Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

In compiling a list for visual artists, I looked for films that had points to make about the art world, artists, or made great use of the visual medium that film is. It was a hard list to compile, because there were surprisingly few examples. Most films about artists are boring or inaccurate, or boring and inaccurate. Films about the art world are often clichés. I did not include the charmingly ridiculous How to Steal A Million(1966) because it doesn’t have any real lesson to teach (although it is great fun and Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole are inhumanly stunning together).

My list is eclectic, and in order to give some explanation for my choices, I had to split the list in half, so come back tomorrow for Part II: The TOP 5 of the TOP 10

10)  Semi-Tough, 1977

Michael Ritchie, Director. Starring Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, Jill Clayburgh.

We’ll start with an easy pick of something light and not too deep in the message area. One thing film does better than any other medium is satire, and Semi-Tough manages to clobber just about everything we decided was sacred in the 70s and told us to ‘get over ourselves’ long before it was fashionable. Although it’s now dated, that’s exactly what makes it fun—something you also want to remember when creating art (not that this comes close).

So, just as a warm-up, I invite you to get some popcorn and maybe even a joint to watch this comic love triangle played out just outside the football field, with send-ups of the new self-improvement Gestalt of the 70s with fads like EST and ROLFING (here called BEAT and PELFING).

…And it would never have made it to this list but for the one line delivered by a young(er) and still sexy Kristofferson (as football player “Shake” Tiller—ridiculous in itself) to Clayburgh as Barbara Jane (BJ) Bookman, the team owner’s daughter, just returned from a journey to Africa to find herself after another hopeless romance, where she spent her time taking pictures she now hates.

Shake:   “They’re nice pictures of trees.”

BJ:       “But I was trying to take pictures of people and animals.”

Shake: “Don’t think about what you tried to do, just look at what you did.”

Get it?  Ah, yes Obi Wan, we are with you.

Watch the Trailer.

9)  Pollock, 2000

Ed Harris, Director. Starring Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Tom Bower, Jennifer Connelly.

Biographic films about artists tend to suck for one of two reasons: 1) while an artists’ work is often very engaging, their daily lives are often not (Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe are recent examples). They create drama in their minds or seek it out, and are often self-absorbed to the point where they make very bad movie protagonists, since we lose sight of what we are rooting for; and 2) the films that do make the artist seem interesting often have very little fact to them (Lust for Life featuring Kirk Douglas and his famous dimple as Van Gogh,  and Moulin Rouge ,1952, with Jose Ferrar doing a horribly gimpy Toulouse-Lautrec).

Pollock is one of those rare biopic films about artists that manages to tell an engaging story while stepping inside the New York art world and the private life of one of the most famous and troubled artists of the 20th century.  He led a turbulent and tormented life while his art was embraced by people with high influence in New York society, like Peggy Guggenheim (Harris’s wife Amy Madigan in a great performance). Pollock was loved, possibly unreasonably, by another artist, Lee Krasner (Harden) who protected him from the world and his own demons as best she could—which she viewed as her highest contribution to art.

Director Harris is able to keep the story balanced while actor Harris unveils a rich portrait of a talented man who had no coping mechanisms for the world that made him into a commodity. The film explores the delicacy of giving yourself over to your art while still preserving yourself within the real world—of drawing a lifeline where you can find your way back. Krasner was often that lifeline, but Pollock often lost touch with her as well. It’s quite a riveting portrait that talks more about art than it does about the artist—whether you believe all the details or not. Harris also appears in a documentary about Pollock, Jackson Pollock, Love and Death on Long Island, which recounts many of the same incidents through interviews with some Lee Krasner and others who knew the artist.

