Art Clokey and Mass Media
October 12, 2011
Art Clokey would have been 90 years old today, he passed away two years ago. Art was one of the guys I modeled my own career after since he created my favorite childhood character GUMBY.
Now my most common comment I get from fans is that they were raised on Earthworm Jim. I understand that sentiment all too well. Yes, it gets old to hear that every day of the last 15 years of my life, but it’s more than tolerable. Earthworm Jim or any of my other characters will always mean more to others that it will to me. Earthworm Jim is to them what Gumby is to me. Earthworm Jim doesn’t bring me back to being a 6 year old again, Gumby is my transport. I remember those formica table tops, Brady Bunch on prime time TV, hearing Partridge Family songs on my little AM radio and bright colored glass ashtrays in all of our friend’s houses.
That’s the multiplying effect one gets with mass media. It’s like launching a thousand messages in a thousand bottles without knowing who is going to be the recipient. That makes mass media a powerful tool, and like all forms of power, it can corrupt the wielder, and ought be handled with even greater responsibility.
Back to Clokey. Gumby became a mass media character, but he started as an art project called “Gumbasia”. Clokey represents a new form of fine artist that came about in the age of movies, inexpensive printing and a public with a voracious appetite for entertainment. Where does the fine art end and the commercial art begin? Clokey never drew that distinction, even when selling his services to the Lutheran Church to make Davey and Goliath religious shorts…a religion that was not his own, by the way. Clokey was more an Eastern Mystic than a Lutheran.
Along with Clokey came other artists who used commercial industrialization as a mode of delivery. Jim Henson, Dr. Seuss and Peter Max used entertainment as their fine art medium. While there’s no reason not to enjoy a fine oil painting in a church, now the masses get the painting delivered on their television sets and gaming systems.