Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jun 03 2003

I’ve been wondering lately about exactly how much …

I’ve been wondering lately about exactly how much artists know about their own artistic abilities, or how much they can, or even should know. When a really good painter decides to paint something, do his internal urges arise from instincts he himself does not understand? Or does he follow the logic of his own understanding of the art, built from both talent and experience? Would art based on the latter be more limited by so-called understanding, i.e., would artificial boundaries between the understood and the instinctual create a barrier for the artist? Some of these thoughts stem from reading about art in various forms lately. To me, writing about music, i.e. reviewing albums and movies and the like, is pretty much useless because there’s no way to recreate the experience of one medium in such a different context, indeed a completely different medium. Of course we need to at least superficially understand what’s going on in art, otherwise you get the bullshit-in-a-frame mentality of post-modernism, which is based on the tenet that anything outside of its usual context is art. But there are so many ways of representing things in a fashion that is understandable on the superficial level that art, and I mean this as the instinctual kind, must necessarily play a part in the choice of expression. Yet I wonder how many artists don’t have the actual understanding of what they do that they claim to. Perhaps some artists are just better at bullshitting than others, while the ones who admit they don’t know how they do what they do just can’t be bothered to come up with a bullshit explanation.

This isn’t just for artists and creators, however. How many of us actually understand why we like something? This, I believe, is one of the reasons the second Matrix movie was substandard. The reasons most people gave for liking the first, e.g. effects, fight scenes, etc., had nothing to do with why the movie actually appealed to people; they were the only things people could put into words to justify why they liked it, and the producers heard this and decided to follow this trend, while ignoring the reasons the first movie really appealed to people. Was this just blind worship of marketing trends? Or do the Wachowski Brothers really know why they did what they did in the first movie. My guess is that their instincts, which are good, were overwhelmed by peoples opinions of the first film, and thus they were unable to develop the second film in the same public-relations vaccuum in which they developed the first. They listened to the fans, who didn’t know themselves why they really liked the film. And neither did the brothers, it seems.

This is, of course, a good argument for developing one’s understanding of one’s artistic abilities so that they stand up to such situations and cannot be easily overwhelmed by public opinion and marketing trends. If the artist knows why he is doing something, he’s less likely to be influenced by such things. On the other hand, how much can one know about such a nebulous and virtually unlimited aspect of the mind? And does such conscious knowlege of one’s abilities destroy or lessen them? That would be one tenet of many eastern philosophies and even religions such as Daoism and Zen, where you do things because they’re supposed to be done, not out of any intellectual understanding of the reasons behind them, which would establish boundaries and lessen their impact.

For myself, I often find that when I am, say, making a film, I make decisions for reasons I don’t immediately understand, but they usually seem to work out. Sometimes I eventually realize why I made that decision, sometimes I don’t, other than that it feels right. I have found in my limited experience that most of the people watching me actually make the film don’t understand why I’m doing things the way I do them, and yet are suprised to see the end result. “That’s much better than I thought it would be,” is something I’ve heard a lot. I heard it in New York when my crew had no idea why I was doing what I was doing (a fault of communication of course, but then how can I explain it if I don’t really understand it myself?) and then saw what I had come up with in the editing room. Even a piece of crap like Alphadogah came out better than anyone expected. I’ve become used to people telling me that certain ideas won’t work for various reasons, and while input is always valuable, especially from people whose judgement you trust, sometimes you have to try it out the way you feel it should be, even if you don’t know why. This is easier to do nowadays with the ascent of digital video tools, but time and money are still wasted if everyone’s standing around on the set waiting for the director to decide how to shoot a scene. I wonder how often a mental battle between what the director knows the producers want and what he feels to be right is the cause of such indecision. With most art forms you can do it in private, caving in to your innermost desires. Films are made by groups of people, however, in a public forum, which changes the pressures involved during the process. No doubt I’ll learn more about the practical side of the creative process as I go, but it’s certainly something I think about more now than I ever have before.

Yeah, I’ve been reading Metafilter. Can ya tell?

posted by Poagao at 3:47 am  

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