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June 17, 2011

Cartoon Caricatures

When a friend of mine recently sent me an attachment containing a slideshow of different cartoon caricatures, I was less than excited about the prospect of flicking through yet another pointless collection of visual anecdotes, combined by some bored office worker into a “jazzy” pdf. However at the time I had nothing better to do, and although producing cartoon caricatures is what I do for a living, day in day out, I thought: Why not, this might even have a 2% chance of being quite inspiring.

When I opened the attachment however, my entire perspective changed – my expectations had been fundamentally challenged. This was not just some oddball selection of cartoon caricatures, this was a true art gallery, containing some of the finest examples of the genre that I have ever seen.

So what made these cartoon caricatures so good? It was not just the immaculate, photo-real precision with which the artists carved out every character in perfect 3D, nor even the clear technical proficiency each artist showed in their familiarity and mastery of the human physiognomy, but more the ability the artists had to distort feature to such extreme extent, to quadruple a forehead and quarter a nose proportionally, in a way which did not prevent the viewer from recognising the subject.

On the contrary, these cartoon caricatures contained more “reality” and likeness than the best photo ever could. Such is the power of the subjective artistic vision, which is at its best when it communicates with the general psyche in such a way as to make art more real than reality, to make people appear more as themselves through a more contrived medium involving more artistic intervention than the mechanistic processes which produce, say, a photograph.

I realised even more then that making cartoon caricatures is not just a frivolous bit of fun (although it certainly works well as a frivolous bit of fun), but that they sometimes, for all their non-seriousness, are a truly sublime art form. That is, when exaggerations are not gratuitous, but flights of genuine artistic fancy. Those extremes, like in any art form, when sincerely motivated, are most welcome.

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