Wednesday, March 25, 2015

EXTREME CARICATURE

Even the harshest caricature requires balance.  Artists with strong opinions may try extreme exaggerations, only to discover that their caricatures lose strength rather than gaining it.  Illustrator Ralph Steadman offered one reason why caricaturists can't afford to get too carried away:
Distortion ultimately loses its potency as it departs too dramatically from authentic human or bestial form
Artists with the talent to maintain control at the extremes-- who can approach the limits, but retain the hair-line judgment to know when to stop-- those are the masters who are able to devise some truly devastating images.   (I'm not talking here about mere likenesses.  The drawings I'm describing are in a different category from anything Al Hirschfeld or David Levine or Mort Drucker ever dreamed up.)

The following are examples of such caricature from artists I admire.  First is Steve Brodner's depiction of Ted Cruz:

Fairly conventional caricatures surround Brodner's vicious treatment of Cruz
Brodner's unerring eye located the reptilian elements in Cruz's DNA and brought them to the fore

Tom Fluharty's devastating treatment of Hilary Clinton won attention-- and laughs-- from both sides of the aisle.

 

Here, Fluharty-- who is really a very nice person in real life-- contorts Obama's face to the limits of recognizability.

Fluharty's expertise as a portrait painter enables him to take great liberties with the bones and muscles of the face, without losing control
In the following picture, John Cuneo literally strips bare a rogue's gallery of saggy old (mostly white) guys:

 

No limits: Dick Cheney's shriveled penis draped on the coffin of the war dead

Steadman believed that "The very dark primeval spur of all drawing [is] the deep desire to wield a supernatural power over a victim, the subject of the portrayal." 

As you try to erase these horrifying images from your mind, you can feel that power at work. 

67 comments:

MORAN said...

Love Brodner's Cruz. That guy is a fucking vampire.

Richard said...

I suspect Brodner was working primarily from this photograph: here

A persuasive caricature, I'd argue, only if you haven't seen many photos of Cruz.

It seems off target; exaggerating the sharpness of his bone structure but ignoring the actual emotions and character flaws there read.

A good caricature doesn't just exaggerate anatomy, it captures something of the man that's hidden in plain sight.

Cruz is more of a smarmy and cloying character than the shrewd calculating Palpatine that Brodner makes him out to be.

If I was to purchase a caricature of Cruz, I'd hope they went for those emotions he actually wears:
1 ,
2 ,
3

They may not be the visceral attacks that Brodner tried, but they'd at least leave audiences seeing something in Cruz they may have missed prior.

Richard said...

Fluharty on the other hand captures expressions his characters regularly wear, and produce plausible arguments about their character -- Hillary as the authoritarian, and Obama as the condescending academic playing the populist.


I'm not sure Cuneo's drawings are caricatures, they seem to be drawn without significant distortion. I love the drawings. I'm just not sure I'd count them among caricatures.

Donald Pittenger said...

Um... All the images shown here are from a negative point of view. Can't there be positive extreme caricatures? Or does "extreme" rule that out?

David Apatoff said...

MORAN and Richard-- I singled that drawing out from Brodner's many political caricatures, not because it was the best likeness but because he pushed it so far. Brodner gave Cruz the pallor of a ghoul. He made Cruz's eyes roll up into his head and added dark circles under his eyes that make him look, in MORAN's words, like a "fucking vampire." For me, the amazing thing about the drawing is that it is even recognizable as Cruz with all that extra baggage.

I agree with Richard that it would've been an easier sell to give Cruz normal flesh tones and copy an expression from a more typical photograph. Drawing a reptile and drawing a human being pull in different directions. I like the way Brodner reconciled the competing objectives.

Donald Pittenger-- Yes there are idealized and funny caricatures out there (including the excellent Drucker and Levine work that I mentioned) but in this case I was really reaching for angry caricatures where an artist's strong feelings might tempt him or her to go wild.

Richard-- I agree with you about Fluharty. He learned the Flemish portrait painting techniques in oils, which enabled him to come back later and stretch those faces out of shape with pliers and still retain credibility.

As for the Cuneo drawings, I guess I'm not certain about the significance of the label "caricature" in this case. Cuneo certainly captures likenesses with scratchy little cartoons employing telling facial expressions. But in this case much of the power I admire is from his decision to rip the clothes off these subjects.

kev ferrara said...

The caricatures are all well done, in my opinion. But there is a serious concern about this kind of material; that when adult political discourse is reduced to this nasty teenage level, we all lose.

etc, etc said...

As you try to erase these horrifying images from your mind, you can feel that power at work

All I can feel is tremendous relief that my mind, aesthetics, and sense of artistic expression continued to develop after junior high.

Anonymous said...

Awesome stuff. These are meaner then the caricatures I grew up with but the politics are also meaner. Were caricatures of Hitler this mean? These are caricatures for Fox news. The difference is that these are more truthful than Fox news.

JSL

Richard said...

" it would've been an easier sell to give Cruz normal flesh tones and copy an expression from a more typical photograph. Drawing a reptile and drawing a human being pull in different directions."

I'm not suggesting it would have been easier, on the contrary, I think a subtler caricature that deftly draws out a character is more difficult than just casting your character as a Sci-Fi channel villain.

Further, getting to who Cruz actually is would have been more effective as a political tool.

One of the things that most effectively destroyed 43 was the political cartooning of the time. To this day, despite being a strong Bush supporter myself, when I imagine I still see the small-mouthed, beady-eyed ape of the political cartooning of the time. That was possible because he did occasionally wear that emotion.

The caricaturists of the time could just have easily cast 43 as a reptile, he also has sharp features, but it wouldn't have been an effective caricature.

The Cruz caricature, likewise, won't be effective for anyone who wasn't already convinced that Cruz is the devil to begin with. It's just not bringing out anything of the man.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- If these were just nasty teen age name calling, I don't think they'd be as successful as I believe they are.

I don't deny that personal political animus probably contributed passion to these images but I also think these artists have the necessary artistic detachment to keep the art powerful, rather than just plain "nasty." Rage has had a role in art since forever. Consider Kollwitz, Grosz, Goya, Bosch, Daumier, Szyk, Lasansky, etc. I wouldn't call any of them "nasty" although many of them could be brutal.

That's the issue I'm interested in exploring here. Do you disapprove of these because you think their political content is uncalled for? Would you think such a treatment would be acceptable if the subject was Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot?

Etc, etc-- A few weeks ago we discussed how artist Nelson Shanks attacked a politician he didn't approve of by planting a secret code in an otherwise bland portrait, then running to People magazine to publicize what he'd done. Would you say Shanks' method of attack was more or less "junior high" than the methods on display here?

And I'll ask you the same question I put to Kev: would such acidic portraits would be more acceptable to you if they were of Hitler or Stalin?

JSL-- I agree we live in less civil times, but we've been there before. Try reading the editorials and the editorial cartoons about Lincoln during the civil war.

kev ferrara said...

If these were just nasty teen age name calling, I don't think they'd be as successful as I believe they are.

Successful as what? That's the question. I've already praised the quality of the caricatures. But if we want to examine these as a sort of communication, (and I'll exclude Fluharty's more tasteful piece from this crit) I would say they don't even rise to the level of rhetoric; in the word's original sense of an emotionalized plea or argument. These do not make an argument. So what are they doing?

They certainly don't provide political content. (That's a hoot.) What they do is tell people who look at them for ideologically-based entertainment - political nastiness being one of the worst forms of entertainment ever created - what to think about the given political figure. Which is mullah-level minding, which one either accepts (accepting the dogma of the tribe in the process) or one rejects (and one is cast out from the tribe.) It is, in effect, saying "either hate these motherfuckers or get lost, you don't belong." Which is the most utterly tribal "you're either with us or against us" kind of statement a thug might say.

