In my mind, the worst quality a teacher can have is to be close-minded because that narrow interpretation of good and bad is passed on to an entire generation of young artists at a critical time when they should be learning, growing, and exploring. That’s why I shuddered when I read this post on Sheridan instructor Pete Emslie’s blog in which he trashes this year’s poster for the Ottawa International Animation Festival (pictured above). The poster was drawn by Theo Ushev, who in addition to being an accomplished fine artist, is the director of amazing animated shorts like Drux Flux and Tower Bawher. In his post, Emslie he describes it as “blecchh!,” a “cat vomiting,” and writes that it’s proper place would be “taped to a fridge door by some loving mom.” It’s downright embarrassing to think that this guy represents the quality of instruction and critical thinking at a school that purports itself to be one of the top animation institutions in the world.
Emslie’s criticisms, if describing something as “blecchh” can be regarded as a valid criticism, drew a response from Ottawa festival director Chris Robinson who wrote on his blog:
What annoys me is the infantile hostility coming from a man who claims to have 30 years experience in animation as an animator and, egad, a teacher (I thought teachers are supposed to be guides. They introduce students to a diversity of possibilities and then let them go off and develop their own thoughts.). This guy doesnt even try. It’s just outright reaction. The work is ugly and pretentious and that’s that. There’s no processing, no attempt to contemplate and consider. He doesnt even encourage dialogue (isn’t that one of the primary functions of being a teacher?).
Animation director Michael Sporn also weighed in on the issue (and a lengthy comments thread follows his thoughts), while the artist himself, Theo Ushev, wrote on his blog, “I had much more daring posters in my life. But it seems that the animation community is a little special. And this conversation happens in 2009?!!! Not in 1909.”
Not sure what any of this means except that I was bothered enough to write about it. At the end of the day, life goes on. Sheridan students who are too young to know any better will continue accepting instruction from a guy who draws cartoon characters on a par with Chris Hart and throws in some tired Hirschfeld impersonations to boot. Theo Ushev will continue making beautiful films and drawings. The Ottawa International Animation Festival will be a great time for everybody who attends. And animation will continue to advance as an art in spite of those who wish to impose primitive rules and restrictions about what a piece of animation can and can’t be. If something good came out of all this, it’s that Marco de Blois, the animation curator at the CinémathÃ¨que québécoise, started a new blog devoted to the art of the animation festival poster.
UPDATE: NY animator Elliot Cowan has redesigned Theo Ushev’s Ottawa poster to appease those who feel that the artwork should be more “animationy.”