In My View: Anime is Art?

(Please note: I am the worst kind of elitist. The type that doesn’t like elitism)

I have to admit that I’m somewhat jaded about the idea of “art“.

It isn’t that Hidoshi did a poor job of explaining it. I think he came up with some of the best criteria that I’ve seen. In the end, they’re concrete, reasonable and understandable.

But still… I just can’t go down that road.

Let me give you a little background. In my other life (the one where I’m not watching anime to do really long pretentious analyses of them) I write stories. Now I’m not going to say that they’re good stories, but they’re stories. And I try really hard to do all the things that stories should do: have a theme, solid characters, a strong voice, a good plot, so on and so forth. But I refuse to call myself an artist. Not because I think that storytelling is any less of a form of creative work than say painting or poetry or theater or anime. But because I think being an artist is one letter away from being an artiste.

And being an artiste reminds me of James Joyce. (Yes, I pick on Joyce a lot. But that’s because I hate his writing.)

In all fairness, it’s not just Joyce. But all the other artistes who run around screaming, “No one understands me. Woe is me. I can’t become a commercial hit in this world of Philistines.” These are usually the same people who can’t manage to string a thought together coherently, or say things like, “Well that’s just plot-driven crap.” They’re also the people who say things like, “Anime isn’t art.”

What’s worse is that they’re backed up by a bunch of gray-bearded academics who are busy proving their life is worthwhile by declaring that all pop culture is trash. Those wonderful people who sit on their thrones deciding that “this” is art, while “that” is juvenile rubbish without any merit whatsoever.

This is why I’ve decided that art doesn’t exist.

Okay, before you go flying off the handle to race down to the comments section, let me explain what I mean. Art as a concept is dubious at best. I mean they have an entire branch of philosophy that deals with art (okay, it’s the study of beauty, but nonetheless). Even with Hidoshi’s criteria, I could run around in circles trying to prove X isn’t art, while Y is. While I’m a fan of picking apart stuff to see how it ticks (as this blog proves) it just seems like an exercise in futility. In the end, does it really matter whether I think Lain is art? Or Gundam? Or Speed Grapher? I mean sure, it might have all of those points that Hidoshi mentioned and it might not. But in the end, art is just a label and not a particularly useful one at that.

What matters is that it’s a good story. And a good story has all of those things that I mentioned at the beginning: solid characters, a strong voice, a good plot, and a theme that isn’t clear cut, etc, etc. Perhaps it’ll say something about the human condition or about society or about gender or about any of the other dozens of things a good story should do. Perhaps it’ll enlighten me.

But what it will do most is entertain me. And that’s what I think is important.

And it doesn’t need to be called art to do that.

Some Related Posts (because this is an old subject)

The other half of Anime Diet’s analysis on whether anime is deep or not.

Some stuff from some guys who know more about literature and “art” than I do.

9 thoughts on “In My View: Anime is Art?

  1. For a moment I thought you were describing ME as one of those gray-bearded academics, but that can’t be, because I pretty much wrote that two-part article to say what you just said in much, much more verbose language. 🙂 “Art’ usually means “high art” in these discussions, and I think that’s wrong; the question is not whether it’s art (any human work of creativity is), it’s whether it’s good or bad depending on your various criteria. The criteria you lay out are the criteria for ordinary good storytelling, which is still the measuring stick I mostly use in my own reviews.

    Thanks for the links and comments so soon after the restoration. I hope the site isn’t too unbearably slow.

  2. Of course, this attitude of non-acceptance was taken by the academia towards sci-fi rather throughout its lifetime, and only now is such writing accepted as ‘artful’ because of a change in mentality. I think with rules you also need to set out an attitude, and so I think I may write another post detailing what kind of mindset should go with consideration: ie: Progressive vs Conservative, and even what those terms should mean in art, rather than what they currently mean.

    I’m abhorrent of ‘entertainment’. I think it’s rubbish if all it does is entertain, because then it may not make us think. The Simple Life and shows of its ilk are entertainment, and they entertain millions for no good reason.

