Whether it be a book, a play, a film, or, in this case, an art exhibition, the title is important. Most everyone struggles with titling their work, as it should be reflective of the content and stir audience expectations. Numerous iterations arise, as was the case with this exhibit.
Obviously, with a title like Icons of American Animation, the artwork is expected to be, well, iconic. And although the word icons is a bold proclamation that enhances expectations, the word American is perhaps a more integral part of the title, as it speaks to the broadness of animation history.
The word American was a strategic and necessary inclusion, not from a patriotic perspective but rather in deference to the vast amount of international animation. To have simply titled the exhibit Icons of Animation and included only American art would have been dismissive of international animation, of which there is plenty. Whether it’s Canada, Russia, Japan, France, or even Croatia, a number of countries have rich animation histories, with films as influential as American films.
In fact, the film that most historians recognize as the first truly animated film actually hails from France. Although somewhat simplistic by today’s standards, Emile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie (1908) used the traditional method of drawing the images frame by frame. Cohl’s body of work earned him the title of Father of the Animated Cartoon.
Although considered a lost film, the first animated feature film is from Argentina – Quirino Cristiani’s El Apostol (1917). The oldest surviving feature film is from Germany – Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), which is an exquisite example of silhouette animation.
The National Film Board of Canada is an avid supporter of animation and has a vibrant collection of films. Among its many talented animators was Norman McLaren, who is regarded as one of the most influential animators of the 20th century.
Contemporary animation is also represented with numerous and notable international entries. For instance, many of the nominees for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film are international films. And, if that’s not enough, the largest animation film festival, the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, began in 1960 in Annecy, France.
In short, there’s an entire world of animation beyond America. Titling our exhibit Icons of American Animation is an indication of our awareness of, and respect for, that world. An exhibit featuring icons of animation that includes both domestic and foreign art would certainly be phenomenal, but that’s a story for another day.