Informative but Lacking Central Focus
By Victor S. Navasky
Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95, 256 pages
After discussing how a simple cartoon can deliver its message with clarity, immediacy and power, Navasky examines the work of more than two dozen political cartoonists, ranging from the 18th century’s William Hogarth to 20th century greats like David Levine and Ralph Steadman. For each artist, Navasky includes at least one drawing and a two- to three-page essay on the artist’s life and work.
The effort is informative but, sadly, feels incomplete. Navasky’s survey of theories about how images work on us is superficial (as it had to be – big topic!). And while his snapshots of individual artists are interesting, this “family album” approach gives little insight into the historical development of political cartooning. (One wishes for more drawings, too – but then, doesn’t one always wish for more drawings?)
The result is a book that, in spite of its wealth of detail, attempts too much and delivers too little. The narrative portion depends so heavily on quotations from others that we wonder at times if the author himself has anything to say on the subject. While The Art of Controversy is entertaining and informative, it lacks a central focus to make it a compelling read.
Reviewed by Daniel Hobbs