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Against Clarity

Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky, Andre Breton

Here's a story about people's attitudes towards art: while exiled in Mexico, Leon Trotsky spent time with the painter Frida Kahlo, the muralist Diego Rivera, and the founder of surrealism André Breton. This group enjoyed a close intellectual relationship, co-authoring a manifesto for the short lived International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Art.

One key difference emerged between the practicing artists and the political revolutionary. When Breton and Rivera discussed the importance of cave paintings, Trotsky was appalled. "I can still see the reproachful look [Trotsky] gave Rivera when the latter maintained (which was hardly extravagant) that drawing had been in decline since the cave period," Breton later recalled.

A non-artist/theorist bristling at modernist stirrings of reverence for primitive art might not be surprising, much less noteworthy. But in Trotsky's case it illuminates larger issues of what people allow to be acceptable art. Trotsky was not indifferent to creativity. On the contrary, he saw the artist as "the natural ally" of his concerns, and wrote about art constantly (the Independent Revolutionary Art manifesto represents a fraction of his words on the subject). He saw modern art, especially the surrealism that Breton represented, as a positive sign: "Modernism in painting, which was accused by representatives of the old academic piety of malicious farfetchedness and false mannerism was, in fact, a life-giving protest against the old style which had outlived itself and turned into a pose."

But the very modern idea (in 1938) that cave paintings, free of ulterior motives involving career, status, or academic hierarchy, represent a true expression of what lies within human hearts and minds, and, more crucially, that everything since then is corrupted and self-conscious--this is too much to accept. Never mind that this idea forms the basis for most of surrealist thought. Trotsky could accept the idea of surrealism as a rebuke of established art pieties, but to actually maintain the belief that human’s earliest markings are superior to the standard of Renaissance art (a period that Breton noted was close to Trotsky's heart) was impossible to stomach without shooting a 'reproachful look' at whoever had maintained something so idiotic. With Trotsky we have a person who, rightly or wrongly, could think far outside of what most could imagine as acceptable boundaries for organizing human life. An attempt was made to extend that far reaching vision to art, but Trotsky’s face betrayed an inescapable philistinism.

Within the radicalized group of people who view cartooning as a worthy art form (a smaller and lower stakes transgressive sect than that of historical materialism, but probably equally ludicrous), a similar contradiction emerges, this time sharper than a befuddled facial expression. Cartooning, to our diehards and fellow travelers, is an art form, in spite of a world that thinks and acts otherwise. But a disdainful thesis hovers above the poetics of even the most expansive theorists: this medium can only withstand so much.

Page from Artichoke tales by Megan Kelso, 2010, Fantagraphics Books

I consider Megan Kelso one of the most significant cartoonists of the last two decades. I recorded an interview with her recently, focusing in particular on her 2010 graphic novel Artichoke Tales. We discussed a storytelling tactic Kelso used in the book:

ENGLISH: There was a choice [in Artichoke Tales] to make the characters less distinct. It fits in with a lot of your statements about work where you'd rather confuse than over-explain. Your body of work, on any given page, asks for some minimal piecing together. But once that piecing together is done, the emotions and storytelling are amplified. But I do imagine that some readers were frustrated by that choice in Artichoke Tales. Since it's a specific choice in that book, I wanted to know your thinking behind it rather than rely on my assumptions as to why you did that.

KELSO: To be perfectly honest, it wasn't very well thought out. The Artichoke people started out as a doodle that I just got a ton of pleasure out of drawing. Then I did the short story with them and I just sort of knew. There was a larger world there and I loved being in that world. That was the motivation for the book. I feel like, in some ways, it sort of speaks to my ignorance about how comics work. Not having read a lot of comics or having even thought very deeply about them, I kind of just threw myself into figuring them out by making them instead of studying them. It sounds so obvious, but I don't think it really occurred to me how crucial different hairdos on different characters are to the making of comics.

