Search form

The Animation Pimp: In Search of STUFF Part 1: '(F)art'

The Pimp ponders the true meaning of art. From Plato to Aristotle to Nietzsche to Murder, She Wrote...the Pimp takes it all in and tries to find meaning.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Monthly provocative, drunken, idiotic ramblings from the North...

"The Word proves those first hearing it as numb to understanding as the ones who have not heard. Yet all things follow from the word."

-- Heraclitus

"I am a scientist -- I seek to understand me"

-- "I Am A Scientist" Robert Pollard (Guided by Voices)

Okay bear with me. I'm a little behind with this whole Art thing. Everyone seems to know what art is; I hear the words thrown about with ease. I mean I always figured that there was a difference between For The Birds and Breakfast on the Grass. Seemed damn simple enough: one evokes emotions, the other challenges the mind. For me, art challenges the mind. Sensory perception is fine and dandy but it doesn't explain WHY. As Homer once said, "Why me laugh?"

Art for me is like a good dump. The natural release/reaction to what your system has experienced during the day. I like creative works that leave a stink, the natural breath of the creator. To smell is to be. Even if they stink, they're human (e.g. Ed Wood) and that makes them better than that other stuff we call Hollywood (which I use quite sweepingly here), which ain't nothin' but a manufactured piece of plastic poop. Can't smell nuttin' (hence no SENSE/CAUSE). Taint art. Pretty easy. Done. Finito. Ka.........PUT. And put the nail home, there's the client/self split. How can anything client driven be art? How can anything personal NOT be art?

So all's going along well in my head until I'm reading Homer's Iliad and discover that it's pretty much just a Hollywood action movie. A MASSIVE war starts because of a fight over a gal and then we encounter passage after passage of gruesome violence. So what's the difference between Homer and Homer? But back to me...why can I embrace the highfalutinESS of Faulkner and George Griffin and just as quickly run out and rent Booty Call or Big Daddy and then laugh my ass off at the stupid jokes?

Maybe I should just relax and let it go. Who cares WHY things are, they just ARE...right? Just go wherever my senses lead me...'s not enough to know that Bubblicious tastes good, I need to know WHY it tastes good (childhood flashbacks? Specific flavour that is NOT in Hubba Bubba? Present chewing location?).

Last week while watching Murder, She Wrote -- the early seasons are great because Lansbury was willing to let her annoying character have the piss taken out of her by other characters -- oh been reading a lot of Greek philosophy and turns out that Plato and Aristotle were saying some things about art and one of my sortofpals recommended Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy. I decided there and then -- while watching Jessica Fletcher -- that I would try to find out just what ART is.

Plato's Take

Okay I'm back. It's a day later. While I was gone I finished the rest of Plato's Republic and wouldn't ya know he's got a few not so mild things to say about art. Plato was quite a moral fellow and believed in a divine order to the universe. The pursuit of wisdom and knowledge was for him the ULTIMATE goal. So he pretty much shunned art because it is imitative and the only works to be permitted in his ideal state would be those that honoured the gods or famous guys. Why? Well because imitative art produces merely a semblance of reality. As such it is false -- see NATURE was itself a semblance of the DIVINE reality (or for us non-believers...we could say that NATURE is the reality and HUMAN nature a COPY and then Art a copy of that copy) -- so if I paint a picture of a man -- it is 2 notches below reality/truth -- whereas if you paint a nice fine picture of the big man you're I guess a notch from truth and that's better for everyone.

But no cold chump he, Plato breaks down and admits that he'd still allow imitative art in his ideal state because of its charm and sensual pleasure -- now hold on -- doesn't this upset the WHOLE damn book since Plato is constructing an ideal state and if you start letting a few bozos in -- sorry that's for another time.

Hey...speaking of the senses, I'm being overwhelmed by Jerry Lee Lewis: Mercury Years, Volume Two 1969-72, some scorching country/gospel/rock tunes that are imitative of no one but the devil himself. Check it out.

-- so yeah...Plato's view of art is limited but he clearly allows that there are two aims of art: emotional and intellectual. So that's good news for you Hollywood fans.