This kind of tribal communication is not just bad politics and a terrible way to educate people to think, but in my view, it is bad on a simple humanistic level.

And of course it is just visual name calling. Its no different than "W looks like a monkey." Or "Condasleaza Rice" which I once heard some dull wag say repeatedly. Its the same as "Newt Ging-GRINCH"... ar "Faux News" ... all ninth grade level stuff I've heard far too many times. ("Obama is a manchurian muslim" or "Bill Clinton had Vince Foster killed" are political statements based on paranoia, so they are problematic in a different way.)

Since we don't live in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, it is a little hard for me to imagine how to respond on that question. Although, my guess is that either putting a bullet in Hitler or Stalin's brain, joining an underground resistance or getting out of the country would be far ahead of drawing cartoons. Mockery, after all, is only a passive aggressive act. It won't stop the kind of people who kill cartoonists from killing cartoonists. The pen is but a refraction of the sword, after all.

David Apatoff said...

Richard said: "I think a subtler caricature that deftly draws out a character is more difficult than just casting your character as a Sci-Fi channel villain."

Sometimes unsubtle times call for unsubtle measures. David Low (in my opinion the greatest political cartoonist of World War II) urged young artists not to get carried away with harsh portrayals: "To draw a hostile war lord as a horrible monster is to play his game. What he doesn't like is being shown as a silly ass." Yet, even Low occasionally felt so strongly about some of his targets that he couldn't resist giving them the full "monster" treatment. Once when the war was going particularly badly he depicted Hitler as a brutish ape (and he was very good at it).

Speaking of animal avatars, I think the choice of animal is very important. No one would have believed Bush 43 as a reptile. There was nothing the least bit reptilian about him. But Cruz...

etc, etc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
etc, etc said...

David,

I know Kev is tired of my repeating this, but I am an art formalist. Now knowing what the shadow represents in the Clinton portrait, while altering my opinion of Shanks as a person, does not in the least alter my judgment about the portrait and how effective it is or is not. I'm perfectly capable of disregarding that bit of information because it is not actually coded into the painting; one must be told that abstract shadow shape represents Lewinski's dress. And because I hold to a traditional heirarchy of genres, I evaluate a given genre work's success or failure on genre specific criteria.

The message of some of the works you've selected here is in fact coded into the work. I personally wouldn't even call it art because it fails to stimulate any real aesthetic interest and instead begs for a psychological and personality profiling of the artist and his social and aesthetic development.

Hitler and Stalin are total red herrings as far as I'm concerned.

Tom said...

Maybe the reptile quality that Brodner give Curz comes from turning him into the "wacko bird." Which is the word used in the second headline on the Nation"s cover. Maybe that is why he made Curz's nose so sharp. Pecking away at the same tired old themes.

The Cuneo drawings seem practically effect because he has rob the characters of all the "trappings of power," and what we see is are persons whose only vitality seems to be their own megalomaniac. Which of course is totally unappealing, like their naked bodies.

kev ferrara said...

Mr. etc, I am not in the least tired of hearing you discuss formalism, as I am a formalist as well, as we've discussed. Which is, again, not to say that I'm a pure abstractionist - not at all - because I don't think that content can be shaped artfully without actually referencing the content. The question of a work of art, for me, is always about how the meaning of it is conveyed. If that is understood, the work is classifiable. And then it can be parsed, if so desired.

Your post above refers to much I have been gnawing on myself, quite often on this very blog, as you know... mainly, the difference between a work written in tribal code versus a universal work of art, and how the former results in a kind of text to be read, while the latter is effective wholly through aesthetic means in how it delivers its meaning (via sublimated plasticity, a.k.a. form).

Since politics is always tribal, it is no accident that all of its communiques are text or text-like, because, again text itself is a tribal medium. Being a tribalist always means being a divisionist, and the constant effort to make every thought plain in text, to surface every secret belief and test it, is the quickest way to sort the believers from the dissenters, the tribesmen from the enemy. "Here's our belief made plain... if you don't nod right now you're suspect, and if you don't nod eventually, you're cast out!" This is the method of tyrants, demagogues, the apparatchiks of retail politics, and, most obnoxious of all, the ideologically driven conversationalist who exists for his political religion and shoves it into every silence he meets.

Richard said...

I wouldn't go so far to say that political caricature solely amounts to name calling. Using caricature to exhume the depths of the man is an honest pursuit, all impartial portrait artists ought to do some amount of it, the caricature just requires a bit more digging.

Brodner expertly draws out character himself on a regular basis. This picture of Putin is masterful. It doesn't cast Putin as an entirely different character, or weaponize his features for ridicule. It gets to something ineffable in his person. It looks more like Putin than Putin does.

Hitler and Stalin actually were psychopaths. This caricature of Hitler, while extreme, actually gets to something of the man. Extreme caricatures are the natural results of extreme characters. This caricature looks more like Hitler than Hitler does.

Ted Cruz however is not an extreme character. Brodner knew that, and created a caricature of Cruz in the past that was far more successful. Was he just avoiding a repeat performance? Was he pressured by the magazine?

Whatever the case, this new caricature sucks, and it's a shame to see such a skilled artist stooping so low.

Caricature should never be a balancing act between recognizability and "all that extra baggage." If the caricature doesn't look more like the subject than the subject themselves, you've failed.

kev ferrara said...

Richard, I hadn't said that all political caricatures are solely name calling. I agree with your take that if the caricaturist gets at something in the character, some expression or facial gesture which really pins down something, then there is an element of portraiture to it, which is its own art.

On the other hand, if one actually thinks that exaggerating some features of a person in some way reveals their deeper nature, that is a strictly phrenological belief. That is; in order for one to believe that exaggeration of the actual features actually reveals deep character, one must believe in physiognomic indications of character. And if one believes that, there is no leap to believe that certain physiognomic identifiers of the various races tells something about the character of that race. Which would make one a nazi, essentially.

Personally, I think using the sculptural forms of fictional characters' faces and bodies to exaggerate their character is a perfectly fine thing to do in storytelling Art. But when that tactic starts being utilized to visually slander real human beings, based on some idea that the deep character of real human beings can be ascertained phrenologically, then there are moral and ethical issues involved for me, not to mention scientific ones.

Which harkens back, for me, again, to the idea that caricature is necessarily an adolescent form; that it is necessarily ridiculous, shallow, and unfair. Which just so happens to be the perfect definition of modern political discourse in general.

(Which is not to say that caricatures can't be hilarious, like the Hitler cartoon you linked.)

Tom said...

I always liked what Degas said, "if a man can not define himself, how would you expect me to define him."

chris bennett said...

As a professional portrait painter my take on caricature is that it emphatically demonstrates a truth about how a 'likeness' is achieved; it is found in the rhythms of the forms more than their relative proportions.

BTW: I totally agree with what Kev is saying about the dubious morality of caricature, political or otherwise.
When painting a sitter much of my time is taken up with staying watchful of this tendency and ruthlessly editing it out from the painting. This is not in order to flatter them (this can be done in other ways) but to ensure that their image breaths truthfully within the ideal world of the portrait, the painting, itself.

David Apatoff said...

I think this discussion has revealed some major differences in how to judge a caricature. I am surprised by the number of respected commenters who seem more distracted by the politics or the morality or these pictures than the aesthetic quality of the image.

I deliberately included images from both sides of the political spectrum because I didn't think political content or fairness were relevant to a discussion of how far an artist can push a caricature before passing the point of diminishing returns. In my view, each of these artists was able to keep their strong views on track because they had the artistic skill and judgment to elevate this content above mere name calling. That's what makes these images powerful (I would say "brutal" rather than "nasty.")

