Monday, 25. January 2016 0:00
There’s a guy I know, a vociferous reader, who refuses to read anything that could be considered fantasy. “Not realistic,” he says. He reads mysteries, detective stories, lawyer novels, not seeming to realize that those books he is calling realistic are every bit as fanciful as those written by Anne Rice or Stephen King or Margaret Atwood or George Orwell. (Although in Orwell’s case, one might argue that his books are not fantasy at all, but rather prophesy.)
Those of us who work in theatre are told from the very beginning that stage dialogue is not realistic speech. If well written, it has verisimilitude, but it is stripped down, shaped, and refined to support the action of the play. We accept this. We know that film is not reality; in fact at least one text on the subject says that since the digitization of the motion picture, all movies are fantasy and live action just one of the subsets of animation.
It’s all make believe. We know that the characters in movies don’t really die; neither do the protagonists of novels. Equally unreal is the person who is held captive in a graphic novel, or experiences a life-threatening situation in a staged photograph. At the same time, this make believe, or imagination, if you will, allows us to teach, learn, show, tell, explore, reveal in ways that would be impossible without a flight of imagination.
Fantasy is often denigrated for two reasons: first, some feel that it is unworthy of genuine consideration in the art world simply on the basis of subject matter. For many it means dragons and magic and monsters and things that are impossible—at least on this plane of existence and therefore could never contribute anything meaningful to “serious” art.
The second reason has to do the sociological and psychological implications of some fantasy art: violent video games and pornography, just to mention the two most talked-about examples. No one, it seems, actually knows the effects of interacting with these works: some say that participating in these fantasies short-circuits any need to act out in reality; others say the opposite, that exposure to these fantasies actually encourage that acting-out of similar activities in the real world. Regardless, all seem to agree that such fantasy art has a significant impact on its audience. Were the subject matter different, many would say that such impact marks such art works as highly successful.
However, fantasy does not necessarily mean the extremes noted above, or even magic and supernatural. It can merely mean a flight of fancy, or simply “imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained.”
Without fantasy, art is exactly like life—with all the irrelevancies, distractions, mundane details that do not contribute to the message or the appeal of the piece. It becomes the same boring stuff that we live through every day rather than the instructive, insightful, beautiful thing that it is.
Without fantasy we would be left with only non-fiction, and reproductive visual art, exclusively naturalistic performing art (if performance can really be naturalistic). The art world would be very barren indeed. When we stop and think about it, it seems that imagination and fantasy are actually the foundations of art, certainly what allow it to grow and flower.
Regardless what detractors may say, fantasy in varying degrees greatly enriches our lives through art. In fact, without fantasy, we have no art. Period. Given that, fantasy may be something we want to reconsider and embrace.