THE work of the cartoonist involves many considerations from the highest to the lowest. As it provides a ready vehicle for ridicule, and as ridicule is perhaps the greatest destructive power in the world, the artist entrusted with the use of such a weapon should have a strong sense of responsibility if he hopes to carry any weight. In England there is a code of manners imposed which has reduced this power almost to that of a wasp without a sting, so that it is hardly now by one savage onslaught that the foe is driven off, but rather by a general buzz of long continued disparagement.
Though the cartoonist has in his hands the weapon of ridicule, his art is not to be confounded with that of the caricaturist pure and simple, as is so frequently done ; caricature is but part of his equipment to be used if need be ; the greater the cartoonist the less necessary it may be to him, but the need for emphasis and clarity being so great, most cartoonists use it at least occasionally. The power of the cartoon lies in its rapid and graphic summary of a situation, appealing to the sympathies or confirming the prejudices of the spectator, or as a means of more or less diagramatically simplifying and explaining it at a glance. At its lowest this calls for considerable skill, and, at its highest, for all the powers the artist has at command. All his resources of conception, symbolism, dramatic ability, realism, knowledge not only of his art, but of its power to excite the aesthetic and other emotions, may be called into play ; and most frequently, if he is to have any effect on staying or speeding the general current of opinion, all these must be available at a moment’s notice.
In a cartoon the appeal should be instant to the eye, and nothing introduced that may overlay its significance. It should be reduced to the simplest and most forcible terms, like a ” poster ” and be as readable as a title page, and the mind left undisturbed by the least irrelevance to the main idea. Line is therefore the best medium to use, without attempt to convey atmospheric effect or a sense of realism. Atmosphere and any generality of statement will be found to pad and muffle the impact of the idea to be conveyed. Since vividness and clarity are the first essentials only a misguided person will use a full-tone wash drawing for such a purpose.
If Ridicule had had freer play many an absurd bubble might have been pricked without bloodshed ; and if Art is to be informed with a purpose outside itself the artist may look for no higher employment than may be found in the art of the cartoonist. This, though sometimes ignorantly despised, may at its best bear a like relation to pure pictorial art that the finest oratory bears to literature, and hold as high a rank.
In strict caricature, while an excess of objectivity might be expected, it will not always be foundwitness the work of Ospovat and Max Beerbohmwhere objectivity is almost absentit has been distilled till only the essential spirit remains. We may say that the caricaturist is subjective in exact proportion to his departure from exactitude of presentation of the literal, that is, the objective fact. While the emphasis is laid on the object, the choice of stress and the extent of it is so personal to the artist, and is so large a part of his art as to remove him at times almost from the ranks of the objective into the subjective, even though the intention of the stress be to emphasize the object. By losing himself the caricaturist is discovered.
Caricature consists, on the negative side, in the elimination of that part of the character of the object that it holds most in common with othersthat is, the partial or entire elimination of the average. On the positive or constructive side it actively insists in varyfing degrees of emphasis on that which appears to the artist to be most individual. It differs as far as possible from the photographer’s amusing but futile effort to arrive by means of the composite photograph at the common factor.
The summary definition we could most ‘readily apply to caricature is ” emphasis,” but art itself has been so summarized, so that we are left with caricature still to define. How then do we distinguish caricature from other forms of art unless we may be allowed the euphuism that it is ” emphatic emphasis “approaching emphasis to the nth powerlike the loading of a girder only short of the breaking strain, or stretching an elastic to its snapping point. The further art removes itself from the norm the more fully it becomes caricature, and, to adopt the current slang, as, considering the subject, seems permissiblethe Art of Absolute Caricature is ” the limit.”
A door is either open or shutyet, obvious as the fact is, many people do not seem to realize that, while there is only one degree of being shut, there are many degrees of being open. So the door of art may be open so little that it may be called ajarto allow the thin ghost of something that is hardly distinguishable from a photograph to squeeze throughor so wide-flung that its possible exclusiveness may be hardly realizedto admit the portly figure of Daumier’s ” fat friend.”
In England, in spite of the great reputation of Gilray and Rowlandson, the art of strict caricature can hardly be said to have flourished. Gilray was a coarse and clumsy draughtsman (” coarse ” referring here to style of drawing, apart from what is generally implied in ” coarse-minded.”). Vanity Fair is perhaps the measure of what is commonly considered caricature in England , and in its earlier days there were attempts at something like a critical portraiture, but for the most part they were somewhat stodgy, degenerating too frequently into the large head on the little body, the portrait itself being more or less photographically accurate, drawn without the fire or intensity of interest requisite to enliven the art, or even the spark of mischief or malice that at least removes it from dulness.
I can recall no fierce and fine draughtsman who has devoted himself to the art in England of the calibre of Leandre in France, but it is true that it is rare in the history of art (even so-called ” serious ” artall art is serious) to find a finer stylist than he.
The Yorick Club used to be rich in a collection of pastel caricatures of its members by S. H. Sime, but these have never, so far as I know, been published, and only members and guests of the Club are fortunate enough to know them.
Ospovat had the keen eye for character, the satiric humour, and the selective sense of the born caricaturist with the ability to express it in a swift and witty craftsmanship that is part and parcel of the artist’s thought. It is a pity that his career was so short, and that the knowledge of his work in this direction is so restricted.
On the Christmas crackers it used to be the custom to have grotesque faces modelled in soft indiarubber that, as children, we called Zanys. These could,: be squeezed together or elongated in the most fantastic manner so that a fat, round face, already grotesque, could be pulled into a long thin one, or a long thin one compressed to fatness, yet the essential character remained the same. The caricaturist has this power over his subject in an even more complex manner, for he can enlarge, reduce, or suppress at will any part as seems good to him, thereby not only maintaining but emphasizing the special characteristics of the individual.
It is possible to imagine a drawing of Marie Lloyd by Leandre that should leave out her eyes and mouth, to set beside the caricature by Ospovat that leaves out her nose, relying upon the exaggerated portraiture of a pair of teeth, that should yet convey an equally good idea of the same lady, and have in some indefinable way a resemblance to Ospovat’s version, without reference to the source of the common inspiration. Yet distortion, amusing as its effects may be, is not to be mistaken for the aim of the caricaturistas soon as distortion ceases to yield emphasis to the individuality it has passed the mark, and where there has been an excess of effort the whole force may be wasted, and the object defeatedas in billiards, where a wellfaimed shot rebounds from the pocket.
While it may deal mainly with externals, it is yet capable of close spiritual analysis. It should therefore be sincere, and not a mere trick of enlargement of noses ; a crude idea of caricature which leads back towards the ” ugly valentine ” or ” skit,” happily extinct ; or forwards towards new but similar vulgarities.
In the search for characteristics the subject is isolated from its surroundings and stripped bare of all wrappings. ” In the dark all cats are grey ” is a proverbcaricature turns a searchlight on them, and only grey cats are grey to it. In such a light isolation alone may be sufficiently emphaticfor caricature does not recognize a crowd, but deals only in individualsseeing not the similarities but the unlikenesses in the most ordinary mortals, enlarging ruthlessly upon the least departure from the norm.