Thursday, August 09, 2007


Inspired by a post at Byzantium's Shores, I compiled the following list of beliefs I hold dear around the arts. I very well may add to this, but the beliefs listed here do a good job, I think, of summarizing how I feel about art.

My Credo

I believe that, while entertainment is one of the most worthy aspirations art can aspire to, art should not be judged on that basis alone, nor on any one single basis at all. Art need not necessarily move me, or make me think, or entertain me (although it must do at least one of those, and will often do two or three in tandem) – but it must engage me.

I believe that at the very extremes of the scale, art can be judged objectively. So, for example, that Citizen Kane is a better movie than Saved by the Bell Goes to Hawaii is not mere opinion, but actual fact. I caveat this belief in two important ways: First, note that this is only true at the extreme ends of the scale. So while I may think that The Shawshank Redemption is a better movie than Trading Places, I would not go so far as to call that a fact. A defensible opinion, but not a fact. Second, while it may be a fact that, again for example, Citizen Kane is a better movie than Saved by the Bell Goes to Hawaii, it does not necessarily follow that a viewer must enjoy the former over the latter. We are entitled as consumers of art to enjoy whatever we want (a point that seems obvious and yet is often disputed). So preferring Saved by the Bell Goes to Hawaii over Citizen Kane is not wrong. However, insisting that that fact makes it valid to claim that the former is better than the latter is wrong.

I believe that, in the arts, the ends justify the means. If an actress achieves a convincing, absorbing, and completely believable scene of sobbing through the use of sniffed onions, this does not make her performance lesser than an equally convincing, absorbing, and completely believable scene of sobbing achieved without external aids. A good model is better than bad CGI, and vice versa. There is nothing inherently more authentic about models vs. CGI, or hand-drawn animation vs. computer animation, or location shooting versus green screen. All that matters is the finished product and how well it does or does not work within its own frame.

I believe that reading a good novel provides pleasures a movie never could in a million years. And vice versa.

I believe that the notion that a long-running serial (TV show, comic book) can somehow devalue its early quality trough later lesser quality is false. The first three seasons of The West Wing are no less great because of the less-than-great last four seasons. Concurrently, I’d much rather have three seasons of greatness followed by four seasons of mediocrity than one season of greatness.

I believe that acting range is valued too little by the film industry and the film-going public. An actor should be encouraged and rewarded for creating unique characters, for being unrecognizable from film to film, and should be discouraged and punished for creating a persona and repeating it. Alas, the reality is pretty much exactly the opposite.

(Thank you Sondheim) Form follows function.

Until Whenever

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