I recently skimmed an article which maintains that certain art forms are soul-damaging and fallen. I agree that art which portrays only the discordant and ugly is dangerous.
However portrayals of ugliness may have their place. Scenes of the crucifixion contrast the sickening horror of all the world’s evil with the majestic selfless love of the suffering bridegroom. Movies such as Lord of the Rings portray Mordor and ugly orcs, pitting them against beautiful and noble creatures. These kinds of expressions allow us to deal with and acknowledge the evil inside our own hearts.
It seems significant that an artist who understood beauty as well as Da Vinci, practiced drawing grotesques in his spare time. Perhaps this was a secret infatuation with profanity. Or perhaps, just as repentance precedes redemption, a creature’s understanding of its own fallenness is one of its keys to understanding divine beauty.
So what of my crazy cartoons? I’ve been drawing bizarre wacky characters on every scrap piece of paper I could get my hands on since the second grade. Do they subvert beauty? Well, not so fast. Nature has its clowns and I believe that even the strangest creatures are beautiful. CS Lewis writes in his book Miracles that nature has a personality of its own with more than one trait. Very true. She is at once both exacting & mathematical and spontaneous & surprising. A tree’s branches follow a pattern, but twist and turn expressively. Every tree is unique just as no two snowflakes are identical. Animals sometimes have surprising traits we can’t account for.
Even nature’s ugliest creatures can seem beautiful at times. Yesterday I watched a wasp catch the light of the sun and I saw his shimmering armor like I’d never seen it before. Even the wasp’s dangling legs had their grotesque appearance removed. In Perelandra, CS Lewis’ character Ransom has a similar experience with a giant centipede-creature:
Ransom…turned to face the other horror [the insect-like creature]. But where had the horror gone? The creature was there, a curiously shaped creature no doubt, but all loathing had vanished clean out of his mind, so that neither then nor at any other time could he remember it, no ever understand again why one should quarrel with an animal for having more legs or eyes than oneself. All that he had felt from childhood about insects and reptiles died that moment; died utterly, as hideous music does when you switch off the wireless. Apparently it had all, even from the beginning, been a dark enchantment of the enemy’s.
Once, as he had sat writing near an open window in Cambridge, he had looked up and shuddered to see, as he supposed, a many coloured beetle of unusually hideous shape crawling across his paper. A second glance showed him that it was a dead leaf, moved by the breeze; and instantly the very curves and re-entrants which had made its ugliness turned into its beauties. At this moment he had almost the same sensation. He saw at once that the creature intended him no harm – had indeed no intentions at all. It had been drawn thither by the Un-man, and now stood still, tentatively moving its antennae.
Then again, there might be a level on which I need to refine my sensibilities. Virgil chides Dante for having a taste for vulgar things. Perhaps I too have a taste for things that need to be redeemed.
Another thing to note (and something Lewis points out) is that though nature is beautiful and awe-inspiring, she is also somewhat fallen and corrupted. The fallenness and excellence of nature is irrevocably connected to our relationship with it. We were intended to be its appointed governors, its kings and queens. We are related to it—nature itself is a part of our minds, a part of our artwork. But as go the king and queen, so goes the kingdom. Suppose God became corrupted and became a wicked being (impossible, I know). We who find our existence in him could not help either following in his train and becoming evil ourselves, or worse, ceasing to exist entirely. There is a reason our fairy tales imagine the woods to be full of both fairies & elves and goblins & witches.
One thing I will say is that the best cartoons have an ordering principle. Disney characters’ faces can be extra rubbery—but they only stretch so far. After a certain point we want to see the faces snap back into their original shapes. Good comics bend the rules–they don’t break them altogether. This is done in order to enhance a character’s expressiveness. Comic short-hand (a type of language in and of itself) might spring from a God-given love for human expression/communication.
Can cartoons make us better? Can they bring us closer to God? Can they make us more human? Can cartoons minister to people?
Here are several examples to consider:
(UPDATE: you might also like to know Kaylen, my photojournalist fiancée, posted several photo stories yesterday. You can check them out here.)
For those of you who haven’t heard, I have a webcomic. For those of you who have heard, I just updated it. The comic follows the misadventures of history’s wackiest duo: Edgar Allan Poe and Henry David Thoreau. There is also the occasional comic that’s not about Poe/Thoreau but about whatever I feel like drawing.
Read through the archive, why don’t you?
…W-why don’t you?