The search for meaning – cartoon.
This cartoon is superficially about finding meaning in art, but it is in fact about deeper issues of the search for meaning in life in general.
People are psychologically geared to seek meaning, purpose and agency in things, including phenomena that may lack all of these qualities. Some aspects of religion are obvious manifestations of this.
The artist in the cartoon is saying ‘My work is about the way that the human mind seeks meaning in the meaningless’.
Cartoon drawn: 2019
Cartoon reference number: art112
See my book of art cartoons here.
Medieval art in an art gallery.
The cartoon shows a visitor to an art gallery looking at an example of medieval religious art.
In the medieval era very few people were literate, resulting in images being very important for communicating religious doctrine.
The gallery visitor is feeling uneasy about the idea of appreciating art that was aimed at an audience of illiterates.
It is a cartoon about intellectual snobbery in the art world.
Cartoon drawn: 2019
Cartoon reference number: art052
This cartoon features in my book of cartoons about art.
See the book here.
Notre-Dame fire restoration fund/Sackler boycott cartoon.
(Drawn on the night of the fire, before the actual donations controversy that followed.)
15 April 2019.
This is a cartoon that deliberately links two current news stories: the restoration of Notre-Dame cathedral following the devastating fire and the boycotting of funding from the Sackler family charitable trusts.
The cartoon was drawn on the evening of the fire, and predates the controversy about the donations from large businesses that developed in the following days.
The cartoon is primarily about the current controversy in some western societies concerning the assumed ethical standards of the donors who contribute funds to institutions such as art galleries and religious buildings.
The Sackler family are major benefactors to many institutions. Only a week ago I was in Westminster Abbey in London where I noticed their name on a recently restored stained glass window to which I assume they had contributed funding.
However, the Sackler family own Purdue Pharma, a company that produces the prescription painkiller OxyContin that is said to be addictive. Thus there are calls to boycott any charitable funding offered by the Sackler family.
Of course the Sackler family are far from being the only donors to charitable causes who may be involved in supposedly tainted money. It could possibly be argued that any organisation that had enough money to distribute in such lavish ways must have come about it by somewhat dubious means, depending on one’s standards.
Cartoon reference number: a769
The green man.
The concept of the green man stretches back to antiquity, and is usually depicted as a head covered in leaves and foliage.
In this cartoon version, the green man is depicted as a tree, where the only evidence of a human link is the man’s legs protruding below the tree’s foliage and forming the tree trunk.
Cartoon reference number: a761
The grim reaper following elderly people – and getting closer all the time.
The personification of death in the form of the grim reaper pursuing an elderly couple.
The old people are slowing down due to old age and infirmity, thus allowing the grim reaper to catch up with them.
A cartoon about intimations of mortality and death.
Cartoon reference number: a088a
The grim reaper with a baby grim reaper in a pushchair
The personification of death in the form of the grim reaper pushing a pushchair or baby buggy in which sits an infant grim reaper.
Part of the concept behind the cartoon is to show a link between birth and death and the cycle of life.
It’s also meant to be humorous because it humanises the grim reaper.
Cartoon reference number: a751
The grim reaper buys a combine harvester
The personification of death in the form of the grim reaper upgrades from his scythe to a combine harvester. The harvester is here a symbol of much greater ‘harvesting’ power than the scythe – in other words a means of achieving a much greater death toll, similar to a weapon of mass destruction.
Cartoon reference number: a750
A cartoon about the pitfalls of ‘being yourself’ and ‘being true to yourself’
The illustration shows a guru dispensing advice to ‘Be true to yourself in all things’.
The cartoon highlights the absurdity of the expression ‘To thine own self be true’, as the expression can be taken as a license for people to do whatever they want. The expression only makes sense if you assume that everyone’s nature is essentially good.
“To thine own self be true” is a quote from Shakespeare (by Polonius in Hamlet).
The image is a criticism of philosophies and lifestyles that take concepts of self fulfilment or self actualisation to an extreme, or that follow the dictum that it’s morally good to follow the impulses of your own personality without self-restraint.
Cartoon drawn: 2014
An atheist arrives at the gates of heaven (the Pearly Gates)
St Peter is pointing out to the atheist that there is a notice on the Pearly Gates declaring “No atheists”.
The atheist is thinking “I don’t believe it!”
The joke is a play on the fact that the atheist doesn’t believe in heaven rather than that he is exasperated by the fact that he isn’t allowed in.
Original version drawn: 2001
Cartoon reference number: rel013
A signpost to doom
Cartoon. A signpost pointing to negative conditions of the human psyche in all directions (sadness, misery etc). The sign on the top of the signpost indicates where the signpost is right now – boredom.
The people standing beneath the sign decide to stay where they are.
They’d rather be bored than risk experiencing something more negative.
Notice that the signpost has no positive directions on it. This doesn’t mean that there are none – but that to the people beneath the sign see it that way.
A cartoon about motivation, outlook, pessimist, pessimists, optimism (or the lack of it), mindsets, melancholia, negativity, inertia, the human condition.