Do you truly think that's it's crucial? My view is that it's not crucial. Comics people think that it's crucial. I was wondering maybe, if on some level, you reject that.

If you take away hairstyles as the thing that differentiates the characters, you’re sort of like making comics with one hand tied behind your back, you know? It's a really powerful way to differentiate characters. It's part of the whole comics tradition. People expect it. If you take that away, it becomes a sort of horrible exercise almost. Then how do you differentiate characters? I tried... [Laughs] I really tried. But I think it was sort of like a stubbornness in me. I realized the problem, but I was so invested in this world where everyone had artichoke heads. I loved the way they and the world looked. The homogeneity. I just really loved it. I didn't want to drop it. So, my approach was like, "OK. The characters in the North are different." They are like angular, and skinny, and have freckles. In the South, they have rounder bodies and dark eyes. I personally felt like that was fairly obvious. [Laughs] I got a lot, a lot of criticism for that book. A lot of people just threw up their hands and said, "Fuck it. I don't get it." You know? "I can't tell the characters apart." I definitely lost a lot of people who had no patience for it. I don't know. I experimented with doing it in color to create some differentiation. But I just really loved the airiness of the uncolored art and the homogeneity, going back to that word, and the way it made that world look.

I know it was kind of stubborn and obtuse of me to stick with that, but I wanted it that way. I guess one thing is, early on I didn't quite see the problem and then when I realized it was sort of a problem, I just decided that I would see if I could solve it in another way. I feel like people who read it carefully could see the differences in the characters, and the family tree was supposed to help. But it didn't work too well with the casual reader.

It's a confusing thing that people have a problem with in comics to me. I could see if you were watching a film and there was a similarity in visual appearance to certain actors. The film is going by. But comics seem to have that problem solved. 

Right.

You can spend time with it. That's something I've always felt. But despite comics having so much potential to not be bogged down with problems like that, comics are very rigid in their conventions. People who read comics are very insistent on these conventions. 

People seem to expect to be able to read comics quickly. Unfortunately, this is at odds with the kind of comics I like to make. They will not always make perfect sense on the first read…or you won’t get everything on the first read.

With Artichoke Tales, all the tools for understanding the story are embedded within the work. Part of the joy of Kelso's art, especially in Artichoke Tales, is finding these tools. And these are not postmodern keys which require awareness of seemingly unrelated texts and variables, but far more achievable visual ones, found in the pages of the book: this character has a slightly longer nose, this character carries themselves this way. Rather than lull you into a world where a series of lines represents one character's face and a slightly different series of lines represents another's, Kelso's comics require attention from the reader from panel to panel. If this attention is given, the emotional resonance of what Kelso is up to becomes amplified. This way of interacting with or making comics, to paraphrase our earlier comment by Breton, is hardly extravagant. In fact, I always wonder why this mode of cartooning is not the standard, as comics uniquely offer tools for the reader to explore any kind of puzzle (intentional or incidental) that the author's full expression requires. All that is asked of the reader is patience, a quality comics culture has unwisely discarded (in this country at least; the cult of Taniguchi says otherwise).

William Blake, Jerusalem, Plate 78, Yale Center for British Art

It's exhausting to assert that William Blake's Jerusalem is a brilliant comic, even though such a statement is necessary and true. 'Why is this work not in the comics canon!' is a battle that feels laborious to even consider, mainly because the merits of such a work are so strong and the world cartooning has created around itself is so foreign to Jerusalem’s properties. The gap between the two feels like a hopelessly tattered and beyond repair bridge. Why bother? Energy is, pragmatically, better spent elsewhere. Still, one wonders why we don't see more comics work in the tradition of Blake, and instead see quite a bit of cartooning that, more or less, resembles Ben Garrison:

Ben Garrison, 2018

It would be disingenuous to argue that outside approaches to traditional cartooning are discouraged in 2018. In fact, they are more welcome than at any other time in comics history, as artists of all disciplines and concerns make comics for engaged readerships of all kinds. But when I think of how comics asserts itself outside of the underground, Garrison is closer to the norm than may be comfortable to admit.