Aristotle Has Some Ideas...

Okay. Next. Aristotle.

Another day has passed. I finished Aristotle's Poetics and an overview of the man in Coppleston's History of Philosophy Vol. 1 (you should be reading THIS nine volume series instead of that damn hotel drawer fairy tale). Aristotle's got a bit more to say about art than Plato, but again I guess it's important to remember that these are less theories of art then reflections on the art of the time, as such the Poetics is MOSTLY just a "How To Make Poetry/Drama/Comedy" (the comedy part was lost) book. Outside of a few bits on the origin of poetry and the idea of universality, Poetics don't help me much at this stage of the game 'cause I'm trying to figure out what ART is and why we do it.

Aristotle touches on some good stuff in Poetics about the origins of mimesis (imitation) and expands that in Metaphysics. Buddy boy says that we long to KNOW. As children we learn (via our senses) through imitation. This is indicated through the reaction of our senses. The eyes (especially) produce recognition and recognition helps us to differentiate between things (e.g. trees from water). Through repetition we become familiar with the world. Familiarity brings pleasure 'cause we ain't so out to lunch no more. The key to this is memory. We learn from memory. From memory comes experience. Experience CAN produce knowledge and skill. Skill comes from many experiences. A general assumption is formed. For example, I have a headache. Experience tells me that by taking an aspirin I will relieve myself of the headache. However I do not possess the skill to explain WHY the aspirin achieves this effect. Skill involves knowing WHY. In short...experience knows THAT but not the BECAUSE. Skill or tekhnê (Greek for craft or art) grasps the BECAUSE. is a sort of expansion of what we experience and is produced for necessity (a bed, plate, cup), pleasure (a picture, toy) and knowledge (mathematics, philosophy).

Nietzsche's Two Thoughts...

Let's skip ahead in time to Mr. Nietzsche. In Birth of Tragedy, the little pastor says that we can divide art into two streams: Apollinian and Dionysian. The former is a subjective individual approach that seeks beauty and a higher form (i.e. how the world SHOULD BE), while Dionysian is a more objective form that shows "the incompletely intelligible everyday world" ( still a subjective viewpoint). So certainly we can see how the Hollywood system strives for the Apollinian form of harmony and order (EVERY Hollywood product is based on a classical narrative system that gives stability-disruption-resolution-closure or what is the Aristotelian notion of completeness), whereas some like Phil Mulloy and Ryan Larkin are slightly more Dionysian in that there is no sense of completeness, harmony, but more a concern with showing the world as it IS. The audience is left ALONE to figure out the "incompletely intelligible."

Yet this system doesn't quite work because animation is by very definition limited to the boundaries of its technological infrastructure (material of film/video/digital, camera -- and the speed, aperture, framing -- and projector -- and projectionist). As such no animators are truly chaotic and wild. Certainly cameraless animators are (to use the Plato ratio) a step or two closer to the reality/disorder but they still rely on film. Of course, with that hardcore logic...painting, literature and music have SOME whisper of a structure. The only truly free arts would be speaking, singing and dancing. Cha Cha Cha!

It gets more confusing when you see that Nietzsche says that individualism is commonly Apollinian whereas the loss of self into oneness is Dionysian (like when you're stoned) BUT clearly the Hollywood system in fact diverts the individual into the illusion of a form of oneness through its production of films that it thinks will reach a UNIVERSAL audience (as opposed to the particular -- although it relies on the illusion of the particular/unique experience to sell merchandise) and through its use of tragic/comic models seeks to EVOKE a general emotional reaction from the audience. Whereas the Dionysian reps like, say Ryan Larkin or David Ehrlich, make films from an individual perspective for the pleasure of the ACT itself (i.e. little care for audience). Furthermore in showing the world as it IS, the Dionysian artist is seeking an understanding of this state while leaving the audience to do the same individually. Some would say this is self-absorbed but clearly Hollywood does not REALLY give a shit about the audience (as individuals) whereas MANY (not all) of these apparent Dionysian folks DO actually care about individual perspectives.