Judging from your comments, a number of you disagree with me.

Kev Ferrara quickly put aside the point that the caricatures are "are all well done" and expressed concern about the "moral and ethical" problems when we "visually slander real human beings." He went on to assert a larger point that "caricature is necessarily an adolescent form; that it is necessarily ridiculous, shallow, and unfair. Which just so happens to be the perfect definition of modern political discourse in general."

JSL seemed concerned that these pictures were "mean."

Richard also seems to fault some of these for their content, objecting that Ted Cruz did not deserve Brodner's caustic treatment ("Ted Cruz however is not an extreme character.")

Etc, etc said these works "begs for a psychological and personality profiling of the artist."

Chris Bennett talked about "the dubious morality of caricature" and how it might prevent a painting from breathing "truthfully."

I would be happy to engage on the politics and the morality of these characters on a political blog (of which there are many) but here I'm hoping to go a little farther on the aesthetic and the technique, detached from morality, before irreducible political squabbles bring the conversation down.

It may be that art and morality are ultimately inseparable at the end of the road, but I'm hoping to learn a whole lot more than I have so far, before those two endeavors merge. I am traveling right now so it is difficult for me to engage the way I'd like to, but I hope within the next day to be able to respond to some of these points more individually.

Donald Pittenger said...

I'm of the opinion that politics and art when mixed usually results in bad art and questionable politics (no doubt one can find a few exceptions). This being particularly true where negative, rather than positive emotions are expressed.

I touched on that from a slightly different angle in this blog post from 2010.

Steve Brodner said...

Blogger Unknown said...
Thanks to David for this post. He, like us, thinks long and hard about what we do. Cruz is in a long line of characters who look like what they are. His face is wonderfully revealing. I have drawn him quite a few times but I feel I am just getting started. Much more to come. Working on him tonight for Newsweek BTW. Here's a recent Cruz for GQ, part of my monthly series of favorite quotes. Keep on keepin' on.
http://www.gq.com/trend-list/dumbest-quotes-2014/20

Richard said...

> "[Richard objects] that Ted Cruz did not deserve Brodner's caustic treatment"

Not at all,I was trying to get at your original thesis re: "how far an artist can push a caricature before passing the point of diminishing returns" by suggesting that the question is overly simplistic if it is only concerned with basic structural exaggeration, and ignores how the face is worn.

For a less politically charged example, look at this terrible caricature of Jim Carrey. It fails because it's actually more like a caricature of a manikin who looks like Jim Carrey.

On the other hand, this caricature is wildly successful, despite being considerably more exaggerated than the first.

The question isn't merely how far the structural elements of the face can be exaggerated and remain recognizable. That's kid stuff.

The really interesting question is; can the artist evoke the man behind the face by exaggerating how the face is worn, thus freeing him to break the anatomy beyond any point of reason?

To Kev's point on Phrenology -- exaggerating some feature of a person can most certainly reveal a deeper nature of the man, if the feature being exaggerated is in the expression not the anatomy.


Brodner succeeded in exaggerating anatomy, no question there, but hit your point of 'diminishing returns' in regards to personality.

It is by refining personality that a caricaturist manages to make a drawing of Hitler look more like Hitler than Hitler. By exaggerating expressions we remove the confinements of functional anatomy, and distill the person into a clearer representation than a photograph could ever provide.

The Cruz picture sucks because, like the Jim Carrey manikin, it is actually a picture of Palpatine wearing Cruz's face.

David Apatoff said...

etc, etc wrote: "Now knowing what the shadow represents in the Clinton portrait, while altering my opinion of Shanks as a person, does not in the least alter my judgment about the portrait and how effective it is or is not."

You remind me that the questions posed in this blog post first occurred to me in an exchange with you during that recent post about Shanks (although it does not sound like you'll be thanking me any time soon). I agree that there are downsides to the kind of "give 'em both barrels" full frontal attack in these political drawings, by I find their candor admirable compared to Shanks' sneak attack from behind.

But here too, if we focus on the art itself, and try to hold the political content and the ethics of the attack at bay for a moment, I think it is possible to evaluate the artistic merit here. You write, "I personally wouldn't even call [this work] art because it fails to stimulate any real aesthetic interest." I recall that you like Shanks' work, and I understand that your view is shared by a great many people but personally, I would rather have a portrait painting by Fluharty, who for me stimulates more "aesthetic interest" than Shanks. I will try to explain why: Fluharty may not have logged as many hours with oil painting as Shanks, but he did master the Flemish tradition of oil painting in glazes, and has done highly representational work. In my view, Fluharty does a better job of setting priorities in his paintings, while Shanks gives me the same relentless, unblinking hard edged realism in every corner of his finished paintings. (As I've previously commented, I prefer Shanks' sketches). I also think Fluharty puts more humanity and vitality in his oil paintings. Sometimes Fluharty's paintings are handicapped by the commercial requirements of his subject matter and his space, but on a level playing field I'd far prefer a Fluharty.

I am most interested in your point about content that is "coded into" the image. You write: "I'm perfectly capable of disregarding that bit of information because it is not actually coded into the painting; one must be told that abstract shadow shape represents Lewinski's dress. And because I hold to a traditional heirarchy of genres, I evaluate a given genre work's success or failure on genre specific criteria." That sounds like a meaningful distinction to me, but I'd appreciate a little more elaboration. Are you saying that the quality of a painting should not be dependent on an external code, but rather should be comprehensible standing alone? I think I agree with that (I have a lot of trouble with conceptual art that requires an accompanying treatise). But how is that position transformed when the code is later shared with the world or (even better) how does it deal with art such as ancient Egyptian art where everybody knew the code at one time, but now the hieroglyphs are inscrutable, but still beautiful?


David Apatoff said...

Richard wrote: "The question isn't merely how far the structural elements of the face can be exaggerated and remain recognizable. That's kid stuff. The really interesting question is; can the artist evoke the man behind the face by exaggerating how the face is worn, thus freeing him to break the anatomy beyond any point of reason?"

I agree with you, although I wouldn't write off as "kid stuff" the ability to exaggerate extremely the structural elements of the face. I remember as a kid reading the Mad Magazine parody of the movie "Funny Lady" in which the brilliant Mort Drucker drew Barbra Streisand in a stable, wondering why she can't stop thinking about her lost love, Omar Sharif. And in the background, Drucker drew a horse with a face that looked exactly like Omar Sharif! It was an absolutely astonishing feat, and not one in a thousand caricaturists could've pulled it off.

But that's not the kind of caricature we're talking about here.

I think the artists here have in fact "evoked the man [or person] behind the face by exaggerating how the face is worn," and you just seem to disagree with their opinion of that person. You write, "Cruz however is not an extreme character" but I'm guessing Brodner disagrees with you. I'm not sure how to break that tie here.

You say, "If the caricature doesn't look more like the subject than the subject themselves, you've failed." But I assume from your position about capturing "the man behind the face" (with which I agree, as I said) that it's not just a question of looking "like the subject" but also looking like what the subject has done and what the subject represents."

That's where think I get off the trolley with Kevin's argument about phrenology. He seems to take exception to the notion that "exaggerating some features of a person in some way reveals their deeper nature" but I have no problem turning a face into a battle map for an ideological struggle, as long as it "evokes the man behind the face by exaggerating how the face is worn." If someone wants to marry Hitler's face with a concentration camp smokestack, that's OK with me and I don't feel constrained by any qualms about phrenology.

David Apatoff said...


