Category Archives: Other

Walt Disney as Collector

This weekend a friend and I saw a new exhibit at the Met on different sources of inspiration for Walt Disney.

It opens with how a trip to France in Walt’s formative years ended up having the French Decorative Arts influence the style of Beauty and the Beast. It was hard not to delight in the collection of visual inspirations and other curios that followed: The Cloisters’ Unicorn Tapestries and Sleeping Beauty; The Swing and Tangled; a table sized drawing of Disneyland drawn over a weekend as a visual pitch deck to investors in 1953; and lots more.

But others will probably ask the question my friend asked when we stepped out of the cinematic exhibit – is it art?

People have asked this for decades. In 1938 Walt Disney gifted a picture of two vultures from Snow White to the Met. Wolf Burchard, a curator at the Met, recently commented how the expected “public relations coup” instead caused a minor controversy:

“Disney’s water color[s] … will be hung under the same roof with the greatest works of the greatest masters of painting, and the Metropolitan isn’t blushing about it.”

The Philadelphia Record

One reply to this sort of criticism is to point out the similarities between Disney’s studio process and the studios of different artistic masters throughout the ages: Walt Disney as studio maestro. Is there a comparable combination of artisan, craftsman, technologist, manager, and businessman? I’m not sure.

But I think this new exhibition at the Met provides another answer to the “It’s Disney, but is it art” question. Walt Disney was a collector.

Tyler Cowen recently asked artist David Dalle to recommend “one actionable step tomorrow to learn more about art.” Salle replied with some advice the first curator of contemporary art at the Met, Henry Geldzahler, gave about the “taboo subject” of acquiring taste:

Start collecting. “Okay, but I don’t have any money. How can I collect art?” You don’t have to collect great paintings. Just go to the flea market and buy a vase for 5 bucks. Bring it back to your room, live with it, and look at it.

Pretty soon, you’ll start to make distinctions about it. Eventually, if you’re really paying attention to your own reactions, you’ll use it up. You’ll give that to somebody else, and you’ll go back to the flea market, and you buy another, slightly better vase, and you bring that home and live with that. And so the process goes. That’s very real. It’s very concrete.

Walt Disney was talented at going to the cultural flea market and making distinctions about it. Transforming the raw materials displayed in the current exhibit into the Disney oeuvre may or may not be art, but it is close to magic. Though maybe not greater than, it as least different than the sum of its parts (in a good way).

In some ways, Disney films are a very commercial deconstruction of cultural codes at the most popular mass market level. Is that art? I don’t know. But as Cogsworth says: “if it’s not baroque, don’t fix it!

August 8, 2021 Sunday links

  1. The three-or-four-hours rule for getting creative work done – exactly what it says
  2. The Tigray conflict began last November, as the world’s attention was focused on the US presidential election; In late June, the TPLF took control of Mekelle, the capital of Tigray; its forces have since pushed east into neighbouring Afar and south into Amhara, where Lalibela is located.
  3. Grinling Gibbons

Consumption > ??? > Production

Why do this? Inputs and outputs. My life has been heavy on the former and light on the latter. Cultivating my media inputs brings me pleasure. But there is no moral virtue in consuming the right blogs and art. The more I collected inputs, the more I suspected that some sort of output was required to make it mean anything.

Producing outputs has always loomed in the distance somewhere after these articles, that podcast, this book. Over the last year, it further receded to something I would pursue after graduate school. But as I took lots of time meander around the USA and my mind, I realized that graduate school would not put me closer to learning and growing everyday. And if anything it might make it harder to pursue what I value outside my intellectual interests.

A graduate degree wasn’t necessary or sufficient to convert my inputs to outputs. But I think this project might be. So this is a place for me to do that — output. By publicly learning, maybe slowly connections will be made, novelties gleaned, and questions raised, and hints towards what sorts of output I might want to product.

Thanks for reading!

-Thomas Frank