Why George Lucas Is the Greatest Artist of Our Time
Who is the greatest artist of our time? Normally, we would look to literature and the fine arts to make that judgment. But Pop Art’s happy marriage to commercial mass media marked the end of an era. The supreme artists of the half century following Jackson Pollock were not painters but innovators who had embraced technology—such as the film director Ingmar Bergman and the singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. During the decades bridging the 20th and 21st centuries, as the fine arts steadily shrank in visibility and importance, only one cultural figure had the pioneering boldness and world impact that we associate with the early masters of avant-garde modernism: George Lucas, an epic filmmaker who turned dazzling new technology into an expressive personal genre.
The digital revolution was the latest phase in the rapid transformation of modern communications, a process that began with the invention of the camera and typewriter and the debut of mass-market newspapers and would produce the telegraph, telephone, motion pictures, phonograph, radio, television, desktop computer, and Internet. Except for Futurists and Surrealists, the art world was initially hostile or indifferent to this massive surge in popular culture. Industrial design, however, rooted in De Stijl and the Bauhaus, embraced mechanization and grew in sophistication and influence until it has now eclipsed the fine arts.
No one has closed the gap between art and technology more successfully than George Lucas. In his epochal six-film Star Wars saga, he fused ancient hero legends from East and West with futuristic science fiction and created characters who have entered the dream lives of millions. He constructed a vast, original, self-referential mythology like that of James Macpherson’s pseudo-Celtic Ossian poems, which swept Europe in the late 18th century, or the Angria and Gondal story cycle spun by the Brontë children in their isolation in the Yorkshire moors. Lucas was a digital visionary who prophesied and helped shape a host of advances, such as computer-generated imagery; computerized film editing, sound mixing, and virtual set design; high-definition cinematography; fiber-optic transmission of dailies; digital movie duplication and distribution; theater and home-entertainment stereo surround sound; and refinements in video-game graphics, interactivity, and music.