  3. Well that art is not art, it doesn’t exist was interesting. By Hidoshi’s entry, not every anime would be art, but some may (rather, some may consider it, since art seems rather subjective). Taking another media, say film, I wouldn’t considered most of the pieces art, and I feel anime is closer related to film, than traditional artistry of hand.

    I am in total agreement that the story matters most and creates a level of entertainment. For anime, the production values slightly affect my level of entertainment, but it isn’t major. What a work of pure “art” lacks is persistent entertainment; it may influence, invoke, state something, or even shine meaning, but I don’t think it has the same entertainment values as a strong story (or even a musical piece).


  4. @ Mike – Sorry about that 🙂 Actually it was more a jab at the guy who was talking about Tolkien. And I thought the piece was really good. I’m glad that you’re back up and running.

    @hidoshi – I’d definitely be interested in reading it. But personally, I’m kind of tired of the distinctions that get put in place when looking at sci-fi. Especially the urban fantasy/magic realism distinction and the cyberpunk/science fiction distinction. Mostly because I think they don’t really exist. And they aren’t really ready to accept fantasy or horror yet, for some unknown reason.

    Personally, I think the Simple Life is mostly an appeal to the strange type of classism we have here in the United States, which makes it interesting. Not that I actually watch it, because I don’t think it’s entertaining.

  5. I’m fine with throwing the art label on things, so long as it’s the lowercase label, which people most often use to mean special like what you describe towards the end in the paragraph that starts with “What matters…” I have no use for the caps version of the label. I suppose it has its place in some discussions, but I can live without being part of it.

    Anyway, you hate Joyce. Who do you like as far as the authors considered part of the English literary canon?

  6. @ Ryan A – I don’t know if I would classify my opinion as “art is not art”. But more along the lines of “People define art as art to say what isn’t art. Therefore it’s a useless distinction bred of elitism.”

    To be honest, I don’t really know enough about film theory to pick apart anime on that level. I wish I did.

    @ super-rats – I like a lot of the American modernists – Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. I’ve only read “Of Mice and Men” by Steinbeck, but I did like it. I kind of like Ring Lardner, other than he tends to be a bit long winded. Let’s see, I like Raymond Carver as well (as cliche as that is.) I also like a few of the people who are probably going to become part of the canon (and if they don’t I’m going to be really surprised) like Richard Russo. I keep meaning to pick up a Michael Chabon book.

  7. I should note in addendum that I think art is the most useful of all labels in anything considered culture. Art serves as the axle of the cultural wheel, and without it there are no standards by which to create — no mental or emotional tools, as it were.

    It’s the nonsense which surrounds the matter of art which makes it seem so futile to determine. That’s why I feel strongly that we need to ‘clean house’ and redefine the entire process using proper criteria and academic standards, as well as developing a new, more adoptive attitude towards consideration.

  8. I didn’t hate Joyce. He wrote Dubliners very excellently: The Dead was a very powerful short story, as well as The Boarding House. Priapic allusions to the candle was a hoot.

    Portrait was bearable, although a little bit complex, but I disliked Joyce when he wrote Ulysses and more especially, Finnegans Wake.
    What the fuck was he smoking when he wrote these two novels?

    What the fuck was I drinking when I wanted to read Finnegans Wake? I also don’t know. Maybe I was temporarily insane when I wanted to read that hellish a novel, but when I read of ‘words’ as ‘penisolate,’ ‘psing a psong of psexpeance?,’ I was …

    I was in an epiphany. Oh boy, the novel wasn’t poetic. It wasn’t even a novel. But I digress.

    I’m a classicist. But it stems from practical reasons rather than elitist. Classics are classics because they have withstood the test of time, of criticism, and of changing societies, generations, and thoughts. They are the best of the best. Contemporary fiction has to be still strained; it still has to be sieved; and a lot of it is utter garbage. I’d rather bank on the tried and true rather than wasting time wallowing in uncertainty. But even then, I make some faux pas: for example, my reading of the second volume of Dream of the Red Chamber wasn’t very fun.

    As for art, some people call something art, and some people disagree. This happens with almost every medium imaginable, so I leave people to call whatever they want whatever they want.

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