Tim Burton – Art vs. Craft

Image  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has a very pricey ($20 – yikes!!) Tim Burton retrospective exhibit at the Resnick Pavilion including illustrations, drawings, sketches, early films and photographs.  A companion exhibit, curated by Mr. Burton, features illustrations, sketches, and prints from LACMA’s permanent collection.

It’s clearly designed to be a draw and it succeeds.  The exhibit was packed.  Not King Tut or Picasso packed but very well attended.  The culture maven in me was glad to see people who had never been to a museum before.

The exhibit is exceptionally well timed (May – October) to accommodate summer vacationers and school kids.  In these godforsaken times, field trip funds are often depleted by spring.

The early films show an attention to detail that is very impressive.  Some of the material is a bit thin.  A list of the different type of jokes scribbled on looseleaf paper? Three different Batman cowls? There is a fair amount of work clearly inspired by, but fabricated by design firms.

The overwhelming themes for me were the lonely suburban, dark haired suburban boy surrounded by terror and darkness.



There’s very little room for women in this universe.



His is a world of adolescent boys. I am very curious to see how or if he will

deal with age.




Lots of wit.  This number series is tailor made for a delightful children’s book.


He has an ad man’s ability to marry a witty, sometimes literal line with an arresting image. It’s a terrific but fleeting pleasure once you get it.

The feature film artifacts, even the early short films, I didn’t find as engaging as the illustrations.  Some of his least successful work – the oil paintings and lesser known efforts, the clowns feels the freshest and most dangerous.

I was struck by how much his body of work reminded me of Andy Warhol’s. Burton seems to me essentially a commercial artist and craftsman with a very narrow range of interests and themes that he has pursued with excellence over a long period of time.  There is a visceral shock in seeing early ideas hatched in essentially the same guise, 20-30 years later.

There’s something in me that wishes his ideas would develop more.  It this a kind of greed?  Must artists always try for more  – the brass ring that my father used to badger me about? Americans value novelty more than tradition but is anyone capable of continuous (re)invention at a sustained level of excellence?





About liftingasweclimb

Mildred Lewis writes and directs for theater, television, film and the web. She's also a full time professor, Christian, activist and troublemaker with a passion to save as much of the world as she can.
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2 Responses to Tim Burton – Art vs. Craft

  1. Tara says:

    Funniest thing to me was hearing all the kids ask their parents, “What’s Beetlejuice?” “What’s Edward Scissorhands?” and the parents just wanting them to be quiet so they could enjoy the exhibit. I guess we take it for granted now that American kids know a lot more about Japanese anime than Tim Burton.

    Very good marketing for the up-and-coming Frankenweenie though. And exquisite timing to end it around Halloween.

    • liftingasweclimb says:

      There were so many people there the day we went that folks had no time for questions, comments or thought 😉

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