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THE PICTURE as an expression of an idea is older than the written word. Despite the tremendous power of the latter, pictures continue to have an important share in the dissemination of ideas. Words and pictures, in fact, play different roles. Words create complex arguments and comprehensive developments, express philosophies and build the political structures of national life, as does the Constitution of the United States. Pictures, specifically cartoons, on the other hand, set forth a situation, a completed development, in a single vivid flash.
"One picture is worth one thousand words," said Confucius centuries ago; and present conditions indicate that this is true today; for the picture is increasingly prevalent. Newspapers, for instance, used to be composed of almost solid print, lightened by an infrequent cut. Today the newspaper appears to be at least half pictures; and some of our most popular magazines are little more than picture books. The appeal of a picture is universal; its attack or defense is more direct, its presentation, necessarily limited, is hence more easily comprehended.
Although this applies to all pictures, whether they are photographs or are the creations of artists, the latter are the more powerful, for they can depict the unseen realities as well as those which are visible. Hence, the cartoon is specially strong as a partisan political medium, often employing satire and caricature. Distortion is commonly associated with cartoons: overemphasis to enforce the salient aspect. Although a cartoon may include caricature, the two are different. The caricature deals with individuals, while the cartoon deals with situations. Each is found frequently in its "pure" state, as well as in combination with the other. Generations of Americans have received their political education largely through the medium of both, which remain powerful weapons, and, at the same time, preserve the individuality of the cartoonist in his association with his particular newspaper.
The cartoon in its "pure" state has the greater value for arousing recognition of fundamental principles in national life. This was exemplified in the early days of the United States by two famous cartoons; one depicted a divided snake with the slogan “Join or Die”; the other represented the raising, state by state, of the pillars under the New Roof of the Constitution, which so vividly illustrated the contest for ratification.
It was inevitable that the cartoonists should have their very important share in emphasizing the Sesquicentennial of the Constitution; so much so, that any account of that commemoration would be incomplete that did not include examples of their art, in which they have expressed not only their personal sentiments, but also what they imagine the Constitution means to the average citizen. The selection given here is intended to show both the range and the limitation, especially how instinctive it was, particularly against the background of European conditions, to call attention to the Constitution as a strong barrier or fortress of civil rights and a beacon of continued enlightenment.