#310 Walt Disney and Picasso

Summary Notes


In this episode, the host delves into the contrasting legacies of Pablo Picasso and Walt Disney, as explored in Paul Johnson's essay collection "Creators." Picasso, a self-taught, self-promoting artist, is depicted as a figure of immense talent yet morally questionable, whose personal cruelty and egoism were intertwined with his creative genius. In stark contrast, Walt Disney's career is celebrated for his love and admiration for nature and his dedication to excellence in animation, which led to the creation of beloved characters and the pioneering of new art forms, including feature-length animations and theme parks. Disney's influence is seen as enduring and positive, rooted in a philosophy that aligns with nature and human enjoyment, while Picasso's impact, though significant, is suggested to potentially wane over time due to his inward and nature-defying approach.

Summary Notes

Founders Podcast Membership

  • Speaker A has created content for enthusiasts of founders, focusing on the study of influential figures in history.
  • Membership offers direct access to Speaker A through a private email address, where members can ask questions.
  • Questions from members are turned into short AMA (Ask Me Anything) episodes for the benefit of the entire community.
  • Members can include their names and website links with their questions, providing networking opportunities.
  • Speaker A has already produced 27 episodes and plans to continue making several episodes each week.
  • Interested listeners can join the membership through a link in the podcast show notes or by visiting the founderspodcast.com website.

"If you become a member, you'll be able to ask me questions directly. There is a private email address that you get access to that. I read every single one of these emails myself."

This quote underscores the direct and personal interaction members can expect by joining the membership, highlighting Speaker A's commitment to engaging with the community personally.

20th Century Visual Transformations

  • The 20th century experienced significant changes in visual experiences, akin to the Renaissance.
  • Technological advancements like cinema, television, videos, and digital cameras altered how we see and perceive the world.
  • Artists played a crucial role in shaping our new ways of seeing by expressing their individual perspectives.
  • The interplay between technological innovations and individualism led to a dynamic shift in visual culture.

"The 20th century saw a transformation of our visual experiences comparable to the blossoming of the renaissance in the 15th century."

This quote sets the stage for the profound impact that technology and art had on visual experiences in the 20th century, drawing a parallel with the cultural revolution of the Renaissance.

Pablo Picasso vs. Walt Disney

  • Both Picasso and Disney were creative pioneers who embraced new ideas with enthusiasm.
  • Picasso worked in a traditional manner within the artist's studio environment in Paris.
  • Disney, from the American Midwest, embraced entrepreneurial spirit and new technologies, contributing to Hollywood's rise as a global center for popular arts.
  • The comparison raises the question of which individual has had a more significant impact on culture.

"Among this group, none were more successful than Pablo Picasso and Walt Disney."

This quote highlights the prominence of Picasso and Disney as influential figures in the realm of visual arts and culture.

"Creators" by Paul Johnson

  • "Creators" is a collection of essays on historical figures known for their creative contributions.
  • The book covers a wide range of individuals, including Mark Twain, Shakespeare, Christian Dior, and others.
  • Speaker A focuses on the essay comparing Pablo Picasso and Walt Disney, which sparked their interest due to its depth and insight.
  • The episode will delve into the lives and works of both Picasso and Disney, informed by Speaker A's extensive notes and highlights.

"Okay, so that was an excerpt from the book that I'm going to talk to you about today, which is creators and is written by Paul Johnson."

The quote introduces the source material for the podcast episode, a book by Paul Johnson that explores the lives of various creative individuals.

Early Life of Pablo Picasso

  • Picasso was born in Spain, with his father being an art teacher and artist.
  • He was self-taught, self-directed, and self-promoted, with a strong ego and emotional education from the city's brothels.
  • Picasso designed his own curriculum, which had its advantages and disadvantages.
  • He was skillful in marketing his work from a young age, never struggling to sell his prodigious output.

"He was essentially self-taught, self-directed, self-promoted, emotionally educated in the teeming brothels of his city, a small but powerfully built monster of assured egoism."

This quote provides a vivid description of Picasso's character and the unconventional way in which he educated and promoted himself.

Picasso's Artistic Development and Market Savvy

  • Picasso understood the importance of differentiating himself from competitors to develop his own style.
  • He moved to Paris to avoid direct competition and to capitalize on the city's fascination with novelty.
  • Picasso's approach to his work and career emphasizes the importance of location and individuality in achieving success.

