PCO Procartoonists – Art or what?

A wonderful Dave Brown cartoon sold recently at a Bonhams auction of the late Tony Banks’ cartoon collection for the handsome price of £8400GBP. This must bring a tear to the eye of the venerable Brown, having seen not a penny of this largesse.

Dave’s artwork is perhaps a paradigm (ah, that much misused word) for cartoon work in general. He’s one of the best cartoonists around, and probably THE most consummate draughtsman of the “Fleet Street” cartoonists, bedecked as he is with garlands and prizes. I have absolutely no doubt the cartoon is worth that amount of money, sold in the company of Reynolds’s and Raeburns in a Bond Street saleroom. But if you tried to sell it in a cartoon gallery, it wouldn’t fetch anywhere near that. And what if it were offered on eBay? I suspect it would have trouble reaching treble figures. Moreover, The Independent would have paid a fraction of the above price for the original published image. It’s all about context, context, context.

A lot of cartoon art produced by nationally published cartoonists is of a very high standard and involves an unusual collection of skills and knowledge – a fact which is well appreciated in most of continental Europe, but not the UK. The problem is that it has a “humour” label, which immediately seems to devalue it in the eyes of the average Brit. Maybe it’s because we all think we’re natural humourists and could rattle a cartoon off in a minute or two, if we wanted to.

I have a feeling the problem’s compounded by the mindset of the average cartoonist (yes, including me). The old journo’s overheard comment that “cartoonists will work for anything” is sadly all too true. So, time to grow some serious art-house egos, develop some social maladjustments (aside from the usual cartoonists’ infelicities like an unhealthy love of jazz or sweaters) and proudly call ourselves artistes, I reckon.

Mine’s an absinthe, s’il vous plaÎt, Henri.

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