Posted by: Catadromy | June 3, 2020

“Art is the activity by which a person, having experienced an emotion, intentionally transmits it to others” –Leo Tolstoy

In the middle of a home renovation project, I purchased a lamp to go on the bedroom dresser. It’s mercury glass, with an Edison bulb and it’s paired with a large, round silver mesh shade. It’s beautiful and suits the décor in the room perfectly. My husband says that it serves no function, as it doesn’t cast sufficient light. I told him that it’s art and it’s beautiful and that art doesn’t necessarily have a function, other than its visual one, i.e., to delight the eye and stimulate the senses.

Why is art important? Humans are hardwired to decode and prioritize visual stimuli. What is important is that the viewer is receptive to the possibility of a response that will take them out of themselves into a whole new and unexpected place. All art does this.

As I see it, art may take seven different forms. There are sub-categories within these forms, but these are the ones I see:

  1. Architecture
  2. Film
  3. Literature
  4. Music
  5. Painting/Drawing
  6. Performing
  7. Sculpture

The question at hand is, which of these is animation closest to? Since there are no right or wrong answers, I’m going to crawl way, waaaaay far out on that limb and say all of them.  Ooh, a copout.

When it comes to Architecture, Louis Sullivan was famously quoted as saying, ‘form follows function’, which when talking about a building makes a good deal of sense. When it comes to animation, though, it’s a bit of a stretch. Still, going all the way back to the earliest beginnings of animation, it was all about form; the use of mechanical devices to simulate motion, such as the zoetrope, phenakistiscope, praxiniscope, zoopraxiniscope, and kinetoscope.

When discussing Film, the similarities are most obvious.   In the modern era of animation, the vast majority of output is viewed on film, rather than via a mechanical device. As animation has evolved and the techniques gotten more sophisticated and the use of CGI become more prevalent, animation has moved beyond its roots in hand-drawn, children’s entertainment to sophisticated multi-target appeal. CGI allows animation to create on film sequences and special effects that would be impossible and/or cost-prohibitive to film using live actors.

Literature tells a story. And every story that is told has a foundation and a structure. It may not be linear, as in; this is the starting point, this happened, and then it ended. The story may weave around, use flashbacks/flashforwards. But, eventually, it will get to the endpoint. Animation may be based on story and myth—fairy tales, epic adventures, classic literature. Or the story may be written just for the animation being created.

Not all animation tells a story, whether linear or non-linear, some of it just is. Some animation is used in documentaries as explanatory pieces to demonstrate timelines. Some animation is used in gaming. Some animation is used in local news for mapping and in weather forecasts.

To compare animation to Music, I look no further than An Optical Poem. This piece is music made visual, specifically, Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody. Each instrument is represented by a different series of shapes and colors and they way they react/interact on the screen. In Fantasia, each section is set to a different piece of classical, symphonic music to great effect. The animation style is matched to the musical style. The very beginnings of animation had a musical accompaniment, with a soundtrack added in later on, as technology permitted. Many of the songs written for animated features have gone on to become enormously popular and entrenched in pop culture.

Animation has its roots in Painting and Drawing, going back to simple line art sketching in black and white and moving through hand-drawn, full-color 2D cel animation in which the cels were painted by hand. Some of it was simple and some of it was incredibly complex and multi-layered, via the use of the multiplane camera.

If an animated piece is story-driven, then it is all about Performing. The characters are brought to life, via the animators’ art, given personalities and motives and set free to bring the story to the viewer, via their actions on the screen, just as if they were human actors. The primary difference, though, is that the animator is in total control of the performance, rather than the actor. The voice actors, in this case, are the real draw for the audience; think Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in Toy Story.

Yes, animation is even close to Sculpture. Modern CGI/3D animation creates a digital sculptural base and uses that to create an armature on which to build the characters and objects used in films and, especially, gaming today.

The task at hand was to compare animation to another art form. I chose to compare animation to seven different forms of art. If, as Bucchanieri said, “Art is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone will have their own interpretation”; then, to my eye, animation is all forms of art and cannot be broken out, one from the other.


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