Over the course of the 20th century, new popular media such as the art in graphic novels has been adopted by contemporary artists trained in painting or sculpture. For a long time, the comic artist had a varied background in other mediums, as artists experimented in everything from photography to video. Now it seems there is everything from superheroes to the experimental work by Utopia artist João Ruas. Yet graphic novel art is often polarized by art institutions (museums and galleries) as not being authentic art. This article will examine how this beautiful medium from comic artists like Cameron Stewart and even Osamu Tezuka is slowly getting the respect it should.
A Complicated Relationship
The interactions between comics and the art world is a complicated one, especially for comic artists and audiences. Scholars, curators, and critics frequently use the terms “cartoon” and “comics” as though they were specific visual monikers rather than media that encompass many styles.
There is a critical view of comics as “raw material,” because it doesn’t have a monolithic or historical presentation of the medium. The aesthetic quality of comics is ignored, with the argument that it cannot easily be recognized as fine art. There is a bitterness that defines how the comic art world sees the larger art world.
It is the comic artist’s parodies of the fine art world snubbing that bring a humorous texture to all of this. Uninked, a 2007 comic strip from Peter Ware, tells the story of a frustrated newspaper cartoonist who decides to give painting a try. When he visits a museum for inspiration, he sees a painting on display that is a blowup of his own strip’s title panel. It’s hilarious and it mirrors the contemptuous nature of the fine art world.
While it’s true comics today have a place in high culture, after Art Spiegelman’s Maus won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, comics have been celebrated primarily as literature rather than as art, for example as in the longer graphic novels. Yet that is changing.
What the art culture cannot ignore is that many younger cartoonists employ eclectic techniques and mediums that owe more to art – Impressionism, the Vienna Secession, urban art – than to comics.
These younger painters and installation artists are examining structural properties of comics, not just the color and appearance. It gets deep, with an introspection on how words and image affect the space of the page.
The term “immersive movement of comics” identifies work that possesses a unity between word and image, where text is studied as a visual impact and is fully integrated as part of the art. This comic art is meant to be both read and viewed, or more inspiringly, to be read through viewing.
So, it turns out comic artists and contemporary art share some core characteristics. Comic artists are moving closer to the conceptual concerns of art as they experiment with new mediums, as contemporary artists are fascinated with the structural and narrative elements of comics. This connects intellectually with the entire idea of contemporary art, and it gives comic artists the respect they deserve.