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Walt Disney, The Artist

By Tiera Tanner –

Walt Disney’s name and attributes are scattered throughout our culture and recent history. If you’ve happened upon this article, Walt Disney — whether the man or an aspect of his company — most likely holds a special place in your heart. Today, on the 120th celebration of his birthday, I reflect on what Walt Disney means to me. 

I am an artist. My formal education is peppered with references to the greats in art history Iike Jan van Eyck, Van Gogh, and Helen Frankthaler. However, I’ve always considered Walt Disney among the most influential artists of the ages. Sure, Walt’s drawings waned even before Mickey Mouse, but from the thoughtful personality given to each character, to the groundbreaking immersion into fantasy through Disneyland, “artist” tops my definition of Walt. 

Neil Gabler states in Walt Disney, the Triumph of the American Imagination that as “Disneyland was designed to block out the world, it was also designed to offer a particular kind of psychological experience that one didn’t ordinarily find at an amusement park or carnival, much less in reality.” (pg. 498) I’m not one to easily define art, but a psychological experience that pulls one from reality resonates ‘art’ to me. 

Artists evoke innovation and inspiration. As Walt Disney exuded these qualities, he also had the ability to bring out the best in those around him to collaborate and execute his ideas. For example, his vision for Mickey Mouse was brought to life through Ub Iwerks’ drawings and Walt’s own voice. And infamously, Herb Ryman illustrated Walt’s vocalized vision for Disneyland. I would be remiss not to mention Walt’s connections to the “art world,” such as with Leopold Stokowski orchestrating  for Fantasia and experimental works like the short film Destino with Salvador Dali.

Walt Disney wrote in a January 1941 article for The Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Editors, “[how] very fortunate we are as artists to have a medium whose potential limits are still far off in the future; a medium of entertainment where, theoretically at least, the only limit is the imagination of the artist.” (How to be like Walt, Pat Williams, pg. 62) How fortunate are we to experience the success of Walt’s imagination still today?! When watching a Disney classic or stepping into Magic Kingdom, Walt’s artistic passion brings tears to my eyes and truly inspires me. 

Walt’s artist brain never ceased — always creating, ever moving forward. Walt Disney even spent his final days fantasizing about the Florida project from his hospital bed. I aspire to Walt’s creative fervor in every aspect of my life, especially in my artistic endeavors. Just as trained oil painters study the masters to improve their craft, let us look to Walt and all of his creations, to inspire our individual lives and pave the way to a brighter future for all.


Tiera Tanner lives her life spreading pixie dust. Whether creating art in her studio, or raising her two young sons, Tiera is inspired by the magic of Disney, and is always encouraging her husband to plan their next trip to the parks.