The Art of Calling Something an Art

 Prolific Web cartoonist and general nice guy Wes Molbash has been invited to be half of an exhibit at the Pump House Center for the Arts in Chillicothe Ohio called the Art of Cartooning. Any sort of publicity like this is awesome and I for one am proud of Molbash. The exhibit will be running from July 17th and run through August 25th and any one in the Ohio area should head out and support one of our own. You can get all the info and check out an invitation designed by Molbash over at You’ll have That.

The name of this exhibit leads nicely into a topic I’ve been meaning to bring up here. I’m not much of an artist myself, but I’ve read plenty of frustration from people saying that cartooning isn’t a real art form. I just don’t get it. what is the actual difference between cartooning and say painted a still life? Where to do people get these accusations?

As a writer, I don’t really understand this. I can’t see any difference between writing a script for a comic strip and writing a screen play or another kind of script. Characterization solely through dialog is characterization solely through dialog no matter what the art form portraying the dialog.

Is the problem that cartoons look too simple, so people who don’t know what goes into it assume it’s easy? But from what I understand, that’s what make it more difficult. I guess I’m not artistic enough to get it and maybe you more gifted types could enlighten me a bit.

After you fill me in, check out my flavors of the month on my about page, I finally updated that.

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6 thoughts on “The Art of Calling Something an Art

  1. I certainly consider comics a form of art. But to play devil’s advocate…

    1) Unlike most visual fine art, Comics are a mass produced product. Even visual art that is able to be reproduced in large quantities (like ink prints, or some sculptures) are generally limited intentionally. This, of course, does not apply for performance arts or written art, both of which have a non-physical aspect (in the form of an even or an idea) which transcends the medium itself. Comics can be considered to be shackled to the physical world through the emphasis of the illustrations within them.

    2) Although no one claims there is NO money to be found in making fine art, the intent of the artist is supposed to be the creation of art, not a paycheck. The comic industry is… an INDUSTRY. It’s run by companies who will make sure their comic creators do whatever will make money. Although there are plenty of comic creators (including most Webcomic creators) who aren’t in it for the money, someone who does not read many comics won’t know anything about that. At least the movie industry has popular film festivals constantly reminding the average person that there are independent filmmakers making ART.

    3) Comics are for stupid kids. If you are over 10 and read comics, you’ve failed at life. Or, at least that’s what a lot of people seem to believe. Comics are a medium that attempts to appeal to all sorts of people… not an elite few. Anything that appeals to the larger public (including children) must be to simple for the discerning artistic elite.

    Next time I should try arguing for the side I BELIEVE in. All the stuff I just wrote is making me depressed.

  2. I’ve read Mr. Kovell’s detailed reply, but my answer is a little shorter:

    1. The masses do not consider comics art, as it began as a form of cheap entertainment for children (I’m talking about comic strips and comic books of recent decades, not so far back as hieroglyphics on a wall). The printed final product of the artists is mass-produced, which makes the comics one buys seem less ‘unique.’

    2. Comics are a form of art for at least these reasons: a) it takes an artists’ eye and talent to create comics as pleasing and attractive to the reader and it takes a writer with skill to write a compelling story. Comics combine visual art and literary art together — so I consider it two forms of art combined. And b) the artists’ finished pieces of original art are worth money to the collectors and people who buy them.

    As artists’ original works are exhibited and sold more and more, slowly more people will consider comics art. This change in American cultural bias will take several years, possibly several decades.

    There you go — an answer!

  3. Entertainment value actually. The more readable it is, the less it seems to be an art. Think about it. What’s considered the most artistic movie out there? Citizen Kane. It’s interesting, and highly satisfactory to watch, but it definitely isn’t the most watchable movie as compared to say, Disney’s Robinhood? And think, which would be considered more an art piece, an Art Spiegleman underground comic, or an Usagi Yojimbo anthology. Now think of which is easier to read.
    At the same time, craft can compensate for this. Hayao Miyazaki’s actual manga for Nausica of the Valley of the Wind was so beautifully drawn, it was still considered an art despite being a manga. And in Japan, though comics are widely read, they’re hardly considered an artform, they’re just cheap entertainment. That’s quite a feat then, yeah?

