Sunday, September 2, 2012

Coming Out a Cartoonist (Belabour of Love)

"Master of Funny Arts" card (front)

   In mean in the artsy-fartsy world, especially in some circles of academia, it's still a stigma to be a cartoonist. Recently I got an amusing professional cold shoulder from some folks who would normally embrace every other oppressed, alternative or outsider group of artists. Funny how that works, but no worries - this pen & ink spot is a mark of distinction, a point of pride, and one of the reasons behind feeling such companionship at gatherings like comic fests. Plus perhaps one of the cornerstones of any creative endeavor is a conviction that needs no validation.

Screen-grab from Winsor McCay “Little Nemo” 1911

   Mulling this topic over after being triggered by an article (hat-tip to Drawn) from the Art Marketing Blog, which emphatically states "Don't Be An Artist." Meaning, as an effective way of branding oneself and distinguishing your work, to never just simply state that you are an artist, or just as an artist - one should refine that to delineate what specific kind of artist.
   I get what the author is saying, but with a small reservation: by doing so, you also inadvertently  pigeon-hole and even limit yourself. Hence I usually leave it at "drawer," as in I draw things, which in many ways is just as vague and open-ended a declarations as being "an artist." Reminds me of a saying I read somewhere as an observation about the social validity of "crafts" like weaving, smithing, et al: back then in the The Day, every person was some kind of an artist, as opposed to now, when an artist is viewed instead as being some kind of a person. A subtle distinction and one that bears examination in our contemporary culture of hyper-specialization. Another difficulty in narrowing definitions is the observation that most successful artists - both commercially and in art departments - are the ones who may excel in one particular arena but are also technically proficient in multiple mediums or platforms as well.

   But by far the biggest issue with coming up with such clinical terminology is that if you find yourself having to qualify yourself as an artist, you might have already failed in one crucial way. That being the #1 opportunity, of HERE, as in, SEE - look at this. Dropping the "visual" part of the visual art-ball means missing out on an potential opening to physically expose another person to your work. "What kind of work do you do?" = "Why I just so happen to have some on me." One reason to never leave the house without something to hand over as an example, a card with contact info on it for example, even a digital portfolio on your phone would suffice in a pinch. Reminds me of the irritation had over many a student who'd launch into elaborate descriptions of their theoretical artwork assignment... a completely useless fantasy: show me the work.

   Splitting creative hairs and wearing ever-narrowing labels as a badge of distinction his is a slippery slope, as I've personally been on both sides of the spectrum: from trying to justify myself as an artist by having two simultaneous openings for my BFA - one at the university's fine art gallery and the other, a ten-year cartoon retrospective, down the hill at a local bar. That duality was a pinnacle experience that reflected how the course of events that came to define me as an artist today, shaped by two pivotal bookends. The first was flunking out of art classes in high-school, ostensibly for being a really shitty student, but also due to an insistence on drawing comics that, according to the art teacher, "didn't count." Fast-forward to the first classes at SCAD, where for the first time I could put a cartoon up on the wall and have it critiqued as a legitimate piece of art.

   Even now it's still a minor moral victory to shed the baggage of assumptions and market myself as not just an artist, visual artist, drawer, illustrator etc. but as a cartoonist. But even then you still have to quantify that statement, because you might be talking about a comic book artist, or a syndicated stripper, or a graphic novelist, or... In fact my entire MFA thesis (abstract here) was predicated on this largely artificial distinction in the academic hierarchy of "sequential art." It's a veritable nesting doll of definitions, one that frequently makes me just give up and say I'm simply just a damn artist who likes to draw. And then hand out some funnies.

1 comment:

  1. That's why it's great to get out of school and start doing what you really do without having to expound on it to a bunch of academics.