"Picasso was perhaps the most restless, experimental, and productive artist who ever lived."

This quote captures Picasso's relentless drive for artistic exploration and productivity, which contributed to his success.

Picasso's Wealth and Influence

  • Picasso's productivity led to immense wealth, making him the richest artist ever by the time of his death.
  • His success was due to a combination of creative intelligence, personality, and the ability to exploit market opportunities.
  • Picasso's charisma played a significant role in his ability to influence and attract others.

"Picasso was a millionaire by 1914 and a multimillionaire by the end of World War I, and his wealth continued to grow, so that by the time of his death, he was by far the richest artist who had ever lived."

This quote highlights the financial success Picasso achieved through his art, becoming the wealthiest artist in history.

Charisma as a Source of Power

  • Charisma is portrayed as a significant force that can attract people and compel them to act according to the charismatic person's wishes.
  • Charismatic individuals like Picasso and Arnold Schwarzenegger had the ability to draw people in, influencing both personal and professional relationships.
  • Charisma is linked to the ability to achieve great things, suggesting a positive correlation between charisma and accomplishment.
  • The discussion highlights the dual nature of charisma as both a source of power and a potential gateway to unethical behavior.

"And so both Picasso and Arnold use this. There's a lot of sex in both of these books. In this chapter or this section on Picasso, it's going to go into way more detail."

This quote explains how both Picasso and Arnold Schwarzenegger leveraged their charisma to attract partners and influence people, which is further explored in literature about them.

The Dark Side of Charisma

  • Charisma can mask the inability to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and right from wrong.
  • Charismatic individuals may use their appeal to manipulate and control others for personal gain.
  • The discussion suggests that power reveals the true nature of an individual, often unveiling less admirable traits.

"But apparently, innately, he lacked two things that ordinary people take for granted. The ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood and the ability to distinguish between right and wrong."

This quote highlights the moral deficiencies that can accompany charismatic individuals, using Picasso as an example who, despite his charm, struggled with basic ethical discernment.

The Selfishness and Ego of Picasso

  • Picasso's universe centered solely around himself, disregarding others' needs or feelings.
  • His lack of gratitude and jealousy, particularly towards other painters, may have stemmed from insecurity about his own work.
  • Picasso's treatment of women was particularly abusive, indicative of his belief in his own superiority and god-like status.

"At the center of his universe, there was room only for Picasso. His needs, his interest, his ambitions. Nobody else had to be considered."

This quote encapsulates Picasso's monumental selfishness, which was a key component of his drive and focus, to the exclusion of any consideration for others.

The Consequences of Creative Genius and Selfishness

  • The study of history can provide a more accurate understanding of the world and its inhabitants.
  • Creative genius and evil can coexist within the same individual, which can be difficult for many to accept.
  • Picasso's selfishness and cruelty were closely tied to his artistic achievements, raising questions about the moral costs of such success.

"Historical evidence shows again and again that evil and creative genius can exist side by side in the same person."

This quote underscores the unsettling reality that exceptional creativity does not preclude a person from also being morally corrupt or evil.

The Tragic Personal Life of Picasso

  • Despite his success, Picasso's personal life was fraught with misery, cruelty, and conflict.
  • His actions led to a legacy of suffering among his family and associates, demonstrating that achievement and success do not guarantee happiness.

"It shows painfully how even vast creative achievement and unparalleled worldly success can fail to bring happiness."

This quote reflects on the paradox that immense success in one's career does not necessarily translate to personal fulfillment or joy.

Walt Disney's Contrast to Picasso

  • Walt Disney, like Picasso, began working early but had a more challenging path to success.
  • Disney's inspiration stemmed from nature, and unlike Picasso, he saw the family as a source of lasting happiness and valued it highly.
  • Disney's entrepreneurial spirit and passion for animation drove him to innovate in the field, despite financial and technological challenges.

"Walt Disney, like Picasso, began his working life early, but he had a much harder struggle to earn a living or achieve recognition and success."

This quote introduces Walt Disney's early life and work, setting the stage for a comparison between his values and those of Picasso, highlighting their different approaches to life and work.

Disney's Entrepreneurial Spirit and Innovation in Animation

  • Disney's determination to master his craft and his vision for sound in animation led to significant advancements in the industry.
  • He built upon the work of predecessors, demonstrating that creative work is often an evolution rather than a solitary breakthrough.

