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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

question of the day: Are the artists at Pixar collectively today’s Leonardo da Vinci?

With Toy Story 3 about to land at British cinemas — it opens on July 23 (it has already earned more than $250 million in North America, which it did at a near-record-breaking pace) — art and design writer Jonathan Jones in the Guardian decrees that digital animation, especially as exemplified by the works of Pixar, are modern masterpieces of fine art:

[I]t is time to acknowledge the Renaissance masters of our time. Pixar and other studios at the forefront of digital animation and effects are dealing with something very comparable to the problems solved by artists in 15th-century Italy. In the current exhibition of Italian Renaissance drawings at the British Museum you can see a drawing of a goblet by Paolo Uccello to which the natural reaction is “it looks just like a computer graphic”. The reason it looks so digital is that artists such as Uccello were trying to turn their minds into computers. They did not just strive to paint “what they saw”; they wanted to create a completely convincing three-dimensional simulacrum of it, by plotting the contours of a virtually real space into their pictures.

Toy Story and its successors are colossal artistic achievements. There is, perhaps, nothing happening in “fine art” today to match what the whizzkids who created them have imagined. Just as the great Disney films of the 1930s and 40s stand equal to the best of modern American painting, so does Toy Story tower among the aesthetic inventions of our time.

Certainly there is something aesthetically pleasing — from composition and technique to just the simply beautiful — in Pixar’s work:

But does it rise to the level of great art that, 500 years from now, we’ll still be marveling at?

Are the artists at Pixar collectively today’s Leonardo da Vinci? If not, where is today’s great art being made? Is it even possible for us to know here and now what future generations will cherish as great art?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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