This was inspired by some back and forth with Adam Jameson on film. No other quote on the process of art has meant more to me than this one by Stanley Kubrick:
I don’t think that writers or painters or film makers function because they have something they particularly want to say. They have something that they feel. And they like the art form: they like words, or the smell of paint, or celluloid and photographic images and working with actors. I don’t think that any genuine artist has ever been orientated by some didactic point of view, even if he (she) thought he (she)was.
Other artists have echoed this, such as Faulkner describing how The Sound and the Fury came about with the image of “the muddy seat of a little girl’s drawers in a pear tree…”
For me, if we are in reaction to the world in creating art, it is not from a cerebral bent, but something deep-seeded. Thoughts?
14 thoughts on ““Words of Wisdom Lloyd, Words of Wisdom””
yeah, this is the whole heart versus head thing, and frankly there’s nothing more emetic than art that is so easily reduced to its own formalized practice. The mystic transgressions, the improbability of what art sometimes becomes is what truly fascinates. Even “experimentalists” are reaching out for something not entirely captured in a paraphrase of what their work is “about.” And why should they? Why should any of us care about an artistic life if we held it completely in our grasps? Knowing that there is a space we can’t see but only feel is the kind of the kind of shit that keeps me getting out of bed in the morning.
This is what pisses me off about a lot of culturally based theories of art as being simply another form of propaganda. Work that strives towards openness and ambiguity and collision with the inexplicable is all we have to fight real propaganda.
Great comment. The tyranny of the academy, yes. The propaganda that one can go off and get an MFA and ‘become’ a writer. I think becoming a writer happens in space and time that can’t be measured, it grows in you.
Ooooh, I’m in love with that Kubrick quote, and I totally agree. I’m pretty sure this pinpoints one of the main reasons I have trouble answering when people ask me what I write about. I can give you plot points, or I can give you the highfalutin answer about why I enjoy writing, but even that’s not really it. It’s more that feeeeling…
Also, I was just thinking: Can you imagine any artist/ writer/ filmmaker enjoying answering the question, “What do you write?” or “What do you make?” or “What’s it about?” It’s not just me and my quick crankiness.
I know a handful of people who write children’s beginning readers that help kids understand their feelings or people who write specific types of nonfiction, who might not mind answering this question, but when it has a purely creative base, who wants to answer that question?
Right and Nabokov sending an interviewer the answers so they can write the question.
Another way of putting this question is, Can something be good art even if we think its world-view is total crap? Just to be provactive for a moment, I’d like to bring up Sartre’s assertion that there could never be such a thing as a good fascist novel–that is, a good novel by a novelist who wholly accepted the fascist world-view. Assuming that the fascist novel wasn’t didactic, but just accepted fascism the same way that, say, the Greeks accepted the gods, then if we agree with the Kubrick quote, doesn’t that mean that we disagree with Sartre here? That we think there *could* be an excellent but wholly fascist novel? Or racist, or (pick any particularly unsavory world-view here)?
In other words, do we think the feeling, the affect, of art is what makes it art, rather than the meaning? For the record, I do, though I still think that there are some works of art whose unsavory ethical status outweighs their brilliance as art. But I don’t think that it cancels out their brilliance as art, either.
Hurray Christian Brothers Brandy! Hurray eggnog! That’s all.
We could throw Triumph of the Will out there. It’s beautifully photographed, there’s no doubt. But because of the politics, is it bad art? How can something be beautiful and bad? I’m sure it can, but I couldn’t answer how right away.
I think Walter Pater wrestled with this in The Renaissance. For me, it has to be the affect or the feeling. Most stories are morality tales. Maybe they all are. We know there are bad people and good people but sometimes there is injustice.
Here’s more Kubrick: “I think that for a movie or a play to say anything really truthful about life, it has to do so very obliquely, so as to avoid all pat conclusions and neatly tied-up ideas. The point of view it is conveying has to be completely entwined with a sense of life as it is, and has to be got across through a subtle injection into the audience’s consciousness. Ideas which are valid and truthful are so multi-faceted that they don’t yield themselves to frontal assault. The ideas have to be discovered by the audience, and their thrill in making the discovery makes those ideas all the more powerful. You use the audience’s thrill of surprise and discovery to reinforce your ideas, rather than reinforce them artificially through plot points or phoney drama or phoney stage dynamics put in to power them across. ”
We find TRIUMPH OF THE WILL abhorrent (do we?) because the Nazis lost. Had they won, and had their ideologies reined supreme (inasmuch as any ideology ever reins supreme), then we’d probably see it as another masterpiece. (Which I suppose we do, anyway—but you get my point.)
