Saturday, August 29, 2015

How DARE the Weekly Standard Employ Journalistic Principles and Tradition!

As much as I might want to keep this blog about the art and business of caricature, like it or not this is an art form that has grown up hand-in-hand with politics. And so this morning I awoke to see an interesting spat going on involving a caricature of a politician (and yes, I mean that both ways: it's a painted, rendered caricature of Donald Trump, whom many regard as a living, walking caricature of a politician).

The Weekly Standard commissioned award-winning Jason Seiler to paint the Donald, which he did with incredible detail and form.

Then the Weekly Standard released it to their fan base, which (from the Facebook responses) seems to have lost all sense of what caricature is or (GASP!) that it's been used to depict politicians since politics was invented. 

Now, caricature artists who belong to ISCA are already aware of this and several of us have had a run at the comments, soaking in all the looney and digesting it. (The tide is turning, actually, as I see more and more comments explaining or defending the artwork pop up in the last several hours.)

But this isn't just for artists. Please, you non-artist folks who simply appreciate art, history, caricature, and journalism . . . please have a look.

If you can parse your way through the misspellings, typos, confederate flag profile pictures, and occasional misogynistic spitwad, you'll notice that very few of the folks commenting seem to have any realization that Weekly Standard has a history of using caricatures on their cover--or, even, that caricature is a thing that exists. The number-one "liked" comment excoriates the editors at Weekly Standard for daring to "present the front runner in a cartoonish way."

Others are fuming that they are singling out Trump with this illustration while they would never treat Jeb Bush or other candidates in such a "disrespectful" way. (Just a peek at the Weekly Standard subscription page shows me caricatures of the editors, and in the 4 sample covers we have 2 caricatures--one of Jeb Bush and another of Republican hopeful Scott Walker).

A few commenters point out that the Standard in fact has caricatures on a pretty regular basis (and they sure have had a field day with Obama's ears and Hillary's mug) . . . but I also wondered how many folks taking this sensible stance are actually caricature artists who found the link via the ISCA Facebook post. Jason Seiler himself can be found reverse-trolling on there, politely asking folks what is shameful or awful about the caricature. I don't think any one of the rabidly angry Trump supporters has any idea Seiler is, in fact, the creator of that monstrosity they are fuming over.

Don't anybody out him, either! I suspect he's enjoying this.

I'm no Jason Seiler, not by a long shot, but I had a slightly similar feeling recently at a fundraiser for one of my favorite podcasts. I had donated a caricature sculpture of James "The Amazing" Randi for an auction to benefit the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. At the dinner, as the items were walked around the room, one woman at my table (who had no idea that I was the artist) scowled and said "Oh my goodness, how awful! It's so grotesque!" as she examined the miniature James Randi. A fellow sitting across from her said "What, are you crazy? That's awesome--looks just like him!" The woman continued sneering, the guy chuckled and tried to explain caricature to her (and art for that matter), and I simply sat back quietly, enjoying it all secretly.

One of the things caricature shares with "high art" is that it can have the power to divide a room. (The sculpture fetched just over $700, by the way. The woman at my table frowned and made disgusted noises each time the price went higher.)

What I'm seeing on the comment thread for Weekly Standard, though, seems a bit more than dividing a room. I'm not sure what's going on with the Trump supporters as a whole (or if what we see there is even a good representative sample), but the thin-skinned inability to take a visual joke is apparent. As is a really blinding non-awareness of the history of caricature in political publications--hell, I'm not even talking about the roots of the art form in Colonial America or eighteenth-century France here: these readers seem unaware of what caricature even is, unaware that the President and all politicians are regularly caricatured, and that the publication they subscribe to has used caricatures regularly for its entire existence--yes, even on Democrats. 

Ouch. Just, ouch. 

Many of them could not recognize it as a painting and assumed it was some kind of photo manipulation. Though it was painted digitally, it's clearly got the brush-strokes and markings of a highly rendered painting. Have these folks ever seen a real painting, I wondered? Did no one take them to a museum as a kid? Was it just the gun range and Sizzler for every family outing?

Just check out some choice comments I culled (copied & pasted, so consider all typos below to have [sic] next to them):

"If you can't portray a presidential candidate in a serious manner, don't bother at all !!!"
 "Sticks and Stones May Break His Bones...but your lousy satirical cover photos will not hard him. Trump for President 2016."
"Insulting distortion." 
 "When do we see the press do this to Hillary or Sanders or any other person in the top 5"
 "This photoshopping is just plain old mean! Shame on you!"
 "Weekly Standard would you do the same distortion on a picture of Obama? I"m thinking if you did you would be accused of being a racist but you think it's ok to make fun of a white guy..... That racist thing works both ways!"
"What an unflattering picture... On purpose?"
"Can't they stop photo shopping pics?" 
"just cancelled my more serious than a cartoon?" 
"Didn't expect this kind of cover photo from the Standard. I suppose manipulation is the flavor of the day." 
"Whys they use such an unbecoming picture" 
"Geez....terrible artwork designed to insult."
"Your BS unflattering photo can NOT alter the greatest of this man."  
"Ohhhh did they make trump look like a mungoloid?" 
"Why the distorted picture?" 
And my favorite unwitting typo (I believe she meant "disgusting") was: "U are discussing, Weekly Standard" . . . why yes, ma'am, yes I am discussing Weekly Standard. I thought that was kind of obvious. 

Yeah, Seiler would NEVER make fun of Obama...

The scientific illiteracy of the general American public--something that seems more noticeable in those who identify as "far right" or ultra-conservative--has often depressed me. But today the art illiteracy of that same demographic is what's been getting my goat.

It's a caricature. Look it up, people! (Actually, do look it up, because oh my good lord it was hilarious reading the attempts at spelling that word--if you spot a correct spelling of the word there, it's likely because the one commenting IS a caricature artist). 


  1. The one that got me the most was the train of thought one had to follow in order to accuse the weekly standard of not caricaturing Obama for fear of being called racist, but shame on them because a caricature of Trump is somehow racist. I feel dumber having typed that.

    1. I feel your pain. There was one response on there where a grown man rebutted another one's comment by telling him his wife was fat. He could not think of any way to intelligently respond to what was said, so his answer was to look at the guy's Facebook page and then tell him he was married to an overweight woman. Genius.

  2. Well written, Celestia, as usual!

  3. Both hilarious and sad. I live in San Jose, California, and you can't sell caricatures here using the word caricature. You have to have a big sign that says CARTOONS OF YOU.

  4. Both hilarious and sad. I live in San Jose, California, and you can't sell caricatures here using the word caricature. You have to have a big sign that says CARTOONS OF YOU.

  5. Both hilarious and sad. I live in San Jose, California, and you can't sell caricatures here using the word caricature. You have to have a big sign that says CARTOONS OF YOU.

  6. Great blog about caricature. If you want to hire caricature artist for kids please contact us form the links below

    Toronto Magicians are all growing in demand and here are some professional dealers available with whom you can get the best of deals at cheap rates. The service providers all striving forward to make sure your event turns out to be something really worth and best in all means. With them you can also find magic show toronto too.