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MotG: Media as Art


Mashiara Sedai
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In our modern times, there is some debate as to what constitutes art.  Paintings, of course. Literature, definitely.  But when the idea of media—most specifically, cinema—is brought up, many dismiss it as not being worthy of art.

 

There are arguments on both sides, but less now that the medium has developed so much.  It's difficult to remember that film as a medium is only a little over 100 years old.  And compared to painting/drawing, which can be dated to 40,000 years ago (in the El Castillo cave in Spain), it's easy to see why film is not held with the same sort of reverence.  However, that fact—of film being new—can help its claim to being called art.  

 

Jeremy Carr, of Studies in Cinema, has this to say:

 

"There are a lot of arguments about [film as art] but what I go back to is this: It's a combination of painting, literature, photography, music, drama (theater), and poetry. Yet in itself, by means of editing especially (which does not exist in any other form), it is unique. How could it not then be art? Not only that, it is really the only art form that continually evolves, via science, technology, etc., and will continue to do so. What could possibly be the argument against it?"

 

Along those same lines, director Andrei Tarkovsky, argues that film is able to represent real life (and its imperfections), which is the point of art.  He says, "The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony, but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world."

 

Roger Ebert—the famed film critic—says that film's purpose it to excite emotion in people.  Most would agree, that is art's purpose: to make us feel.  Ebert said:

 

"I’ve always felt that movies are an emotional medium — that movies are not the way to make an intellectual argument. If you want to make a political or a philosophical argument, then the ideal medium exists, and that medium is the printed word — a movie is not a logical art form. When we watch a film, the director is essentially standing behind us and saying, “Look here,” and “Look there,” “Hear this,” and “Hear that,” and “Feel this,” and “Feel the way I want you to feel.” And we give up conscious control over our intelligence. We become voyeurs. We become people who are absorbed into the story, if the story is working. And it’s an emotional experience."

 

First, we will focus on the argument that cinema is art (we'll discuss the counterargument in a few days).

 

So, do you agree that cinema should be listed as an art form?  Give specific examples if possible.

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Yes, it should definitely be considered art. For animated films - the characters and scenes are drawn. Drawing is art. Live-action films are basically just a ton of fast-moving phots, and photography is art, so yes, film is art. It also has a storyline and has to have a script. Writing is art. 

 

 

Also, everything is technically art in a way.

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Yes, Dawn, most people feel the same way.  However, there is a counterargument.  One side says film is not art, and a slightly different perspective says some movies are not art.

 

For the first counterargument, an article by Helen Bradley quotes Roger Scruton, and his views that film can only record something, not represent something:

 

"The contention that films cannot be art has its roots in a long and traditional concern with the technique of photography. Those who were apprehensive about giving films the honorific status of artworks grounded their concerns in the processes of photography, namely a mechanical or causal process of recording. On the sceptics view films are no more than moving pictures. With this sceptical outlook on photography it is no surprise that films received as much, if not more, prejudice against their being artworks. Accounting for the causal nature of photography presents a challenge for any artist attempting to express thought or feeling or even to imprint individual style on to their work.

 

"The sceptical contention that photography, and thus film, is essentially a causal process of mechanical recording has perhaps been most systematically presented by Roger Scruton.  He maintains that this causal relation entails that film lacks the capacity of representation and intentionality; it cannot express or represent anything, it can only record what is already there. Scruton relegates films to recordings of dramatic representations. Hence any artistic merit within the film is in virtue of what has been recorded and not the recording itself."

 

And an article by Ted Hope states that the film industry is so commercialized.  This view, that it is purely based on money, does lead to the argument that anything done purely for material gain is not art.  You know the saying about "starving artists."

 

However, there is the slight difference with the next few examples.  They claim that some film is art, and some isn't.

 

Bollywood actor Bobby Deol says, "Cinema is not art anymore. It has become main steam now which is good. There are different kinds of films being made with different topics and that's nice."