"Disney always felt that animation without sound was dead and that the nature and quality of the sound were the key to success."

This quote reveals Disney's insight into the importance of sound in animation, a realization that would eventually lead to his pioneering work in synchronizing sound with animated films.

Bankruptcy and Early Struggles

  • Speaker A discusses the bankruptcy of a company that created photography films and advertising with cartoon figures.
  • The company's owner is left with only a camera and a print of "Alice" after the bankruptcy.
  • At the age of 22 or 23, the owner takes on freelance work, including news photography and filming private events like weddings and funerals.
  • The owner sells footage to companies in Hollywood and eventually decides to move there with $40 to his name.

"So it goes bankrupt. After the bankruptcy, all he has left was the camera and a print of Alice to use as a sample."

This quote explains the situation following the bankruptcy, where the owner is left with minimal resources.

"He often had so little money that he could only eat canned beans."

This quote highlights the financial struggles faced by the owner during his freelance period.

Move to Hollywood and Persistence

  • The owner sells his camera to buy a ticket to Hollywood, inspired by the new studios there.
  • Despite the move being full of hope, he faces difficulty finding work in the movie industry.
  • The owner eventually returns to making animated cartoons, demonstrating his resilience and resourcefulness.

"So he sold his camera, and with the proceeds, he bought himself a ticket, and he headed to Hollywood with $40."

The quote signifies a pivotal decision to relocate to Hollywood with very limited funds, hoping for better opportunities.

"But Disney had a very hard time getting work of any description in the movie industry."

This quote illustrates the initial challenges faced by Walt Disney upon arriving in Hollywood.

Creative Beginnings and Entrepreneurial Efforts

  • Walt Disney uses his "Alice" sample to start a series, incorporating live-action and animation.
  • Disney writes, directs, films, and animates the content himself, showcasing his multifaceted talent.
  • The first movie makes a profit, marking the beginning of Disney's entrepreneurial success.

"He made all of the props he needed himself. He produced and directed and filmed it himself. And then he sat down and drew the animation himself."

This quote exemplifies Disney's hands-on approach to his early filmmaking process.

Collaboration and Innovation

  • Disney collaborates with Herb Iwerks, similar to the collaboration between Picasso and Georges Braque.
  • The roles of Disney and Iwerks in early animations are intertwined, making individual contributions hard to distinguish.
  • Disney's response to public demand for novelty leads to the creation of Oswald the Rabbit and later, Mickey Mouse.

"The result was a mouse. And so 30 years after where we are in the story, Disney would later say, I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing, that it all started with a mouse."

This quote emphasizes the significance of Mickey Mouse in Disney's career and the entertainment industry's history.

The Importance of Love in Brand Building

  • Disney's ability to make audiences, especially children, love his creations is contrasted with Picasso's approach.
  • Mickey Mouse becomes a beloved character, receiving an unprecedented number of fan letters.
  • Love and time are crucial elements in building a durable and beloved brand.

"But Disney produced a mouse animated by admiration and even by love."

This quote contrasts Disney's positive approach to character creation with Picasso's more negative portrayal of subjects.

Leveraging Technology and Resourcefulness

  • Disney leverages new technologies, such as synchronized sound in animation, to stay ahead of competitors.
  • The creation of "Steamboat Willie" marks a technical triumph and the birth of the sound cartoon.
  • Disney's resourcefulness is highlighted as a key factor in overcoming the lack of resources.

"He used 16 drawings to make Mickey move. Once, about 14,400 drawings went into a ten minute cartoon short."

This quote illustrates the intensive labor and innovation Disney invested in his early animations.

"Disney had no sound equipment and proceeded on a do it yourself basis, which is a model of entrepreneurial improvisation."

The quote underscores Disney's do-it-yourself attitude and his ability to improvise with limited resources.

Nature as Inspiration and Technological Embrace

  • Walt Disney's inspiration comes from nature, which he considers the true source of Disney art.
  • Animators study live animals and nature films to enrich their work.
  • Disney embraces color technology, viewing it as almost as crucial as sound.

"It was Disney's view that nature was a richer source of humor than human imagination."

This quote reveals Disney's belief in the importance of natural observation for artistic creation.

"He regarded color as a godsend, almost as crucial as sound, because it enormously increased."

This quote reflects Disney's recognition of color's impact on the animation medium and its potential to enhance storytelling.

