[-empyre-] 'Fuzzy' terms and high/low art economies

Suzanne Buchan sbuchan at ucreative.ac.uk
Fri Feb 12 21:38:07 EST 2010

I'm very glad to be 'here' with you and all involved in this empyre thread. (I hope this post doesn't turn into overlong lines that you need to scroll to read - if so I'll try to rectify this in the next one)  
I'd like to briefly pick up on what Paul wrote about 'fuzzy' terms - the reason for posting this is to encourage people to consider the complexity of techniques and forms that fall under that umbrella, and to give some regard for the hundreds of genres that the form can express. It is most pointedly *not* a genre. 
For example,   The Library of Congress Moving Image Genre-Form Guide allocates animation as one of three Sublists (the others are Experimental and Advertising) that is classified in Subdivisions according to techniques and technologies. This is unusual in that other genres are described with historical, ideological, aesthetic or content-based terminologies: 


It is much like the troublesome term 'experimental film'. . In September last year, a ListSERVE debate ensued around a call for proposal for the FSAC Film Genre Series, two of which were anime (which is a genre) and experimental film. A discussion ensued, and Jeffrey Skoller for UC Berkeley offered up some valuable arguments for the case against ‘genrification’ of experimental film. Analogous to the Cinema & Media Studies Special Interest group Ex-FM (that founder Michael Zryd asked me to be a founding member of precisely because of animation's 'fuzziness') members’ concerns about experimental film the very fuzzy term of 'animation' needs unpacking and redefining into a number of related areas of critical engagement and authorship

An example for this is Stan Vanderbeek's collage and cutout film work (the next issue of animation: an interdiciplinary journal - ANM for short -  will be a special issue on him). Vanderbeek's animation films are 'experimental' but they can also be allocated to genres of  dark comedy, activist, diary, lyrical, reflexive, public affairs, war (using the LoC's gernres). Many animation films express social critique, political satire, commodity culture, gender, issues of representation, for instance Martha Coburn, Paul Vester, George Griffin,Vera Neubauer and many more. 

So 'fuzzy' terms can be a good thing, they can also be a disservice to the multliplicity of styles, content and form, not to mention the multiple platforms animation is increasingly using. Part of my concern with the term is to do with the artefact - another theme you were interesting in pursuing here - and the (improving) high/low art divide between 'serious' and 'art' animation. William Kentridge and Robin Rhode are to my knowledge, two of the few  'animation' artists to actually break through this divide. Why aren't the Quay brother's works in Tate Modern? Why do they screen Fischli & Weiss, but not Jerzy Kucia's or the Quays' works in the same contexts? An example is their currently touring DORMITORIUM  exhibition, that was recently at Cornell.

There is a long way to go to correct a common perception that animation is not art. On the BBC’s website, one reviewer of the 2007 exhibition Momentary Momentum: Animated Drawings at Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London (which includes Kentridge and Rhode), states, “It would be wrong to refer to these works as just ‘animations.’”  ( Francesca Gavin, “Moving Drawings at London’s Parasol Unit,” Collective: The Interactive Culture Magazine, March 8, 2007, http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/collective/A20531611.) 
This comment is symptomatic of the common misconceptions of 'animation', as the Parasol Unit’s selection of artists merges “just” animation with art, perhaps, in reversal, challenging in its own way the high/low divide. The concern is that the terms elides some (of course not all of it is art)  animation from art economies and I agree with what you write, that " Like “documentary”, another term that is utterly straightforward to some people, utterly contentious to others (with the truth being that, really, most people find it somewhere in between; which is to say, a useful term to describe what they do/watch/make/critique on a day-to-day basis). My critique of the term is not that it is pejorative - rather that in (many) people's mind it doesn't differentiate between Looney Tunes and Vanderbeek's 'Dance of the Looney Spoons):

(Ubuweb has over a dozen of his films online)

 So I think it is very much in the ballpark of writers and filmmakers to contribute to expanding and defining the term, and this is increasingly the case as more animation and moving image studies scholars apply their specialist knowledge and expertise to animation in all its variety. This is what I mean by tired canons. So I'll end this post here and look forward to what comes next.


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