Scott Bateman, The Nib, Test Your Kavanaugh-ledge, The Nib, 2018

The Nib, The Believer, The New Yorker, and most mainstream publishers that work with comics, while often publishing beautiful and innovative work, do not deviate from the same rule that their spiritual arch-nemesis Garrison holds dear: clarity. Some artists make transcendent work for these publications, mastering and making wide leaps within the realm of clear communication, the brilliant work of Liana Finck serving as a noteworthy example. And Garrison himself, while espousing ideas that most readers of this site find counter to their core values, makes thrilling work, precisely because it elicits such strong rejection.

Garrison leaves nothing to doubt: you know what he thinks and what he wants you to feel. His success with commanding the tools of cartooning within its chosen narrow path is undeniable, despite the repugnance of his ideas. His approach ultimately resides in a dangerous section of the same ballpark as Scott Bateman's work for The Nib, though Bateman sits in a dilapidated and tepid aisle. Ultimately, they're on the same team in terms of aesthetics: here's what I have to say, with no ambiguity afforded.

Tellingly, any deviation away from that barebones template of clarity seems to help, if art is what we are concerned with. Here we have a rather morally hard to defend image by Garrison and a typical cartoon by Matt Bors. We might agree with Bors's worldview far more than Garrison's, but the expression which Garrison adds to his meat and potatoes message (McCain, bad!) give it more to recommend as art. I can’t, with a straight face, say that about the Bors. I don’t know why Bors's cartoon is drawn, and not simply a text tweet. Here’s the same joke without the aid of a Cintiq: “Grim Reaper 1: uh oh, its McCain’s time to go! TV Announcer: John McCain is prepared to strip millions of healthcare, which will kill many. Grim Reaper 2: ah, he’s always been so good to us, let’s give him some time.” I don’t see much difference! You cannot say the same about Garrison, as the drawing adds power to the "message." Through his lines, you feel that Garrison really hates McCain. While the idea of McCain crashing the plane he flew in Vietnam into his own grave is in extreme bad taste, it is a visual idea; I can find none in Bors. Both artists, in the end, want the same thing: to be understood clearly, with Garrison succeeding slightly more as an artist by simplifying less. Bors's approach seems to speak directly to the problem of cartooning that relegates itself to hyper clarity: there isn’t much room to be moved when everything is perfectly understood, ensuring cartooning to a fate as a highly consumable and forgettable medium.

Blake, on the other hand, had a desire for you to understand him, but since his interests were expansive, he could not caricature his project. Blake’s work, famously, touches on all things, so as not to elevate one aspect of life over any other. There is sex in Blake, but he cannot be defined simply as an early social progressive, because there is also everything else.

But if Blake wanted to communicate "everything else," why is his expression in every way the opposite of Bors or Bateman, pure communicators? Bateman expresses ABC and the reader understands ABC. Blake expresses AёÑ漢字 and the audience has an equally personal but not identical reaction. Interaction, instead of mere communication, as is true of all worthwhile art. At some point, if we care enough, we could get closer to understanding Blake's AёÑ漢字 intention by using the logic the work itself expresses. The process of getting to that point, the complicated interaction with the work, seems worthwhile in and of itself, an artistic project of its own. Bors’s and Bateman’s work, on the other hand, "solves" itself instantly and explicitly. Cartooning, it seems, falls in line with the explicit in its official version of itself.

"Three Trees of India", Folio from a Baburnama (Autobiography of Babur), late 16th century, India

A masterpiece like "Three Trees of India", an illuminated 16th-century manuscript (sometimes on view at the Met), feels like a grand lost artifact of sequential art that, again, fits uneasily with contemporary comics' self-conception as vessels of clarity. The peaks and valleys of emotion that this work suggests has been traded for a photocopy of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy, which in theory sounds fine, as Bushmiller's simplicity rivals the complexity of Blake. Yet few (if any) cartoonists are Bushmiller.

