Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Nature of Art, Part 2, as well as other things

By Paul "The Good-Looking One" Goldberg

If you click to get to our home page, and scroll down a few stories, you'll see that on May 23rd, I wrote "Part 1" of this essay, in which I discussed what art is, what all art aims at, and very briefly, a method by which one one can evaluate how well a particular artwork achieves its goal.  This article concludes the essay.

And I also have a few things on my mind, which I'll share at the essay's conclusion.
The Nature of Art, Part 2

My critical method is tripartite--split into three parts.  These parts are:

  1. Argument
  2. Theme
  3. Form
Boiling it down, what I do is extract the essential argument of the artwork, and evaluate its soundness; then I look into how the artwork's themes support the argument, and evaluate how well they do so; finally, I analyze how the forms employed by the artist evoke the themes supportive of the argument, and evaluate how well these themes are evoked.

The best works of art have (a) sound, profound arguments, (b) consistently supportive and non-detracting themes, and (c) properly evocative, non-muddled forms.  

The worst works of art have certainly (a) unsound arguments, and also might have (b) inconsistent and detracting themes, and (c) muddled forms.

Works of art that are in between have sound arguments that are lacking in profundity.

My point is this: it's absolutely crucial for an artwork to have a sound argument--as in, it makes an ultimate statement and has good reasons for making the statement.  If the artwork fails in this regard, it must necessarily fail as a whole.  That is because since the ultimate goal of a work of art is to embody truth, it must then embody a statement that is true and arrive at this statement from true and relevant reasons.  Thus, if the artwork embodies a false statement, it has irrevocably failed at reaching its goal; also, if an artwork embodies a true statement but on the grounds of faulty reasoning, it thus only embodies a true statement by pure accident, and embodies it in an untrue manner, thus this artwork irrevocably fails as well.

Analyzing themes and forms simply allows one to understand how well--e.g., how consistently, how powerfully--an artwork expresses its argument.  In other words, the argument is the 'what' of the piece--i.e., the substance--while the themes and forms are the 'how' of the piece--i.e., the ways that the substance is expressed.

To further express how my critical approach works, I'll use an example from Dead Poet's Society, which is probably my favorite film (bear with my highly simplified analysis here; I do it simply to illustrate my critical method).

Dead Poet's Society (SPOILER ALERT)
Argument: There is an eternal essence to life's meaning, and one comes in contact with this meaning by living passionately, honestly, and compassionately.  The evidence for this argument is that many dead poets wrote about (in their lifetimes) love, life, meaning, experience, loss, etc. in ways that resonate with the characters who are still living, and when the passion, compassion, and honesty are cut-off from one of the protagonists, he no longer has the will to live. MY ANALYSIS: The statement is true, and the evidence is very strong to support it (sound).  Moreover, the statement is about the very nature of human existence (profound).
Themes supportive of the argument: Youth, the eternal nature of meaningfulness, inevitable decay and death in humanity, the importance of new experiences, the importance of love, of honesty, of compassion, the importance of freedom, and courage.  MY ANALYSIS: The themes are consistently supportive of the argument; they detract slightly only because they rely on some cliches about old age meaning unoriginality and grouchiness, as well as tradition meaning arbitrary and stifling rules.  It's slightly inconsistent with the film's other theme of the eternality of meaningfulness in human life.
Forms evocative of the supportive themes: The film employs symbolism: standing on the desks at the end of the movie signifies both the students' courage to stand up for truth, as well as courage and thirst for experiencing life passionately and freely.  Poetry is an art form that is very explicitly about beauty and truth and compassion, all themes that the film intends to evoke.  MY ANALYSIS: Again, the film relies on some cliches here--such as the Romantic authors all portraying beauty, while the Realist authors only portray depravity--but overall, the forms employed properly evoke the themes.
Overall: The film's argument is not only sound, but also ultimately profound. High marks here.  Although the themes and forms are slightly detracting and/or muddled, they are mostly successful.  Thus, due to the soundness and profundity of the argument, and the generally effective themes and forms, this film is highly successful in its goal of embodying beauty, thus it is a great work of art.

