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Collections & Critiques

By Jack Wilner

Folk art is generally considered to be art which arises spontaneously from the people and is the result of a communal effort. America has long been wanting in this respect and has thereby lost a certain richness in its culture which comes only when the people have sufficient inherent artistic talent to produce it. To be sure there have been the cowboy songs of the West, and the ballads of the Kentucky mountains, but there has been nothing which the public could seize as its own, as a part of its everyday life. The obvious answer for the dearth of folk art in America is of course that the country is too large for a single folk lore that is all-inclusive; and also that the average American person is too mechanical and too wrapped up in industry to have the mind necessary for this type of art.

But folk art may be of another sort, it may be a product consciously created by an individual artist which is seized by the public as a whole and thus made a part of the life of the time. It is into this category that the art of Walt Disney falls, and to him goes the honor of developing the first national folk art since the founding of America. Strangely enough, industry and mechanics, which are the death warrant of spontaneous public art, are the spark of life of this second type of folk art. And even more strange is the fact that money, industry, and high-pressure salesmanship which are today strangling literature and music and drama into a complete state of mediocrity are the essentials which have made Disney's work what it is.

Many people, however, will dispute the fact that the Disney Studios are producing the art of a whole nation, they will say that it is a mere passing fad, accelerated by the Metropolitan Museum's acceptance of a few pictures and by a college professor's study of Disney work. But when they say this they are not looking at the facts, for the American public as a whole has long been conscious and long interested in animated movies, and there is no indication of cessation in this interest. It is almost safe to predict that the American public will continue to enjoy this art as long as it is produced and that it will be remembered and stay alive as long as our present cultural system lasts.

Walt Disney in his work includes all the ingredients of popular art. It strikes most strongly in the masses and yet is not too low for the most intellectual. It has charm, excitement, and movement which reacts equally on the smallest child and the most sophisticated adult. In short it is a universal art, for all times and all places.

A trip to the Fogg Museum where this work, in the raw, is currently being displayed, will well repay the effort. Both from a technical or purely artistic viewpoint the display is extremely interesting. There the visitor may trace the product from its almost comic-strip beginning, through the intricate build-up of background, atmosphere, and action to the final stage when it is ready for photographing. It is in this exhibit that the startling simplicity and clarity of the work is best brought out, the infinite and delicate use of detail, and the extraordinarily expressive quality of the animals and other figures. Every one of the artists cooperating with Disney is a master draughtsman in his own right. The drawing is uniformly fine as is shown in the sheet of animal figures and in the background work for "Snow White," or in Donald Duck trying to open a package. Characterization has also reached just as high a place as may be seen in the model sketches of the Seven Dwarfs and the duck drawings from the "Ugly Duckling."

Such an exhibition as this can do nothing but confirm the idea that here at last is a national American art, appealing to all regardless of position, political views, race, or creed. As long as Disney keeps the same sane attitude towards his creation and as long as he refuses to let prejudice or affectation have a place in it, there is little that can displace it from its high position in American life.

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