Ernie Bushmiller

In fact, most cartoonists are more Matt Lubchansky than Bushmiller.

Matt Lubchansky, The Nib, 2018

Deep clarity is, perhaps, not for everyone and is on dubious ground as an ideal of cartooning. Clarity, in the hand of its modern practioneers, becomes oddly garbled.

Mort Meskin

The last panel of the above sequence by Golden Age cartoonist Mort Meskin is exhilarating. We see Carter shot at, the crux of the story's drama. And yet, we have to read the panel a few times to register this. The shot doesn't exactly align, Carter's defense is awkward, the shooter's pose highly abnormal. The message ("Carter is shot at") is competently delivered, but so much more is drawn out in our reactions, both mentally and emotionally. A way of standing, vulnerability, Meskin's personality itself: it's all there in that moment, an overwhelming thing to behold. This panel defies clarity, instead embracing vagueness, and yet it's still cartooning, a world of drawn information. From this period, collective memory's lesson about comic art is, of course, Kirby dynamism, not "Meskin inversion." But Meskin brings us closer to a medium capable of living and breathing, and (more tantalizingly) a possibility beyond all that.

Would Meskin be able to draw this image, a Stalin-era appropriation of Lenin as a Santa Claus figure? I don’t think he’d be able to sell it, to himself or others. His more human concerns would get in the way, making it impossible to simplify a weighted concept so as to involve it in the opposite of its true purpose. The lie of this image is powerful and pleasurable, so much so that we might read it as a "comic." The regime that endorsed this image is the same that would assassinate Trotsky not long after the same moment he shot his glance at Rivera. If Trotsky could not accept the complicated argument of the primitive nature of early human expression containing more human feeling than refined court painting (painting that is pleasing enough to us all that our reaction to it is simplified), he respectfully limited his lowbrow leanings to a glance. Those that would destroy him breathed it through and through. Lenin as Santa Claus is the logical end game of Garrison or The Nib, repurposing thought into cheap simplification.

Hergé, sequence from Cigars of the Pharaoh, 1932

Of course, there is this: Tintin drops out of a plane, only to be cushioned by a gigantic plant. He falls onto the ground with Snowy. A first aid kit hits him in the head. Unfazed, he wonders where the guide for the kit is. Immediately, it hits him on the head. All of this is drawn with beauty and is an actual tangible pleasure to behold, everything this dry summary is not (here we have the counter to Bors). With all its aesthetic power, it becomes clearer than that summary. If cartooning is to strive for simplicy, its standard might as well be Sur-clarity, as Tintin clearly is. By misunderstanding and underestimating the intensity of Hergé and Bushmiller’s lessons, cartooning instead finds itself over explaining its own simplicity at the expense of all else. People who enjoy thinking might, understandably, be confused.


16 Responses to Against Clarity

  1. Ethan says:

    Aren’t you making a big leap assuming that political cartoonists should have the same goals as William Blake? Perhaps the desire of the artist is to make a quick joke, or persuade someone of a political opinion, neither of which are necessarily Blake’s or Kelso’s. Yes, the utilitarian value of visual art for political organizers require clarity of communication; one could argue that the value of visual art for wealthy elites are no less utilitarian, and requires obfuscation and obscurity. The moral judgement of what “art” “should” be doing seems rather less, well, clear.

  2. Ethan: In general, are comic strips, mainstream comics, graphic novels from big publishers, etc closer to Blake or Garrison though? I think The Nib is a good example of tendencies that seem to be ingraind throughout comics. The reactions to Artichoke Tales that Kelso describes aren’t from editorial comic afficinados, they’re from heneral comics people.

