Day: January 31, 2012

Good Art/Bad Art

Psychologist Carl Jung once said about dreams”This whole creation is essentially subjective, and the dream is the theater where the dreamer is at once: scene, actor, prompter, stage manager, author, audience and critic”.

I think you could say the same thing about art (which is form of dreaming or at least can be)- its whole creation, existence, and relevance is subjective.  What I like in art may be totally different than what you like.  It probably is.

I am not the most artsy person in the world but I do enjoy a good museum.  I also have artwork all over my apartment including framed Van Gogh posters, Minerva Teichert print, concert and movie posters and a print I bought in Florence when I was 17. This art inspires me and boosts my spirits when I look at it.

That said, not all artwork needs to be inspirational, or even optimistic in feel. I can find beauty in many different styles and approaches, but I prefer it to express some type of emotion.

My personal favorite is the impressionists but I am also willing to accept more challenging pieces. I even like modern art except for when it becomes lewd or mockish.

Just as I think Broadway sullied itself with the foul language and content of recent pieces I think art should be a bit above this tawdry fray.  I know others differ in this view but this is my blog and that’s my view.

I like pieces that you can look at again and again and see new things each time.  I hate ones that pound home a message or are visually assaulting.  I don’t like art that exists solely to be different or unique.  Usually that type of art is obnoxious, over-the-top and annoying.

Here’s an example of something I like and something I dislike.

Good Art: La Mariee by Marc Chagall.  It’s challenging without being stupid.

I’m not sure what the goat means or the flying fish but I still think it is beautiful.

Bad art- A sculpture by the artist Jeff Koons. Isn’t it funny to have  a baloon animal statue in Versailles? So clever…Stupid to me. Ridiculous.  Usually art like this statue  is trendy, and of the moment, and while perhaps moving at that time,  it fails to have the universality of masterworks.

What made me start thinking of this topic was actually two movies.  Recently I watched The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick and Film Socialisme by Jean-Luc Godard.   Both movies are very artistic but to me one works and the other is pretentiously awful.

The Tree of Life is ostensibly about a family in Texas in the 50’s but its actually Malick’s view of life, death, afterlife, history, creation, and more.  It tackles a lot for one movie, but if you go in with an open mind, I don’t see how you can not be moved?  It is not my religious views on these topics but that doesn’t really matter.  It is beautiful to me when I hear anyone express their faith, even if it is not my faith.  When someone shares their soul with you it is an honor.  That’s how I felt watching this movie.  It’s scope is magnificent going back to the creation of the world, through the dinosaurs , to a family coping with loss, to a reunification in the afterlife.  The movie has a sadder tone than I was expecting and left me feeling a bit morose but it was still beautiful.

I think what helped me enjoy the movie is I was totally prepared for it.  I had no illusions that it was going to be a typical movie.  It always helps when going into a new experience to know  you are doing just that.

The acting is superb, with my favorite being Jessica Chastain as the free spirited mother of the family (you couldn’t have a more different performance from her in this than the character she plays in The Help.  She’s great in both).

Pitt plays the strict father but it is not a cliched performance.  There are moments of deep sadness in his face, especially when he fails to make it as an inventor.  The kids are also very good.

In contrast, Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme is almost unwatchable. It is the worst kind of art.  Pretentious, condescending, undecipherable, confusing and stupid.  It is a series of images tied together with NO coherent plot or message.

Even the worst propaganda is better than this because at least it isn’t trying to be something grand.  Even the subtitles are intentionally ostracizing with single words summarizing paragraphs of dialogue.  Words like “watch”, “thoughts”, “you”, “dialectical thinking”, “British Armada…” .  Godard calls it his “Navaho English”.

There is no acting and we get bored out of our mind with scenes from a cruise ship, random images of Jesus,  battleships, screens with words like ‘Hell As’ followed by a scene from Spartacus. At first I felt stupid, like I wasn’t smart enough to get this movie, and then I just got mad.  I agree with Roger Ebert (a pretty smart guy!):

“This film is an affront. It is incoherent, maddening, deliberately opaque and heedless of the ways in which people watch movies. All of that is part of the Godardian method, I am aware, but I feel a bargain of some sort must be struck. We enter the cinema with open minds and goodwill, expecting Godard to engage us in at least a vaguely penetrable way. But in “Film Socialisme,” he expects us to do all the heavy lifting..”

I agree with Ebert.  It is an affront.  In my opinion, good art, should not leave all to the viewer.  The artist should contribute some degree of themselves and make that clear to the viewer.  They can then absorb the vision of the piece in whatever way they wish.  There is actually something remarkably lazy about Godard’s work.  If I was a filmmaker or artist I’d be insulted.  To think of all the work that goes into even the most average films and then compare it to this hack-job it blows me away.  And then he tries to defend it by saying it is ‘art’!

To make matters worse it isn’t even overtly political.  That would at least make a little more sense.  For example, what does a llama at a gas station (a repeated image in the film) have to do with socialism?  Questions like that are just annoying, not thought provoking

Ebert says:

“His Navajo speakers touch on socialism, gambling, nationalism, Hitler, Stalin, art, Islam, women, Jews, Hollywood, Palestine, war and other large topics. It all seems terrifically political, but there is nothing in the film to offend the most devout Tea Party communicant, and I can’t say what, if anything, the film has to say about socialism. Godard has sent my mind scurrying between ancient history and modern television, via Marxism and Nazism, to ponder — well, what?”

For nothing.  So that he and all the intellectuals who pretend to enjoy this drivel can feel superior.  Boo!

This very well may be the worst movie I have ever seen.   All the other bad movies at least make an attempt to make sense and not ostracize the viewer.  They at least want me to feel some emotion instead of just boredom, fatigue and disgust. Perhaps I could have tolerated it as a photography exhibit or a 20 minute short film but at 90 minutes I have never had a more unpleasant experience watching a movie.

Even this trailer is practically unwatchable.  Imagine 90 minutes!

So that’s my view on art.  I think it should say something and be at least mildly approachable.  It should have some heart or emotion to it.

Want to see what I am talking about- Film Socialisme is a stream on netflix- but you have been warned!

What is art to you?  Anyone else seen either of these films?  What do you think?