Finding meaning in art – cartoon

Finding meaning in art – cartoon

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 religious art cartoon

medieval art cartoon

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.
How to search for cartoons by subject

Notre-Dame Fire Restoration Fund/Sackler boycott cartoon

Notre Dame fire restoration fund cartoon

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

How to search for cartoons by subject

The green man – cartoon

Cartoon - the green man (as a tree)

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.

Concept: 2010

Cartoon reference number: a761

How to search for cartoons by subject

The Grim Reaper pursuing old people – a cartoon about mortality

grim reaper pursuing elderly people

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
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

The Grim Reaper with a baby Grim Reaper

grim reaper and baby grim reaper in pushchair

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.
It’s also meant to be humorous because it humanises the grim reaper.

Cartoon reference number: a751

How to search for cartoons by subject

The grim reaper upgrades from a scythe to a combine harvester

grim reaper buys a combine harvester

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

How to search for cartoons by subject

Be true to yourself – cartoon

criticism of excessive self fulfilment - cartoon

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

Ref: a662

Atheism cartoon – an atheist at the gates of heaven

atheist at gates of heaven cartoon

Atheism cartoon

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.

Ref: re013

Philosophy cartoon – the human condition

Philosophy - the human condition cartoon

Philosophy cartoon
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

Professor Brian Cox cartoon – we are stardust

professor brian cox cartoon we are stardust

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

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

See my book on the nature of the universe
Ref a586
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

Moon cartoon. A woman in front of the full moon, a man in front of the crescent moon

Moon cartoon. A woman in front of the full moon, a man in front of the crescent moon

Moon cartoon.
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 generally come out as being nicer than men. There are biological reasons for that of course.
The cartoon refers slightly to the supposed power of the moon to affect people’s personalities, here turning people into saints and sinners
Ref a574
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

Unicorn cartoon. Proof that unicorns don’t exist

unicorn proof of existence cartoon

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
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

Culturally determined world views – cartoon

culturally based science cartoon

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.
Cartoon reference number: a534
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

Social control through the ages – cartoon

social control through the ages - cartoon

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
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

Cartoon. Holy books v factual books

knowledge from holy books - cartoon

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

Philosophy cartoons – human significance compared to the scale of the universe

human insignificance in a huge universe - cartoon

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
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

Noah’s ark cartoon – why there are no unicorns

Why there are no unicorns - Noah ark cartoon

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 – cosmic jigsaw puzzle

 cosmic jigsaw cartoon

Meaning of life cartoon
Philosophy cartoons
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

A (fictitious) interstellar nebula shaped like a question mark – illustration

Interstellar nebula in the form of a question mark

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
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

Seeing the face of God in a flower – cartoon

Face of God in flower - cartoon

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.
How to search for cartoons by subject

Looming presences. A drawing

threatening presences and small person

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

god on cloud holding earth

God on a cloud holding the earth
God illustration

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

Neil Armstrong dies – cartoon

neil armstrong dies - cartoon

The first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, dies
Obituary cartoon

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.

Drawn: 2012

Cartoon reference number: a350

Life coach cartoon – wise sayings about life

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

Motivational self-help books – and relaxation

Overachiever book as pillow - cartoon

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.

Cartoon reference number: a341

Illustration of an eye with a tiny person inside it looking out. A homunculus?

person looking out through an eye

A picture of a person looking out through an eye
Illustration of an eye, with a tiny person inside it looking out

Illustration: looking through someone else’s eyes.

An eye with a face looking out through the pupil as though it’s a window or the entrance of a dark cave

In this image the eye is a window with someone looking out through it. It may have something to do with the saying “The eyes are the windows to the soul”. Or maybe not.
It’s as though there’s a tiny person living inside the person’s eye, or maybe inside their head. This is related to the homunculus argument (homunculus: Latin for “little man”), which is a philosophical concept that imagines that there is a tiny person inside the head monitoring the activity of the person whose head it’s in.
Homunculus arguments are used in psychology and the philosophy of mind to detect where theories of mind fail or are incomplete, usually betrayed by the recursive nature of the concept under examination (where a problem isn’t resolved but is simply repeated art one step removed, as in “Who’s watching the watcher?” or “Is there a homunculus inside the head of a homunculus?”.

Cartoon reference number: a339
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

Philosophy cartoon – why do we like sunsets?

Philosophy cartoons - aesthetic values

Cartoon – why do we like sunsets?

Cartoon about evolutionary psychology

Why do we find sunsets spiritually uplifting?
A cartoon about the fact that sensory stimuli that are of a greater than average intensity often evoke profound emotions. This applies to such things as sunsets and flowers, and is also a factor in our appreciation of the arts, from music to cinema. A comment on spirituality and pseudo-spirituallity (I’m a believer in pseudospirituality myself).
This cartoon first appeared in BBC Knowledge magazine.

Cartoon reference number: a333
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

Michelangelo – Hand of God parody. Did life come from outer space?

leonardo hand from ufo - cartoon

Michelangelo – Hand of God cartoon
Sistine Chapel Creation of Man parody

Parody of Michelangelo’s Hand of God painting in the Sistine Chapel, being used to illustrate the concept that live on earth could have been deliberately brought to earth from outer space by aliens.

The cartoon could be linked to theories such as the ones offered in books such as Erich von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods”, although personally I’d rather be disassociated with such theories (if that’s what such sensationalist speculation can be called).