Cartoon reference number: a101
Michelangelo Sistine Chapel pastiche
A cartoon showing Michelangelo’s God creating the animals – in this case the rabbit
A pastiche of God creating Adam
God doesn’t play dice with the universe – he prefers card games
A cartoon based on Einstein’s quote “God doesn’t play dice with the universe”. In the cartoon God is playing a game of cards instead
This image has been used on the cover of a pack of playing cards that was used as a gift for physics students
Professor Brian Cox cartoon
We are made of stardust
A humorous comment about the fact that all of the elements apart from hydrogen and helium were created inside stars – so everything is made of stardust, including the less pleasant things
The joke here is that when the tv astronomer Professor Brian Cox says that everything is made of stardust he really lays it on thick in a way that many people, especially women, find very attractive. So here the woman is actually saying that she finds Brian Cox attractive, and it even affects her attitude to slugs
Cartoon drawn: 2011
Cartoon reference number: a586
A woman in front of the full moon, a man in front of the crescent moon
The woman looks as though she has a halo, while the man looks as though he has devil horns
This cartoon isn’t meant to imply that women are saints and men are devils – just that there are definite gender differences between male and female and that women are generally thought of as being nicer than men. There are biological reasons for that of course, but I haven’t the space to go into it here!
The cartoon refers to some extent to the supposed power of the moon to affect people’s personalities, here turning people into saints and sinners. Again, I haven’t the space to go into this here.
Original version dreated: 1997
Reference number: a574
Unicorn cartoon. Proof that unicorns don’t exist
In the illustration a unicorn is reading a magazine or newspaper article with the headline “Unicorns don’t exist – the proof”.
The joke is that something that doesn’t exist is reading an article giving proof that it doesn’t exist.
The cartoon is based on the fact that generally you can’t prove a negative. For instance, in Britain before the time of ocean-going discovery all swans that were observed were white – however this didn’t mean that there were no swans that were black (as indeed there were in Australia).
The argument is often applied to religion and the subject of attempting to prove the existence of god. Believers in god frequently ask nonbelievers to disprove the existence of god. Atheists have to reply that disproving the existence of god is similar to disproving the existence of unicorns. The onus is really on the believer to prove the existence of god (or prove the existence of unicorns).
A cartoon about mythical or mythological creatures, the burden of proof
Cartoon reference number: a545
A cartoon about culturally determined world views
The idea that different cultures will use whatever methods are at their disposal to reinforce their established philosophy of how the world works.
An observation about theological determinism, cultural bias in science, cognitive dissonance, pseudoscience
The cartoon shows a nonspecific non-western culture planning to build their own large hadron collider (LHC) to obtain results that are consistent with their cultural heritage.
It is an illustration about the misrepresentation of science or the lack of use of the scientific method.
Update: The cartoon was drawn in 2010, however it is possibly more relevant now, in 2023, with the rise of anticolonialism and antiscience thinking (which is the concept that science is a white, western construct). For instance I’ve just read an article by Richard Dawkins about the fact that in New Zealand the government is currently instigating a scheme in which science in schools will have to be taught with the Maori ‘Ways of Knowing’ (Matauranga Maori) having equal standing with ‘western’ science (The Spectator, March 2023).
Cartoon first published: November 2010, BBC Knowledge magazine
Cartoon reference number: a534
Cartoon – social control through the ages
In medieval times social control was imposed by the church and religion.
In the twenty first century social control is imposed by technology
A cartoon showing society in the middle ages being controlled by the church (symbolised by a cross), contrasted with society today being controlled by technology (symbolised by a cctv surveillance camera)
A cartoon about coercion, repression, repressive societies
Cartoon reference number: a502
Welcome to my cartoons about atheism, religion and related subjects
To see my cartoons about atheists and atheism please click the image on the right, or click atheism cartoons here.
Cartoon – knowledge from holy books
The difference between religious books and scientific and factual books
A cartoon showing a child reading from a pile of books – and another child reading from only one holy or religious book
This cartoon illustrated the way that some religious groups think that all necessary knowledge can be found in their holy book.
It illustrates the sort of argument put forward by people such as Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion or Christopher Hitchens in God is not Great
Cartoon reference number: a498
Cartoon – the insignificance of humans in the universe
A cartoon about the question: does the vast immensity of the universe mean that people are insignificant?
Personally I think that the answer is no, but it’s a thing that a lot of people think (My opinion is that it’s a mistake to judge significance in terms of physical scale – you can find out more about my views on this in my book on related subjects
The cartoon answers critics of science who claim that science strips away the wonder and awe of creation (as in the expression by Keats – unweaving the rainbow – adopted by Richard Dawkins as the title of one of his books)
A cartoon about life, the universe and everything, the cosmos, the human condition, the fallacy of scale, meaning of life, religion, spirituality. A spiral galaxy cartoon, astronomy cartoon
Cartoon reference number: a495
Noah’s ark with unicorns cartoon
Why the unicorns didn’t get into Noah’s ark
A comic illustration showing animals going into Noah’s ark, with men dressing up as pantomime horses in order to be stowaways on the ark, after having tied up the unicorns
The image is about mythological creatures, species extinction, extinct animals, endangered species.
