A new display showcasing the very best of the Cartoon Museum collection of cartoon art, curated by Cartoonist and Cartoon Museum Trustee Steve Bell.
”In the beginning was the image, since God had not invented reading. And the image was made flesh, in the form of beasts, hands, and figures upon a wall. And the wall was in a cave and the purposes of the people who made the images were known only to themselves but became a matter for debate when the caves were rediscovered tens of thousands of years later. Authoritative sources attribute largely cultic, shamanic or religious significance to these drawings. The observational talents of the unknown artists are obvious. Yet would we deny our forebears a sense of humour? Or even satirical or critical intent?
Cartoons are as old as drawing, though the use of the word in its present meaning dates back very precisely to a particular drawing, “Shadow and Substance” by John Leech in an edition of Punch magazine, published in 1843 now known as “Cartoon Number One”. The word at the time simply meant a life-sized working drawing for a tapestry or wall painting. The cartoon itself refers to the commissioning of designs for patriotic scenes from British history to adorn the walls of the new Palace of Westminster (the old one having burnt down in 1834) and is not remotely funny. This is not because the joke has gone stale and disappeared with age, since it was never intended to amuse. The cartoon is intended to disturb. Thus the word entered our language.
Why then have a Cartoon Museum if we cannot even define the word itself? Has not the word “cartoon” come to mean something that trivialises and grossly oversimplifies? And “cartoonish” become a byword for crudity and shoddiness? Not, I hope, if you are prepared to open your eyes to this wonderful collection of drawings. The artistry on display here defies description because of its sheer variety. Yet one quality unites all the works here: they stand-alone, autonomous, resisting even rudimentary categorisation. They are works of art with an ulterior motive. They observe, report, disturb. amuse, attack, poke fun and pontificate. They are elegant, crude, tasteful, disgraceful, kind, cruel, and unruly. They have no viewpoint, other than that of being human in a particular time and place. They come singly or in serried ranks. Their biases are manifold, and tell us more about ourselves than any number of think-pieces in any distinguished journal ever could.”