Sarah Atlee


I am an artist, and I use cartoons. My work consists mainly of images that communicate to the viewer through recognizable forms. I also use text to help tell my stories. I often create visual elements that function in place of text or information. I use a third visual tool, a hybrid descendant of images and words: the cartoon. Cartoons, once situated at the margins of visual discourse, now have a place in the fine art world. There are comics and animated television shows created for adult audiences. There are gallery and museum shows of work influenced by cartoons, not to mention exhibitions of original comics from early in cartoon history. Antique dealers buy and sell animation cels. The high-low culture dichotomy is no longer dogma. In this essay I will examine how other contemporary artists use cartoons, and how their practices have influenced my own work. Many artists of the past century have invented their own pictorial languages, and incorporate elements of popular visual culture. Artists today continue to do this through the use of recognizable cartoon elements. Four artists who have been influencial for me – Gary Taxali, Jeff Soto, Gary Baseman, and Saul Steinberg – share this cartoon language. There are many themes in my work that would make appropriate topics for this thesis. I choose cartoons because they are the most relevent to contemporary visual culture. At first glance it may not seem that I create cartoons per se. But there are identifiable characteristics of cartooning that I find useful: the synthesis of words and imagery, the use of stylized line to create simple but idiosyncratic forms, and the recognizability of cartoons as an avenue for communication. In the course of researching material for this thesis, I was unable to find in-depth discussions of cartoons as they pertain to our understanding of language in general. It is agreed that contemporary artists use cartoons, and the history of cartoons and comics are widely discussed. But the hows and whys of this usage are not. I hope to explore aspects of that idea here. I have attempted to place the significance of my own work in a cultural context through the language of cartoons. Cartoons are a viable visual language, an effective tool of communication, and an important idiom in our culture. They are simple, yet very powerful. Their omnipresence in our culture speaks to their adaptability. Artists use cartoons because they say something. They are visually compelling, and they come packaged with certain messages. The language speaks.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Painting, American--21st century; Painting, Modern--Technique; Painting, Modern--Themes, motives; Caricatures and cartoons

Publication Date


Document Type


Department, Program, or Center

School of Art (CIAS)


Dorsey, Robert

Advisor/Committee Member

Heischman, Robert

Advisor/Committee Member

Cole, Bob


Note: imported from RIT’s Digital Media Library running on DSpace to RIT Scholar Works. Physical copy available through RIT's The Wallace Library at: ND237.A84 A35 2006


RIT – Main Campus