I’ve touched on why I like animation before, but I’ve been wanting to expand a little on why animation is particularly worth following, even if it’s less accomplished than other media (e.g., literature or painting). In particular, I find myself returning to near the end of the Poetics, where Aristotle considers whether tragedy is superior to epic poetry. He answers “yes,” in part because tragedy can use any of the same techniques as epic, right down to using the same poetic metre. This puts them on equal terms, but tragedy also has “a substantial role for music and spectacle, which engender the most vivid pleasure.” Aristotle stresses this vividness, and I’ll add that this vividness works to enhance whatever effect an artist wishes to impress on his audience, whether that be a feeling of horror, comedy, and so on.
This argument in favour of tragedy also applies to animation, which possesses most of the same tools available to other arts, e.g. live-action film, comics, and literature, but in addition is capable of a level of spectacle that no other form can match.
I can imagine this argument as something of a party trick, assuming your party is attended mainly by literature or philosophy nerds. How far can one take this argument, though? Does it really prove that cartoons are superior to, say, poetry?
Well, it may demonstrate that animation is potentially a great medium, but “by their fruits you shall know them,” right? If animation truly is at least the equal of, if not superior to, other well-established media, we should expect to see some works that can at least equal the Messiah or The Waste Land or whatever.
Here we run into a problem, though. Animation has only existed for a century or so, and has never been produced in anywhere near same quantity as any other major art. Music, literature, and the visual arts are at least as old as civilisation itself, and were already highly refined well before even Aristotle’s time. As far as I’m aware, even live-action film, the most popular art of the past few generations, has yet to produce a Homer or Dante. The best I can do is point to cases like Akira or Neon Genesis Evangelion, which indicate that animation is progressing towards those heights, and if it continues to develop may well equal its big brothers generations from now.
So for now, who can say where animation stands in the artistic pantheon? As things stand, I suppose I’d argue for literature, and poetry in particular, as the highest art form, but I can’t help but consider animation to at least be the most interesting medium, even if only for its spectacle and potential.