Caricature

Posted on July 27, 2010

5


Every Tuesday I have lunch with a great group of friends. We call it “committee.” Actually, they call it committee, and I just come, because it’s been going on for years and I just got here. But it’s a wonderful thing. We talk. We laugh. We make each other think. And we eat. What could be better?

Today we were talking about those great images that are so distorted as to be ridiculous, but yet completely recognizable. What a talent that is to be able to take an obvious trait in someone and focus on it to such an extreme that it remains obviously them to everyone else, despite being only a part of the whole of who they are, or even just what they appear to be.

We wondered together, “what would a caricaturist pick out in each of us?” What is so obvious about us that everyone could laugh and recognize us, and what would that tell us about ourselves? I don’t think any of us were terribly excited about being distorted in that way, although it’s painless, even interesting, to look at a caricature of someone else.

I especially like Al Hirschfeld’s caricatures, because of his mastery of a line. He could reduce a person to a series of flowing lines in seconds and communicate something essential about them. Look at the softness. I wonder.

Beyond my initial interest, even appreciation of the art form, I am at odds with myself over the value of a caricature. It seems like we spend our lives trying to get past the simple, obvious cartoons of each other that daily life casually presents. It seems rather false and shallow to reduce each other on purpose.

We started to talk about what our caricatures would be in our cozy luncheon of four (because who better than our friends to pick our most obvious traits?), and all of us immediately recoiled. It was a violation of friendship. Friends know and accept. They’re way beyond caricatures. I almost think caricatures are more easily recognizable of strangers. In my friends I would feel a certain degree of loyalty, a tendency to say, “wait, they are so much more than that.”

I’m the first to admit that I fall prey to the caricatures of artists of public opinion, taking my opinion of someone or a group of people from the narrow way they’re drawn by the master of a smooth line. But I’m working on it. The older I get the more inclined I am to believe that everyone is a friend waiting to be more fully known, and everyone is more than they seem.

Perhaps the key is to find caricatures that have been drawn softly.

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