There are a lot of “great works of art” that I can’t stand ideologically, even though I’m sure they don’t bother many of my fellow citizens all that much. I’m reminded of this every Oscar season.
For example, I don’t like Cormac McCarthy’s writing very much, and this causes me to get into all sorts of arguments with my fellow writers. Part of my argument against his work (and I’ll note that I think he’s a very fine writer) is that I think he’s writing pulp (which is fine), but that too many people take it too seriously. Meaning they take it as “The Truth.” Cormac McCarthy is going to explain Something About the World to Us (see my comment below).
You can see that McCarthy is a pulp novelist because he keeps writing about serial killers. Was it Jonathan Rosenbaum who said that, by now, there have been more serial killers in comics, movies, and novels than there ever were in real life? But Americans sure do love serial killers…. And the Apocalypse….
Anyway, it’s pulp, and it takes itself Very Seriously. And others take it Very Seriously.
And so in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (both the book and the movie, both of which I find insufferable), we get a True Story about the West. Except not really; it’s about a serial killer. And a grizzled sheriff who’s seen it all. And a rugged individual. Etc. It’s all pulp convention, little more than a Vertigo comic—it’s like an issue of PREACHER—only played a bit straighter (but barely).
And, sure, it’s handsomely made. No doubt about that. (I’m not saying it’s not a fine piece of entertainment.)
But it’s ideologically bankrupt. It has nothing to say about life (at least, I don’t think that it does). And yet it’s a contemporary masterpiece, one of the best films of the year. A major work of contemporary art. As is THE ROAD (the book, not the film).
Meanwhile, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN makes no acknowledgment of the fact that “the West” is, today, mostly strip malls and Sam’s Clubs and wage slaves. Not serial killers. Not exciting death scenes with air compressors, and blood smeared prettily across the linoleum. (Maybe that’s why it has to take place in the early 1980s?)
Meanwhile, I hear Cormac McCarthy is writing a zombie film… Only this one’s Literary…
Oscar season is on the horizon Adam and unfortunately you will have TEN brands of truth shoved at you.
I think we have to look at the McCarthy phenomena in context. What if Sebald had lived and wrote something that Oprah picked? That could have happened. Cormac is the one the media has picked and the Oscar probably put him over the top. His violence is sexy, (not in Blood Meridian though) and I think people want it. With two wars going on, with corruption all over, people have violence bubbling in their minds. Right moment, right book. The Road more so.
Coetzee could never achieve this because he is finally repelled by violence (maybe because he grew up with it to such an extent).
The West has always been a myth. Cowboys are almost a joke, the truth was people from Poland and Greece and the rest of Europe were the ones who mostly settled the west and they didn’t wear ten-gallon hats – see Altman’s commentary in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, that’s what the cowboys really looked like – they looked like grimy folk with broken teeth.
Yeah, I can’t wait. I doubt THE ROAD will win anything, though (thank god). And the ten films nominated will no doubt be the same ten films. I stopped paying attention to the Oscars a decade ago…
BABE: PIG IN THE CITY should have swept 1998!
(I’m serious about that!)
I think I understand why McCarthy is popular (same with Sebald), but that doesn’t mean I have to go along with saying nice things about him all the time (I’m not saying you’re saying this—I just feel this pressure from the culture at large, and dislike it). Same thing with Bolano, may he rest in peace. In fact, when everyone’s busy saying such nice things about people, I get pretty suspicious.
I’m not saying those guys aren’t good writers—of course they’re good. But c’mon, people! (Not you, Greg, but “people.”) There’s a reason why everyone is reading them right now. An executive in New York decided that they’d be “in fashion.” I prefer to ignore the Culture Industry whenever and as much as I can.
