Some conversations are gold. We wanted to try and bring some of that gold to you.
A new article idea, welcome to the Wave Motion Conversation. It’s a glimpse at some of the ‘behind the scenes’ discussions between staff. This being the first time we’ve all done something like this, we decided to keep the topic simple: anime, is it art? Although a question benign on the surface, it sparked a conversation with some unexpected comments.
Participants this conversation include: Josh, The Subtle Doctor, CJ Hitchcock and Casey Mitchem, with Tamerlane dropping a line midway in. Enjoy!
Josh: Welcome, everyone, to the Wave Motion Conversation. Tonight’s topic, as the NH Primaries go down, is one just as pressing, though not really: Anime – is it art?
Subtle Doctor: I think this is probably the easiest question we will answer all night. Yes. The answer is: yes, absolutely. Inasmuch as any other commercial media is art, anime is also art. It is a series of lovingly crafted drawings meant to tell us a story but also point to something beyond itself e.g. the struggles of being human, or the triumph of friendship over adversity. Anime can speak to us in the same way other things we call art, like film music and painting, speak to us. So, again I answer in the affirmative. Anime is art.
Chris Hitchcock: I’m going to be a stick in the mud and say, no. Why? Because the term, “Art” is so subjective that it holds no real value. There are elements where there is a beauty and mastery of the craft within the images on the screen anime produces, but not everyone is going to view it that way. Plus if I say Anime is Art, does that mean Char’s Counterattack have the same artist merit as say this season’s Sekko Boys? It opens up this whole entire can of worms. I don’t think the question should be, “Is it art?” But “Does calling it Art give it value?” I say no for both.
Subtle Doctor: Heel turn
Casey Mitchem: Despite the continued protests of traditional grade school art teachers hoping to stifle the budding original English language mangaka in their midst, anime & manga are perfectly valid forms of artistic expression. Cartooning is a backbreakingly laborious industry which few get into for love of money. Commercial factors may discourage some productions from pushing the medium forward but innovative visual storytelling techniques and/or genuinely emotionally involving moments can be born from even the most egregious cashgrabs if you assemble the right production team. If a set of sequential drawings -be they frames of animation or comic panels- can produce an emotional reaction, dazzle us with their sheer craftsmanship or make someone’s life even slightly more bearable for having experienced them then anime and manga can be said to have real artistic value.
Josh: I agree with everything you guys are saying. Riding Casey’s comment, I want to say: no one questions if manga is art. Manga was kinda born from that scroll and woodblock art, and we all accept that without hesitation (well, maybe CJ doesn’t 😉 rimshot)
Now if we take that, add color and sound and suddenly we have a hard time calling it art or not. It’s really odd.
‘Is anime art?’ yes, for sure. But then again, is the macaroni and glue collage we made in kindergarten art too? To me, art is the language of emotion. So thus yes, it’s all art. I think a better question is ‘is it good art?’
Subtle Dctoor: I’d like to respond to CJ’s statement.
Chris Hitchcock: (As long as it not a slap to the face XP)
Subtle Doctor: First, if everyone had to agree on the beauty of imagery for a thing to be called art, nothing would be art. I think it is one of art’s great strengths that it inspires disagreement in people, that it fosters different emotional responses in different people. This makes art interesting and fun. Second, regarding artistic merit of different anime: I think, as Josh alludes to, you are conflating the term “art” with the concept of “good art.” Not all art is good art. Art can certainly be bad, but that doesn’t necessarily disqualify it from “art-hood.” I believe that it is a created thing’s potential to invoke emotional responses in human beings and its attempt at conveying abstract ideas beyond the scope of its physical medium that make it art. Whether something succeeds in what is trying to accomplish is another question entirely.
Chris Hitchcock: To respond to Doc, to give a little context towards my answer, I have a degree in Fine Arts. I’m not flaunting to say, “I know what I’m talking about” I bring it up because my entire time at college the term, “Art” was completely ruined for me and stripped of any real meaning. I’ve had to put up with pretentious snobs who film themselves dancing in front of a fish tank on fire and call it self expression and art, when in reality, they were rushing a deadline. I know it’s a personal gripe I have with the word, but with something as wide and diverse as anime, I don’t want this genre of animation to be associated with pretentiousness that can poison any medium. I’m not going to say there’s not merit in anime, because Suzumiya knows how many times I’ve shed tears over a series. But I believe that’s craftsmanship that should be celebrated, not a term that can easily lose value.
