9 Ways to Make Your Cartoons into Fine Art Masterpieces

Monster by Artsy Bee - Pyragraph
Illustration by Artsy Bee.

Many of my cartoonist friends have long lamented the failure of the fine art world to take their work seriously. Sure, graphic novels have become the new thing. Cultural legitimacy has arrived…sort of! And if you’re one of the lucky few, your graphic novel might get that  A+ review in the New Yorker that catapults you into the reluctant embrace of the academic world under the provisional category of “literature,” but what about those cartoons? Or whatever you want to call them? How come those graphic-y novel pictures fail to deck the walls of high-class galleries and command the same big bucks? What do we need to do to get taken seriously around here?

You have no idea how adorable you are. All you have to do is follow these arbitrarily numbered steps!

  1. Half the battle is doing your cartoons on canvas. No works on paper unless they are monotypes, lithographic prints or silkscreens. You may take a single pencil drawing and float it in the middle of a giant frame and display it in a separate gallery space, but otherwise steer clear.
  2. Pop culture references with no context whatsoever are good, but take care: Have you fallen into your old habits? Avoid story. Keep it vague! Remember to recombine your pop culture icons in a suitably random way. Literal narrative will be interpreted as kitschy and precious, so steer clear. I’m talking about you, Andrew Wyeth. Christina’s World? Oh, please. This isn’t the WPA. This is contemporary art in a post-modern-y new genres context!
  3. Text superimposed over your images that could be interpreted as ironic political or cultural commentary. Random words drawn in a child-like scrawl. Words stenciled. Words drawn in pop-culture inspired lettering. Words in a why-the-hell-not Gothic script. All of these are good.
  4. Appropriate, appropriate, appropriate! Is there something you can glean from the internet that you can throw in there to make instantly ironical? Screen cap it! Copy it! Recontexualization is ownership. Copyright is copy wrong.  
  5. The statement! Have a statement. Be careful though; there are graduate school programs dedicated exclusively to the skill of justifying this bullshit. For you, I recommend keeping it as brief and, more importantly, as opaque as possible.
  6. Self-aware references to the mechanics of reproduction and 2-D-ness are good. Treat your images like a textile. This cute little guy you always draw needs to be distilled into a pure contentless icon.
  7. Multiples! Multiples! Multiples! Obsessively commit to your iconography! Take one motif and run it into the ground. Then run it into the ground some more! Minimal versions of that motif. Ornate baroque versions. Giant versions. The more you relentlessly invest in the same rudimentary imagery, the more serious you will appear. Don’t worry about getting bored; eventually you will be able to afford assistants to knock this shit out for you. Don’t want to waste that precious new lucre on assistants? No problem! Through the magic of unpaid internships, many of them will work for free for the sheer privilege of basking in your presence and soaking up your fine art, cash magnet vibrations!
  8. Convince a gallery owner of your genius, display in gallery and cash that check!
  9. Remember to send a piece of that check my way. Obviously you couldn’t have done it without me or you would already be rich! Give credit where credit is due, but more importantly: cash.

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