19 October, 2009

Capitalism, Drawing and Cartoons

John K has been stimulated by Michael Moore's new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, to post his thoughts about Capitalism and cartoons recently. This has stimulated me to some thoughts of my own about Capitalism, cartooning and drawing.

I certainly have mixed feelings about Michael Moore. He's an entertainer, rather than a polemicist, and he's funny, obnoxious and self-righteous by turns.

In his first post, John makes some interesting points about cartooning students and some less interesting generalisations about college education. But among these he makes some sharp observations about the purpose of education.

I'm currently studying animation - from a very practical standpoint (at I guess what you'd call a trade school) - and I have not drawn a single cartoon yet in any class. And I doubt I will this year.

The entire curriculum is based on observation and observational drawing. The logic behind this seems fairly clear to me. Strong looking and drawing skills underpin cartooning and animation. (This is not to say that you cannot animate a bad drawing, but just that it won't look very nice.)

This is also not to say that if you can draw that you can cartoon. After starting this course I now have even more respect for the great animators whose work I loved before; they were clearly excellent draughtsmen and great cartoonists. Drawing is the basis for cartooning, but in my studies I'm learning that a further layer of visual understanding and skill must be learned.

John makes the point that many students mistake a cartoon style for a cartoon drawing, learning some stock expressions and visual style, without digging down to the heart of what makes cartoons work.

I think that a student without competent drawing skills - understanding of tone, colour, line and form and the ability to represent them - will be unlikely to pick up the principles of cartooning - line of action, hierarchy etc. - let alone produce good cartoons.

And here is where the capitalism comes in. Drawing is not a career; but cartooning is. Drawing doesn't shift any commercial units; cartoons on the other hand are big business. Imagine if every would-be animation student was told that he or she had to be proficient in drawing before they could study the subject. Admissions would drop through the floor.

For a number of reasons, but mostly because investing time in developing drawing skills is not directly saleable, whereas illustration and animation, commercialise that skill. This is why would-be animators draw cartoon characters from shows they grew up watching; they don't envision themselves as professional draughtsmen.

Next week: Who's to blame for the state of contemporary cartoons? It's the Economy stupid!