  3. Ibrahim says:

    Wait. Isn’t it an equally big leap to assume that William Blake did not have the same goals as a political cartoonist?
    Because sometimes, he did. As Austin mentions, Blake’s interests were expansive; his work has a lot of goals, and a strain of satire certainly runs throughout his entire oeuvre.
    Blake was witty, and acerbic – and made lots of quick jokes.

  4. Adam says:

    What I think you might have missed about Trotsky’s observation about cave paintings is that, in the context of Rivera’s comments, its a reactionary claim. Your (or I guess Rivera’s?) depiction of cave paintings as “represent(ing) a true expression of what lies within human hearts and minds” corresponds to Enlightment ideals of something like the “noble savage,” which Marx himself drew from in his postulations about some paradisiacal primitive communism. But by Trotsky’s time, Marxism and even many liberal ideologies had moved beyond this quasi-religious, “fallen grace ” analytical frame to ones that were more expressly materialist and historical. Within this context, cave paintings themselves are not in anyway impoverished as art. Positioning them as having some inherent superiority based on a false, ahistorical continuity of “art” is, however, by its reading, suspect.

    And I think rightly so. “Art” is not something that exists outside of time, history, or ideological determination, and traipsing back into ancient history uncautiously with these pronouncements/labels is foolhardy, and again, probably a reactionary endeavor. Individually finding beauty, solace, or inspiration in them is perfectly fine. Rendering them more systematically requires a great deal more thought, care, and interrogation.

  5. Christopher Adams says:

    Austin, thanks for post! I think this topic is real “important” as far as any “successful” artmaking is concerned and probably because of that usually pretty overlooked by most “artmakers” (in whatever prized or unprized subcategory). Clarity and in connection density and delivery of information seems so beside the point or pricked on it that a lotta folks “say” the opposite of what they mean or at best nothing at all. Whereas ideal is probably “saying” “everything” in one little singularity or better yet a Dippin’ Dots cup of singularity dots dumped on the whole world. But I don’t wanna “overclarify”! Agree with most of your points there, and again appreciate your bringing up topic on these pages in general. Reminded me of this topical poem:

    The Creations of Sound, Wallace Stevens

    If the poetry of X was music,
    So that it came to him of its own,
    Without understanding, out of the wall

    Or in the ceiling, in sounds not chosen,
    Or chosen quickly, in a freedom
    That was their element, we should not know

    That X is an obstruction, a man
    Too exactly himself, and that there are words
    Better without an author, without a poet,

    Or having a separate author, a different poet,
    An accretion from ourselves, intelligent
    Beyond intelligence, an artificial man

    At a distance, a secondary expositor,
    A being of sound, whom one does not approach
    Through any exaggeration. From him, we collect.

    Tell X that speech is not dirty silence
    Clarified. It is silence made dirtier.
    It is more than an imitation for the ear.

    He lacks this venerable complication.
    His poems are not of the second part of life.
    They do not make the visible a little hard

    To see nor, reverberating, eke out the mind
    On peculiar horns, themselves eked out
    By the spontaneous particulars of sound.

    We do not say ourselves like that in poems.
    We say ourselves in syllables that rise
    From the floor, rising in speech we do not speak

  6. Vagueness is, indeed, a very powerful storytelling tool, and an approach that uniquely well-suited for comics. While there are some movie directors that are adept at making the viewer complicit in the storytelling by being obscure (think David Lynch), comics are more inherently an audience participation art form: While watching a film you more or less just have to sit there and let it flow past your eyes and ears, but with comics you constantly have to make choices in your reading, and you can linger and figure things out at your own pace (and become more involved).

    I don’t think vagueness gets much credit as a storytelling technique. I guess it kinda sounds crass? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comic book artist say “Yeah, I’m vague as an artistic choice”? As an apropos example, Megan Kelso seems to say that she didn’t pick that as a technique, per se, but arrived at that place because she just liked the look of their heads.

    But would the world be a better place if everybody went against clarity? The comics on The Nib are awful, yes, but would they be less awful if they were less clear? I read that Nib book that was published the other year, and I almost comitted sudoko out of sheer boredom, because that’s a horrible, vapid book. (And I say that as somebody that probably agrees politically with most of what was in it.)