Watch the Pollock Trailer

And as soon as you see this, make sure to watch #8,

8)  Who the $#%@ Is Jackson Pollock (2006)

Documentary. Harry Moses, Director

Paired with the film above (which you should see first to give you a context), this wacky documentary follows truck driver and trailer park art aficionado, Teri Horton, who buys a $5 painting for her neighbor that turns out to be a possible Jackson Pollock. Soon the whole art world is involved as experts try to verify the authenticity and the price keeps climbing to $25 million. I had a lot more to say about this film in an earlier post, Pollock, Paintcans, and Millions of Dollars.  It was definitely a hoot to watch, and really helps you see the difference between the world of creating art and the world of collecting art.

This movie is a MUST for any artist, just to help you gain perspective on how little control you have over the value that is placed on your work.

Trailer not available – official site.

7)  Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006

Guillermo Del Toro, Director. Starring Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil and Sergi López.

I have to include this film by Guillermo Del Toro, despite the fact that I had no plans to ever see it again—that was until I watched the trailer again.

It’s not exactly enjoyable, although it is visually evocative and exciting, which is why it won three Academy Awards for best cinematography, makeup and art direction. Like many contemporary fantasy films, this Spanish import crosses over between the reality we know and the reality just below the surface of our consciousness. It’s a very dark story about a young girl in 1944 fascist Spain who avoids the visions of cruelty her step father, a sadistic army officer, perpetrates upon his prisoners by turning to books. Late at night, she is visited by a faun who draws her towards a labyrinth of dark mystical creatures who want to claim her as their princess…and she follows.

The make-up, lighting, and set design are exquisite, and there is a lyrical movement to the film that is well worth seeing.

 Watch the Trailer.

6)   Avatar, 2009

James Cameron, Director. Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver.

Nearly everyone has seen this film, multiple times judging by Cameron’s bank account, but it’s well worth the price of popcorn (although I doubt the home DVD can do it justice).  I saw it twice in 3D with my son who also saw the IMAX version and the regular 2D version, and he claims there was no comparison. I’m willing to believe him.

This film would not, as a whole, be considered a creative masterpiece. The acting is adequate, the dialogue a little mundane, the story itself is fairly ordinary and predictable, and the last third of the picture (the obligatory Star Wars type battle scene) goes on for way too long. But I’m not reviewing this film here for its story.

The sheer genius of Avatar is in the new technology Cameron (Director of The Terminator, The Abyss, Aliens, and Titanic) and his crew created that allows them to cross a new line into virtual storytelling.  For the first time ever, computer generated scenery and even characters can be played out in real time for the live actors to play against, and even Cameron was able to view them entirely as their fictional characters. Certainly the spectacular use of color and movement to show the world of the Navi—something borne entirely out of Cameron’s imagination—is beyond anything we have seen on the screen before. The main gift this film brings us is that we have now entered a time when anything imagined can be accurately rendered on screen. The need to suspend disbelief has been erased. Avatar is a feast for the senses that takes you on a whole new kind of ride without ever leaving your seat. 

If you have not seen it, wait for the next time Avatar goes back to theatres. You might as well make Cameron even richer than he already is. For the huge leaps this film takes, and his creative use of this bold new technology, he certainly deserves it.

Watch the Trailer.

…..tomorrow we count down to my top 5 choices—see if you agree!

   © 2011 Arts Enclave. All Rights Reserved.

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2011 will be the Year of  Inspiration.

We leave behind a decade of hardship and excess, and a complete loss of touch with everything that makes us human. We got caught up in symbols of things that prove we dominate the planet, and arguments over who should have those things and who should not. We measured our world by prices of stocks and houses, watching the numbers as if they were the air we needed to breathe. And when the dominoes began to fall, we hung onto a lot of misguided discussion over who had the answers. Nobody did, because we weren’t asking the right questions.

Life is fairly simple, when we are able to step back and view the universe for what it is—something miraculous and relatively indifferent to our individual neuroses. There’s the sky and the ocean and the land between, sun and moon, winter and summer. At our best, we humans are uniquely blessed with the ability to appreciate those things that are so much larger than we are, and when we do, we see how inconsequential the price of gas is. It’s time to let a universe that knows better than we do take back the reigns. Our job is to get up every day and revel in what the world shows us.

