Singular Specific Art vs Amalgamated Art

Paperman, a short film released in 2012 with Wreck-it Ralph. The story, although sweet is not the main attraction to me, but rather the graphics and how it was achieved. The director John Kahrs describes the process as “It’s not like a texture map. It’s just like painting on the surface of the CG. It actually moves on a 2D layer that’s driven by the CG.” The process for combination, measure of ratios that determine whether 2D/3D integration is successful is a thought-provoking field of study that I am interested to focus on here.

In today’s current media trends, it is a complete amalgamation of mediums. The term medium revolves around the storage and transmission of data, it is the mediator or agent between a person(s) or thing(s). ‘Medium’ today carries a completely different meaning as opposed to its traditional definition that it only referred to the liquid substance (i.e. oil or water) to which pigments are mixed and applied. The idea that using a ‘pure’ medium, without the mixture of other art forms, is known as Laocoonism coined by art critic Clement Greenberg.

However, by combining various art forms into a singular display, would that result in losing particular qualities that can never be produced elsewhere except for that singular specific medium? Outsidde the world of the digital, how important is it to have medium specificity?

Greenberg interestingly argues within his concept Laocoonism that when it occurs that a single art is given a dominant role, it becomes the prototype of all art. All other art types when spring to creation shed their ‘proper’ characteristics to imitate the dominant art. They are forced to deny their own nature. During Greenberg’s period, literature was the dominant art, that caused all other arts to create a narrative. Instead of the materials needed to produce the artwork being labeled a ‘medium’, the artwork itself is the medium to express the narritive. According to Greenberg, the emphasis is taken away from the medium (meaning paint, or clay to sculpt) and transferred to the subject matter. Realistic imitation is no longer the goal and is taken for granted, rather it is the artist’s ability to interpret the artwork for poetic effects and narratives. Thus, he views this treatment of the then definition of the ‘medium’ as being made impure when the painting is no longer being paint, but has been transformed into something else entirely. Losing this, appears to stir apprehension, that art is no longer art for it’s own sake. Artists such as Jackson Pollock and Hans Hoffman imbue Laocoonism as the artwork’s abstraction is narrative free and is what it is – paint on canvas.

Jackson Pollock. Shimmering Substance. 1946.jpg
Jackson Pollock’s Shimmering Substance 1946


The term ‘undead media’ describes how more traditional mediums of creative expression have now become used as a secondary rather than a primary medium to convey information, an example would be Paperman. The bricolage of art forms is possible to achieve gesamtkunstwerk, in direct translation means a total work of art. In other words, an ideal or universal work of art. Such examples include the 2008 China Olympics incredible theatric performances, buildings such as the Crystal Palace and Wagner’s Bayreuth Opera House. The idea is to overwhelm with the senses and produce great intricacies to arouse the senses. Originally gesamtkunstwerk aimed to not only unite the arts but also art and society. However, there are dangers with commerical gesamtkunstwerk such as when nations become proud and dominant, it would cause division as a superior superpower. Through the overwhelmingness, there is a loss in critical faculties – synaesthesia. Such superpowers can be the ever-growing technology companies that have a great control over the lives of people who greatly depend on it.

There is a relationship between the commercial and gesamtkunstwerk as the desire for entertainment is often exploited for financial gain. With all these economical, political and culturally changing forces, what is one to make in the midst of the clamoring concepts and periods of Laocoonism, the post-medium age and commercial gesamtkunstwerk?

How does this all relate to animation today?

As Sven Lutticken in his article ‘Undead Media’ states:

memory that culture can be something other than DreamWorks. This is a memory that is not, or should not be, a nostalgic one, but a way of looking towards the future.

He is referring of how the specificity of the art world struggles to be sustained and even acknowledged as a subsystem, functioning as a second-degree to the commercial gesamtkunstwerk. The thought to dismiss specificity of the art world and to undermine it compared to today’s digital media is in fact unbeneficial. Sketching, painting and sculpting in each of its own right is useful in developing a deeper knowledge and understanding of that specific medium, to feed back into digital media in a productive manner. It allows for a more critical approach in developing innovative ideas to look ‘towards the future’. It contributes to the effectiveness of the development process in animation, and one such example is the stop-motion animation Kubo and the Two Strings, which I would like to delve into a deeper analysis in another post. This example, in my opinion is an excellent and successful example of using an array of all sorts of techniques to combine the latest technology with old school methods.



  1. Sven Lutticken (2004) ‘Undead Media’
  2. Clement Greenberg (1940)  ‘Towards a Newer Laocoon’

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