When is a cartoon not a cartoon?

October 19, 2009 in Comment


It’s always an uphill struggle for cartoonists to get work exhibited, because cartoons are generally not regarded by those whose job it is to decide such things as “Art” with a capital A.

So PCOer Chris Madden was more than a little amused, and bemused, to spot the above cartoon at the current Frieze Art Fair, which is largely seen as a critical barometer for all that is relevant, edgy, and, if you will, zeitgeisty, in the world of Contemporary Art (with two capital letters).

Of course it’s not actually a cartoon, it’s a silkscreen print by American artist Richard Prince of an existing cartoon (by someone else, uncredited) with additions in acrylic.

That’s why it cost, and has been sold for, £150,000.

Mr Prince made his name “rephotographing” existing works. His image, “Untitled (Cowboy)” a photo of a cigarette advert, was the first photo to raise more than $1 million at auction, despite the obvious copyright violation. So we’re sure he wouldn’t mind the PCO rephotographing “his” work to get a closer look.


Ah, you see, the caption is nothing to do with the image. It’s incomprehensible so it really is ART. With three capital letters.

So, the question for you, readers, is this: Where does rip-off end and homage begin? Answers in comments below please.

13 responses to When is a cartoon not a cartoon?

  1. It’s so disheartening.

  2. As a more positive footnote to this, by the way, I was reading about the new Damien Hirst exhibition at the Wallace Collection. It’s going to be their most successful ever. No surprises there, but more surprising is the fact that the previous most successful one was a *cartoon* show, The Genius of Osbert Lancaster.

  3. Soup cans, arranged bricks, unmade beds……..all of these were debate makers in their day. Maybe the difference between these and Mr Prince’s offering is that they had some guile about them. I like contempory art. I’m not moved by Mr Prince’s nicked cartoon, though. I don’t feel enraged by it. It doesn’t make me feel anything.I think he’s probably just latched on to – through his agent – a way of making lots of dosh out of the rich “must have” brigade. Damien Hirst’s manager said that he was proud of “making Damien aware of money” Hirst is a very capable artist, but is encouraged to encrust skulls with diamonds to see if idiots will buy them. Ooops. There was only one, thereby ensuring a rich idiot WOULD buy it.
    Somebody just spent 125,000 dollars on a wig once worn by Barbara Striesand. Maybe they’ll display it as a trophy of their wealth. Same goes for the Prince rubbish. Well, its not rubbish, is it ? Its currency amongst the the gullible rich. Its not art, though.

  4. Disheartening, Simon? Not a bit of it! That there are people willing to part with megabucks for pretentious twaddle is a cause for great celebration, and ought to be an inspiration to us all. Sometimes you only need a fool a few of the people some of the time to be quids in.

    100 times in your best handwriting…
    Don’t blame the artist.
    Don’t blame the artist.
    Don’t blame the artist.
    Don’t blame the ar…

  5. I think it is depressing but normal. I attended Central Saint Martins a few years ago and cartooning was despised. Of course, very few people could actually produce one…

  6. That’s because cartooning involves skills of various types, and skill is a little-valued commodity these days.

  7. I’m considering hiring McAlpines to construct a seventy five foot tall plasticine statue of Boutros Boutros Gali on the roof of Safeway’s which is then covered entirely in damson jam by members of the girl guides hanging from hot air balloons by their ankles. I’ll then get TV’s Ant n Dec to photograph it using a specially constructed giant Box Brownie, print it in black and white the size of a postage stamp and nail it to a pig.
    It’s called ‘Sick Puppy wedges in the throat of the Universe IV’.

    Well, if the art’s council grant comes through, anyway.

  8. Its not the first time ‘high’ art has blatantly pinched from popular comics arts – Art Spiegelman among others has noted Roy Lichtenstein being feted for his daring comic-book pop art panels while not crediting (let alone reimbursing) the orginal cartoonists whose work he appropriated.

  9. Yes, that’s right Joe, but not sure Art Spiegelman or even Roy Lichtensten made quite as much of a mark-up on a single item using the work of someone else. Bloghorn would like to know what the situation is, or was regarding image rights. Did the modern artist purchase them? Was the image out of copyright? Or is it that the cartoonist (and descendents) don’t know where his work is now appearing? What do you think is most likely?

  10. Unfortunately with the ‘Orphaned Works’ act (look it up in Google) which most countries are trying to push through there will be more and more cartoonists and illustrators open to exploitation.

  11. I would say that Drive My Car by the Beatles, Let’s Go Driving in My Car by Madness and Cars and Girls by Prefab Sprout are all car tunes while Leader of the Pack is probably more of a bike tune.
    Or am I missing something…

  12. A-ha, comic relief! Not sure Leader of the Pack is advisable to listen to while on a bike, it doesn’t end well.

  13. I’d love to see ‘Sick Puppy wedges in the throat of the Universe III’ (and I and II for that matter), Clive. Are they on show somewhere?

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