Sooooooooo the way I see it...Apollinian offers universal types to present the world as the Artist thinks it should be using examples of BETTER or WORSE, which then evoke emotions from the audience and give them a feeling of oneness. Whereas the Dionysian shows the world as the Artist thinks it is, warts and all and leaves the audience to sort it out for themselves.

A-ha! Kant Has A Point

Let's see what that pissant Kant has to say. In the Critique of Judgement, he talks briefly about what Art is. First, he separates it from nature (art is work, nature is effect) and ESSENTIALLY says that art is work by man (which means that ALL humans are works of art -- except that grade 9 French teacher who wanted to touch me in odd places). He then distinguishes Art from craft and science. Science knows. Art can know. (What about science films like Haemorrhoids, a 20-minute film depicting the removal of IT from someone's hairy red ass? Is this science or art?) Art is Free Art. Craft is Mercenary Art. (Ah...hold we're getting somewhere!) Mercenary Art is a disagreeable occupation that attracts someone mostly because of the pay cheque. So could we not say that MOST kids who go to school to LEARN how to be a big studio artist are in fact NOT artists (but craftsmen) because they have a specific purpose to make money (check out those discussions groups where some youngin' asks, "How much should an entry level animator make?") and gain recognition (e.g. being ACCEPTED in a school and then a studio)? In Free Arts, the artist creates for the sake of creating. Fame and fortune are secondary. The primary pleasure comes from the act of creation (oops...sorry...production). THEN again...the free artist seeks grants, subsidies and has screenings, readings, is that not tinged with fame and fortune as well? And anyway...from what I've seen, the kids at Pixar (for example) are MIGHTY content whereas I've encountered a lot of 'free' artists working in miserable/disagreeable conditions.

Immanuel breaks it down further. He says that within Free Art, there is mechanical art (making an object actual like say a bicycle or car) and aesthetic art (seeks to arouse a feeling of pleasure). Within aesthetic art Kant locates fine and agreeable art. Fine art "furthers the culture of our mental powers to (facilitate) social communication." The pleasure of fine art stems from reflection rather than "mere sensation." Agreeable art seeks to provide merely enjoyment in the moment...and does not serve as material for future meditation or quotation.

Now initially I thought I'd found a home for Hollywood...but clearly this category doesn't fit either because one thing Hollywood does not want is momentary un-meditative enjoyment. They want the audience to remember through quotations, merchandising, repeat screenings, etc... It's a system that feeds off our tendency toward unreflective sense prioritizing: "It made me laugh (or cry). I want to laugh again." It's still very much in keeping with Kant's claim that agreeable art only provides "agreeable noise" that keeps minds in a cheerful mood (sort of like Prozac). But hey...whatever the make-up of agreeable art, it's quite clear (sort of) that superficial or otherwise, it is art and ANYWAY a boatload of make-work academics have reflected on Keanu Reeves; so much for the moment.

Let's stop there. We've pretty much got a sense now of WHY we make art (imitation/improvement) and WHAT art is (virtually anything made by humans including you, me and your Grandma). Despite my assumptions, Monsters Inc., Hot Wheels, bobbleheads, Britney Spears and Ikea furniture are ALL Art. Hollywood may be a robotic assembly line, not to mention a technological based medium, but these systems were designed (and accepted) by/for people, so THEY be Art too. You are what you eat, so I guess we get the system we deserve. Hey...s'good enough for me cause not only is Murder, She Wrote art (which makes me feel far less guilty), but so am I.


Okay...everything's art...but this doesn't explain why we love and loathe. I guess judgement helps us differentiate between Plympton, Pixar and Pollock (alliteration...heh heh. Is that art? Guess so). But what is judgement (and taste) and how is it formed? they used to say on Hammy Hamster (is that one notch below truth in so far as it uses ACTUAL animals -- if so does that mean that all real animal and nature films are in fact the highest forms of art?)..."That's another story."

Next Month: Part 2: Yummy and Yucky

Squirrel Facts

Squirrels are common rodents that have hairy tails and strong hind legs. There are over 200 different species of squirrels that live in a variety of habitats.

Chris Robinson is but a man. His hobbies include squirrel taunting, meat dancing and elderly peeping. You can find the results at