I recently discovered the FutureModern blog (www.futuremodern.blogspot.com). While reading an entry my attention was captured by the following sentence: “What we thought of as art is about to be reconfigured by a new generation born after 1985, raised in a world of electronic exotica, instant access to information, and avatars.” I thought about the statement-- about how that specific generation and the art collectors of tomorrow will mostly likely be attracted to interactive art involving high technology. I then remembered another influence that said generation has been born into and how it may shape the future of artistic development and appreciation in the United States. That influence is… anime.
While pondering the influence that anime has had on art I thought about my experience as a student observer during my college years. I had planned to become an art teacher and was assigned to observe elementary art sessions, a junior high art class, and a high school art class. However, within just a few days of the program I noticed the impact of anime in the classrooms. I observed drawing after drawing of wide eyed characters in similar poses and with similar dress drawn by students from all grade levels. In other words, the young kids were drawing in the same manner as the high school students. That fact concerned me.
True, there were variations as to the skill of the individuals, but the visual consensus was obvious. The majority of the students were simply not moving beyond those specific works from one grade to another… they were just getting better at it, so to speak. When asked to draw a realistic person or animal most of the students would end up drawing in the same anime inspired way. It was as if they had been conditioned to do so even though the art teachers had never taught a lesson about anime-- I don’t think they knew much about anime in the first place. Once again the recollection of that experience has caused me to reflect on my own youth and early adulthood and my observations of the influence anime has had on the creation and appreciation of art in the United States.
I can remember the start of the anime boom in the United States. I recall that it happened between 1989 and 1991 and that it was spearheaded by Katsuhiro Otomo’s film adaptation of his manga titled Akira. I can remember a commercial-- with a warning message at the start-- involving scenes from Akira and a few other films stating that anime was the ‘new and exciting art’ and that viewers were observing the ‘Japanese animation invasion of the United States” or something along those lines. The commercial ended with the nuclear explosion scene from Akira. I can also remember noticing that my peers started to add wide eyes to their drawings about the same time frame that said commercial was originally aired. I’ll admit that some of my art as a young teen shared some of the same features-- hey! It was easier to draw big eyes than realistic eyes at that time, right? The influence of anime had taken root early on.
By the time I was in high school practically all of the students in my art classes created at least a few works that could easily be connected to the influence of anime. I remember thinking about the anime commercial I had seen several years before that featured Akira as a figurehead of anime when viewing the work of my peers and my own work. However, I recall that I was not ‘excited’. In fact, I started to notice that a lot of the work seemed to look the same. Needless to say, the corporate minds behind the ‘Japanese animation invasion of the United States’ succeed in their advance into popular media. They had also succeeded in invading the developing imaginations and artistic ability of the youth whether that was their intention or not.
My observations continued during my years in college. It seemed that each new class brought with it at least a dozen students who were overly influenced by anime in some respect and that they meshed said influence into their art as well as their lives. Not only did they sketch or draw cookie-cutter characters based off of anime, but they also shared some of the physical features of the anime characters in the films and in their own work-- such as dyed pink hair wearing ‘school girl’ uniforms. The alarming increase in the number of people drawing in an anime inspired manner as well as the direct influence anime had on their lives was both amusing and troubling to observe from a cultural standpoint-- especially for someone who witnessed the aftereffects of the ‘boom‘ and the years following the ‘invasion‘ first hand. It was at that time that I made the decision to never adhere to that influence in my own art again.-- not even as a doodle.
I’m not suggesting that anime is bad or that it should be restricted or anything of that nature. I enjoy the films and a few series. However, I do think that it is sad that it took the ‘Japanese animation invasion of the United States’ to spark widespread interest in creating visual art, specifically drawing, amongst our youth. I think it is a perfect example of how art education and appreciation is lacking in our school system. Art teachers, most likely due to minimal resources and supplies, are unable to inspire students to find an authentic voice within the context of their personal art. Instead, inspiration has been found elsewhere and the end result is largely an onslaught of cookie-cut images that rarely allow a young artist to develop his or her drawing skills beyond those extremely stylized efforts.