  4. I’ve gotten this response on many occasions. I go to art school, but I want to do comics. I’ve actually had someone ask me “Why are you here then?” when I told them what I wanted to do. I usually defend comics this way, and it may be the same reason for it not being considered a form of art: The most important skill in comic books, with a trained drawing skill in second, is a very highly trained eye for graphic design. A comic can have beautiful art, but if it isn’t readable, it won’t be well accepted. Especially in manga, where panel design drives the page, you need to know how a person will read your comic and how to tailor your idea around that. It’s only recently that graphic design has broken into the art world. There are still some that do not consider it to be an artform either.

    On another point, most comics, American-made comics especially, follow an assembly line process. You have one person penciling, one inking, one coloring, one touching up all the art (now usually on computer), one doing all the lettering, and then of course the writer (who is just as much of an artist, in my opinion, as the person drawing the panels). But in the eyes of a gallery, that assembly line process takes the personal aspect of art away, and leaves a packaged product, rather than a completed work.

  5. A lot of really good interesting points that I wouldn’t have considered if I were left to my own devices. I understand that some of these were just playing devils advocate but I would still like to respond, just in case anyone meets a comics hater in a dark alley or something.

    Jospeh’s points: 1) While fine art is usually not mass produced, other mediums that no one would question the legitimacy of are. For example, music. Once a symphony is written, it can be reproduced infinite times, be it through different orchestras playing it or through recordings of the same version. I understand uniqueness is a desirable trait, seeing the real Mona Lisa is certainly more impressive than seeing the version you can get on a T-shirt, but I still don’t get this as a reason to blanketly excluding all comics as art.

    2)I can see this point. The capitalistic cynic in me wants to declare that all artist start out in search of money or women but I’m doing a better job of keeping him hidden. I do think that a lot of artist have the pure intention of creating something beautiful for beauty’s sake. I don’t think the print comic mogels have this goal in mind, I do however believe there are plenty of web cartoonist out there who do have this as their reason for working.

    3)You got me there, we are all just stupid kids….

    Mr. Lanphier: You make some interesting points. It does seem like the only reason comics aren’t considered art is because they aren’t considered art. It sounds like I’m being sarcastic but rereading what you said really made it stick with me. When it comes right down to it, it is because they said so.

    That’s why I hate them.

    I really liked your point about two art forms in one. I think that’s a major reason I’m so into comics.

    Grigori: Yeah, simplicity can work against us in the search for acceptance. I’d just tell them to go read Hemingway or Lewis, great literary geniuses, that pretty much anyone who takes the time to can understand.

    Great discourse here, I love to read anyone else’s take.

  6. What I really find ironic is if you look at some ‘fine art’ you see that they are far less organized or detailed than most ‘cartoon’ art.

    Personally, I think that the only difference between most ‘high’ art and cartoon art is the emotional response you get. Consider the following:

    Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein.

    With them, it’s mostly about presentation, and I have to admit that it takes a certain artistic sensibility to do that properly. Sure, they’re artists, but I’ll never compare them with Goya, or Rembrandt. Mostly they adapted other art styles and presented them with a different spin, and said ‘Look at what I did. Aren’t I great?’. Then got paid obscene amounts of money for using another person’s talent.

    Then you look at the following:
    Art Spiegelman, Charles Schulz, Mike Migniola along with so many others.

    They’re artists, in my opinion. You look at their work, and you get an immediate gut response. They’re original, and in some way they reach into you. They crafted images that were born in their minds.

    There are a few others, but their names escape me right now.

    But I’ll be honest about something.

    I used to work at Marvel Comics as an Editorial Assistant. One of my duties was submissions.

    Most comic book artists (especially Americans) are derivative. Feeding off each other’s art styles in an incestuous frenzy.

    Most comic-books are simply a way to show off people hitting each other… and you don’t need too much creativity for that.

    As far as I’m concern, anyone who can create, is at some level and artist, be they a writer, sculptor, painter… etc.

    I think that the more creative a person is, the better they artist they are.

    And the difference between a ‘Real’ artist, and a ‘Cartoonist’? Not much.

    I think it’s mostly presentation. The rest is talent.

    Don’t forget the talent. A lot of people do.

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