    If you don’t have faith in that the artist has something interesting to convey, a vague comic is a frustrating thing to read. While reading, say, Poison River by Gilbert Hernandez, I had complete faith in that puzzling things out would be rewarding; that Hernandez’ story had depths that were worth plumbing. (And it was time well spent.) But I’ve had the misfortune of reading genre comics from the late 80s, where everybody were trying to be Alan Moore, but still telling the same dopey adventure stories they were doing before. But under a sheen of vagueness, so that it read all mature and stuff. And there’s no there there; while the dopey adventure story might have been worth reading as a straightforward comic book, easy on the brain, it’s absolutely not worth spending the energy participating in the storytelling to that degree. It’s like being condescended to by an idiot.

  7. Ibrahim says:

    “Positioning them as having some inherent superiority based on a false, ahistorical continuity of “art” is, however, by its reading, suspect.”

    The reasoning here is based on the assumption that the inferred correspondence between the idea of the ‘noble savage’ and Rivera’s ideas about cave paintings as ‘true expression’ is an actual correspondence. Nowhere is this assumption proven, thus rendering the conclusions somewhat spurious.
    Art absolutely exists in time, and it also absolutely exists beyond it; that’s basically its job ?
    It’s the point where the universal meets the particular.

  8. Alex says:

    I think a lot of Important comics have that same Nib problem (I like the Nib, so do with my opinion what you will). Most of the face-out bookstore comics your friends have read despite never reading comics (Maus, Fun Home, Persepolis, etc.) end up with text and images that say the same thing. Millions more people have read Tintin and Nancy than have even read something like Maus, but it seems like artists trying to breakthrough to the wider world think that’s the way you have to do it if anybody is going to understand what’s going on. These people trying to be ambassadors to comics are so intent on clarity they end up drawing a person walking into a building and writing “I walked into the building” in a caption right above it.

  9. TCJis whinyandpretenscious says:

    Basically he’s saying cartoonists should abstract things more and be less direct. Am I a philistine for cutting through all the William Blake – Trotsky references? Also “I’m a supervisor liberal, Americans are stupid, F trump, obscure artist reference to look smart, obscure artist reference to look smart, obscure artist reference to look smart, pontification, pontification, pontification.”

  10. Austin English says:

    Adam- I don’t know my hegel enough to be anything more of an amateur when it comes to this stuff, but I think Trotsky is sill missing the point of what breton/rivera are saying, even if we factor in his politics. History has unfortunately left us with ‘weird/kooky’ as our takeaway from surrealism, but larger issues at the time of this discussion were more at the forefront of what the movement was about: ‘don’t make plans’, discarding artistic hierarchies, etc. I think this is why the two artists in the conversation see cave paintings as worthwhile—to me, theyre not glorifying/condescending to a primitive mode of expression but rather the intent behind the expression which syncs up with their modern critique. Surrealism itself didn’t eschew craft (Tanguy’s art, for instance)—instead, you shouldn’t pretend to be visually unsophisticated, but what you do with that sophistication might benefit (to put it lightly) from surrealism’s militant program of ideas. I think Trotsky missing this and instead falling back on his inherited understanding of ‘primitive = bad, renaissance = good’ suggests a missed opportunity for him to come to terms with the augmentation surrealism proposed to adding to the politics of marx. Yes, what he reads as rivera’s though IS reactionary, but he’s misreading it, I think, added by his aesthetic prejudices.

    TCJis whinyandpretenscious: dude, if you know any ‘supervisor liberal’ gigs coming up, please lemme know! I’m looking for work!!

  11. Chris says:

    Well said, Adam! Something similar crossed my mind as well.
    I was also reminded of Tom Gauld’s excellent “Hunter and Painter” which, while a joke transposing modern concerns on a prehistoric character, still makes the point that ancient humans were still human and had their own very human concerns. Rivera was projecting his own romantic ideas onto work that only seems enigmatic now for lack of context.

