Cartoon criticism

Cartoons (I’m referring to those humorous illustrations in magazines and newspapers) often provide the perfect blend of form and content sought by many an artist.  Cartoons often say what I have difficulty articulating.  Their silent commentary disrupts the mad silence that frequently cloaks the contemporary art world. 

Here’s some cartoon commentary concerning modern art.  From the MadSilence collection.

Image source:  Chris Madden Cartoons.   And of course Chris Madden gets it, dead on.  Damien Hirst’s shark, entitled “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” manifested in NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art last year for a three-year stay.  I’ve now seen it in London and New York and my opinion is only reinforced.  It’s conceptual art at its worst, with little aesthetic appeal and a message lost in the translation.   Man Ray would not be pleased.  For more Chris Madden cartoons on the subject of Art, go here.

The Calvin and Hobbes comic stripis one of my favorites.  Does anyone recall the “snowmen” series that depicted snowmen dying or suffering in grotesque ways?  Bill Watterson also used his snowmen to comment on the jargon surrounding modern art, artist funding, and high and low-brow taste.  Take a look at these examples.


Follow along with me through the strips.  At one point, Calvin (who’s only 6-years old) abandons representational art for the freedom of abstraction.  Next he struggles to obtain public funding to produce public art, even if his intended audience (the public!) cannot appreciate his genius.  Finally Calvin’s snowman sculpture captures the essence (and hopefully the price tag!) of Hirst’s shark.  Calvin builds on his medium’s impermanence and the transient quality of snow to comment on the evanescence of life and the horror of human mortality.  Too bad it melts before he can realize big bucks.

Did you get Calvin’s reference to Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase?  Quite cute.  Reminds me of an editorial cartoon that appeared in The New York Times in 1913 when Duchamp’s painting was first exhibited in New York City:

Appropriately entitled  The Rude Descending a Staircase.   Into the NYC subway. 

Of course if I were an artist I might not appreciate this cartoon criticism.  Here’s one artist’s possible response to the critics:


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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Donna
    Aug 14, 2008 @ 10:25:12

    Calvin and Hobbes is the best cartoon EVER! How can anyone not appreciate the acerbic wit of Calvin and the straight comic delivery of Hobbes?


  2. ktsophia
    Aug 15, 2008 @ 22:28:56

    Nude descending a staircase, lol. Why not? So cute.

    Surrealists and dadaists really enchanted my days and nights, by the way they were freely acting, in their dwelling life art. Though sometimes they could depict a darkened city of minds. I think about beautiful Tzara’s poems. Maybe my favourite in portry after Eluard.

    here’s the most known From Tristan

    To Make A Dadist Poem

    Take a newspaper.
    Take some scissors.
    Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.
    Cut out the article.
    Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.
    Shake gently.
    Next take out each cutting one after the other.
    Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
    The poem will resemble you.
    And there you are–an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

    Tristan Tzara

    Simple, but already done. Though I conserve the words of Afred Hitchcock, that we create the best parts from “cliché”. Am I ready to use it now? I guess so.

    As fo the pictures, Chagall and Magritte stand still my favourite. For colours and oniric placements of the paintings. As to Chagall, who could have pinted so much life in sky, and on earth, than him, since the representative arts.

    I think I love three things that brings me to stay admiring a painting, but of course, to be extended:

    -balance colouring and no colouring
    -Emotions: could be low or high. Knowing I won’t long face to a less one.
    -Mystery: Most of painters leave traces and keys on their oeuvre. Often for our own understanding. It also happens with books. Generally, I prefer when the creation make me travel to fantasy and mystery.

    Very vig bronze finger for the critics. :))

    Tell me how’s your journey?
    On sunday, may I encounter the feet of the Sea.

    Thank you Father.


  3. jafabrit
    Aug 17, 2008 @ 00:26:12

    LOL! I so enjoyed the cartoons and certainly have NO problem with the criticism. I have had my thing with art speak lately. If it’s not so convoluted or pretentious, one needs a flipping dictionary just to get through one sentence.

    As much as appreciate how artists are not bound to some dictated or institutional ideas of what is or isn’t art, my mind sometimes boggles at how a striped painting or scribbles or taxidermy piece can sell for millions of dollars.


  4. madsilence
    Aug 22, 2008 @ 21:59:18

    Donna, C&H has always been one of my favorites.

    Thanks, ktsophia, for your thoughtful comments. Color, emotion & mystery: these three elements seem to capture the essence of art & life.

    Jafabrit, being an artist is a hard job as you well know. Everybody’s a critic. To quote Calvin: “Genius is never understood in its own time.”



  5. laketrees
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 08:45:31

    these are very funny MadSilence…
    I can certainly appreciate the humour….
    the futurist cartoon :)) and the Dadist Poem…I have to try that !!!


  6. Trackback: Ephemeral ice art « MadSilence
  7. sugali
    Sep 16, 2008 @ 04:41:18

    I love those cartoons and have no problems with critics. Each of us interpret and see things differently and that what makes it interesting. Just as a picture can tell a thousand words, likewise with cartoons.


  8. Trackback: Artsy Fartsy « Tish Tosh Tesh
  9. Trackback: Criticism cartoons | Learndoteach
  10. Sherry
    Oct 07, 2012 @ 17:39:07

    There is another with Calvin himself walking down the stairs straight out of the bath. I would be happy to share.


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