Long before there was MAD magazine and Johnny Carson, there was William Hogarth. Hogarth, an English artist and engraver who lived from 1697 to 1764, had a gift for particularly biting and graphic satire and produced many works that were rich in social commentary that ranged from very serious to very, very funny.
While most satirists use words, Hogarth used his artwork to make his points. Taking full advantage of the old saying, “A picture says a thousand words,” in Hogarth’s case, his pictures spoke vast and weighty tomes about human nature and society in general, particularly what was wrong with it, at least as he saw it.
I saw his work for the first time years ago, while reading a Time-Life book about pirates. It was an engraving titled Gin Lane, which looked remarkably like my neighborhood at the time:
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Don’t worry Wikipedia, I donate money to you, so shut up.)
Many years later, I re-discovered his work through the miracle of in Internet and Wikipedia. Looking at Hogarth’s creations caused me to experience a wide spectrum of emotions, with out-of-control laughter being the vast majority of them. I've never cared too much about art. I was into blacklight posters when I was a kid, but that's about it. To most blue-collar dudes, the picture of the dogs playing poker and anything with tits is about as high-brow as it gets. Speaking of blue-collar dudes, their scrawlings on men's room walls and other incongruous places are some of the best art I've ever saw, with the dude at one end of the 40-foot trailer banging a chick at the other end with a penis that had a combined length of over 80 feet being the standout.
Hogarth was very prolific in his lifetime, and was the whole package as far as art-boys went. His topics were fairly diverse, but to me, he stands out for several series he did on the general subject of morality, or, as it is so incredibly and gleefully illustrated in these works, a total lack thereof, which is why they are so hilarious: A Harlot's Progress, A Rake's Progress, and Marriage A-la-Mode.
They all pretty much show that nothing is new under the sun, but A Harlot’s Progress immediately reminded me of something that happened several years ago. My best friend started going out with a woman that I took an immediate dislike to (the feelings were mutual), but I kept my mouth shut. I instinctively knew she was bad news, and sure enough, she was. After a brief relationship, she left him for one of the richest dudes in town, or so he thought; nope, she would show up at regular intervals for booty-calls. Unfortunately for her, Mr. Money Bags found out, and kicked her to the street. The last I heard, Ms. Failed Gold Digger was turning tricks in Aspen, CO. Recently I showed him the series, my opening statement being, “Who does this remind you of, heh heh.” What else are friends for, but to rub your nose in shit and remind you of something painful, lol.
A Rake's Progress is essentially the male version of A Harlot’s Progress, which makes me wonder why it couldn't have been titled "A Hoe's Progress", keeping the garden implement theme. Marriage a la Mode seems to be the Rake and the Harlot getting married. They seem to at least deserve each other, but Hogarth ensures that no matter what, the story has a very sad ending for somebody. If only they went to church more!
I don’t want to take up a bunch of space putting all of this up here, as these works are kind of bulky, but to those who are interested, William Hogarth’s works can be viewed by anyone with a computer and a modem at any number of websites.