Satirical takes on the world of art have been around nearly as long as art itself. No doubt there was someone in the Lascaux caves in the Paleolithic era looking over the shoulder of the local cave artist going “you call that a bison?”
In the 20th century a comic take on the foibles of modern art was a constant inspiration to newspaper and magazine cartoonists. The New Yorker’s Peter Arno particularly enjoyed taking a hand out of the handiwork of the artistic demi-monde.
So Anna Haifisch’s new book The Artist, a compilation of cartoon strips drawn from the pages of Vice Magazine, is the latest in a long tradition. Haifisch, a German illustrator who has worked in both her native country and the USA, has, like Peter Arno in fact, been both participant and satirist of the contemporary art scene.
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This then is an inside take. An inside take-down if you like, although it’s comic tartness never quite sours completely. And the flat bright colours Haifisch uses add a carbonated kick to the whole thing.
The “artist” in question, an albino birdlike creature with four hairs and stringbean body is both a victim of the inanity of the art world and an active contributor to its stupidity. At one point he has a go at using drones to create new art. “This is going to blow the gallerists mind! It’s just so gooood!” he thrills.
Unsurprisingly, things go spectacularly wrong. Explosions and dead dog wrong.
At other times our artist is lazy, socially maladroit or just embarrassed by the naked performance artists he meets (we can all share that feeling). But in amongst the failures, the bad art, the inarticulacy – both verbal and visual – of its protagonist, this graphic novel, in the end, is a call for understanding.
Haifisch sees the artist – and we’re talking both the particular and the general in this case – as a shy, timid creature who just needs to be given space and encouragement to find a voice. “Just wait for them to eventually unfurl and look at their art," is the book's final request.
Even if it just happens to be conducted in the nude.
The Artist, by Anna Haifisch, is published by Breakdown Press, priced £12.99.