Everyone needs daily inspiration to plod through the infinite indignities, hardships, and even tragedies of life just to find those small moments of perfection, where it is just good to be. And so we decorate our space in the world with things large and small that remind us of who we want to be, and show us new ways to see ourselves. It’s in the music we play, the books we read, the movies we watch, and the pictures we look at that take us to the world at its best. Each day becomes a tapestry we weave ourselves, stitching together the inspiration we find in a million places.

Art does move the world, in infinitesimal, miniscule, monumental ways. It is the forest of dreams we wander through, and without it, we would simply forage for food and seek shelter from the cold. Birds make nests, but they don’t hang pictures on the wall. They sing, but not to entertain. They dance, but only to capture the attention of a mate. And even then, it’s all for a purpose—only humans are into recreational sex. And as far as we know, birds don’t tell jokes.

So, the point of human life is not in daily survival. We all do that until the day we don’t. It’s the view along the way, and how deeply we can absorb it. Socrates announced more than 2400 years ago that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” So much of modern life is about self-examination, to a point where we have lost sight of where we sit in the larger arena. We examine our psyches, measure our food, and watch new and ever more excruciating reality shows designed to explore the minutia of our lives and expose our most pathetic foibles. It’s time to turn the focus around and look out at the world again—and that is gift that artists bring to us.

Even though Mark Twain died 100 years ago, he observed our penchant for seeing ourselves as the center of the Universe even before TV, Facebook, and Twitter made it profitable, and so he added the caveat that “the life too closely examined may not be lived at all.”

This is the year we stop grousing and blaming everybody else for the miserable state of the world, and start to recognize what an amazing place it is—it survived all we did to it in the past decade alone! We can paint a new future, sing new songs, and tell new stories of who we want to become, as individuals, and as a species. 

This year I plan to celebrate art, music, literature, movies, and every creative source of inspiration I can find. I hope you will continue to follow me as I explore the world as artists show it to us—and that you will lead me to your creative inspirations as well.

Thank you to the artists of the world, for giving us the vision to keep going!

Happy New Year!

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You can’t plan for brilliance. You can daydream about it, angst over it, aim for it, and still it can elude you. Every artist sets impossible standards for themselves, hoping to achieve that vision in their heads that includes everything from a vast body of brilliant work to performing on Letterman or sitting with Charlie Rose to discuss your art. 

But if Hope is the thing with feathers (thank you Emily Dickinson), then Fear is the tar it gets stuck in.
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Writers work with the connotation of words, which means the attending feelings that surround a word. The words “brilliant” and “glaring” describe the same quality, but the former is a positive trait and the latter is decidedly negative. So goes the fine line between a critique and criticism. One is kind; the other is not. But they can both be helpful.
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It could never be said that I am a good guitar player. When you have the gift, it is evident….

Still, I like playing and it periodically opens me up to epiphanies about art. Lately, I’ve been learning to play Neil Young’s “Out of the Blue and Into the Black” (My My Hey Hey) from a youtube video, and despite the opening being only two chords, both of which I actually know and can easily play, I’m having a hard time of it.

All because of the unexpected note. 
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We’re not talking about the kind of recovery that involves a rehab, a car wreck  or DUI, internet mugshots, paparazzi, a judge, or any kind of intervention. Creative recovery is a special survival mechanism that allows us to delve into the darkness of complete uncertainty day after day and come out again able to relate to the real world. And it is every bit as dramatic as it sounds—except we get used to it.

I’ve been harping of late (or is it carping?) about our natural inclination to move center and play safe in our art.
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Last weekend at the Adirondack Plein Air Festival in Saranac Lake, NY, I was able to remain in the hall as Juror Anne Diggory judged the entries from 2 days of plein air painting. Anne is one of my favorite landscape painters, so her judgement was especially interesting.

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