I hope this clears up lingering uncertainties about my approach.  Of course, I understand that my approach stems from a worldview anchored in objective truth and ultimate accessibility of this truth to human beings, which is at the very least a controversial philosophical worldview.  But it is one that I believe that not only is true, but also important to realize as true.
other things

-Since it always seems to be a longer and longer time between my posts, I don't know when I'll post again.  So I'd like to say, in the upcoming months, please see films, open yourself up to the beauty of art in its many forms, and keep a watchful eye out for works of art that only masquerade as profound.

-Isn't it hard to believe we're already halfway into the 2012 Oscar season?  I know The Savant must be excited.

-My list of favorite movies?  I feel like sharing some of it with you (not in any order).

Dead Poet's Society
Friday Night Lights
Annie Hall
The Purple Rose of Cairo
Garden State
Wings of Desire
The Departed
The Seventh Seal
Little Big Man
Edward Scissorhands
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Disney's the Hunchback of Notre Dame
Crimes and Misdemeanors
2001: A Space Odyssey
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Phantom of the Opera

-Until this half jew posts again, this is The Good-Looking One, saying have a great life and enjoy the arts, audience members of the world.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wait…Did We Watch the Same Movie? (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)

By: Alex “The Savant” Heisman

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve written a piece in this series but I felt it was finally time to return as I just saw one of the most iconic films ever for the first time: Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I feel no shame in admitting I had never before seen this infamous film as what I understood the themes to be never seemed truly approachable. What I have to say, however, will undoubtedly offend some people, most notably The Older Good-Looking-One, The Good-Looking One’s sister, as I understand that this is one of her favorite films.

It must be understood up front that I’ve never accepted the massive appeal and legend that is Audrey Hepburn. Everyone seems to go gaga over her, I guess from her performance in this film, but I’ve always found her a waifish actress whose sing-song voice greatly distracts from her uninspired line readings. I’ve only ever enjoyed one performance from her, the magnificent Wait Until Dark, but her characterization of the free-spirit Holly Golightly embodies everything I find off-putting about her as an actress. Hepburn’s incredibly exaggerated facial expressions betray the authority Holly so desperately attempts to show the world. The FABULOUS and underrated actress Rosalind Russell so breathes an abundancy of life into her free-spirit character in Auntie Mama a mere three years earlier that Hepburn should have taken a page from her book on how to play such a character.

The only thing thinner than Hepburn’s performance is the plot of the film. Indeed, there is so little narrative that it is essentially presented in vignettes of differing theme stretched over its two hour running time. For one 15-minute section, the movie relies on director Blake Edward’s infamous comedic flair while the next 15 minutes oddly switch to heavy drama without warning. The viewer can tell which emotion they’re supposed to be feeling by the abrupt change in style of Henry Mancini’s oft-lauded score. By the time the ending finally rolls around, the score swells to such bombastic heights as to mirror Hepburn’s completely over-exaggerated and false facial expressions.

Credit where credit is due, however- the film is otherwise very aesthetically pleasing. Blake Edwards’ tight and clever direction harnessed the power of the camera’s lens in conjunction with the cinematographic glow of the overhead lights quite effectively. The well-known, Academy Award winning song Moon River, which actually benefits from Hepburn’s light voice, is one of the best ever composed (although, it seems slightly out of place and a little too epic for this film). Also, two of my favorite actors, Martin Balsam and Patricia Neal, assuredly deliver insightful performances in their small, cameo appearances.

Notice that I have not commented on Mickey Rooney’s unusual, racist performance as the Asian landlord of Holly’s building- I’m still not completely sure what to make of that one.

Audrey Hepburn was most certainly a humanitarian of the first order and had a level of sex appeal surpassed only by Elizabeth Taylor. It is still no small wonder that a mere human being could be as classy as she was. That being said, however, both she and Truman Capote, the author of the original short story, felt she was miscast as Holly Golightly and I have to agree. Indeed, the distinct elements of the character of Holly in Capote’s text (her young age of 19, her bisexuality, her abortion) were sacrificed in the script in order to attract Hepburn to the role and let the studio rely on star power for profit. Go ahead, vilify me in the comments!