But is it Art?
Animation is, of course, a part of popular culture, BUT it is also an art form in its own right.
This is so obviously true a statement that it is hard to see, particularly for us here, why it should need to stated or why there should be any doubt about it.
It must be the case, however, that there are still people who would say: "The creations of Walt Disney clearly are not art, whereas the works of Picasso and Matisse are."
These are people who have difficulty with both the mechanical element in the creation of animated films and the contribution of many hands to the finished work - making it difficult to assign creation to a single "artist."
Art to them is the activity of a sole craftsman working directly with tradition materials - paint, pen, paper, canvas - without the intervention of a machine.
I may have simplified this viewpoint, but I believe it lies underneath the BUT in the title given to this discussion.... the idea that animated film is in some special way different from art as it is commonly thought of. Sensible people, though, must give a wider definition to art and say that anything which is written, or drawn, or played for whatever purpose, and in whatever context, is capable of being described as art.
We are then confronted with the further question - is everything that is painted, written, drawn, etc. art, or is there some which is better or more refined or more elevated in its intention because of its content or purpose, and this we call Art, while the rest is merely craft, more or less skilfully fitted for its purpose ?
Nowadays there are some critics, particularly of the visual arts, who are so nervous of making a judgement - and it is a dangerous thing to be a critic whose pronouncements can later be held against him - that they make no difference. Everything is art. Everything has the same value. We do not have to accept that point of view.
My intention here is to try to define what the elements are in animation which make it art, and to indicate why I think there are more of those elements in some animated films and less in others.
I found recently a definition of art which I think has a lot of truth: " A work of art gives satisfaction to the artist and the spectator because it analyses an experience and syntheses its findings into a new form that make people eager for fresh experience." (For instance Donald Duck.)
If ever there was an example of experience analysed and re-created in a new form, this is it. And in passing, I would like to say that one of the strongest strands in animation is its representation of behaviour. Cartoon characters act - and if their action is anything beyond mere slapstick - what we are seeing is a representation of human behaviour. Animation is a moral art because it deals with actions - but that is a side issue.
From its early days until quite recently, the greatest volume of animated work was humorous - or humorous in intention. It started life as part of music-hall or vaudeville entertainment, and in its period of greatest development when Hollywood dominated the cinema, animation was the funny short in the cinema programme.
Although there were some works in the Disney output which were directed not solely to light entertainment (and the element, I suppose, find its summit in both the intention and the execution of Fantasia), the use of cartoon film to express serious themes did not really begin until the 1950's and 60's.
It would be mistake, though, to believe that for a film to be made on a serious and deeply felt subject, employing imagery and techniques borrowed from what is called fine art, automatically qualifies it to be considered as art.
Animation is an art form when it is most successfully itself, not when it is borrowing from some other source or imagery. If we look to "Fantasia," the comic hippos and ostriches of the Dance of the Hours are better art than the more determinedly artistic Night on a Bare Mountain.
" Yellow Submarine" - George Dunning's mixed bag - worked better in those sequences where it escaped from the overpowering styling of the art director Heinz Edelman and the animators took over the action.
My next illustration neatly illustrates the vices and virtues of the two approaches to animation. I have to show the whole film - it lasts about 12 minutes. Many of you may have not seen it. It is the work of Jimmy Murakami in the 60's and is, I think, a remarkable film.
* FILM: THE GOOD FRIEND
My purpose in showing that is to point up the difference between the opening of the film and its main body. Confronted with the problem of expressing betrayal and double dealing, Murakami began with a series of tableaux in which the idea of betrayal is implicit in the situations. Each small sequence is a little symbol of the idea, but cumulatively each one adds nothing t its predecessor. The drawing is elegant and expressive but the audience has to work hard to interpret the film-maker's intention and, I think, quite soon begins to wonder where its all leading.
If the film had stopped there, it would have stood as an example of a worthy attempt to treat seriously, and in excellent skilful drawing, an aspect of human behaviour. As such it would have been similar to a great many creditable films we have all seen, both on public exhibition and more often at festivals, where the honourable intention and the skilful execution of the maker can be recognised. They do not, however, succeed completely.
The second part of the film, however, is a different matter altogether. Here we have a dynamic situation where the power of the idea is worked out in satisfying action. Events, character and dialogue all work together to present powerfully what is only glanced at in the introduction.
This is truly animation as the representation of action - not merely the making of drawings that move. That seems to me to be the soul of animation as an art form. All the elements of story structure, sound and picture must relate together as the parts of a living whole, inseparable and organic.
Obviously it is more pleasing if the manner of the drawing is elegant and sophisticated - but it must still be a style which is natural to animation and allows the fullest expression of the action. Form follows function: and, to borrow a drawn style from an already established illustration is, to my mind, to impose a needless restriction on the animator. There are a great deal too many films being made now derived from illustrated books. I prefer an original, purely animation, concept.