 

And famed film critic and reviewer, Pauline Kael, says this, "There is so much talk now about the art of the film that we may be in danger of forgetting that most of the movies we enjoy are not works of art. 'The Scalphunters,' for example, was one of the few entertaining American movies this past year, but skillful though it was, one could hardly call it a work of art—if such terms are to have any useful meaning."

 

I think most of us would agree that certain films have more artistic integrity--look at a film like Pan's Labyrinth with it's beautiful colors and imagery, and compare it to The Fast and the Furious; honestly, one of those films should be taken more seriously than the other.

 

Or is it wrong to say that one film is art and another isn't?

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And an article by Ted Hope states that the film industry is so commercialized.  This view, that it is purely based on money, does lead to the argument that anything done purely for material gain is not art.  You know the saying about "starving artists."

What about when someone commissions you to do artwork for them? Is that not art since you were only drawing it to get money?

 

Nope. It's still art. There's no difference.

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You bring up a good point, RTE.  Since we are talking about media, that would include "the media," like news journalist--of course literary journalism would fall under the category of literature, I think.  So, do news anchors conduct art when they broadcast their shows, their interviews, their stories?  Some of the better interviewers are praised for their skills in the field, so could it be classified as art if they conduct with such expertise?  Or could it be art even if they don't?  I've never heard of an argument either way in regards to the news media.  But, are they really expressing something, or just stating facts?

 

As for the second question, is art art even if the creator says it's not?  I think it could be.  A lot of times, artist lack a certain confidence in their creations.  That's because they are able to see the flaws.  So, if they can see the flaws, and say it's not art because it's not perfect, the viewer could definitely disagree.  I think the masses have the true right to call something art--we are the ones that recognize it as such.  That's not to say it's all a popularity contest.  Quite the opposite.  I'm just saying that what one person thinks is art, another doesn't.  And what one person says isn't art, another thinks it is.  This could apply to the artist/creator and the viewer as well.

 

It's so difficult to put a clear definition on what art is, so it's really all down to a person's opinion.

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I think art is more about the amount of one's self that they pour into their project. I have seen actors, in phenomal roles, make films I would consider art. I have seen those same actors "phone it in", and produce absolute garbage. Likewise with literary journalism. I think it is much harder for television, in general, to rise to the level of art. The daily/weekly requirements of the average sit-com, drama, or news show, would probably burn out the strongest soul in a heartbeat, if they poured themselves into every episode the way some actors have in certain films.

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Wow, that's an interesting point, Tsukibana!  I've never thought about TV vs film in that way before.  Of course, thinking in those terms, I've seen all three seasons of Sherlock--and though they are short seasons--the actors seem to be pouring in so much heart and soul to the characters.  But, I see your point on a weekly show.  It would be difficult to keep up the energy. 

 

But what about animated shows?  Futurama had many touching episodes.  That would classify, I think, as writers pouring themselves into the show.  Would Futurama--like the 4-leaf clover episode--be art?

 

And also, does that mean you would say that films with poor acting--with actors who don't give a damn about their performance--wouldn't be art?

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I do believe the Sherlock rises to the level of "art". That is such a phenomenal show, and as you said, you can tell the actors love their work. On the same note, but bringing the third paragraph into play, part of what makes that show art is the way that the crew, staff, director, and producer love what they are doing. I think it may be POSSIBLE for a film with poor acting to rise to the level of "art", but it is much harder for the... soul... that the director pours into the product to overcome the acting. After all, we are visual creatures, and most people will not focus on the direction, screen pans, scene focal points, etc. Instead, we focus on the actors, the center piece.

 

Concerning annimated products (forget the four-leaf clover episode, what about Seymour??), I believe that it is EASIER for these to rise to the level of art, even if the drawing is the same week-to-week.

In these cases, it becomes about the writing, and the emotion carried within it. Journalists who write ho-hum articles week after week are capable of the same elevation in craft, the moment they find

the story that speaks to their soul.

Edited by Tsukibana
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