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“TV bad”, TV says.

December 29, 2014 1 comment

When we watch “Beavis and Butthead” we mirror the characters. We sit in front of a screen and watch two young men staring at a screen. This mirroring is unique: many books feature characters reading and songs will often reference music and its power to influence. The “ars poetica” is a form of poetry specifically focused on the art of poetry writing. Meta-thinking is reflective on the act of thinking.

In some forms of this “meta-art”, the art comments on itself. A dystopian television show like the UK’S “Black Mirror” warns us of technology’s development despite being the product of a complicated network of technology devices. Film and television often feature dystopian narratives that warn us of our interactions with film and television. Such “finger wagging” warnings urge we caution further development by casting narratives that suggest the dangers of “what could be”.

Are such critiques limited to film and TV? Do books exist that warn the reader of reading? Have songs been heard that warn the user of listening to music? One struggles to find examples. Film and TV are unique in their use of the medium to criticize the medium.

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Insulate and Celebrate

June 3, 2014 Leave a comment

In 2010, the documentary “I’m Still Here” purported to show the retirement of actor Joaquin Phoenix. In the film he is shown using drugs, ordering prostitutes and experimenting with a career in rap. Though later disclosed as a hoax or work of “performance art”, the film does display a grandiosity of self-flagellation that celebrity works so well to insulate. Despite his seemingly mental instability, Phoenix remains supported by his friends and in fact enabled by those around him.

“I’m Still Here” seems less about objective documentation and more interested in both mockery and celebration. Phoenix is the fool but one whose artistic drive takes place regardless of popular perspective. He is an actor poised for greater success but seemingly determined to look away. Is he angry with his success? Does it somehow suffocate his artistic sensibilities? Though never answered, the film displays one (fake) attempt at carving out a new artistic life in the shell of one already existing.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy displayed in this film is the hemmed in status of the actor. No matter his intentions, the public refuses to actually believe in Phoenix’s decision. Existing as a film star, the public’s definition of him seems locked in this identity. Would he be able to change careers if he was interested or is such a radical change of life impossible? Does one abandon identity with celebrity? Much remains unanswered in the film and despite its “mockumentary” status and post-production explanation as an act of humor or performance art, much remains uncertain. Is this mockery a reality and perhaps a glimpse into the shallow world we celebrate? Wherein lies the parody when such antics are both allowed to occur and celebrated by the public?

Window Glaring Glimpse

April 26, 2014 Leave a comment

In the director’s commentary for his film Don’t Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker shares a story of observing Bob Dylan backstage with Alan Price. Price had just recently left The Animals and Dylan is shown asking Price for an explanation for his exit. What follows, according to Pennebaker, is a “shared moment” between musicians in which both utilize their craft to express their inner feelings. With Dylan on guitar and Price at the piano, a sudden shift occurs and conversation becomes music. Dylan strums a blues riff while Price accompanies him with a blues piano part and vocals.

Pennebaker reflects on a particular look that Dylan gives the camera as notification that his camera was intruding. To Pennebaker the look communicates a warning, a statement saying that he was privy to a special moment.

The moment is a single example of the many facets of Dylan’s genius and mystique. Seen through the eyes of an admirer, it is difficult to perceive objective observation and subjective framing. Though known for his sparse production and journalistic-like style, Pennebaker appreciates Dylan and clearly admires his work. No matter what his opinion, the film persists as testament to craft. Glimpsing into this moment between Dylan and Price is a brief glimpse into the magic of creative work. Was Dylan telling this to Pennebaker or was some other force, perhaps the creative muse, glimpsing out towards the outsider. Odd enough that we are witness to the work of art being created through another piece of art. Via film we see the music.

Evaluating Value

April 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Is it fair if we compare? Would a Warhol viewed in Rembrandt’s time be greeted with respect? One can wonder how Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address would have been received if, instead of that famous text he gave, he used instead the movie speech from Independence Day. Context is essential in these situations.

A work of art is reflective of its age and viewing it outside of or in disregard of these facts fails to consider essential details of the art. A painting is far more than just its ink and canvas. Contained within that painting are the background details of both its own time and ours. View a painting in 2014 and its interpretation is not the same our viewing of it in 2013. Art, just the humans who create it, are constantly in flux.

“We cannot step into the same river twice” is a statement that connects here. Linked to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus it reminds us of the constant flux of life. Wary we must be when considering our own interpretations and the objects of our thinking. Never will we reach a point of certainty.

With every day our experiences and knowledge expand and change and from these “evolutions” come a new and different person. Perhaps our age is less a measure of our time alive and more a measure of the days in which we have been adjusted. Life affects us all, but for those who seek to truly apply their thinking and experience a work of art is a prime tool of consideration.

In a painting we have a constant object on which to ponder. Generation after generation can cast its gaze on the object and engage in the work to draw conclusion. Each individual will conduct this work in different ways and reflect the society from which he or she exists. By the questions we ask and the conclusions we draw much can be learned about the times from which we stem. Art is perfect for these experiments: thinking on our thinking reveals who we are. What can be said for a culture who made popular the work of a man whose sold process was printing soup cans? Does it suggest a commercially obsessed cultural or a culture reveling in a post-war glut of capital and power. All interpretations will vary, but what matters most of all is that work is being done.