Kev Ferrara-- You write that these pictures "certainly don't provide political content" but you go on in the same comment to say that they provide "political nastiness" and "bad politics"

So in fact they do provide political content, just not content that you approve of. You are concerned that this form of art is a "terrible way to educate people to think [and] bad on a simple humanistic level," and you may even be right, but there are of course arguments to the contrary. We all know the story of how Boss Tweed in the Tamany Hall machine was impervious to the thoughtful news articles and editorials against him, but became irate about Thomas Nast's "damn pictures" which ridiculed him and played a huge role in bringing him down. They fixed an image of him in the people's minds that stuck far better than words.

I suppose it would be nice if political debates were conducted on a more refined and erudite level, but if a huge percentage of the electorate says, "we simply choose not to read or believe 97% of the peer reviewed scientific analysis on an important issue," then I'm not exactly sure how you propose to "educate people," or at least to motivate them politically. Before you got rid of these lovely, hilarious, vicious images you'd have to get rid of talk radio, cable news, and half the the political blogs on the internet which are not only a "terrible way to educate people to think [and] bad on a simple humanistic level." but also lack the redeeming artfulness of these pictures.

I can tell that my Hitler / Stalin question fell flat with both you and Mr. etc. (who wrote, "Hitler and Stalin are total red herrings as far as I'm concerned.") But since you both seemed to disapprove of the political tone of these pictures, my question was trying to isolate political content as a factor in your analysis. You may think this kind of extreme caricature is uncalled for, but if there was a gulag or a concentration camp on a hill outside your town belching smoke from a human crematorium, you might think differently. You might think that any means of vandalizing the image of the monster responsible for such acts is justified, and the only question is, "what's the most powerful way to do it?" If we can agree that vicious pictures would become wonderful, life affirming weapons when aimed against a Hitler or Stalin, then I think your argument devolves to, "I don't think we live in a political environment where such extreme measures are warranted yet, and I'm concerned that they coarsen the level of our political debate." It's fine if you think that, but it's a judgment call, and (I think) one unrelated to the kind of issue that I'm struggling with here.

Your response to my question about Hitler / Stalin was, "Since we don't live in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, it is a little hard for me to imagine how to respond on that question. Although, my guess is that either putting a bullet in Hitler or Stalin's brain, joining an underground resistance or getting out of the country would be far ahead of drawing cartoons." But consider the artist Arthur Szyk, who was in the US when he got word that his aged mother had been murdered in a concentration camp during WW II. He had no way putting a bullet in Hitler's brain, but he spent the rest of the War in a tireless, relentless effort to attack and ridicule the Nazis in images. Eleanor Roosevelt referred to him as a "one man army" for the fundraising successes of his pictures and Hitler put a price on Szyk's head (which I can assure you he did not normally do for mere soldiers fighting Germany in the war. Like Boss Tweed, Hitler hated those damn pictures.

etc, etc said...

although it does not sound like you'll be thanking me any time soon

I've always thought that political caricature was unworthy of any serious consideration of artistic merit. These examples bring de-humanization to a disturbing new low (maybe Hitler and Stalin aren't such red herrings after all), and now I know political caricature does not deserve any serious consideration of artistic merit. Thank you for clarifying that for me.

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- Always happy to provide my own little contribution in any way I can.

kev ferrara said...

Kev Ferrara-- You write that these pictures "certainly don't provide political content" but you go on in the same comment to say that they provide "political nastiness" and "bad politics"

So in fact they do provide political content, just not content that you approve of.


Huh? You aren't making sense, David. I was drawing out an obvious distinction between real content with integrity - smart, fair, judiciously selected to be sufficient in fact and argumentation, unfiltered by ideology or emotion, avoiding dogma, cant, exaggeration, and character assassination - and the opposite.

Regarding some of your other argumentative tactics... if you think that Newt Gingrich, Hillary Clinton, Dick Cheney and Barack Obama are in the same category as Boss Tweed and Hitler, then you are probably the kind of fellow who invokes the Triangle Fire every time the minimum wage question comes up. This is the reason I am so against politics as it is practiced... because the deft and constant manipulation of our information diets turns smart, honest, and moral people into raving, vicious hysterics. ;)

As far as I can tell, politics is a kind of socially-evolved tribal instinct that channels people's most bitter frustrations with life into hatred for the other. It is a way of directing uncontrollable stress like a laser at particular targets. It is no accident that highly political people constantly consult their chosen news sources to keep their righteous fires burning and directed, living as they do for that frisson of rage that wells up at the thought of their enemies. Living too for those rare moments of conversation when they directly confront "the enemy in the flesh" where, finally(!), the arsenal of sound-bites they have accumulated from years and years of constant unproductive self-indoctrination from their chosen "news" source finds use in the Great War.

As with all ideologically-driven people, the ideology colors the entirety of one's thought. It becomes the filter through which all is seen and understood, circumscribing in the process the imagination's ability to dream of other ways of seeing the world. And this seems to have been illustrated here. For example, if I find Brodner's faces excellent as caricatures but bad as political discourse, the for-against binary ideologue makes the determination that I am a republican (which translates in The Nation to fascist-racist-corporatist-imperialist). When the simple fact is that my ideology is Art. I simply think outside of Brodner's paradigm. Which apparently isn't imaginable. And so while I am trying to sort out whether we are looking at Art or a variation of visual text, you are making a judgement as to whether I am in your heroic, unassailable tribe or a horrible demented fascist. When I am trying to tease out the question of what is good speech or bad speech as a general matter, you are trying to figure out how to paint me as being fine with the bad speech I agree with, a hypocrite, in other words. (Demonstrating again that binary ideological-political thought always leads to ugliness.)

Which brings to my mind an elephant that surprisingly hasn't yet trundled through this room... which is the Charlie Hebdo religious murders. The Charlie Hebdo magazine, in my view, was full of crappy speech. Maybe some of it was necessary in order to keep our free speech rights in practice, and thus intact. Which I am in full support of. But as cultural product, it didn't have much to recommend it. Yet, I find no aspect of the world more threatening, more worthy of rebuke, than Islamofascism, CH's constant target. To translate that to one of your examples, in my world it is perfectly okay to say that I don't really care for Thomas Nast's art. And in saying that, I shouldn't be required to explain that I am against corruption. Of course I am against corruption. I am against it in government, in business, in politics, in religion, in the news media, and in Art.

etc, etc said...

David,

Kev is engaging you quite brilliantly here I think, but let me just throw this in: leaving all imagery aside, wasn't de-humanization and the stripping away of all human dignity at the philosophical core of what Hitler believed and perpetrated in the holocaust? And don't you feel any sense of irony that that is what these images are doing? Should not art elevate?

Richard said...

>" If someone wants to marry Hitler's face with a concentration camp smokestack, that's OK with me"

&&

>"And in the background, Drucker drew a horse with a face that looked exactly like Omar Sharif! It was an absolutely astonishing feat, and not one in a thousand caricaturists could've pulled it off."


Interesting, I wouldn't have considered Drucker's zoomorphism in that case caricature, nor the anthropomorphic Hitler smokestack. Perhaps I am using too conservative a definition of what caricature may entail (I also didn't consider the Cuneo cartoons as particularly caricature-esque).

Does the addition of any fictionalized elements to a picture of a real person a caricature make? What is to separate caricature then from style or cartoon?

I'm partial to Walt Disney's early definition of caricature, that it is "the exaggeration of an illusion of the actual."

"Cruz never makes that expression so it's not caricature, just a mean cartoon" is what my pleadings woefully amounted to. Under your looser rubric, I can see describing the Brodner as a successful 'caricature', but if that is the definition of caricature I'm disappointed.

I would much rather have a term for exaggerating facial expression and structure to distill a personality (a subspeciality of portraiture) than a shorthand for making cartoons of living people -- the former is a high art, the latter merely a genre.