Based on my ongoing observations I must say that I think it is apparent that anime has had a negative cultural impact in the United States as far as visual art education is concerned as well as in how young American’s view Japanese culture. For example, along with the anime influence in their art many of them display a ridiculous perception of what it means to be Japanese. I‘m sorry, but even historically based anime films tend to convey an extremely conflicted version of that respected history. Due to the ‘Japanese animation invasion of the United States’ in the late 80’s and early 90’s we have kids, teens, and young adults who may never advance beyond the shell of their anime comfort zone in drawing and who appear to think there is more to learn about Japanese culture and traditions from episodes of InuYasha than can be found in a text book or documentary about the subject. In that sense, the ‘invasion’ has fostered generalizations and stereotypes about what art should be and about an entire country.
The influence is everywhere! For example, debates about the validity of art influenced by anime can cause a blaze of comments in online art forums. There is always a few participants in those discussions who offer an emotive response for or against the question at hand. One of the frequent complaints you will find about art sites is the fact that anime inspired works tend to overwhelm certain online art communities and their respected forums. More than a few art sites are dominated by works influenced by anime in that you can‘t do a search of site members without finding dozens, if not hundreds, of anime influenced artists for every non-anime influenced artist you discover. Thus, it is not hard to find artists who decide to leave those sites for another site that is less overrun, so to speak.
As non-anime influenced artists flee to what they consider better art sites the influence of anime on young artists continues to expand and is easily observed on art sites throughout the net. Several art sites allow you to view images that have recently been uploaded by their members. Do it sometime... I bet you will see that more anime influenced art is uploaded than anything else. I assume that some art sites prey on the influence that anime has on young artists due to their interest in site traffic rather than art itself. However, artists are pointing out their concern and many have lashed out at those very art sites over what they see as site favoritism for a specific direction of art. If you don’t believe me visit a few forums involving art and see some of the reactions people have against ‘Do You Like Anime?’, ‘Who Draws Anime?’, or ’Is Anime Art?’ type entries. It is also interesting if you do a Yahoo or Google search with the name of an art site placed before 'don't like anime'.
The expanding growth of influence that anime has enjoyed in the creative direction of students in the United States is due, in my opinion, to the failed approach of art education in our classrooms. The system of education in the United States has done little to offer other directions for early visual art development and appreciation in my estimation. The enrichment of art development and appreciation in this country is on the backs of art teachers who desperately need better funding in order to improve art programs. Sadly, I don’t think we will see that anytime soon. Thus, anime will continue to rule the day in art classrooms across the United States as it has done for nearly two decades now.
Again, I think that it is sad that it took the ‘Japanese animation invasion of the United States’ to spark widespread interest in creating visual art, specifically drawing, amongst our youth. So to answer the anime commercial I viewed in my youth as I recall it. No, the influence that anime has had on art education and appreciation in the United States is not the ‘new art’ nor is it ‘exciting‘. In fact, I view the influence as being rather limiting as far as artistic growth is concerned. I also think that it has become an obstacle in the developing imaginations of our youth.
With all of this in mind-- and to close before I end up writing a book-- I am curious to see how the the development and appreciation of art will change in the United States based off the influence anime has had since the boom in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It is obvious that the influence has dominated the creative aspirations of the youth in this country for years now. While the increased interest in drawing is positive the fact that the influence tends to restrict the artistic development of those same students is not. The majority of public school art teachers that I’ve spoken with would agree. So how will the influence of anime be reflected in the art world of the future? What happens when the kids of today who have been raised watching anime, playing anime inspired video games, and drawing anime influenced characters become the art collectors of tomorrow?
You can already find 20-something artists utilizing the ‘wide eyed’ anime features within the context of their art. You can see the anime influence slowly advance in the art shown in art magazines, mainstream galleries, and influential art fairs. If the anime influence is widely present in the in the art world of tomorrow should it be considered a natural development in art or an unnatural corporate driven mutation of the direction of art in the United States? If the progression is negative what can we do to halt it? If you view it as positive what should we do to foster it? Is the influence of anime a blessing or a curse concerning the advancement of art in the United States? What are your thoughts on this issue?
Take care, Stay true,