When Art Meets Agenda: Analysing Political Cartoons

Following in and around a heated presidential debate which featured Secretary Clinton at her most aggressive and a surprisingly muted Trump (at least compared to the standard he had set for himself throughout his campaign), the political art world has burst into even more frenzied activity as the election deadline looms over the horizon.

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©Ben Garrison

Biased or non-partisan, cartoonists are desperate to give their opinion on this extremely polarising election. Those who are on the Trump train point out the perceived bias in moderator Holt’s questions, with Holt being likened to a doppelgänger of Hillary Clinton in some impressions of him. On the other side, artists stood behind Clinton’s cool mentioning of her website’s ‘fact checker’ and iterating Trump’s reported misinformation on some subjects. However, some cartoons ditched this relatively playful fun-poking in favour of fully-fledged attacks on the political opposition’s candidates. This is when art intersects with agenda, and it provides some of the most densely creative caricatures of some already larger than life characters. Ben Garrison quips about Secretary Clinton’s recent health scares by modifying her own campaign logo to humorous effect. The two shown to be carrying her are coloured in a recessive way, with the bold red of Clinton’s logo made to work against her here, as it provides the disturbing image of her ‘trembling’ to be effortlessly centrepiece, providing an immediate focal point to the image. This image achieves a purpose of making the Democrat nominee look extremely frail and weak, even implying that she is unfit for the extremely taxing role of presidency.

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©Dave Granlund

Dave Granlund’s piece on Trump highlights how out of touch he is with others’ opinion on him. The caricature version of Trump talks in response to the “gold star” Khan family, particularly Kzir Khan, who famously offered his copy of the US Constitution to Mr. Trump in a speech at the Democratic National Convention, suggesting he should ‘read it’. Trump’s hands are drawn impossibly small – a running joke among his opponents – and his distinctive hairstyle has been exaggerated. The humour of this piece is more literal compared to Garrison’s, showing Trump’s blind political gusto in the face of overwhelming facts against him, insisting that he has made ‘great sacrifices’ in his life. This statement is a half-truth, provided that he gloss over the fact that the things that were sacrificed bore almost no negative repercussions for Mr. Trump himself. This kind of hypocrisy is made abundantly clear in the image; the artist has even made a nice touch involving drawing his eyes closed, perhaps referencing the aforementioned ‘blind’ way in which Trump responds to criticism.

This style of vitriolic creativity only seems likely to increase in severity and frequency as the election draws closer. I predict that the more elaborate and clever artwork will be ditched in favour of more direct and uninterpretable work as time passes, as smear attempts and ‘strawmanning’ will increase to fever pitch in a last-ditch attempt by each artist to express their thoughts before the deadline.

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