The concept of Was God an Astronaut? has been revived recently with the film Prometheus by Ridley Scott, and will no doubt be aired again when the sequel is released.

The theory that life may have been planted on Earth billions of years ago by an advanced alien civilization is sometimes known as directed panspermia. This theory was (mischievously?) proposed by Francis Crick (of dna fame) together with biologist Leslie Orgel in 1971. Directed panspermia is sometimes evoked to solve a particular problem in the science of life – science’s current inability to explain life’s origin. Of course the theory simply puts off the explanation, very much in the way that religions do – hence my use of Michelangelo’s hand of God creating Adam in the cartoon.

Cartoon reference number: a325

Cartoon – awareness of death always lurking in the corner of our thoughts

 Cartoon - awareness of death always there in the corner of our thoughts

Cartoon showing how the thought of death is always lurking in the back of your thoughts (unless you’re still young that is)

An illustration illustrating the face of death, symbolised by a skull, peeking round the edge of someone’s thoughts, because it’s always there somewhere, making its presence known.

A cartoon about mortality, intimations of mortality, mid-life crisis, life and death, existence, lifespan, philosophy, the grim reaper, awareness of death.
Cartoon reference number: a130
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

Therapy or life coaching cartoon: the pursuit of happiness

The pursuit of happiness

Cartoon showing a lifestyle guru or life coach explaining the secret of happiness.

Cartoon showing someone being told by a ‘lifestyle guru’ that to be truly contented you must transcend the present moment of your being.
The joke is that the person who is being given this advice is obviously in a very good place right now, and transcending his present moment of being is probably the last thing that he’d want to do.
This cartoon is part of a series about the emergence of gurus, personal counsellors, lifestyle coaches, motivational speakers, therapists and suchlike – a recent development of the philosophy of personal fulfilment. In the series the guru, counsellor or therapist is a very ordinary middle aged woman rather than someone who is removed from the humdrum of everyday life. The speaker is meant to represent to some extent a parody of lifestyle advisers and self improvement gurus, especially those who have a pseudo-spiritual twist to their advise (commonly of a pseudo-buddhist inclination).

Cartoon about philosophy, lifestyle, lifestyle coaching, gurus, motivational speakers, therapy, counselling, charlatanism, self delusion, aspiration, buddhism.
Cartoon reference number: a125
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

Cartoon. The Tibetan Book of the Dead Funny

tibetan book of the dead funny

Cartoon. The Tibetan Book of the Dead Funny.
Mystical teachings on how to laugh in the face of death.

I’ve added this cartoon of mine now because it looks a little like a David Shrigley drawing, and because the last few cartoons that I’ve added are similar in some ways to David Shrigley artwork too (This interest in David Shrigley is because he has an exhibition of his art – Brain Activity – at the Hayward Gallery in London at the moment (Feb 2012)

The cartoon shows “The Tibetan Book of the Dead Funny”. Subtitled “Mystical teachings on how to laugh in the face of death”.
Cartoon reference number: a113
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

Cartoon/illustration: God, creation myths and the nature of the universe

God reading about the true nature of the universe

Cartoon about God and the creation of the universe

Illustration showing a creation myth

Part of the joke in the cartoon is that the god figure is reading a book that explains the origins of the universe.
A cartoon about creation myths, intelligent design, genesis
The cartoon is an updated version of an illustration that I produced in the 1980s for the Guardian newspaper.
Cartoon reference number: a103
How to search for cartoons by subject
cartoon copyright matters

Cartoon – the web of life – and the spider of death

Web of Life joke, Spider of Death

Cartoon about the web of life – and the spider of death.

Cartoon about the web of life & the spider of death.
The term “The Web of Life” is generally taken to imply something positive, about the interrelatedness of all living things. However, in nature, webs are generally dangerous things, constructed to ensnare prey. I like this dichotomy. In fact, rather than it pointing out the inappropriateness of the ‘web’ metaphor I think it gets it right, even if it does so inadvertently.

The cartoon is an attempt to overturn the rather anodyne and pseudo-spiritually reassuring notion of a benevolent web of life, replacing it with a more ambiguous and unsettling notion based on the same metaphor.
It’s partly about the notion of nature, red in tooth and claw.
Cartoon reference number: a100

Welcome to Hell cartoon – there is no cell phone signal in Hell

Cartoon - Mobile phone signal - welcome to Hell

Cartoon about Hell – no mobile phone signal in Hell.

The fact that there is no cell phone signal in Hell is one of the reasons why Hell is Hell.

Part of the humour of this joke is that people are so reliant on cell phones or mobile phones that the idea of not being able to get a signal is truly terrifying and hellish.
It’s a cartoon about people’s dependency on and addiction to modern technology, without which they feel alienated and cast adrift.
The phone signal is fading in the same way that it does when one goes down an escalator into the underground or subway.
Cartoon reference number: a099

Religion cartoon – evangelists trying to convert people to a religion by making special introductory offers

Religion salesmen cartoon

Cartoon about religious evangelism – trying to convert people to a religion by making special introductory offers.

Cartoon – evangelists trying to convert people to a religion by making special introductory offers – eternal life, forgiveness of sins and so on.
For more on my thoughts on religion, philosophy and related matters, see my book on the subject.

Cartoon about religious conversion, door-knocking religions, incentives for religion, missionaries, religions saving people’s souls, religious pragmatism.
Cartoon reference number: a098