Richard said...
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Richard said...

With my definition of caricature, you have a fantastic word for doing this. That's worth something.

kev ferrara said...

Richard, in my view you are conflating what a person is really like, their character when no one is around, with the play acting that they do on the public stage or with the unflattering/simple-minded media snippets of them that their political opponents purposely choose to publicize, or with their physical characteristics and mannerisms.

And since we've all, by now, been exposed to handsome, elegant and hyper-sophisticated monsters, and ugly, sloppy, brutes with hearts of gold... again, I urge that we resist the temptation to legitimize the judgement of people based on phrenologically or manner.

The purpose of a caricature seems to be either to entertain or to savage, sometimes to savagely entertain or entertain savages. And this is accomplished through the assertion of a ridiculous subjective symbolization of the person in question. Like all subjective symbolizations, (i.e. Art), the work says as much about the artist as the subject. Often more.

Richard said...

Agreed, we can't definitively know a person by their mannerisms or words. (Again, I said I was a Bush supporter didn't I?)

I'd take your premise a step further and suggest that we can't definitively know a person by their public actions -- keep in mind how many assholes give money to charity.

There are countless paintings of Chairman Mao handing out bowls of rice to the homeless, he would often do that on his propaganda tours, but that doesn't mean he was a good man by any means.

If we begin debating if a person's depicted mannerisms, words, or actions say something fundamental about the person we'd be debating politics not Art. Despite what David suggests, I don't think we're at that point.

But when you suggest that it is never appropriate to inform your opinion of a person with their mannerisms or the elegance of their words, I think you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Something telling may be gleaned from that information, we just need to be careful to remember that we may not have the genuine article.

There is a middle way here; we needn't write off caricature entirely, but neither should we be careless about what we classify as such. There is room for us to respect caricature given impartial intentions and an ennobled manner.

Vinicius said...

As far as I now, caricature is essentialy the distortion of the features (within the recognizability limits) to generate humour. It can be critical, and it can be solemn. It's a tool, a language, and it is USED by cartoon (that's why it can't BE a cartoon).
Now, it seems to me you're discussing the definition of a good caricature, Richard, which is personal. I agree that most successful caricatures are based on the subject's personality and common expression, but not always. That's a method to increase recognizability, but sometimes it's not necessary. For instance, take a look in Marvin Lorenz' Daniel Radcliffe. It's hardly his general expression, but it's as good to me as Xi Ding's mainstream Daniel - and I'm excluding technique from that judgment. One can always think it's a bad caricature because it lacks Daniel's real sef, but never that it is not a caricature, but a funny cartoon. That's a total misconcept.

David, I'd like to know some artists that go too far, on your opinion. I'm curious because, for me, Brodner and Fluharty are incredibly conservative if compared to artists such as Jota Leal, Sebastian Kruger, Marvin Lorenz, Jim Maester and Jan Op de Beeck.

Tom said...

Richard, the Disney quote made me think of Andre Gide definition of art as "the exaggeration of the idea," or something to that affect.

kev ferrara said...

To continue with de-humanization topic, which Mr. etc, added to.... if I were to theorize how this works with the average political obsessive/parrot/sheep/indoctrinate, I'd say the mechanism is something like...

The effective (from an activist's standpoint) political caricature is so clarified in form and meaning that, with repetition, it literally substitutes in the mind of the audience for the real person. Its iconic simplicity, of the cognitive predigestibility of a corporate logo, makes it enormously easy to remember for even the dimmest bulb. With the result that the real personnage, in being transformed into this mere symbol, is dehumanized to such an extent that no amount of viciousness in assassinating that person's character, reputation, or motivation falls out of normative bounds. This symbolic dehumanization essentially licenses the en masse release of all the inner hatred and thuggery the political mob can muster, effectively bringing them a kind of low rent catharsis, while the collective negative energy is harnessed toward the desired political assassination.

This is very akin to demagoguery indeed. And it is, of course, the exact same demagogic mechanism seen dehumanizing blacks and jews in the recent past, as Mr. Etc. was intimating.

And I would argue further that most political communications that involve activists, hacks, apparatchiks, pundits, spin artists, and their media-savvy ilk is a caricature of one sort or another. It all aims to plant the winning cartoon thought in as many susceptible heads as possible.

Tom said...

"It all aims to plant the winning cartoon thought in as many susceptible heads as possible."

Playing the Devil's advocate Kev, but isn't that the point of all advertising art?

kev ferrara said...

Playing the Devil's advocate Kev, but isn't that the point of all advertising art?

Hey Tom. I would say that that's the point of most advertising in general. But I believe there are a lot of illustrations that were used for ads but which stand on their own as works of art. I think John Gannam's St. Mary's Blankets and Pacific Sheets ads, shown on this blog previously, are a perfect example of that.

David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger-- Good points.

Steve Brodner-- I'm honored that you found this little blog, and impressed by your courage at weighing in; things sometimes get heated around here. I'm a big admirer of your work, and I attended your excellent talk at Johns Hopkins a few weeks ago.

Tom-- Yes, Cuneo did something different from the other artists-- he stripped his subjects naked literally as well as figuratively. In a way, it's a more audacious tactic.

Richard said...
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Steve Brodner said...

David:
Got here through the wonderful Nell Minow. Glad you were a part of that great night at JHU. The best audience ever. People still in the fray after 2 hours!

I love your blog David. Heat is good. Warms the blood. Caricature is my life and have been living inside its intense fire for 40 years. A few thoughts about it.

A caricature is merely a portrait. The kind of a portrait, however, that endeavors to show a side of a character; one that is chosen specifically by an artist to make a point. I knew David Levine and Ed Sorel (still). I come out of their school. They honed the ability to fuse a picture with an issue. There are artists who do not care about point-of-view. They are good caricaturists, but not interesting to me. When Levine drew Nixon or LBJ, it was a portrait of David as much as those men. Likewise with my Cruz. My Nation cover was my interpretation of this man. It is, happily, because I have the skills to control my portrait and weaponize it as it were into, yes, an attack tool, this becomes an alloy of Cruz and my dark interpretation of what this man means in American Politics. And that, for the record, is a man finding power in a rare combination of ignorance, bigotry, resentment politics and meglomaniacal ego. The point here is in the face as rendered by me. If the message is unclear it is an unsuccessful illustration. But if it is clear and you don't like it and, perhaps even makes you mad . . . bingo!
Keep 'em flying David. Will check back and happy to take readers' comments and Q's.
Best,
Steve

MORAN said...

Mr. Brodner, welcome. I said in my first comment I love your Cruz because I agree Cruz is a vampire. Others here hate it because they are Republicans. I like those Fluhartys even though I'm a liberal but the Republicans here think all caricature is evil. As a liberal are you able to enjoy conservative caricatures? Mr. Apatoff says we should separate the art of a caricature from the politics. Do you agree?

kev ferrara said...

MORAN, congratulations, you have proven yourself to be exactly the binary-minded political partisan I have been decrying.

kev ferrara said...

Mr. Brodner, I think the first thing to note is that the majority visiting this comments section are silent. And more than likely most of them not only think you are a fabulous caricaturist (I include myself on this count), but agree with you politically and couldn’t care less about any of the philosophical qualms that I and others have raised here regarding the mixture of politics and art. So please don’t assume that the criticisms you are reading here are representative of David’s readers as a whole.

Having said that, I am among the minority that does hold a preference for the, possibly idealistic, separation of art and politics. And since I have vocalized that opinion here, I guess it is only fair that I take up the discussion directly.

