Jan Švankmajer on Creativity, Childhood, and Art
Walt Disney je jedním z největších prznitelů dětských duší . . .
All questions refer to the interview with Jan Švankmajer that appeared in Nový Prostor 410 February 2013, pages 21-23. (A copy of the interview was passed out in class.)
Answers should be in your own words, but may include quotations –your translation into English of Švankmajer’s Czech.
Motivation: Criticism and/or analysis presupposes understanding. Intelligent criticism presupposes understanding. You cannot effectively or intelligently criticize a person‘s views or the views contained in a text (even an interview in a homeless magazine) unless you understand the text/the person’s arguments first. The purpose of this exercise is to develop understanding of Švankmajer’s ideas, including his critique of Walt Disney and večerníček.
1. According to Švankmajer, what is the connection between childhood and artistic creativity?
2. Can you think of an example where childhood memories could help artistic creation? Describe/Explain
3. Švankmajer talks about the “domestication” of childhood imagination by a Reality Principle in school and society. (The “Reality Principle” is part of Freud’s theory of development. The child is first a total egotist and only gradually recognizes and responds to the wishes of other people. See, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality_principle)
He also complains about the way children are taught to respect “pragmatic” examples.
…společnost se svým vnucováním pragmatických vzorů…….
He says society harms the imaginative dimension. Society, he says, is trying to get rid of the imaginative dimension. (My translation of his words: snaží zbavit právě imaginativního rozmerů.)
The artist, according to Švankmajer should allow fantasy or imagination to develop and resist domestication and the glorification of what is pragmatic. What do you think he means? Try to think of an example. (Notice: we domesticate animals and plans. Undomesticated animals are wild.)
4. Why does Švankmajer think he had a better chance of preserving his child’s imagination than children do today? (a) What did his mother and other mothers do back then? (b) What do children experience today that is different?
Hint: Who had more individual imagination/stories?–Children today or Švankmajer’s generation?
Notice his phrase collective visual stimulation. Collective is roughly the opposite of individual.
5. YOUR TURN: Now, if you have re-read the interview and have answered the above questions, you should add your own thoughts, comments or criticism of Švankmajer‘s views. However, see the WARNING below.
Dneska se děti večer posadí před bednu, a tak všechny děti večer co večer koukají na stejný přiblbý večerníček. Jak z nich za této situace můžou vyrůst výrazné individuality, když jsou všechny krmeny stejnou “imaginaci”
It is not criticism—and not especially thoughtful to simply say: “But I like večerníček! —That is not a response (answer) to or criticism of anything ¨Švankmajer said. You may very well like it and you may like Disney too, and it could still be true that Švankmajer is right to say that society as a whole is worse off on account of these forms of collective visualization. It could be that children who have never watched večerníček, but heard fairy tales from their mothers have a more powerful and more individual creative imagination than the rest of us. Whether you or I like večerníček or Disney has nothing to do with Švankmajer’s analysis.
A further comment about Disney and večerníček: A student of economics might say that those tools for collective imagination involved an opportunity cost. The opportunity for fostering unique and individual imagination was lost. That is one way to think about what Švankmajer has said.
But, let’s not pretend that Švankmejer’s vision of creativity, imagination, and what society might be has anything in common with the sort of creativity or “innovation” discussed in the world of business and economics. Social criticism is fundamental to the Surrealist movement–and Švankmejer is the leading contemporary Czech representative. (About contemporary Czech surrealism, see http://www.surrealismcentre.ac.uk/papersofsurrealism/journal3/acrobat_files/Solarik.pdf