Monday, June 7, 2010

The Discussion

I hated that movie!

Every time I hear that song I cry.

That painting makes me fall in love.

In a society where the majority of the art we experience is constantly being critiqued by people who are paid to critique art, it's nice to hear people say things simply just because they mean it. Unlike previous generations, being proficient in an artistic discipline is not the norm for most college-age and adult Americans. Sure, many of us took piano lessons as kids or dance classes, we may even have carried some of that through to high school. We might have been in a play or 2 and may even have entertained the idea of being a musician or an actor. But the truth is, in regard to art, we have become a nation of observers.

Because the role of critic has become so prominent in our public consciousness it follows that all of us would then become amateur critics. I love sitting in a coffee shop or restaurant and hearing people critique the latest movie they've seen. Movies seem to be the easy targets. You don't often hear someone discussing the composition of a photograph or the use of a descending chromatic in a song. Not many people will offer up their take on the choreographer's work in a ballet or dissect the color scheme of a painting. But when it comes to movies we're all experts. Perhaps that is because we are so inundated with with how movies are made. DVD commentaries and 'making of' special features give us a glimpse into a world that we otherwise wouldn't know that much about. On top of all that there is also the fact that America has had very long love affair with the movies.

But let's, just for a moment, change our focus from the all-to-common realm of critique and look instead at the much less delved-into realm of discussion. Discussion is so much different than critique. Discussion is not a sport for observers. To be a critic you do not have to admit a connection to the material you are critiquing. It is, in many cases, an observation about the elements that make up a given story and wether or not (according to the particular critic) those elements came together in a manner that achieved it's goal. To discuss something however, is to say that it had a specific impact on your emotionally and/or intellectually. Do you think a director or an actor or a cinematographer or a writer purposes to create a story simply to see if all of the elements work? No! An artist sets out to create something because the particular story affects them in some way and they want to share that with an audience. They are storytellers and they want to tell you a story. Once you have been exposed to that story you then have the responsibility to think about and discuss how it affected YOU. Did it cause you to ask questions? Did it give you the answer to a question? Did it make you laugh and put you in a place where you forgot about your troubles for a time? Did you walk out disgusted? Where you grieved by a character's plight? Did you leave feeling absolutely indifferent? I would encourage everyone who experiences a piece of art to experience it at this level before trying to articulate everything it did right or wrong.

I saw the movie The Red Shoes recently. It is a wonderful British film from 1948. As I watched it I began experiencing all of these different emotions. When the 2 main characters are given the their big break I thought about what that would feel like. When the antagonist goes to every length to keep his employees on a very short leash, even to the extent of threatening their relationships, I felt the injustice and meanness and I disliked him for it. When the 2 lovers triumph and break away from his influence I rooted for them and when tragedy strikes I cried for them. I experienced it first as a story. Later that same week I was with a friend and he and I (he had also seen it) began discussing it. I found that even several days away from the experience I was still having trouble articulating everything. So, I just told him how it made me feel. Yes, I discussed technical aspects of the film. But my greatest joy in seeing this film was what I experienced going on this journey with these characters.

After you have had the initial experience of going on a journey with the characters in a story it's important to reflect on what you felt and think about why it made you feel the way it did. But at the beginning, just allow yourself to experience what the characters are experiencing and tell somebody else how it made you feel and what it made you think about. You will find yourself with a much greater appreciation for the stories you participate in. And, while you're at it, sit down at that piano again or pick up that camera or paintbrush. You may not know it yet, but I'll bet you've got your own story to tell.

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