It seems, from what you just wrote, that we mostly agree on the nature of political caricature, that it is no-holds-barred and subjective (which means it can be wildly emotionalized, exaggerated, unfair, etc.), that it tells as much about the artist as the subject, that it is symbolic as much as it is a portrayal, and that it is a political weapon that an artist can wield for the purposes of achieving their political goals. And I’ll assume that the question of whether caricature teaches its consumers to think simplistically about people and issues pales before the value for you of actually achieving your political aims. I think then the only bone that remains to pick on is the epistemological one, the question of righteousness.

So I’ll ask the question this way; You have had a long and influential career…. How often do you suppose you have been wrong, politically, in all those years? That is, how often have you expressed a strong conviction in your work about a person involved in some particularly significant issue that you later came to believe was the product of not only incomplete knowledge of the subject or personage, but also demonstrated that you didn’t actually have sufficient humility regarding your state of knowledge at the time. Which is to say that, in retrospect, you realized that you sought to influence public opinion on an issue using your art without there being even a possibility that you could have been sufficiently informed about the subject at the time you were visualizing your opinion about it in print?

Richard said...

Mr. Brodner,

Is attack caricature something that may someday become unnecessary (if the media environment becomes civil), or do you see it as an unavoidable part of a vibrant political discourse?

Do you see your caricature as living amicably alongside more civil dialectic methods of politicking, like the Intelligence Squared debates, or the Diane Rehm show, for example?

Are there moral limits to the acceptability of visual politicking? Would producing pictures of public figures doing very heinous criminal actions (e.g. violent rape, murdering children, etc.) be acceptable toward political ends?

Thanks

etc, etc said...

Others here hate it because they are Republicans

If you were capable of setting aside your emotionally driven bias (but then you wouldn't even be a liberal) you could clearly see who is doing the hating here.

Steve Brodner said...

Nice to hear from y’all.
Okay, in order . . .
Moran:
I think you will think about Cruz what you will. It is possible to see this creature of politics as a savior, a competent senator or a toaster anything else you want to. This is how I see this particular creature. As I described above. On separating caricature from politics? Not sure how Mr. A may have meant that. Perhaps in judging technique? To me the art and the point are blended like a perfect egg cream in all the great ones I can think of: Gillray, Daumier, Goya, Nast etc, etc. Can’t separate them because the point of view is its reason for being. It isn’t a parlor game. It isn’t a hobby to see how you can stretch things; make big things bigger and small things smaller. Guess what? They have an app for that? Why would you not use the app and call us for your page? Knowledge of issues, intense understanding of a face, the character behind the face. POV.

Mr. ferrara:
I suppose being wrong about things is the natural way for human beings. I don’t think your fallibility as a political observer should ever make you timorous about approaching a project. Many writers, like David Brock, Christopher Hitchens wind up seeing the big trajectory of their lives as needing a serious correction. I, personally, haven’t seen the need to move much on the spectrum. I guess maybe with the exception of moving a bit more left. And that is because I see the lack of clarity of liberalism, and its accommodation, which is what liberals do, creating the tweedledum / tweedledee syndrome, where voters can’t really see the differences. The experiments in wealth redistribution to the wealthy from the poor hasn’t worked. The solution of war as a default mechanism hasn’t worked. We are very messed up as a country because of these things. His is why I think the Democratic Party feels more Elizabeth Warren now than HRC.
A piece I am not proud of is my one and only New Yorker cover. This showed Bush and Gore as turkeys in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I had just spent time with Bush, covering him for Esquire. I came away feeling he was a very affable, amiable man. What could go wrong? Oh brother. I wish that were a different image. But The New Yorker has a very strict philosophy about indirect commentary, so that might have been the closest I could come. Turkeys? Meh.

Richard:
Unnecessary? Who ever said it was necessary? It comes and goes and nobody cares. It seems to be called up when there’s suddenly a market. Then vanishes for a time. I am old enough to remember the period I started in, the ‘70’s, when, after Watergate and all the Levines, Sorels, Grossmans, mags and newspapers wanted nothing to do with satire. It was about 10 years until Iran-Contra and the frenzy over Reagan began. That’s when my career took off. The GW Bush years, also were a bad time. After 9/11 NOBODY wanted to criticize his administration, the wars, etc. Then, it changed.

The limits of an attack should be the limits that naturally exist at the place where you feel the satire rings true. If it doesn’t it fails. It is not a successful for piece for anybody. Your metaphor, like a good joke, is either dead on or its not. Cartoons and caricatures don’t exist in a vacumm. They work only because they resonate. And finding that zone, is hard. And magical.

Etc, etc:
Would you like to know if I am a bomb-throwing idiot? I will ask my wife. On second thought I’d better not.
BTW on Facebook I have a rule of no personal attacks toward anybody allowed. Ever. I give my friends two strikes on that. I don’t believe you can have a conversation without a foundation of respect. That’s what my blogging friends, especially my extremely conservative ones ever get from me. If you can’t back up a statement with information, take it somewhere else, I tell them. They all respect that.

kev ferrara said...

Mr. Brodner, thank you for the illuminating response. Being personally all over the map politically for as long as I can remember, I find your lifelong adherence to a left-ward lean on all matters social, economic, and geopolitical hard to fathom.

Just as one small example, where I live in upstate new york, school/property taxes have never stopped increasing for about 30 years straight. The current total is 10 times the amount paid in 1980. Meanwhile economic activity in the area has been decreasing for about 20 years straight. The result for most here is a steadily decreasing cash flow and constantly increasing tax pressure. By all reports, many would-be business people are staying away in droves from upstate new york due to the high taxes, despite all the short-term incentive programs currently being deployed by the governor ("Bait and switch programs" they are called by local wags). And I personally know many highly motivated business people who have simply left this area due to the tax burden. (Looked up the stat; 43 of New York's upstate counties have had a population decrease 2013-2014. Out-migration has been 6.5 percent since 1980.)

Now this intensifying tax situation has not gone unnoticed in the local communities. Many school budgets have been voted down by strapped citizens. Local to me, if one school budget is struck down, however, a new vote to increase is never far behind. The boards simply keep on putting up new votes until that next increase passes. Half the time most people I know can't afford the time or aren't even aware of when the votes are being held because they happen so often. In the past any organized rebellion against the constant rise in taxes has resulted in a teacher's strike. Any town meetings set up with the teachers results in the teachers refusing to debate at all and doing a grandstanding move where they all leave the building en masse. (Such debates are no longer scheduled.)

Anyway, these taxes have become crushing economically for many middle-class-or-lower homeowner in these communities and hundreds of homeowners, (older citizens being particularly hard hit despite the STAR exemptions), have simply given up and left, or let their houses fall to dilapidation because they couldn't afford both the upkeep and the taxes. Many remaining homeowners have shared that they feel like they are actually renting their own homes from the school system. There have been many incidences of homeowners squatting in their own houses which they can no longer afford to pay the taxes on (until the Sheriff comes knocking). Meanwhile the number of teachers and school admins making six figures, great bennies, retirement packages, summers off, has increased constantly. Which puts increasing financial pressure on those who still remain. (Just as an example, in a local township with a median household income of around $53,000, a part time reading instructor was added in to a recent budget with close to a $60,000 salary/package.)

Given the above, I just don't see how upstate new york is ever going to recover economically. It seems to me that public sector employees' salaries and benefits must be directly coupled to the current state of the economy in the surrounding community. That way if there is an economic downturn, the community burden is shared rather than all thrown on the shoulders of those outside the unions. But the unions won't even discuss the issue.

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc wrote: "leaving all imagery aside, wasn't de-humanization and the stripping away of all human dignity at the philosophical core of what Hitler believed and perpetrated in the holocaust? And don't you feel any sense of irony that that is what these images are doing? Should not art elevate?"

