Cultural critic Terry Teachout wrote a thought-provoking piece in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal about how artists with extraordinary promise like Leonard Bernstein, Orson Welles and Ralph Ellison failed to live up to their potential because of the dreaded “importantitis.” Who in the animation world has suffered from the same ailment? The most notable example who comes to mind would be Richard Williams. Teachout contrasts these artists with choreographer George Balanchine:
Contrast Ellison’s creative paralysis with the lifelong fecundity of the great choreographer George Balanchine, who went about his business efficiently and unpretentiously, turning out a ballet or two every season. Most were brilliant, a few were duds, but no matter what the one he’d just finished was like, and no matter what the critics thought of it, he moved on to the next one with the utmost dispatch, never looking back. “In making ballets, you cannot sit and wait for the Muse,” he said. “Union time hardly allows it, anyhow. You must be able to be inventive at any time.” That was the way Balanchine saw himself: as an artistic craftsman whose job was to make ballets. Yet the 20th century never saw a more important artist, or one less prone to importantitis.
In the animation world, the likely parallel to Balanchine would be directors like Tex Avery, Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones, who produced animated shorts year in and year out, practicing their craft consistently and rarely ever looking back, and ultimately ending up with some of the most beloved classics in the history of the art form.