Casey Mitchem: There’s no such thing as a work of art that’s for all people. There’s also plenty of niche or outsider art that can earnestly be said to not be for most people. It’s important to not allow someone else’s disagreeable definition of art to tarnish the broader value of art itself. Anime’s acknowledgment as an art form doesn’t depreciate the value of art or of anime. Pretentious voices can claim what they will but personal response to works and respect for the process ultimately matter more than anyone’s individual narrow definition of what art can or ought to be.
Josh: You know what, anime is a lot like a college project. You can tell the deference between the ones that are rushed vs those that were well planned. Good art allows you to feel the emotion that went behind making it. I gawked, mouth agape, when I saw One Punch Man last season. I cried when I saw Death Parade, and laughed with Osomatsu-san. And each emotion was without a doubt 100% intended.
Anime, unlike a lot of high art, is made by a group, and just the fact that many individuals can come together to make one solid emotion strike home is really quite amazing when you think about it.
But then again, there’s Dimension W with a concentrated feeling of boredom.
Subtle Doctor: How dare you
Chris Hitchcock: Agreed. Let’s make Josh the bad guy now for not liking Dimension W.
Josh: Casey, help me out man!
Chris Hitchcock: To respond to Casey, I have to point out that, Art is “In the eye of the beholder” as it were. It’s completely subjective. For me, calling anime Art doesn’t improve the quality of show, film or whatever. Giving it a label doesn’t increase its worth to the viewer. If a person is moved by series, then that speaks towards the quality and care put into the series by its creators. Those feelings don’t come from the term the Art. So why call it that if it doesn’t add anything. I get people use the term to bring legitimacy towards our hobby, lifestyle, whatever you want to call it, but again, it’s completely subjective and not everyone is going to have the same reaction. So in my opinion, why bother? I can defend the work put into the thing, but labels are labels and labels are worthless in the grand scheme of things.
Subtle Doctor: I personally don’t use the term for any added legitimacy it may bring to a medium. It’s purely a matter of classification. There should be (and is) a term for non-natural, creative works of expression. That term is “art.”
I think we are in agreement at the conceptual level, and our dispute is purely a semantic one.
Chris Hitchcock Doc: I honestly think the term you’re looking for is “Anime.” Anime is a combination of storytelling and moving images to put together a moving experience. Anime is its own style and form of expression, why generalize it?
Casey Mitchem: While anime has historically been subject to subsets of fans seeking to legitimize the hobby by any means necessary, I’m not certain I understand how semantically separating it from other forms of art or filmmaking is of any benefit to (or indeed how it’s inclusion might otherwise detract from)the medium itself?
Josh: Agreed. I think the issue we’re running into is the mast consumerism of the medium. So many new anime titles are produced, it seems almost absurd to attribute them all with real value.
Who the hell remembers everything that came out in 2005 summer season? Or even 2013?
2015 just passed. Not only in time, but from memory in many regards save a handful of shows. Some of was good art, but not relevant art. It’s all very convoluted, but I think having it be labeled as art demands respect. Or maybe what I’m trying to say is I want to see it elevated to high art.
Timur Lang: I remember everything that aired in 2005
Josh: You’re late, go away
Timur Lang: lol
Chris Hitchcock: Casey: I don’t think it adds or takes away anything, which is my point. If saying a thing is art gives it more meaning to you (generalized you, not directed towards Casey), then have at it.
Josh: I think what you want is more quality craftsmanship put into your anime, not “Higher Art.” You want an experience as opposed to a product, which is something I think we all want at the end of the day.
Subtle Doctor: Here is where I shift to CJ’s side. I don’t necessarily think the term “art” demands respect. It demands that we evaluate a thing in a certain way, and then determine whether it is worthy of our respect. It is a category we put certain things in so we can judge them a certain way and talk about them in certain terms. The fact that most anime is made by committee and is made to generate a profit entails, in my opinion, that it can’t be “high art.” But, in today’s world, pop art is considered extremely valuable, and it generates a lot of interesting, intellectual discourse. The fact that anime is part of popular culture does nothing to diminish its value, unless you don’t find things like movies and pop music (I’m speaking in generalities, not about specific artists or works) valuable.
