Art or Not-Art: A Pitfall to Avoid

Identifying things as art or non-art, especially new things, is a danger that writers and artists must be very aware of. It can cut us off from rich opportunities, and generally just make us grumpy.

When I was growing up I watched a lot of animated movies. Of course I watched all the Disney classics, but there was also a very odd and dingy video rental closet down the street from my day care. This place usually didn’t carry the normal Disney movies until well after they came out. They did, however, have a large foreign animation section.

Of course I had no idea what they were, and I certainly didn’t know they were any different than what my classmates watched. I do remember trying to explain this wonderful movie called 13 Boys (which I have never been able to find again) or the Japanese version of Swan Lake and receiving very confused looks from the other kindergartners.

My parents were very uneasy about these animated movies in general. Not because they thought they would stunt my growth, but because they were new and growing and a little threatening. You see, both my parents were artists, (a painter and a printmaker). It’s very easy to see a popular new form of art as dangerous or perhaps encroaching.

I remember sitting and watching Robin Hood while my father debated with himself on the couch about whether or not the thing we were both enjoying was art. It took a great deal of effort, he reasoned, and all the same skills that he employed for his art. It must be art, then, yet something still nagged at him. Something made him wish he could dismiss it as childish, faddish.

About the time Toy Story came out my father had completely made up his mind that animation was art, and enjoyed it as much as I did. Maybe more. I believe his vote is still out on digital art, however.

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