Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Find a Subject

At Already Half Naked, David E. Ford, Jr., has posted an intriguing review of Gus Van Sant's latest movie, Paranoid Park. He ends with this:
Some reviewers have even remarked that Van Sant appears to be in a rut, going over much of the same territory he explored in his earlier films. This complaint echoes many of those made about the recent films of Wes Anderson. What these reviewers seem to ignore is that this is precisely what artists do: find a subject and repeatedly explore it in order to reveal new perspectives and deeper meanings.
These reviewers (and others) don't ignore this so much as they remain blissfully unaware of it. Yet it seems obviously true to me.

(Oh, and please check out David's excellent new blog. He's been posting some very interesting stuff over there.)


Scraps said...

Artists don't "precisely" do anything; artists do many different things. Some of them worry away at particular obsessions and subjects and points of view; others apply an approach to a variety of subjects; others show no evident pattern apart from a dedication to craft, or observation, or style. Artists who concentrate on a limited subject matter may indeed reveal new perspectives every time out, but someone who isn't fascinated by every facet of a subject could be forgiven for finding the differences trivial; and if an artist is often accused of repeating themself, it seems to me an inadequate response to merely say that is what artists do.

david e. ford, jr said...

it's a good point, scraps, and well taken. obviously i made a sort of generalization, but i did it to make a larger point. speaking of movies, as an example, i don't know of many truly accomplished filmmakers who did not over their careers continually revisit much of the same territory. certainly filmmakers grow and as they do, their work evolves, but it seems to me, from my own viewing, that real artists out there in the cinema--as opposed to the artisans, of which there are also many greats--seem to basically make the same movie, when in reality they are simply using some of the same elements to tell a different story. a lot of the critical attention that paranoid park has received has focused on its similarities with van sant's recent work. in my view, anyone who sees that film as nothing more than a rehashing of gerry or elephant hasn't really been paying attention.

thanks for the post and kind words, richard.


Scraps said...

Fair enough -- although it seems to me you may be begging the question, by defining artists as the ones who find a vein and mine it, and the other folk as artisans.

The vein-mining artist risks dilution of the subject's emotional power. I think when people accuse an artist of repeating himself, they often mean "You've made me feel this way already (and it doesn't move me as much the second and third time around)."

brandon said...

Indeed, that is what they mean Scraps, but it's always seemed a little simple-minded in addition to being an almost-always cheap, go-to critique. If you liked the previous movie about a given topic, why wouldn't more on that same topic also be engaging??

On principle, mining the same territory does not make an artist, but more and more, people expect artists to do everything and to make another movie about the "same" thing is not in any way, an inherent flaw. A lot of critics and viewers seem to think so.

Scraps said...

Except for the people who want the artist to do the same thing over and over again, and are angry when the artist does something different. The evidence of career arcs suggest there are more of those people.

Really, what matters is not the frame you can fit a critique into, but whether the critique is accurate. If Gus Van Sant (say) is repeating himself in a way that shows no development in his artistry and offers nothing new to the audience, it isn't cheap to point it out, and while a particular review along those lines may well be simple-minded, it doesn't inhere in the very idea of criticizing repetition.

brandon said...

Yeah...this conversation is silly.
Obviously what matters is if the criticism is "accurate". Also of course, what defines an accurate or inaccurate review is subjective. That is to say, I don't think Van Sant is not developing; others might. Who is "accurate"?

You're kind of mincing words in the sense because indeed, history of art and most artists' careers would show that most artists mine the same territory with subtle but complex changes over a lifetime. It's a relatively recent trend to expect artists to be all over the place as some sign of "maturity" or whatever-ity...