Putting the F back in Art

I’m really bad at expressing myself, especially in regard to things about which I’m passionate. In the past I’ve tried to explain my approach to and appreciation of art and I’ve done a really awful job of it. It’s just one of those things that one understands very well, but finds difficult to express to others.

There’s a pie-chart that shows the ratios of the various components one might appreciate when evaluating art and mine is probably weighted more towards the analytical and away from the emotional. While technique and talent/skill weigh more for me, there is no art without emotion.

I also think that the various pieces of the pie-chart vary in their subjectivity. Which is to say that I think that given a large enough sample, “experts” would likely agree on certain things. (Yikes this is getting more complex than I wanted it to be already. The whole experts thing is a whole other post.) Said yet another way, I want the art itself to be emotional, not so much my evaluation of it. Which is not to say “devoid of emotion” but like I said earlier, emphasizing the analytical.

I’m still not saying this right. I should leave this part out. What I’m really saying is that I know people who like or dislike a film/song based entirely on how it makes them feel or how they felt already when they were exposed to it. I ain’t that.

In the past I’ve said (and been criticized for saying) that one of the largest criteria for my liking a given song or film or whatever is “how much ‘art’ is in it.” Yuck. Awful. Those who criticized me were correct to do so.

In my life I’ve know a lot of people who really liked art of all kinds. I’ve known some amazing visual artists and musicians. Some were classically trained, others just had a feel for it. I’ve also known people who found great joy in creative outlet, but whose creative expressions were just awful. They could be awful in any number of ways; just pick one from the pie chart. Finding joy in a creative outlet isn’t the same as creating art, it’s masturbation or at best therapy. (And I say that in the least pejorative way possible…. there’s nothing wrong with masturbation!)

Creating art is about synthesizing the world into a form that teaches one about oneself. (!)

I also say things like “I hate plot.” When my erstwhile friend Tod said that to me seventeen years ago, I probably stared at him the way people stare at me when I say it, but it’s completely true. There’s little that’s more boring to me than films whose entire life-blood is their plot, or worse: the plot twist. I guessed the plot twist in The Sixth Sense as soon as he was shot and found the rest of the film grueling. I guessed the plot twist in The Others from watching the commercial. This doesn’t make me cool nor is it something I intend to do.

Ok, you knew it was coming: Deadwood is great because, while there is a plot there’s not much of a plot. The bad guy is going to destroy the world and we have to stop him! Yawn. In Deadwood, there’s no overarching seasonal bad-guy/serial killer/cylon/terminator waiting for a season finale climax battle scene. There are no unexplained mystery islands or evil preachers. (Have I mentioned in the last 5 minutes that Carnivale was the worst show evAr?) Deadwood just has a group of well designed characters acting and re-acting like people do in their lives. Of course there are the ebbs and flow of plot within Deadwood. If you’re a tried and true plot-watcher, you may even love the plot. It builds to a season finale like any other show, but if you’re not a plot watcher, there’s a very rich tapestry for you to enjoy. I can watch Deadwood over and over because it’s so rich. There are so many small things to notice specifically because it wasn’t written in service of the plot, but instead in service of the characters.

There’s a very strange juxtaposition that happens with film and television regarding the comedy and drama genres. There are a lot of television comedies that have no plot, yet very few film comedies can say the same. Most television and film drama is very plot heavy. However, there are a good number of film dramas that have no plot yet nearly no television dramas likewise. The huge problem with 99% of problematic film comedies is that they establish some stupid plot on which to hang jokes that they then have to resolve in the third act. All of this plot resolution apparently requires so much effort that there are no time for jokes.

This is why The Big Lebowski is such a classic comedy. There’s almost no plot at all and what little plot there is, you certainly don’t care about. He’s not saving the town, he’s not rescuing the girl from the rich land baron who wants to buy uncle touchy’s magic puzzle basement which just ain’t for sale, dammit! He just fumbles around and shit mostly fixes itself. Imagine how awful that film would be if he actually had to save her.

So why do TV sitcoms and the some movie dramas realize you don’t want a plot, but the movie comedies and the TV dramas don’t?

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