Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I know what I like.

"I don't know much about art, but I know what I like" goes the trite phrase that has been attributed to everyone from Mark Twain, Monty Python, James Thurber and the mutterings of a Texas oil man in an art gallery. What is art?  The art at the top of the page is by Marla Olmstead a "child prodigy artist" and worth several thousand dollars. Marla Olmstead was eight-years-old at the time she painted it.  The one beneath is finger painting and probably priceless only to the artist's parents.  For the rest of us, it would hang on the fridge for a while, if we  knew the kid. The third is by Jackson Pollock.  He had a painting sell for 140 million dollars.    I honestly don't see much of a a difference, although I've seen Pollock in a museum and there really is something about his work that does not translate in  a reproduction.  There really is something about seeing a masterpiece that a picture of it just doesn't capture.  But I digress...

Corpse Bride
A Nightmare Before Christmas

 I was given pause the other night when I went with a friend to Looper.  He said he had just gone to see Frankenweenie and I asked him how it was saying that I was not a Tim Burton fan.  He asked me why? I replied that all of his work had the same look.  Hence the series of pictures above.  He asked if that wasn't more like an artist's style rather than a lack of creativity or growth?  My response at the time was that it was like an artist who had a "blue" period but he never grew beyond it.  In short, an artist should grow.
But I must pause...

Is this a true answer or is there more here?  A Fellini film has a true style but much of his work has a very identifiable look.  The same is true of other great film makers like Akiro Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman who have very identifiable looks too.  So what makes their work art and Burton not so much? Does style make art or just make it's creator identifiable.  And what about something less visible than visual art such as  sound art or word art? 

I can only say that there has to be both a measurable element but also a personal one.  I know what I like, but there is clearly something about high art that makes it last from generation to generation and person to person.  There is art of the moment such as performance art or Christo but that is an art that cannot be captured even on film.  It will not be repeated and is more or less inspiration.  This art is memory.

Solid, high art does more.  Style marks the maker, but art gives us insight, challenges us, puts us in awe.  It makes us look at who we are and our civilization.  It causes us to question.  It makes us wonder at our greatness and ponder our failures.  We see soul in art.  We see humanity.  So while there is style in what Burton does, I don't know about the art unless there is a degree of art.  

Entertainment is in and of itself art.  It is though, I think, preferential art.   I like it because I like it.  So by that standard, Burton is a successful artist.  He has definable style, but he is not high art anymore than Star Trek or Star Wars is.  These are cultural art.  They are something that gives us something we like.  They may give us a little insight, but not the insight that Shakespeare or Dante gives us into the human soul.  Not the curiosity that cause us to wonder what is in the window in American Gothic?  Sure, Star Trek may show us the folly of race relations or the realities of war, but they are not showing something new but reminding us of our humanity and our times.  Cultural art is important, but it is driven not just by depth but by personal taste. It is the difference between the depth of a fantasy like Lord of the Rings and a fantasy like Lord Foul's Bane.  Both are well written and both have artistic value but only one gives us a depth more and altered the course of it genre of literature.  Which brings me to another point.

What if a piece alters the course of its form?  Does Citizen Kane, or E.E. Cummings or even The Sword of Shannara count as high art? Kane altered the way movies were shot for all time. It altered the course of an entire industry and the stories it could tell.  It could be argued that it gave the movies the idea that they could become a true art form. E. E. Cummings didn't necessarily explore the soul, although he could, but he altered form and thought of what poetry could do and look like.  Shannara certainly is not Tolkien, but it did something that Rings didn't.  It was the first fantasy to go best seller.  It was this book that caused the explosion of fantasy books and science fiction books to appear.  When I went to a bookstore before Brooks wrote the book there was perhaps two or three, four at most shelves of fantasy and science fiction.  After, there was an explosion of these books.  They had been written before, but they were regarded as specialty books.  If you were lucky you would find an Edgar Rice Burroughs or a Robert E. Howard along with Heinlein or Asimov, but that was pretty much it.  After Shannara, publishers realized there was a market and money to be had.  So is it art? Yes.  Is it high art? Probably not, but I still like it and will re-read it from time to time.  It did alter its genre. 

So what is art?  It is something you like.  It is something that you think about.  It has levels and it has values.  Is Frakenweenie great art. No.  It is cultural and personal art defined by an artist with a clear, identifiable style.  I am still not a fan, but I have to admit, it is art. What can I say?  I know what I like.