What about stripping false dignity away from people who behave in highly undignified ways underneath? Isn't it possible for such art to elevate? What about art that de-humanizes people who would use their dignified positions to prolong racism or commit war crimes? That would seem to me to be one of the higher uses of art.

Richard and Kev Ferrara-- it seems to me that the categories of images you mention-- phrenology, zoomorphism, anthropomorphism-- can all be subcategories of the broad field of caricature but like so much of what we've discussed, I think there are good and bad examples. I find it difficult to draw absolute conclusions about them.

Kev writes, "in order for one to believe that exaggeration of the actual features actually reveals deep character, one must believe in physiognomic indications of character. And if one believes that, there is no leap to believe that certain physiognomic identifiers of the various races tells something about the character of that race. Which would make one a nazi, essentially."

But there's a reason why Kev and my grandmother both feel it's necessary to remind me that we can't judge a book by its cover, which is that often, we can. Open, smiling features don't always mean a person will be nice, but the whole reason villains affect a smile is because features often do stand for something. If Vice President Cheney's mouth appears fixed in a permanent snarl, and Cuneo takes full advantage of that, you can bet that everyone knows exactly what he intends by it. If that constitutes a "physiognomic indication of character," it's hard for me to be troubled by it.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "You aren't making sense, David. I was drawing out an obvious distinction between real content with integrity ...and the opposite."

Kev, I understand that's what you were doing, and I was trying to respond that the difference between "real" content and its opposite, or the difference between [good] "political content" and content not good enough to even be called "political" are not as obvious as you seem to suggest. Even if we try to classify the content with words such as "smart, fair, judiciously selected," I've reluctantly come to believe in the last several years that people of good will can reach opposite conclusions.

For example, you write, "if you think that Newt Gingrich... [is] in the same category as Boss Tweed...." I know many people I'd consider "smart, fair and judicious" who believe that Gingrich is far worse than Tweed, if only because his famous gopac memo resetting the vocabulary of American politics by advocating personal attacks on political opponents (using words such as "sick, pathetic, traitors, disgrace, and shame"). Tweed was corrupt but nobody argues that he put our domestic politics on their downward spiral. (I also know some "smart, fair and judicious" women who think he is worse simply because of the way he has treated his wives.) I'm still trying to keep this from becoming a political blog, but the point I'm trying to make is that it's hard for you to say that certain content isn't "real" or doesn't count as "political" because you'll surely find other voters in our democracy whose vote counts just as much as yours and who disagree with all their hearts.

As for my use of the bete noir "Hitler," I generally subscribe to the view that anyone who hauls out Hitler as a comparison automatically loses the argument. What I was trying to do, rather than suggest anyone was comparable to Hitler, was to use the example of Hitler as clarifying agent to isolate an ingredient in our analysis. Once you agree that vicious art is appropriate for Hitler, you no longer have a categorical distinction, you have a question of degree. (If it's OK for Hitler i it OK for Mao? And if it's OK for Mao what about Pol Pot? Bin Laden? Timothy McVeigh? Newt Gingrich? All I wanted you to do was defend your cut off line where extreme caricature is no longer acceptable.

etc, etc said...

Would you like to know if I am a bomb throwing idiot?

No. That's exactly the kind of emotionally driven hyperbole that makes you and your caricaturist ilk disinteresting to me.

kev ferrara said...

David, the grave problem with partisan ideology is that it immediately retards one's moral, ethical, epistemological and historical sense. (And I mean immediately.) And I hate to say that this seems to apply to you, which makes me terribly sad. I know you are a much more objective, reasonable person than you are demonstrating here in other areas of human interest. But politics is the worst kind of religion, and so it even distorts the thinking of the best and brightest of us. Which is just why it is so pernicious, so necessary to call it out into the light and disinfect it.

The way politics goes... If the other side plays hardball, its the worst thing ever, if your side does it, it is dismissed with a shrug. If your guy demonstrates the morals of a polecat, the other side is on a witch hunt to destroy him and is ignoring the issues that are important to the american people. If their guy demonstrates the morals of a polecat, its a national disgrace which should never be forgiven or forgotten in the grand annals of statehood. And so it ever was. Not a shred of integrity in sight.

The idea that Newt Gingrich was the first to think of the tactical utility of nasty word choice in politics is so far into the realm of reality-denial that it is hard to even discuss. Did you blank on all the organized campaigns of pejorative/invective/slander flung at Reagan and Carter and Ford and so on... I mean, didn't the LBJ campaign assert on national tv that Barry Goldwater was such a violent madman that he was going to blow up the world? Could fear-mongering/slander get worse than that?

And this idea that strategic nasty word choice alone makes Gingrich worse than Boss Tweed... maybe get a book out on Tweed to refresh your memory a little. (or get your ethics meter checked) Maybe compare the gopac memo to the much more relevant Rules for Radicals (1972) to get a bit more clarity on the issue (Rule 5: "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. There is no defense" Rule 12: "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize and polarize it.") Which is not to say that anybody in politics ever actually needed Alinsky's instructions to show them how to turn civic life into a cesspool. All Alinsky did was codify the common practice.



David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "David, the grave problem with partisan ideology is that it immediately retards one's moral, ethical, epistemological and historical sense. (And I mean immediately.) And I hate to say that this seems to apply to you, which makes me terribly sad."

Kev, I deliberately did not say I was offering MY opinion of Newt Gingrich because I really believe my personal political opinion is irrelevant to this discussion. I'm happy to talk politics in some other forum, but my sole point here was that if you claim to know which political content is "smart" and "fair" and has "integrity," someone else will surely come back with an opposite view, equally certain that their position is "smart" and "fair" and has "integrity."

Hence, the only reason I mentioned Gingrich was to say that if you think no "smart, fair" person could equate Gingrich with Boss Tweed on a moral scale, plenty of "smart, fair" people do. Whether I do is completely irrelevant.

You seem to accept this perspective in the middle of your response, where you note how partisan ideology is a no win proposition: "If the other side plays hardball, its the worst thing ever, if your side does it, it is dismissed with a shrug." I fully agree with that. But how can someone who believes that then go on to dismiss opposing political views as devoid of "real content," or claim to know which side has "integrity" and which doesn't. It sounds like such a person forgot the lesson he espoused.

I think your arguments defending Gingrich are what I would expect from a conservative person, but surely you are aware of the standard reasons why a liberal person would be unimpressed with your defenses. Nobody suggested that Gingrich was "the first to think of...nasty words." There has obviously been a lot of acrimony and invective in our politics, especially in the eras of Lincoln and Jefferson. The argument I was citing was that Gingrich launched us on our current downward spiral to a dysfunctional Congress that is so filled with personal animosity that they can no longer cooperate on the simplest things, the way they did in the 60s and 70s and 80s. It should be obvious that when one side starts calling the other a traitor and a coward and a cheater, the other side will reciprocate. I don't want to argue about it here, but a "smart, fair" person could easily conclude that the economic consequences from this dysfunctional environment and the impact on our social fabric are worse than any harm Tweed ever did.

Similarly, a "smart, fair" person might conclude that your reference to Alinsky is not the proper comparison. Alinsky was a street organizer, not a high elected official. If you want to compare Alinsky to his right wing organizer counterparts (Patriot groups, militia, evangelical extremists) you might not find cause for indignation. If you want to find an equivalent of Gingrich deliberately debasing the language with name calling, you'd have to find a democratic speaker of the house or respected party leader who has been elected and sets policy for the party. If you think you have some democrats in mind, I will try to fix you up with some of those "smart, fair" liberals to debate.

kev ferrara said...

