Defining Art

We ‘film educators’ often get stuck on definitions. What do we call it? Is it film education, or audiovisual education, or moving image education, or film literacy or…? I was reminded more than once during our recent seminar in Berlin of a wonderful aesthetic treatise and mentioned it to Simone Moraldi, who was also familiar with it, and had been reminded of the same bit in the same book at the same time!

For fun, then, for those who don’t know it aleady, it’s Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, an analysis of the art form that is the comic. He explores what it is, what it isn’t, how it works, how it is different from and similar to other art forms (including cinema). During our discussions around the ultimate purpose of film education and where the art was in all of that, Simone and I had  been thinking of the section in McCloud’s book where he debates the nature of art, and the six steps on the path to art. He takes his enthusiastic but frustrated wannabe comic artists through the six steps, from a childish enthusiasm for the comic form to the core purpose of art: surface>craft>structure>idiom>form>idea/purpose. Bowdlerised here it sounds simplistic, but he wraps an extremely subtle and entertaining discussion around it, highly recommended.

The other bit of the book that makes me laugh is the opening, where his avatar in the book tries to define what comics are, on stage in a club, heckled by the audience:

  • Let’s start with Eisner’s definition: ‘Sequential Art’ (audience: Too general, be specific!)
  • Sequential visual art (What about animation?)
  • Juxtaposed sequential visual art (‘Art’ is judgemental!)
  • Juxtaposed sequential static images (Sounds arbitrary!)
  • Juxtaposed static images in deliberate sequence (What about words?)
  • Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence (What about Batman?)

And so it goes. In the end he plumps for: ‘Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.’

It’s a wonderful read – very educational!

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