Humour / Caricature

Humorous pictures, drawings and caricatures have been known in art history for a long time. Different artists from epochs such as Biedermeier, Pop Art and contemporary art have incorporated wit and humour into their works, sometimes quite clearly, sometimes more subtly.

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Humour / Caricature

Laughing With Art – Humour in Painting

The visual arts have developed many different disciplines in which humour plays an important role, for example, caricatures, cartoons, and comics. Artists of many epochs saw humour as an important element of their art and painted or drew funny motifs, comical figures, or bizarre scenes. However, many painters and graphic artists also worked with very subtle humour, which they hid in their works, and which only revealed itself at a second glance. But the relationship between humour and visual art was not always entirely free of tension. There have always been times throughout art history in which humorous elements in painting were not particularly welcome. Especially in the case of very traditional motifs such as portraits, landscapes or historical scenes, the art establishment did not allow even the slightest joke. Apparently, they saw in humorous pictures the danger of jeopardising the painting's reputation as a serious form of fine art.

Artists and Comedy From Biedermeier to Pop Art

Although there was a lot of resentment towards art with a humorous side, there were plenty of artists who more or less openly incorporated comedy into their works. A particularly well-known example is the Biedermeier painter Carl Spitzweg. Superficially, his pictures showed innocuous scenes from people's everyday lives, but he managed to hide subtle ironic comments in each of his paintings. Since some of his side-swipes referred to the authorities, his paintings were often tantamount to provocation. Other artists worked quite openly with humour. The Dadaists in the 20th century, for example, used it as a tool against the brittle seriousness of art. The works of Kurt Schwitters, Hans Arp and Co were not funny in the true sense of the word, but their sometimes cryptic and exaggerated modes of representation in pictures and writings implicitly had a very humorous side. The works of the Surrealists, with their grotesque and twisted interpretations of reality, also possessed a certain comic quality. The artists of Pop Art were open to wit and comedy. On the one hand, they directly adopted the aesthetics of comics. On the other hand, the staging of simple everyday objects as works of art could certainly amuse. Some artists even worked as both painters and caricaturists during their careers, such as the Bauhaus legend Lyonel Feininger or the avant-garde and Dadaist George Grosz. Other caricaturists and humorous illustrators such as Wilhelm Busch or Janosch are today undisputedly also recognised as representatives of painting.

The Caricature – Humorous Pictures with Satire and Irony

The art of caricature is one of the oldest and most traditional humorous art forms. A caricature comments on social and political conditions and events in an exaggerated and pointed way of depiction with irony, satire, and wit. The lines between caricature and painting and drawing were often blurred. The earliest caricatures are said to have existed in antiquity among the Greeks and Romans. The invention of printing opened up new ways of reproducing caricature illustrations. However, caricatures only gained greater popularity from the 18th century onwards. In England and France as well as in Germany, it became increasingly common to criticise the ills of society and politics in small humorous drawings. Newspapers and magazines set up corresponding sections, but publications were also able to establish themselves that presented satire and caricatures exclusively. The oldest satirical magazines in Germany include the "Fliegenden Blätter" (Englisch = Flying Leaves) (from 1844 to 1944) and the "Simplicissimus" (from 1896 to 1944). Sometimes caricature drawing was also used for political propaganda purposes – especially during the Cold War. However, today caricaturists largely take on the role of chroniclers who humorously aim at their time and their contemporaries.