And, even when someone’s a good writer, or a great writer, we can still critique them. I think that’s better, in fact. But people get so upset (I’ve found) if I say something critical about McCarthy’s work! Like he really is supposed to be some Avatar of Truth for the Current Age. He sure writes some pretty sentences, but c’mon, folks (not you, Greg, but “folks”): he’s a pulp western writer. Who writes about serial killers. And the apocalypse. And not because they’re Metaphors for anything. Because he gets off on it. The same way many Americans get off on serial killers and zombie movies. I think that can withstand a little criticism, honestly.
(And I like pulp! I prefer it to Fine Literature, actually. But I like to stay honest about it. And of course pulp can be serious. And it doesn’t have to be serious. But if it wants to be serious, then it should be serious. NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, for example, is pretty serious—and better than anything McCarthy’s done. (The movie, not the book.))
I thought BLOOD MERIDIAN was pretty sexy. Lurid, actually. It reminded me very much of a Vertigo comic book (which was part of why I couldn’t take it all that seriously—I’ve read way too many Vertigo comics! Which I used to take *very* seriously. When I was, like, fifteen.). And everyone I’ve ever met who’s read that book always wanted to talk about the violence in it with me. And yet are shy to bring it up. So it seems to me it’s a big attraction of that book. A big turn-on.
And, yes, the West has always been a myth. I’m always amazed that people still believe in cowboys. And unicorns. Someone should make a movie where cowboys ride unicorns. But people seem to believe in cowboys now more than ever. I guess that was Bush’s doing?
> people have violence bubbling in their minds.
> Right moment, right book. The Road more so.
You’d think, though, that people would be more critical of that violence. I mean—people are dying! Or do people like that? Many people do seem to enjoy it. Movies these days are so violent. Literature is so violent. Where are the people who are saying, “Um, violence isn’t fun?”
Jean Renoir made THE RULES OF THE GAME in 1939, right on the eve of WWII. He was eviscerated for promoting pacifism! Right as the world was about to go insane and kill millions upon millions of people! We need more artists like Jean Renoir.
Instead we have movies like THE DARK KNIGHT, hailed by critics and audiences alike as “a serious film.” IT’S A BATMAN MOVIE ABOUT A SERIAL KILLER. And I love Batman (I love him very much! An embarrassing amount!), and he certainly is a complex character, but—grow up, America! It only looks serious when it’s standing next to X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN.
The Joker looks really cool when he’s robbing a bank! Good job, Joker! You’re cool! …That’s what that great movie’s about.
I’m gonna go watch RIFIFI…
ok, but what if the didactic releases the deep seated feeling for someone? i got a book of london street art for xmas. much of it political, didactic, angry, artistic for sure.
Right, Joe. I was thinking of some other books of graffiti art from LA and Queens that my student showed me recently. It seems to what Kubrick (and Greg and Nabokov) are responding to is this idea that art must be pragmatic and necessarily political (especially to be important). But certainly many, if not, most of us do not create from that place.
Quotes can be problematic. The last sentence about being didactic is probably over the top. And I’m sure that what works some doesn’t work for others. Though I don’t get the ‘art must be pragmatic’ statement. I think creating from feeling is to divorce oneself from the overtly political. By overtly political I mean Oliver Stone.
Hi Greg, all,
For a while now, I’ve been claiming that there are two kinds of artists:
Artist Type 1: Those who feel as though they understand the world, and who want to tell you something about it. In other words, they want to explain something about life to the audience. A perfect example of this (to pick just one) would be Neil Gaiman.
Artist Type 2: Artists who feel as though they don’t understand the world, and who therefore don’t care whether their work explains anything. A perfect example of this (to pick just one) would be Jane Bowles.
I tend to gravitate toward Artist Type 2. Who often (I’ve noticed) proceed by association (either intuitive or calculated), rather than by explanation.
I think this is something like what Jeremy M. Davies (a good example of Artist Type 2) was getting at in Lily’s recent interview with him:
JMD: “There’s no greater crime, in writing fiction, than leaning upon a presumed consensus reality with your readers. As an editor, this makes me drop a manuscript inside a minute. ‘Oh, another novel. Great.'”
Or what John Cage meant when he said:
I have nothing to say
and I am saying it
and that is poetry
as I needed it