The greatest art inspires thinking and while all art makes a statement it is the audience and critic’s job to evaluate the statements. Everyone can make an artistic statement but the value of these statements is a conclusion draw by the culture. These will vary over time and herein lies the glory of great art. Shakespeare persists not because of viral marketing but because his work continues to connect with generations.

Our sense of humor may change but what often remains constant is our sense of sincerity. If the art conveys a truth and speaks to us we continue to preserve it. Passing it on and suggesting others consider it becomes both a benefit for the future audience and the artist who created the work.

Valuable art is never about money: true value lies in immortality. No dollar amount can measure that power and no leader will ever hold the strength of a great painting. Biceps be damned: true power lies in great. Immortality is real: great art will live forever and though the hands and souls who created these works will perish the works themselves continue forward for as long as their message continues to be true. In truth beauty and in beauty truth.

Loss on Higher Levels

February 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Is the death of someone talented more tragic? The “critically-acclaimed actor” is a common start for widely read obituaries. Lost at her prime stage of talent, her death comes with both reminders of the past and musings for the future. Reflecting on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Slate’s Dana Stevens reflected her regret that Seymour would never again be the focus of a Paul Thomas Anderson film. She mourned the loss of an artistic collaboration in the making.

All deaths are tragic, but with the death of public figures we experience death together. Though we never meet Celebrity X, we see his films and spend hours with his work. From this we experience the death of these figures in unique and novel ways. These are not our family members, but they matter and we know them a some deeper, human level. Is it strange that many spend more hours watching the work of a celebrity than they do with neighbors living just a house away.

The “w0rk” of a selective group of people is experienced by the world. The actor’s personality becomes product and, from sea to sea and country to country, a world experiences the work. Despite cultural differences and political turmoil an actor’s work can be considered by anyone. Herein lies another great power of art: where politics creates boundaries and pain and suffering determine daily life a work of art can breach all borders.

Each individual possesses a unique talent. Whether he or she locates and develops this talent depends on a variety of factors. Is everyone a Shakespeare or Mozart? Perhaps they are if given the right talent, time and focus. Though all have certain skill sets few are provided with the bundled supplements to find its worth. How sad is it that millions go without even knowing of their skill? And yet, despite these millions left unaware the select few who realize their talents often work to create things that forever change the world for everyone.

This is where the greater tragedy comes in. In losing an individual who was aware of his or her talent we lose this precious item of development. For the few who can break through and realize their skills it is their duty to follow it through. So often these breakthroughs come with an inability to cope. Some have argue that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting skills were closely tied to his ability to sense human experience. Such sensitivity, they claim, left him vulnerable and unable to cope. The same has been argued for poets whose untimely deaths suggests too sensitive a demeanor or some lacking tool to separate skill with life experience.

Is the death of genius more tragic? Indeed it is but not just for the human soul we lose.

Imitation Simulation: Jerseys, Cash and Who?

January 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Endorsed as an “authentic replica”, an athlete’s jersey is expensive fabric gold. Part gem of memory and portal to a hero, it is a piece of clothing defined through multiple points of meaning. “Did he wear it in the game?” If so its value is far greater. “Is it dirty, bloody or torn?” Such tarnish is not filth: one might see that blood as liquid, reddened gold.

These jerseys are replicas of those worn by professional athletes. Not simply generic, standard issue, they come with the name of the athlete labeled on the back. One is “buying the player’s jersey”. What purpose is there in wearing another person’s jersey? Does John Doe, wearing Lebron’s jersey work to imitate LeBron?  Is it support or something deeper?

Jerseys that are endorsed by the NBA or the specific team hold a certain level of credo. What’s marketed as “authentic” is a realistic imitation of those worn in the game. Maybe the fabric is similar or the graphics are exactly as the team desires. These jerseys are expensive; though, and imitation jerseys, not endorsed by either group, exist and sell for far less.

What do we make of these “imitations of imitations”? Do these fakeries work to destroy the market? If any jersey works than why buy the best? Is it to support the team? One would provide more assistance in buying the imitation jersey for much less and mailing the difference to the team.

Title Tales

January 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Legitimacy is a difficult nut to crack. “Too legit to quit”? Then your skills should go unquestioned and success always assumed. To be “successful” is a relative state. In those whose dreams have been accomplished and whose goals achieved it’s easy to assume it was guaranteed. Far harder to consider those whose dreams went unrealized. The successful don’t dream more accurately.

One’s dreams are not another. In the accomplishment of one exists a source of shame for another. Cook a great meal and your status as a chef is established. Lose the butler and the home and the service known for ages and successful meals are more reminders than indulgences.

For many the battle to achieve legitimacy is difficult. Our terms for certain roles in society are vague. What is a musician? Can one be called a writer if he simply scrolls some sentences? Must a writer be published to be considered a writer? These minor details must be defined by the individual. For some the act of writing is enough, while for others publication is foundation. Ultimately each individual must come to define life’s titles as he or she sees fit. Language fails us…again.

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