old saying about your children keeping you young, and for the past week, I've
seen the wisdom of that adage. My children love comics and frequently send me
links to interesting stories about superhero movies or TED talks. One TED talk
that caught my attention was Scott McCloud on Comics.
to Jung, the psyche is an apparatus for adaptation and orientation, and
consists of a number of different psychic functions. Among these he distinguishes
four basic functions:
by means of the sense organs
in unconscious way or perception of unconscious contents
of intellectual cognition; the forming of logical conclusions
of subjective estimation
four types, McCloud has extrapolated four types of artists, Classicists, Animists, Formalists, and Iconoclasts,
which he divided into four quadrants representing different attitudes toward
beauty and truth; life and art; content and style; tradition and revolution.
Classicists admire craftsmanship and
mastery of the art form. Their goals include creating lasting works of art
which adhere to traditional aesthetic principles. Perfection is impossible, but
that doesn't mean they can't try for it. According to McCloud, their catch-word
is beauty, and they are an extension
of Jung's sensation archetype.
Animists are interested in content. They aim for the clearest
presentation of their story or ideas. To some extent the medium must always
interfere with the message, but the animist's focus on the content means they
try to make the form as transparent as they possibly can. Their catch-word is
content, and McCloud considers them an extension of Jung's intuition archetype.
Formalists are fascinated with their
chosen medium's form. They create their art to explore its boundaries and
contours, to learn what it can be capable of and how it works internally. Their
works of art incorporate experiments, and they often double as analytical
critics. Their catch-word is form, and
in McCloud's scheme they correspond to Jung's thinking archetype.
Iconoclasts value truth and
experience in art. To them art must be authentic, must show life as it is. They
take aim at artistic conventions that gloss over the imperfections and
disappointments at life. Artists who speak of "honesty" or "rawness"
are voicing iconoclastic ideas. Their catch-word is truth, and they are Jung's feeling
= Sensation + Intuition
= Thinking + Feeling
= Sensation + Thinking
= Intuition + Feeling
+ Life = Content
+ Revolution = Truth
As Mr. Trombley notes:
"Each of these have specific reservations about the mediocre works of
The Classicist accuses the animist
of simplicity, the formalist of meaninglessness, and the iconoclast of ugliness
The Animist accuses the classicist
of pointless overdrawing, the formalist of unnecessary density, and the
iconoclast of pretentiousness
The Formalist accuses the classicist
of artistic conservatism, the animist of pointlessness, and the iconoclast of
The Iconoclast accuses the
classicist of soullessness, the animist of dullness, and the formalist of
Animists are the first artists, the shamen
dancing around the tribal fire who drag raw emotion from their soul and give it
to the audience. They are the instinctual artists, concerned above all with
Classicists worship at the altar of beauty, and
yearn to create art that achieves greatness. They believe in objective
standards of good and bad, and establish the canon of great artists who embody
Iconoclasts are either the first against the
wall when the revolution comes, or at the front leading the charge. They use
art as a means of personal and political expression, and when asked will say
that they value truth over all else.
Formalists love talking about art almost as
much as they enjoy creating it. They are the experimenters of any given art,
obsessing about details of style and technique in their own work and the work
real fun begins when you start to look at synergies and conflicts that exist
between the tribes. Between the Classicists and Animists is the shared belief
that tradition is important, a belief which both the Formalists and Iconoclasts
give the finger to in favour of revolution and change. However, the Formalists
and Classicists both believe first and foremost in the value of art, whereas
Animists and Iconoclasts both make art secondary to life.
might seem fairly arbitrary distinctions, until you relate them to those
unending arguments in the arts, which start to look like ongoing territorial
squabbles between competing tribes. What is the age-old debate between truth
and beauty, if not a fight between the Classicists and the Iconoclasts? Who is
more passionate about style v content than Formalists and Animists?
every tribe has weaknesses to balance their strengths. For all their ability to
move an audience, Animists are often the most colloquial and narrow-minded
artists. Classicists might know what is great, but in constantly repeating it
can easily become boring. While style-conscious Formalists can be so concerned
with experimentation that their creations lack heart and soul. And the
Iconoclasts, determined to change the world, risk making art consumed by
negativity and anger.
McCloud's formulations, I've realized that many Anglophone Caribbean poets fall
into these quadrants:
Classicists: John Figueroa, Louis Simpson, Ralph
Animists: Jean Binta Breeze, Mutabaruka,
Malachi Smith, Linton Kwesi Johnson
Formalists: Derek Walcott, Edward Baugh,
Mervyn Morris, Dennis Scott
Iconoclasts: Kamau Brathwaite, Lorna Goodison,
One of the
startling revelations of this typology is that both Walcott and Brathwaite are
revolutionaries, but in different ways. Walcott, "the mulatto of
style" has shown a preference for art over the raw details of life. And as
far as race and ethnicity are concerned, it wasn't that Walcott didn't think
that he was black, he simply didn't have a form to express the horrors of the
Atlantic Holocaust. It took him over thirty years to realize a form that could encompass
his vision. The result was his magnificent work, Omeros.
classification also helped me to see why many formalists are not viewed as
"authentic" Caribbean writers. Caribbean literature and publishing is
dominated by the Animists. In the
popular mind, dub poetry and the "raw" stories of Caribbean life
(content over form; truth over beauty) have become the de facto definitions of Caribbean literature.
I've also come to appreciate the catholic tastes of Jeremy Poynting and Peepal
Tree Press, who have been publishing writers from all four tribes--an
achievement that not many publishers, main stream and independent have been
able to accomplish.
It will be
interesting to see how far down the rabbit hole I will be heading with these
new insights. But then, again, what did you expect from a magpie?