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Is Animation Art or a Genre?

ben marvazi 2020

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Is Animation Art, A Genre, Or Both?

When we think of animation, vivid images of colorful characters and imaginative worlds often come to mind. But beyond its ability to captivate and entertain, animation poses a fascinating question: Is animation art, or is it a genre? 

This debate is more than just semantic; it touches on the very essence of how animation is perceived, created, and experienced.

For decades, animation has been an integral part of the entertainment industry, charming audiences of all ages with its unique blend of visual storytelling and creative expression. 

Yet, there's an ongoing discussion among creators, critics, and fans alike about where animation truly belongs in the spectrum of creative work. 

colorful flower animation

GIF by annebeal via GIPHY

Is animation art that stands on its own, reflecting the personal vision and artistic flair of its creators? Or is it a genre, nestled within the broader realm of film and television, with its own set of conventions and expectations?

This blog post asks if is animation art or a genre, exploring the historical perspective that views animation as an art form and contrasting it with the view of animation as a genre in modern media. We’ll also present case studies that showcase animation's dual nature. 

Whether you're an animator, a fan of animated works, or simply curious about this dynamic medium, this exploration aims to shed light on the multifaceted world of animation.

The Historical Perspective: Is Animation Art?

A look into history gives us some compelling answers. Animation, from its inception, has been deeply rooted in the art world. This connection goes back to the earliest days of the medium.

Animation's Early Days as Art

The question "Is animation art?" isn't new. Early animation pioneers like Émile Cohl and Winsor McCay set the stage by using animation as a form of artistic expression. 

Their works weren't just for entertainment; they were art pieces, pushing what was possible with moving images. For instance, "Fantasmagorie," often regarded as the first animated film, was an experiment in motion and storytelling – a true piece of art.

a photo of emile cohl animating

Image via AABHAS

Animation Gains Recognition as Art

Over time, the idea that animation is art gained momentum. The 20th century saw animators who weren't just making films; they were creating art. 

They used animation to delve into complex themes and personal expression. This era brought forward animations that were rich in artistic value, not just in technical skill.

Personal Vision and Artistic Expression in Animation

A key aspect of art is its reflection of an artist's vision. In animation, this is clear as day. Many animators have used the medium to showcase their unique styles and perspectives

This makes us reflect on the question, "Is animation art?" when we see works that are deeply personal and expressive, like those of Hayao Miyazaki or Lotte Reiniger.

The Art World's Embrace of Animation

Finally, when considering if animation is art, we should look at how it has influenced the broader art world. 

black and white mickey mouse


Animation has opened up new possibilities in storytelling and visual expression. It's impacted various art forms and challenged our perceptions of what art can be.

The Contemporary View: Is Animation Art or a Genre in Modern Media?

While its artistic roots are undeniable, animation has also firmly established itself as a genre within the broader context of film and television.

Animation as a Recognized Genre

Today, when people ask "Is animation art?" they often see it as a genre too. Animation has become a staple in the media industry, known for its distinct storytelling and visual styles. 

From family comedies to action-packed adventures, animation spans a wide range of thematic categories, fitting neatly into genre classifications. 

Studios like Disney and Pixar have popularized animation as a genre, with films that follow specific genre conventions and appeal to mass audiences.

characters from the Disney movie Inside Out celebrating


Characteristics of Animation as a Genre

Addressing the "Is animation art or a genre?" debate, it's crucial to consider the characteristics that define animation as a genre. These include predictable plot structures, familiar character archetypes, and thematic elements tailored to specific audience segments. 

For instance, children's animated shows often focus on humor and learning, while adult animation might lean towards satire or social commentary.

Impact of Genre Classification on Animation

The genre classification of animation influences both its creation and reception. When considering "Is animation art or a genre?" we should consider how being seen as a genre affects the expectations from animated works

As a genre, animation is often judged by how well it adheres to or innovates within its category, whether it's a comedy, drama, or adventure.

Balancing Art and Genre in Animation

Despite the genre classification, many animators strive to keep the artistry in animation alive. While they may work within genre constraints, there's still room for artistic expression and creativity. 

Case Studies: Examples of Animation as Art and Genre

experimental animation

GIF by Rapapawn via GIPHY

When we explore the question, "Is animation art or a genre?" examining real-world examples can provide insightful answers. 

Let’s delve into some case studies that highlight animation's unique position as both an artistic medium and a genre-specific form of entertainment.

Animation as Art
  • Independent Short Films: Independent animators often view animation as art, creating short films that focus on artistic exploration rather than traditional narratives or commercial appeal. 
  • Fine Art Installations: In the art world, animation is increasingly presented as part of interactive installations or projected artworks in galleries and museums. 
  • Experimental Films: The works of animators like Norman McLaren and Len Lye exemplify the idea that animation is art. 
Animation as Genre
  • Hollywood Animated Features: Major studios produce animated films that often fall within established genres like family comedies or action-adventures. 
  • Anime: Anime, or Japanese animation, encompasses a range of genres, from action to slice-of-life. 
  • Television Cartoons: Animated TV shows, especially those for children, typically align with genres like comedy or educational.
Peter Griffin from Family Guy breakdancing


These examples show that the answer to "Is animation art or a genre?" isn't straightforward. 

The Creative Process: How Animation Blends Artistic and Genre Elements

Understanding the creative process in animation helps answer the question, "Is animation art or a genre?" It reveals how animators navigate between artistic expression and genre-specific demands to create exhilarating works.

Artistic Elements in Animation

In considering whether animation is art, we look at the artistic elements animators use. This includes visual style, narrative approach, and experimentation with techniques. 

Animators as artists bring their unique vision and creativity to their projects, often pushing the boundaries of traditional storytelling and visual representation.

Genre Elements in Animation

When viewing animation as a genre, specific elements become pronounced. 

experimental line animation of a tired man

GIF by Seth McKeever via GIPHY

These include commitment to genre-specific tropes, targeting audience expectations, and aligning with the traditional structures of the genre, whether it's a comedy, drama, or thriller.

Balancing Art and Genre

The heart of the creative process in animation lies in balancing the artistic and genre elements.

Innovative animators manage to infuse their artistic vision while respecting genre conventions. This balance is crucial in creating animations that are commercially successful and also artistically fulfilling.

Is Animation Art, Or Something More?

animation of a monk mediating and transforming into a flaming bottle

GIF by rubedox via GIPHY

In this blog, we've looked at whether animation is art or a genre. The answer? It's both. Animation blends art with popular genres, making it unique and special. It's not just about telling stories; it's also about showing the animator's vision.

Animation keeps changing and surprising us. From small indie films to big studio movies, it shows its many sides. It can be deep and artistic or fun and for everyone.

So, whether you think animation is art, a genre, or both, it's a powerful way to share ideas and stories. If you’re an animator who’s looking to start your own studio or grow your career, check out our blog on How to Start an Animation Studio and GET FREE TRAINING to kickstart your animation career today.

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