Lines with Power and Purpose: Editorial Cartoons

C.K. Barrington, 1936 Victory, 1936; Courtesy of University of Central Oklahoma Galleries and Collections.
Exhibit Duration
September 2021 - October 2021

On a daily basis, editorial cartoonists deliver biting social commentary made palatable through amusing and well-crafted illustration. Lines with Power and Purpose: Editorial Cartoons features fifty-one original editorial cartoons from the nation’s great metropolitan newspapers during the Golden Age of print journalism. Included in the mix are six Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonists, each demonstrating the theme of political commentary through editorial illustrations and addressing issues from the first half of the twentieth century.

These deceptively simple drawings frame the publics’ understanding of early-to-mid twentieth-century world events and trends ranging from the two world wars, the great depression, public discontent with the US government, presidential elections, daily battles regarding work-related rejection, nostalgia for homespun neighborhood charm in the Midwest, and more. Along the way, these cartoons served a dualistic intention: to provide welcomed comic relief as well as shape opinion.

The cartoonist draws strength from the limited conventions of the newspaper context. Just as the strict rules of a haiku challenge the poet to create exactly the right mood within the tight construction of very few words, the editorial cartoonist presents a powerful distillation of political argument through a single image and maybe a few well-placed labels or a short caption.

Political humor relies on an informed and receptive audience. Headline stories prime newspaper readers to more quickly grasp the cartoonist’s unique take on the news of the day. A talented cartoonist makes even complex political arguments accessible to ordinary citizens. The friendly strokes of the cartoonist’s pen often belie the rawness and reality of the issues at hand. This exhibition of editorial cartoons convey how cartoons effectively expose hypocrisy, reveal contradictions, introduce news ideas, and promote fresh perspectives as news events unfold.

Included in this exhibition are Pulitzer Prize winners for Editorial Cartooning: Bruce Alexander Russell, Herbert Lawrence Block (Herblock), Charles G. Werner, C.D Batchelor, Charles R. Macauley, and Vaughn Shoemaker.

This traveling exhibition was developed by Exhibits U.S.A., a national division of the Mid-America Arts Alliance and the National Endowment for the Arts.