September 3, 2009

A Little Philosophy, but Mostly Art: Part 2

After a poorly planned absence, here's my response.

You, quoting someone else, wrote,
“there should be an even amount of both in a book to make it successful, but this is hard in a world where most writers try to abide by a rule called, "show, don't tell," which the author of the article calls a horribly bad idea.”

I don’t know how comfortable I am with this article saying writing should be any one way. I think each author’s method is going to be different. But, I think the highlighter exercise would be interesting to do –just to see what a piece of writing looks like when dissected in that way. It might prove inspiring.

Re: your college movies.
Kubrick said (if I remember correctly) that you should first decide what the scene is about, and THEN figure out how to shoot it. It sounds like you were of the same mind. If that means anything to you.

Form ought to serve substance. I agree. Even if we sometimes disagree over when certain works are succeeding in this (ie. Dogville), I think we are united in believing that the most important aspect of a work of art is what it's about -even if what it's about is nearly impossible to say.

Hey. It's always so nice to hear from you.

Yeah, Cassavetes is a great example of a bold, unique style emerging from an artist who spent little time focusing on it.

It kills you to choose style over substance? Ha. Me too.


You wrote, “style can handle the simple, speak-able things of life better than substance (‘external’).”

That’s really interesting. I’m thinking of a scene in an Ozu film (I can’t remember which), where an old man sits down and peels an apple in a silent, empty house. It was a breathtaking moment, and what made it breath-taking (rather than just a scene of a guy peeling an apple) was the stylistic choices Ozu made.

Where am I going with this? I dunno. Hooray style.

Art should be unstable? I’ve got to think about that.

You wrote,
“What I really love is a well-turned phrase.”

You’re a true book-lover. In case you didn’t know.

I certainly have authors I relate to like you do to Hemingway. Thank God for those artists; their excellence forces us to really step outside ourselves and into a world of ideas and characters we might otherwise avoid. That’s a pretty valuable thing, I think.

Thanks so much for commenting.

You wrote,
“Style may be important now, more than ever, at being unique. Every story has been told, more or less.”

“I think weighing heavily on style or form means choosing a certain crowd…”

“there is a place for the style-emphasized art. It is mostly for the artists, though, I'd say, and effects culture at large by trickle down (the same way scholarly books eventually reach the people)”

Jon, this is really interesting stuff.

Every story has been told. This is true. And if you push back far enough you’ll end up chiming along with the writer of Ecclesiastes saying ‘All is meaningless.” Art serves no purpose, ultimately. Nor does anything else, ultimately. So as an artist you’ve got to wrestle with that. All you’re doing is what’s been done before. There is nothing new under the sun.

Choosing a certain crowd… Hmmm. Ricky Gervais was outrageous enough to say he didn’t want certain people watching the The Office. He purposely designed it to repel a certain type of viewer. And yeah, that is dangerous. But in that case, I’d say his flirting with danger paid off. I don’t know where I stand on that generally though, ‘but I’m no fan of the opposite extreme –where you end up with Hollywood blockbusters or something, which purposely try to appeal to as many people as possible. It forces me, again, to ponder the meaninglessness of art. Art must be its own argument.

What you say about style-emphasized art is fascinating. I’ve often felt that some artists are more like inventors than artists. They invent new ways of speaking, but what they have to say (the substance) is a lot less inspiring. Like Orson Welles saying of Jean Luc Godard, “He sees himself primarily as a thinker. I admire him as a film-maker, but not as a thinker.” Something like that.

I value those artists, even if I don't always think their art can stand on its own.

Re: Ichikawa.
I think we, as humans, need something to grab onto initially when we learn something new. Even if it is simplistic or false, we need something. Apparently Ichikawa’s films were so stylistically varied (I haven’t seen any of his films) that there was nothing to grab onto. You couldn’t say, “Ichikawa’s the guy who does _____,” so you couldn’t look forward to seeing that thing he does, which you liked, in the next film.

I certainly don’t blame people for struggling to understand Ichikawa. It, at least, afforded him the ability to be a more anonymous artist.

Apology #3.
Sorry again that it took me so long to respond. I’d somehow forgotten how complicated moving can be, even when it’s just across town. I should have timed this conversation a little better.

But I’m back now. Finally.


nathan davies said...

peeling apple -
late spring.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

hey, thanks. Other than 'Good Morning' every Ozu film blurs into every other Ozu film -for me. Which, in his case is -I think- a good thing.

Anonymous said...


Jon Coutts said...

I like how you tackled each commenter separately. no offense to the group but i've only got time to respond to "mine":

I'd go with Ecclesiastes all the way if "under the sun" was all there was, although even the meaninglessness would be relative. Even in a place where all has been done before, there is an inherent beauty in each person and thing and expression for what it is. And style can be a part of that, as much as substance. But it all evaporates under the sun. The best art inevitably captures that, I think. The beauty, AND the evaporation, both of which to my mind evoke something to the sun and beyond it (one postively and the other negatively).

joel said...

I think you need to be less polite in order to entice responses Matt.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...


What an interesting approach to Ecclesiastes.

You wrote,
"The best art inevitably captures that, I think."

I think you're probably right. Transcendence is the thing I value most in art.

Yes, I know I'm too polite. I'm serious. You're absolutely right, but I don't know how to get out of it -or I don't know if I have the energy to care anymore. I'll pick other battles, for now.

Your comment made me laugh.