these that ALL forms of bigotry are bad. So they indulge in ageism and ableism and other horrendous forms of demonization.

And yes, one of these is demonizing ALL white males, even though it is a relatively small % of them who wreaks all the havoc on society and most are not members of the power elite at all and many of us are exactly the people who helped lead and effect the cultural revolution of the 60s-70s that has had many successes in fighting racism and sexism and homophobia--but GASP, I can't say that out loud, can I? Because it doesn't fit into the regimented, oversimplified, dumbed down PC mythology of the moment.

The late 60s-early 70s was really the only time in my life that there seemed to be a true chance of mass enlightenment when satire was possible in all directions, and therefore effective as a way of counteracting all forms of bigotry.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Caricaturing to "make a little extra cash on the side..."

A few weeks ago, we watched the end of a movie on Showtime that was so bad it was funny enough to watch when nothing else was on.

It was called "Exit Speed." Here's the summation:

On Christmas Eve, ten strangers board a bus traveling across Texas. Far out in the wilds they collide with a meth-addicted biker. Forced off the road by other members of the gang, the passengers take refuge in the hell hole of an abandoned scrap yard. They use improvised weapons and sheer guts to mount a defense against the murderous bikers but, as their numbers dwindle, they realize that their survival depends on doing the unthinkable. They must go on the offensive. Written by Sabbatical Pictures

At one point, the victims of the mad biker gang are holed up in a shack preparing for the next attack from the bikers. One of them, a young (attractive, sensitive type) woman, sketches a little on a scrap of paper. It's a drawing of another victim, an attractive young man. A little romance is implied between these two characters.

"What are you doing?" he asks her.

"Oh, nothing... I just, sometimes, draw... I, uh, I do caricature sketches, make a little extra cash on the side. I draw graphic novels."

Here is what has taken down the art of caricature from something unique and special to something everyday and mundane. The invasion of bottomfeeders and opportunists who regard caricature as basically just some sort of fourth-rate non-art that anyone who can hold a pencil can do.

There are art students, hobbyists and amateurs all over the place who are now calling themselves "caricaturists." They have no knowledge of the history of the art form nor familiarity with contemporary caricature artists who take the art seriously. Rather, their work ethic and drawing style are informed exclusively by other fellow bottomfeeders and opportunists, with a little help from the party planning agencies and retail caricature booth operators who exploit them for profit.

The notion that caricature is something one just does "on the side" for a "little bit of extra cash" is disgusting and has torn down something that was once great and diminished it to the point of such unimportance that it has become difficult to continue practicing it without having to spend an inordinate amount of time educating individuals inquiring about my services, one at a time, to disabuse them of the assumptions they have formed about caricature as an art form based on their limited exposure to these mostly horrible "artists."

I hope to get a chance to post arguments suggesting to young artists the reasons why it is against their own best interests to "make a little cash on the side" from caricaturing (or attempted caricaturing) if that is not the particular artistic talent that they happen to be genuinely best at. I also hope to address the character of those who are happy to exploit these wannabees, and expose some of the psychic tactics they deploy to entice good-natured people, both artists and buyers (clients who hire caricaturists for events and customers at theme parks, festivals, fairs and malls), and how badly these people are ripped off by them.

Check back...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Books on "how to" draw caricatures

I hate this trend of thousands of artists or aspiring artists trying to become caricaturists. I purchased a few of them this year, and just wrote a review for one on Amazon.com. It doesn't go up immediately after writing it, so I don't have the URL yet, but the book can be found at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1848372744/ref=cm_cr_mts_prod_img, and here is the text of my review:

Misnomer: this is not a CARICATURING book but a PORTRAIT
book, June 5, 2010

P. Wagner (Minneapolis, MN United States)

Artist's Workbook - Drawing Caricatures (Artist's Workbooks)(Paperback)

Caricatures are NOT portraits! This book does what almost all the new books supposedly/purportedly calling themselves "Caricature" books do: it gives the basic rules for how to draw a realistic PORTRAIT, and then says, "Okay, now just exaggerate the nose or some other feature a little, and VOILA! You have a caricature!"

Not so fast. That is NOT a true caricature at all. Yes, I am guilty of doing some portraits along these lines, and I sometimes refer to them as caricatures for the sake of a shorthand description of them. (See http://wag-caricatures.blogspot.com/) But to write a whole book (well, this is very skinny, maybe I shouldn't call it a whole book) with the basics of portraiture and then call it a book on caricature, is misleading. I appreciate the effort and work it takes to put together a book, but...

If you can't draw funny in a perfectly natural way, without having to resort to a formula, you are not a caricature artist and you are never going to become one. Period. Your brain just isn't wired the right way. Sure, go ahead and try to see if you have some fun, but then do it in a spirit of total humor, not trying to craft some stuffy portrait and then distort it in random ways to hope to arrive at a caricature. To that end, books like this may do you more harm than good. People with basic drawing skills who try to force a caricature are like people with basic public speaking skills who try to suddenly get up on stage and force standup comedy.

You aren't a naturally funny person, you are not going to "learn" to become one, and the "comedy" or caricatures you do will be BAD. You shouldn't be there, you're only making us uncomfortable and ruining the art form for the few who really have an actual gift for it.