David, I think this is getting messy. So let me see if I can introduce a little clarity and ramp it down a bit. Let's get back to what I was actually saying, or at least trying to say, before you went all gung-ho proud hillary democrat on me. ;)

The first question is what is political content?

My view of political content does not include unfair personal or emotionalized or exaggerated attacks which attempt to destroy an ideologically-opposed figure. I consider that stuff political TACTICS.

Insofar as a communication is a tactic, it is a mere tactic. I DO NOT consider actual content to be tactical in any inherent sense. (If real content is used tactically, it is generally compromised in the process, at least as I understand how information exchange can have integrity.)

I would state the following as a crucial and basic principle of motivated discourse, by which I mean discourse that aims to sway; If one believes a tactic to be content one has demonstrated a compromised mind on the debated subject. By which I mean emotion has entered a verdict into a question that should have been reasoned.

A question of possibly greater contention is, "what is politics?" And here, we can really get in the weeds.

But, for argument's sake, if we understand politics to be an argument over what to do with everybody and everything under the jurisdiction of the state apparatus, this lets out tactics too. Because tactics aren't arguments. (This leaves aside the basic totalitarian immorality of politics as defined above. I'm just trying to get at the basic point.)

Regarding your partisan jiu jitsu attempt; I was citing Alinsky because of how well he pinpointed a particular tactic that is used by all political hardball players on both sides of the aisle. I was not comparing Alinsky to Gingrich as political equals, I was discussing tactics. Gingrich's tactic is a subspecies of what Alinsky was pinpointing twenty years prior. And that tactic is pick the target, isolate the target, personalize it, and polarize it. This political tactic has never stopped being a part of politics, it was used against everybody in modern memory. It has been effective in convincing me of caricatures of real human beings and caricatures of issues, and I dare say it has been effective in convincing you of the same.

Orson Welles, who knew FDR well, called politics "Show Business for Ugly People." I feel, maybe arrogantly, that I have escaped all interest in that Kabuki show. I'd rather talk about art. I only have one life to lead. And I have no interest in any belief system that is constantly shoving me into seeing half the country as a hated enemy.






Richard said...

> "(If it's OK for Hitler is it OK for Mao? And if it's OK for Mao what about Pol Pot? Bin Laden? Timothy McVeigh? Newt Gingrich? All I wanted you to do was defend your cut off line where extreme caricature is no longer acceptable."

Attack caricature can be morally acceptable without being "good politics". Specifically when there is no Democratic process in place where you could reasonably be said to be participating in politics to begin with. Politics is a uniquely Democratic process -- to call the revolutionary counter-propaganda against Hitler or Mao "politics" is wholly misleading.

I believe that we still have a functioning Democratic process, and as such, should strive to participate in that process with reasoned civility.


If you agree that we have such a process, but you think parts of that process are unfair, by all means, address those issues, but that shouldn't give one free reign to malign their opponents without guilt -- that only damages the process further.

If we do not have such a process (which I find a very implausible position, but I have heard people on the left make that claim) then it wouldn't make sense to play politics to begin with.

Annefesto said...

All good. Guess they don't call him "Dick" for nothing...or, well, perhaps they do!

Another great rendering of Cheney was by Jim Borgman (now of Zits, but he was a political cartoonist in my hometown for decades). He drew him with creepy eyes and small bats flying all around his head. Borgman also did a fine Simon Leis (see "The People Vs. Larry Flynt" if you don't know who that is), as a tiny man packed tightly with hate (think Yosemite Sam).

Laurence John said...

David,

i think Steve Brodner's caricature is great, but he's nearly always consistently great. i think his work is rarely savage. he seems to have the cuteness gene which makes everyone in his images seem likeable and attractive looking even when distorted to extremes (and even if they're not likeable and attractive in real life). reminds me of Carlos Nine in that respect. both men seem incapable of producing 'ugly' drawings or paintings.

the Fluharty's are good paintings technically, but i don't find them particularly extreme either. quite conventional caricatures in many respects. have a look at what Gerald Scarfe did to Margaret Thatcher if you want to see my idea of 'extreme'.

the Cuneo's i think are less successful as they rely on the humiliating, squirm-inducing content for effect, rather than his playful draughtsmanship which, in this case, isn't on par with his best stuff IMO.

Anonymous said...

Mr, Brodner if you can't have a conversation without a foundation of respect you can't talk to a Republican. Those fuckers disrespect Obama every day including Cotton's letter to Iran and the Netanyahu speech and that birther shit and every kind of intentional insult every day fucking day. Once I liked talking to Republicans but you're right today they just disrespect so now I just hate their fucking guts.

kev ferrara said...

Anonymous, try to be funnier.

etc, etc said...

Anonymous,

Thank you for the perfect caption and commentary on what these drawings express. Apatoff dutifully tried to capture it but was hindered by intelligence, eloquence, and vocabulary.

David Apatoff said...

Vinicius-- Thanks for a comment with names of new artists to investigate; I'm always happy to look at new work. I found it interesting that so many of the contemporary caricaturists you mention combine hyper realism with a high level of distortion. The six artists you listed, including some that I like very much, did not have much diversity in their approaches. Artists such as William Auerbach-Levy, Miguel Covarrubias, Gerald Scarfe, Will Cotton, Al Frueh, Boris Artzybsheff, Ronald Searle, Topolski, Hirschfeld, Levine, Friedman and others brought a wider range of personalities and styles to their caricatures. I had not focused on it before, but there does seem to be a fairly cohesive popular style of caricature going around these days.

As for caricaturists that I believe "go too far," the ones who lack self-control don't make it to the big leagues so it's hard to come up with well known names. But I would say that Gerald Scarfe and Steadman are examples of artists who sometimes become so shrill that it is difficult for me to be comfortable with them (which is probably what they want). There are some subjects for which a scream is appropriate, but not many.

I generally agree with your point that "caricature is essentially the distortion of the features (within the recognizability limits) to generate humour. It can be critical, and it can be solemn. It's a tool, a language.... most successful caricatures are based on the subject's personality and common expression, but not always. That's a method to increase recognizability, but sometimes it's not necessary." Of course, humor isn't always the goal.



Steve Brodner writes: "There are artists who do not care about point-of-view. They are good caricaturists, but not interesting to me."

First, thanks so much for weighing in here. it's always better to hear things from the horse's mouth, and I have great respect for the way you have paid your dues and accomplished so much.

Regarding your position on expressing the artist's point of view: you pretty much restrict yourself to political subjects who always have a point of view and are likely to trigger a corresponding point of view from the artist. But what about caricatures of show business celebrities by artists such as Mort Drucker or Hirschfeld? Are those inherently inferior because some subjects cannot give rise to interesting caricatures?


And what if the artist's point of view is not well considered? For example, sometimes the opinions added by artists such as Scarfe or Steadman strike me as over the top for a subject matter, as if the artist artificially inflated his perspective, giving it elephantiasis to create a strong position that might not be warranted by the subject.

Anonymous said...

"Newt Gingrich is a first rate mind in a third rate human being."

Al Hunt writer for the Wall Street Journal

Tom said...

David

Don't you think all storying telling art, illustration, theater, movies, novels etc... depend on creating human "types?" You can't express an idea or criticize an idea without defining it, right? The hero, the villain, the victim, the smart one, the dumb one, etc.. all depend upon sterotyping or defining who we are or what we are. Or what we believe we are. And it works in both directions whether we glorify or denigrating ourselves.

In Greek theater the persona of a actor is given definition by the mask he wears, the solider, the king, the wise old man.

mindsnax said...

Much prefer Roman Genn's work but, oddly, haven't seen him or Michael Ramirez represented on this site yet. I'm working through from oldest to newest so maybe it's still to come.