As a contrast to that last example, I would like to show a brief extract from a film which illustrates further the necessity to provide a coherent form to a film for it to communicate successfully.
* "Spotless Dominoes"
That is from a film made by a student at the Royal College of Art and it has been successful in winning prizes at several animation festival. It is well crafted, well lit, the actions are imaginative and clearly some serious meaning is intended.
It is however a failure, in my opinion, in that the characters, the craft, the imagination do not relate to some central theme that an audience can follow.
I am not saying that the film-maker is not allowed to be mysterious - even obscure - but to be totally successful, all the parts of the action must relate to discernible and coherent theme. It must all hang together.
The young man who made this work should not, I hope, resent my remarks on his film. He will undoubtedly go on to employ his talents to their full effect.
This question of the necessity to communicate with the audience, brings me to the next point. I believe that animation is an art form because it is part of popular culture. Let me explain.
The artist seems to me to be essentially a tradesman, making a product for consumption by the society in which he lives. The product may be more complicated than, say, the chair or table of another tradesman, and involve emotional or spiritual matters which do not attach to more mundane objects. But essentially artistic creation is - or should be - that sort of trade. It is only since the early part of the 1800's that the idea of the artist - particularly painters and graphic artists -- began to be separated from their function as tradesmen.
Two factors were operating then. The first was the idea of the artist as a solitary romantic hero, at odds with his fellow men - he and only he having the true vision.
The second was the more mundane fact that customers for the painting trade began to diminish, and those patrons who did continue to buy had varying ideas of what the artists should be doing - so that the connection between supplier and consumer became uncertain and fragmentary.
As a result, artists, without a commonplace trade purpose, had to invent for themselves purposes for their activity. We have today in the fine arts the position in which every painter invents for himself his own frame of reference, his own aesthetic - with the additional pressure that he should be seen to be original.
Now as I see it, the value to the artist of having the task before him of producing a satisfactory trade object - let us say to fill with pictures particular spaces in a building, keep the Pope happy and get it done in a certain time, is very great. His conscious mind is occupied with exerting his skill to fulfil these conditions and then - and I believe only then - is his unconscious mind liberated to supply those emotional and spiritual feelings which give his work value and which speaks to the people he lives among.
This is what the fine artists of today have lost. They are forever trying to make direct contact with these things the unconscious should supply, without the mundane vessel which should contain them. My grandfather - an art critic - referred to that as trying to paint the smile without the Cheshire Cat. (I'm afraid that is an obscure reference to Alice in Wonderland - a book you may not all be familiar with.)
But I must come back from these rarefied speculations to the matter of animation. As animated film makers, we are tradesmen - supplying a product for an audience that recognises what it is and what it's for.
In the first place, we have to do our job properly - to inform, entertain, even sell on behalf of another - and then while doing that, in so far as we have powerful emotional or spiritual qualities, we will exhibit them in our work. We are uniquely fortunate in working in a field in which, by the use of sound, picture, music and speech we can express deep truths, while at the same time practising an every-day business.
My next example is one which brings together the two things I have been talking about. It is from a film which is essentially an animated cartoon designed and executed by an experienced professional. The film is also, however, one which deals with and expresses serious truths without a hint of highbrow pretension. I will show only a short sequence.
I do not think that animated film has anywhere produced a more successful or resonant single image than that, and the strength of it is that it is a moving and developing image. It is what the thing does that carries the truth. The means by which it is expressed - graceful and skilful as they are - are just that. The animation gives us action, and this film communicates.
The story may not be as simply as the Three Little Pigs but it unfolds and develops clearly. It is at times mysterious - art should always have an element of mystery - but it is never confusing. (One of the maxims I repeat to my students is: " The audience need not understand why something is going on the screen, but they must always know what is going on.)
I turn now to the future. When I came into animated films nearly 40 years ago, I foresaw then that the range and depth of expression of which animation was capable would expand. I thought, and I continue to think, that it can represent human behaviour in ever wider and more expressive ways. I had, however, even at the beginning, a reservation about the means. which I still maintain.
I believe that the reliance on line drawing is a limitation to the animator's power of expression. Just as it took the developments in oil painting of Northern Europe - the richness of light and shade found in Rembrandt and others -to achieve the most complete depictions of humanity, I believe that animation will develop most richly in freeing itself from line drawing.
This may come about by the control of pixils in a computer, but - for the moment - I will merely show you some animation achieved by traditional means.... means that some might consider primitive - yet to my mind they represent the most complete and detailed understanding of human behaviour yet achieved in animation.
That is animation without line but truly animation and truly art. "It analyses an experience and synthesises its finding in a new form that makes people eager for fresh experience." Yuri, it does.
My last word is this, since we are a gathering concerned with the teaching of animation. While we should always let our students be aware of the heights to which animation can rise, it is only, in the first place, by doing their job as professionals that those heights can be reached. Do the job and the art will take care itself.