Original version drawn: 2001
Cartoon reference number: un444
Meaning of life cartoon
The puzzle of existence – cartoon
A cartoon showing two figures who look like pieces fro a jigsaw puzzle.
One is saying to the other “Do you ever gety that feeling that you’re part of a gigantic cosmic jigsaw puzzle?”
The drawing deliberately has no background or other setting, because the question in the image is appropriate to all situations
Cartoon reference number: a433
An image of an interstellar nebula shaped like a question mark – illustration created in Photoshop.
Inspired by photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope
The “Question mark nebula” shown here is an astronomical phenomenon of my own invention. See the note below about the ‘real’ Question Mark nebula
The nebula symbolises humanity’s quest for meaning, especially when confronted by the enormity of the cosmos. (Having said that, my own opinion is that the size of the universe is irrelevant to such matters, but that’s another story).
Since creating it I’ve discovered that there is an actual nebula that goes by the same name. The ‘real’ Question Mark Nebula is an area of sky that includes parts of the nebulae NGC 7822, Ced 214, and Sh2-170
An illustration related to philosophy, astronomy, cosmology, science, the meaning of life, the nature of the universe.
Cartoon reference number: a403
See the face of God in a flower – cartoon
A cartoon showing a Sunday school teacher telling her pupils that you can see the face of God when you look at a flower.
One of the children is imagining the face of a pansy as the face of God.
Pansies do have faces after all.
Seeing faces in things is known as pareidolia.
Cartoon reference number: a396
See my book of gardening cartoons here.
A moody illustration about oppressive thoughts and entities
This is an atmospheric drawing of a small person between two overwhelming and threatening forms.
It is a psychological illustration of the feeling of threat
A drawing about psychology, paranoia, neurosis, neurotic thoughts, looming danger
This drawing is mostly a sketch drawn with a ballpoint pen. It’s been added to in Photoshop, especially in the sky.
Cartoon reference number: a388
God on a cloud holding the earth
This is a picture of the concept of God as an old man with a beard, in the sky.
In this illustration God is sitting on a cloud holding the earth in the palm of his hand.
I’m assuming that he’s just created the world, as described in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament. This looks very much like the Old Testament God to me. He even looks a bit displeased with his creation.
I’m not a believer in God myself by the way. I view God as a myth. Nothing wrong with myths though!
Cartoon reference number: a363
The first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, dies
To mark the death of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, this cartoon shows the Apollo landing craft coming in to land at the pearly gates of heaven.
Apollo 11 reached the moon in summer 1969. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, followed closely by Buzz Aldrin. Who remembers who the third man to walk on the moon was? (Charles P. (Pete) Conrad, who died in 1999, aged 69, following a motorcycle accident. I don’t recall hearing about it in the news. Such is the measure of achievement).
Just for the pedantic amongst you, I know that the lunar landing craft (or lem – lunar excursion module) would have had Buzz Aldrin in it in real life rather than just Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin hasn’t yet died – but this isn’t real life, it’s a cartoon (There are no pearly gates in real life either).
I’m very pleased to say that one of the first requests to use this cartoon came from NASA. You can see it here.
Cartoon reference number: a350
Wise sayings cartoon: just because there’s a bridge you don’t have to cross it
One of a series of “Mrs Walton, life coach and spiritual adviser” cartoons.
A joke about the current fashion for so called life coaches and spiritual advisers.
Here the life coach is just an ordinary, stereotypical middle aged housewife rather than an authoritative guru-like figure.
The caption of the cartoon reads “Just because there’s a bridge doesn’t mean you have to cross it”.
Its meaning is that you shouldn’t necessarily take the route that seems the most obvious or the most natural.
Bridges are routes across obstacles, but if the obstacle isn’t actually in your way, don’t follow the urge to cross it (without asking why you need to).
The cartoon is partly about the way that spiritual gurus and similar people often dress mundane and obvious common sense observations up as pseudospiritual and pseudo-profound utterances. However the sayings are sometimes true (as here).
A cartoon about gurus, idioms.
Cartoon reference number: a346
Cartoon about motivational self-help books and books about self improvement
A comment on the ethos of self motivation, self improvement, competitiveness and overachievement as promoted by the achievement orientated culture of contemporary western society.
The illustration shows someone ignoring the instructions of a book on self motivation. He is using the book as an aid to relaxation rather than action.
The flower is a reference to the idea that you should always give yourself time to ‘smell the roses’.
Self-help books often deal with subjects of popular psychology such as relationships, or in aspects of the mind and human behaviour which the books claim can be modified or controlled to the advantage of the reader. Self-help books usually promote themselves as being able to increase the reader’s happiness, self-awareness and performance.