Have you ever flipped through a newspaper or magazine to find a political illustration that caused you to stop, think and take a closer look – one that had meaning that transcended a typical cartoon? If so, it’s likely that it was created by an artist like Steve Brodner – an illustrator who truly cares about his work.
“What we see in a piece of art that moves us or engages us is whether or not the artist truly cares,” said Brodner, a successful and widely-published caricaturist, in a presentation to High Point University graphic design, art and communication majors on Oct. 3. “If you’re really good at something, nobody is going to know that but you until you show them.”
That’s the lesson he learned with his own career. At age 7, he became the well-known doodler in class who could draw any super hero or character his childhood friends might imagine.
“I think this is how you become good at something,” he said. “You try something and find its fun, but then you get reinforcement. Then you do more, get more reinforcement and become the kid who’s always drawing something.”
It wasn’t until later that his illustrations evolved into caricatures depicting Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney that would be featured in and on the cover of publications like The New Yorker, the L.A. Times, the New York Times and many more. In fact, his work is currently featured on the Sept. 27 edition of the National Journal.
Sometimes his illustrations are humorous, and sometimes they’re shocking. But that’s the point – it’s all about the message that an artist is trying to convey.
“The thing that is most important to me is having my image be a vessel,” he told students. “My art contains communication about the world. When you create something, you have to ask yourself, ‘What do I want this to say?’ Then you realize you can make a face or some other aspects mean something.”
“As a senior graduating with a degree in marketing and graphic design, it was encouraging to hear him talk about how the world needs information illustrated for them,” said HPU student Virginia Dannelly about Brodner’s presentation. “He really put into perspective how important it is to find something you are passionate about and make a career out of it.”
While print publications have suffered and caricaturists are sometimes considered a dying breed, Brodner says political illustrations are just as important and relevant as they’ve ever been. During the national conventions, he drew a new sketch every 15 minutes for TheNation.com, and the images were immediately posted online.
There’s also an important message for students about politics and democracy in his work. Brodner said that when he was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, he didn’t realize that everything is connected and is part of a giant web. If you melt an ice cap at its tip, the effect eventually trickles down to everything else, though its impact may not be apparent until many years later.
“I teach art, and I teach my students the idea that it’s up to you to inform yourself and educate yourself,” he said. “Attention spans have become short in America. What gives me hope is that there will always be a percentage of the population whose curiosity you cannot kill. These are the people who will ask questions, read the newspapers. Those people will continue to seek out information that curs their curiosity. You cannot kill that.”
“It was exciting to see standing-room only at the presentation,” said Allan Beaver, artist-in-residence at HPU who helped arrange the event. “Steve’s work is unique, and I thought his delivery was very interesting and enlightening. My hope is it turned some minds onto some exciting critical thinking, and it gave art and design students a reason to be committed to their work.”