Ted Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss, well-known for the "Lorax" and the "Cat in the Hat" artworks, had a long history of commenting on the sociopolitical through his artwork. The "Dr. Seuss For President" campaign highlights a few of Ted's sociopolitical artworks, and provides insight into his creative process. Enjoy! (Follow the text link for images of the artwork)
P.S. - Don't forget about our upcoming Dr. Seuss exhibition and sale, "The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss" which opens on Friday, November 10th, with special guest, Bill Dreyer, curator of the Chase Art Group's Dr. Seuss collection!
P.P.S. - Click here to vote Dr. Seuss For President!
Using his endearing Seussian birds, Theodor Seuss Geisel cleverly shows us the emotional impact of the economy as it goes up and down. Seemingly inspired by the works of M.C. Escher, The Economic Situation Clarified shows us that we are happy when the economy is up, and sad when it is down, exemplifying Geisel’s keen social commentary.
Ted spent much of his life trying to improve a society he knew was inherently flawed. He had a keen eye for hypocrites, bullies, and demagogues, and ridiculed them whenever he got the chance. What emerges is not only an intriguing portrait of a largely unknown side of Geisel, but also a fascinating lens through which to view the complex political and social history of the 20th century.
Between 1941 and 1943, at the height of World War II, Ted Geisel delivered a series of hard-hitting editorial cartoons addressing key issues of the day including isolationism, racism, and anti-Semitism. In Knotty Problem, Seuss humorously depicts Congress hard at work using plumb bobs, T-squares, surveyors’ transits, scales, and drawing compasses as they go about their time-honored tradition of finding a way to raise taxes without losing a single vote.
The Manly Art of Self-Defense may have been inspired by the Joe Louis–Max Schmeling rematch at Yankee Stadium on June 22, 1938. By then, a second world war was clearly looming on the horizon and the fight was viewed worldwide as a symbolic battle for superiority between two likely adversaries. It was finished two minutes into the first round with Louis pummeling Schmeling. Hitler took this defeat as an embarrassment to his country. The wonderfully erudite expression on the boy’s face suggests that there is an aristocratic air to “the manly art of self-defense.” But the cat’s look of surprise implies that the boy does not grasp the reality of boxing. The cat, as is often the case in Ted’s work, knows best.
Written in 1984 during the Cold War era, this book reflects the concerns of the time, in particular the idea of mutually assured nuclear destruction. Dr. Seuss chronicles the journey of how one conflict can escalate from angry words to an atom bomb-like weapon. Ted said: “I don’t think my book [The Butter Battle Book] is going to change society. But I’m naïve enough to believe that society will be changed by examination of ideas through books and the press, and that information can prove to be greater than the dissemination of stupidity.”
When The Cat in the Hat first stepped into our lives and onto the world stage in 1957, Ellen Goodman of The Detroit Free Press wrote that it was “a little volume of absurdity that worked like a karate chop on the weary little world of Dick, Jane and Spot.” Perhaps the defining book of Ted Geisel’s colossal career, The Cat in the Hat came into being when Houghton Mifflin asked him to write and illustrate a child’s primer using only 225 “new-reader” vocabulary words. Ted’s success at being able to fulfill this mandate not only changed the way generations of children would learn to read, but also freed future writers from the bonds of literary conventions. In the decades since, Dr. Seuss has become the definitive children’s literacy author of all time (over 600,000,000 books sold) and Ted’s Cat continues to “step out,” enjoying his rightful legacy as the visual icon of our literary past, present, and future.
In the fall of 1953 Ted began work on Horton Hears a Who!, his remarkable parable on democracy. The theme, “a person’s a person no matter how small,” had grown out of Ted’s extended visit to Japan, under the auspices of Life magazine, to assess the effects of the 6½-year post-WWII American occupation on children. Enlisting the help of more than 100 teachers, Ted had students draw their aspirations for the future. He discovered that not only was the importance of the individual considered an exciting new concept, for the first time Japanese girls were developing the power to think and act for themselves. When Horton Hears a Who! came out in 1954, Ted had dedicated it to his “great friend Mitsugi Nakamura,” a Kyoto university professor.
“The reason I did that story [The Lorax] is that I had read so many dull things on conservation of our land, forests, and other resources. Everything was either full of statistics and dull or preachy. I got mad at the namby-pamby stuff I was reading. I had to make it amusing as well, which of course is the hard part. It’s one of the few things I ever set out to do that was straight propaganda, because the propaganda out there was so bad. It was also the hardest thing I have ever done, because the temptation was to fall into the same traps the others had fallen into.”
This story contains one of Dr. Seuss’s most clear messages about discrimination and racial equality. Seuss simplifies the absurdity of racism and discrimination by reducing it to the ridiculous, as if to clear a safe passage for the truth.
Yertle the Turtle
The 1958 book, Yertle the Turtle, has a little-known and somewhat surprising origin. In a 1987 interview Ted said: “Yertle was Hitler or Mussolini. Originally, Yertle had a moustache, but I took it off. I thought it was gilding the lily a little bit.” During the run-up to WWII, FDR was battling the isolationist “America First” supporters who were seeking to keep us out of the war. Ted believed American isolationism was not an option and that Hitler needed to be stopped.
Through his Yertle the Turtle book, Dr. Seuss delivers a powerful allegory on dictatorship and expansionism, conveying the final message with these words, “And the turtles, of course . . . all the turtles are free as turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.” Ted deliberately inserted the word “maybe” because he wanted children to think about it and say to themselves that there’s no “maybe” about it—all creatures should be free!