    That doesn’t undermine Austin’s larger point too much, though. I don’t personally feel that clarity or the lack thereof is a particular virtue, just a characteristic of the concerns of a given piece of work. But I will readily accept that the attempts of some of the “comics audience” to enforce their own expectations can be a source of frustration.

  12. Josh Gowdy says:

    Thanks for the great article. There’s much to ponder here – not just in regard to comics as Art with a capital A, but also in regard to the semiotic nature of the form.

  13. Oliver Denker says:

    Interesting article, that has given me much food for thought.

  14. David Tea says:

    A brilliant article, once again! You might not agree with all of it, but it’s a blast to read, and you get a lot of food for thought to chew on, as others also noted. There are so many things in here that I’m tempted to comment on — I’d better not even get started, I won’t know where to stop. Austin, good luck to you, if you’re job searching! Saturday Night Live should hire you to write sarcastic jokes, or something like that. OK, I just have to say: fantastic assortment of visual stuff, in this article (as well as the razor-sharp writing).

  15. Interesting piece. I agree there’s a balance to reach for between clarity and ambiguity, and a lot of cartoonists and comics creators seem to favor the former much more than the latter. I don’t see comics REQUIRING multiple readings of a complete work or a panel to be necessarily a good thing, but I want to explore the clarity ambiguity balance in my own comics and hope to make some pieces that are clearer or more ambiguous than others. And of course there are different techniques for each, and a mixture is possible – Hergé’s visual storytelling was crystal clear, but he used mystery in the plots of his stories and could have allowed even more ambiguity there without changing his panel-by-panel clarity, for example.

  16. David Tea says:

    A brilliant article, so brilliant, in so many ways, and I’m losing my self-control about it and I’m going to comment about specific stuff in it, alas! It’s not easy reading. As Austin wrote about Megan Kelso’s comics, it requires attention and patience from the reader, and I might not fully understand all the points being made here (or agree with them — I don’t entirely agree with it all) but I’m going to throw some extra stuff in. On prehistoric cave painting: I could easily write ten pages just about THAT, but I’ll just make one comment, which I think is so relevant to all of us who write or draw. There is a man named Roger Williamson, originally from England, who started and owned an occult bookstore near the University of Minnesota campus in the 1990s, and he had a theory about the cave painters which I think is his own original idea, and it has always stuck with me, that the reason the cave painters went so deep into inaccessible caves, out of sight from the world, to create their art, is because that was the only place where they could hide it from their fellow tribesmen and not be accused of witchcraft or whatever, for the ability to draw an image which looks like a real animal. To escape the envy and resulting punishment. I’m not sure if that’s what happened, but the theory does fit the available information. A situation which a lot of comics artists can probably relate to. And then about Surrealism: I knew that the Surrealists were political, but I didn’t realize that Breton had actually met with Trotsky?! That photo, at the beginning of the article, blew me away. Well, I could go on and on, but just let me conclude with a Sigmund Freud quote: “When I look at the work of the Old Masters, I look for the influence of the unconscious. When I look at the work of the Surrealists, I look for the influence of the conscious.” Or something like that. I think this relates to the issue of “clarity”. This might not be Austin’s point, exactly, but maybe when an artwork achieves clarity, it is by stripping away all the elements of the subconscious, all the little extra background details which go past the conscious awareness, but register subconsciously (and I believe in the existence of the subconscious mind). It’s like the bass guitar in a rock n roll song: you’re paying attention to the lyrics, consciously, but that bass line really adds a lot to the song, and if it’s removed then the song feels sort of empty, somehow (I used to play bass guitar). Possibly I’m totally misunderstanding this, though! I could go on and on about Surrealism, and propaganda, and the Matt Lubchansky comic… Anyway, awesome article. Anybody else, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!

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