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May 17, 2011

Caricature cartoons strike just the right balance

Filed under: cartoon caricatures — Tags: , , — Charlie Anson @ 10:33 am

When people think of caricature cartoons, they often think of goofy, ugly representations of people. The art has more often been associated with political satire on one hand, and with quick bits of tat purchased for fun at a party, or on a holiday abroad, on the other. Caricature cartoons serve an entirely different purpose. They serve not just to send up, but to celebrate an individual. Indeed, they strike the perfect balance between humour and seriousness, which is necessary to represent someone’s full character pictorially, without being rude or pretentious.

If portraits were to represent, as do caricature cartoons, not just physical attributes of a person, but all the background detail that makes that person interesting, they would be seen as objects of extreme vanity. Indeed, the sometimes pejorative title “vanitas” is given to portraits which cram together physical elements representing a person. A violin, an airplane ticket, a bunch of violets… The images seem to be crying out “look at me being so interesting… I bet you can’t decipher me!”

Simple exaggerations of people’s features, on the other hand, do just the opposite. They send up the most laughable traits of a person, which is why this medium is used for satire, or for low-value gifts, offered a s a joke. What sets caricature cartoons apart from both of these artistic strains, and what enables them to combine the best from the two, is that they show the best, while placing it in a desperate, slightly crazy situation. Thus the character appears both as eccentric and desirable, chaotic yet dynamic, out of control, and somehow in control of his or her own life. Caricature cartoons don’t emphasise the laughable aspects of a person’s face, they celebrate the exceptional aspects of a person’s life. While doing so in a medium while is playful, almost juvenile, in such a way as to distance any sense of ostentation or vanity.

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