Disney's Creative and Business Philosophy

  • Walt Disney was known for his innovative approach and commitment to quality, often spending freely to achieve excellence in his productions.
  • He prioritized creative excellence over financial considerations, reinvesting incoming cash into new technology and better artists.
  • Disney's approach to business was characterized by a focus on innovation and quality, with the belief that financial success would follow from creating something he could be proud of or have fun with.

"I'm innovating. I'll tell you what it costs when I'm finished." This quote exemplifies Disney's philosophy of prioritizing innovation and creative process over immediate cost concerns, highlighting his commitment to quality and excellence in his work.

Disney's Investment in Art and Technology

  • Disney hired the best artists and invested in the latest technology to push the boundaries of what was possible in animation.
  • The studio environment was highly creative and interactive, with a focus on pushing artists to their limits.
  • Disney's dedication to art and technology led to groundbreaking advancements in animation, setting a high standard for production costs and quality.

"If you want to know the real secret of Walt's success, it's that he never tried to make money. He was always trying to make something that he could have fun with or be proud of." This quote reveals the core of Disney's business strategy: the pursuit of creative fulfillment and innovation rather than direct profit-making, which paradoxically led to significant financial success.

Disney's Impact on Animation and Art

  • Disney's work in the 1930s built upon the tradition of Western art and pushed the art of animation to new heights.
  • The studio's achievements in animation were compared to the advancements made by early Renaissance painters, emphasizing the rapid development and impact of Disney's techniques.
  • Disney's commitment to artistry and technological innovation culminated in the success of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," which was a critical and commercial triumph and demonstrated the maturity of animation as an art form.

"What took the early Renaissance painters two centuries? The Disney studio did in a decade." This quote highlights the rapid progress and innovation achieved by Disney's studio, comparing its advancements in animation to the centuries-long development of Renaissance painting techniques.

The Business Model of Animation

  • Steve Jobs studied Disney's success in animation to understand the potential of the industry.
  • Jobs' research revealed the lack of available information on the business model of animation, emphasizing Disney's unique success.
  • The longevity and continued profitability of Disney's productions, such as "Snow White," demonstrated the enduring value of quality storytelling in animation.

"Once they figured out Pixar wasn't going to produce, they were trying to sell hardware and then try to sell software to other companies. Like, no, no, we're just going to go all in on developing the first computer animated movie." This quote reflects the strategic pivot by Pixar, under Steve Jobs' leadership, to focus on animation production, drawing inspiration from Disney's successful business model.

Disney's Innovations Beyond Animation

  • Disney's creativity extended to the concept of theme parks, where he brought his animated worlds to life in three dimensions.
  • The success of Snow White funded the creation of other classic films such as "Pinocchio," "Fantasia," "Dumbo," and "Bambi," all of which explored natural phenomena and were commercially successful.
  • Disneyland showcased Disney's talent for creating popular art as entertainment and had a profound influence on future generations of creators and entrepreneurs.

"Disney's instinct was always to get back to nature, whereas Picasso's was to get away from it." This quote contrasts Disney's creative philosophy with that of Picasso, emphasizing Disney's inclination towards nature and its influence on his work.

The Legacy of Walt Disney

  • Disney's influence on visual presentation in the 20th century was immense, and his training of over a thousand artists is compared to the most successful art schools in history.
  • Disney's business employed thousands and continues to thrive, demonstrating the longevity and impact of his entrepreneurial spirit.
  • Disney's work is seen as reinforcing nature, which the speaker suggests will ensure the enduring relevance of his ideas compared to those of Picasso.

"Disney worked within nature, stylizing it, anthropomorphizing it, and surrealizing it, and ultimately reinforcing it." This quote encapsulates Disney's approach to his art, using nature as a foundation and enhancing it through his creative vision, which is posited to have lasting influence.

Supporting the Podcast and Further Reading

  • The speaker recommends a book about Disney and the creation of Disneyland for those interested in Disney's thought process and legacy.
  • The importance of compounded experience and knowledge in creating one's best work is highlighted, with Disney's greatest creation, Disneyland, occurring when he was 54 years old.
  • The speaker reflects on the value of learning from experienced individuals and the profound insights that can be gained from their accumulated knowledge.

"Disney was 54 when he made his greatest creation." This quote emphasizes the notion that significant achievements and innovations can come at any stage in life, often benefiting from the wisdom and experience accrued over time.

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