Casey Mitchem: To Josh’s point there are a glut of anime produced in any given season which are destined to be forgotten. This process seems somewhat accelerated now given the ease at which virtually all of it can be accessed and the tremendous volume of what’s being offered each season not being conducive to everything getting an equal share of time or attention. This is true of all creative mediums. Some works floundering in obscurity will be critically reappraised in the future or fade from memory and some will be celebrated. Personal experiences will ultimately dictate any given works value on an individual and potentially cultural level.
I slightly disagree with the idea that creation by committee or commercial ambitions should preclude something from consideration as being a work of artistic merit. The necessities of financing may be an unfortunate reality of filmmaking but can be utilized to create works with lasting impact. In some rare cases -as with the first Gundam television series which was resurrected to complete its original run only by post-cancellation toy sales- these commercial considerations can be channeled for the good of the overall production. That said, I sometimes worry that the current market on both the eastern and western hemisphere are increasingly becoming too driven by pop art but am confident that unique and subversive works will always have a tendency of breaking through and finding the niches where they’re most needed. Anime will have its place as long as there are talented animators who seek ways of getting their intent and talents across regardless of the economic realities which surround them.
And that wraps up the conversation.What do you think? Leave a comment bellow to add your two-cents. If you have a topic you would like to suggest, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
I spoke with Josh concerning a tiny aside made in this conversation and he wanted me to post the comment here, so here it is: in response to the Subtle Doctor’s statement, “If everyone had to agree on the beauty of imagery for a thing to be called art, nothing would be art,” there seems to be this implication that beauty is irreconcilably relative. I stated that, in terms of Kantian aesthetics, beauty is not relative. For Kant, beauty is a liking that exists universally, without interest and without concept. The beautiful is something that is based on one’s feelings and pleasure, but yet we expect this same liking to extend to everyone else as well. It is independent of ourselves. In Kantian terms, what the Subtle Doctor described would belong more to the realm of the agreeable.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for responding to our discussion!
You know it’s quite funny that I am being called a relativist here: I actually argue (online and IRL) for the objectivity of beauty on a semi-regular basis. I fundamentally DO NOT believe that beauty is relative to individual perception/appreciation. People disagreeing about the beauty of a thing does not imply that mind-independent beauty does not exist.
Here is what I was getting at with my response to CJ. His first argument about anime not being art (not unlike the relativist about beauty) hinges on the fact that people disagree about the beauty of its images. It goes something like “People disagree about the beauty of anime’s images. If these images were beautiful, people would agree they are. People agree on the beauty of art. Therefore, anime is not art.”
My counter argument is actually taking /the same position/ as you do, plagelbug. That is, disagreement does not imply anything other than disagreement. Just because people cannot agree on the beauty of an object does not preclude if from being art. The statement you quote is simply me saying that MANY MANY people disagree about whether or not a piece of art is beautiful, yet, it’s still art.
tl;dr Though I’m not a Kantian by any means, I have actually been on your side. It’s CJ you need to have a word with! 🙂
I can sort of agree with that. To me, when I review something, I ask first: Did I like it? After, I stop and ask was that because the review material was good, or was it just enjoyable.
We can enjoy bad things, we can not like good things. This is maybe my biggest struggle with Shirobako. It’s a good show, but it doesn’t jive with me like other good shows have.
The notion of ‘everything is art’ is not one I prescribe to. Art is the language of emotion, and a language has words, grammatical structure, rules. Yet a language still has a soul, and expresses something – it conveys meaning. Art is a language. There are many ‘made up’ words, and there is a bunch of ‘made up’. It’s ok to break these rules, but only under the question: Why?
From there I think it’s most beneficial that we move past the ‘objective’ aspect of art and make it subjective. I ask myself, ‘Why don’t I like Shirobako?’ and in doing so, I learn a tiny bit more about myself.
That is good art.
Ahem! I nominated you for the sunshine award. You deserve it. ;3