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Tony Watkins

Subjectivity and Objectivity in Art

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I imagine this may have been discussed here at some point (there's a limit to how many old threads I want to look through), but I have just been reflecting on the experience of enjoying a film and thinking about how many levels there are on which that happens. Here's a few:

  • Story
  • Visually, in terms of the cinematography: colour, balance, space, focus, movement, etc.
  • Other aspects of mise en scene: production design, set layout, etc.
  • Performances
  • Depth of characterization
  • Effects
  • Emotional impact
  • Score
  • Dialogue
  • Sound effects
  • Editing
All of these are important, and a failure on any one of them can significantly impair our enjoyment. But I wonder about their relative importance. Intuitively I feel that of all these, the single most important is the normally the story (assuming the film is not non-narrative experimental work like Nathaniel Dorsky's) because story-telling seems to be a basic fact of human nature. I recognise that story takes a back seat in some kinds of film - musicals, for example, may not use the story as anything more than a hook for the songs - but are even these ruined if the story is a complete failure? Can the other factors adequately compensate for a rubbish narrative?

Or am I drawing a general conclusion about film viewers from my own specific concerns and values?

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It was here that I meant to say that story is everything. Nothing else matters as much. People make far too much of image and spectacle.

For example, theater is a much more potent and profound art form than film is. Without story, theater is just a parade. (Film without story is just a parade of things, too.)

Why is theater greater than film? Human scale, live performance, and interaction that is much more demanding and thus more rewarding. Photography is not as great as painting, and live music is more thrilling than recorded sound. These are truisms which upset many, but are true nonetheless.

The problem is that I've seen far more very good movies, photos, and recorded music than I've experienced great theater, great paintings, and live music.

We are made as creatures to make sense of things. Story is what does that. We can't help making a story out of everything that is. When you meet God and discover he is all Love. That makes a story - that Love explains everything. When you meet God, and respond, Daddy! -- that is a story about truth, relationship and happiness. When you meet Jesus, and are forgiven all your evil - that is a story about a man who is God who has infinite mercy.

If you know that about story, then why in the world would anyone ever want to do anything other than tell stories above everything else?

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Why is theater greater than film? Human scale, live performance, and interaction that is much more demanding and thus more rewarding. Photography is not as great as painting, and live music is more thrilling than recorded sound. These are truisms which upset many, but are true nonetheless.

I do agree that story is primary, as I indicated in my original post. But is it actually legitimate to claim that these comments are true in some absolute sense? These things are all art forms, and aren't art and the aesthetic experience fundamentally, inescapably personal and subjective - at least at some levels?

I love theatre, but in what sense is theatre essentially greater than film? I also find live performance (whether theatre or music) to be a more intense experience than listening at home - there's an immediacy about it, and I think that the corporate nature of being in an audience is important too (being in a cinema is also more intense than watching a DVD for the same reason). Perhaps there's something about the imperfection of it that we respond to. But does that make it objectively greater? Film offers an opportunity for repeated viewing, slow viewing , selected viewing, viewing in a variety of contexts including alone - that can lead to a profound engagement with the film that I never achieve in theatre because the performance is, by its very nature, transient.

Is 'human scale' necessarily a good thing? When I'm in the theatre, the human-scaled performance can deal well with some aspects of life. But it can't convey the beauty of the natural world in the way that film can, or the variety of environments, or the bustle of a major city, or the spectacle of a battle or all kinds of other things. Viewers are also at a distance from the actors in most theatres, which means that stage acting is a different kind of performance from screen acting. The ability to study a close up of a face showing extraordinary subtlety of emotion isn't possible on stage. Think of Bergmar's use of faces - you simply couldn't do it on stage.

Since long before the development of photography (which, incidentally, I find more satisfying than paintings) and of film, there has been a tendency to divide art into high and low, sophisticated and vulgar. These two media were very much seen in a second class category when they first appeared, and there is still a dismissiveness towards them which often seems to me like elitism. I am not at all convinced it can be justified. It's not a question of one medium being inherently better or worse than another - they are just different - but what the artist does with it that matters.

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I contend that the subjective experience of art in different forms becomes objective at some point. Enough time, and people with the most discerning souls have judged the matter; just as the books of the Bible entered the canon because they were the best, the most enduring, true, and powerful. (Although if you want to take out Tobit, I won't mind.)

How many people, when exposed to Shakespeare jump up and down in ecstasy? Very few, and so by rights, Shakespeare stinks. The same with Sophocles. But we know that isn't true.

I've had great film experiences, but presence always adds more. The stage does cause some separation, but more, it divides the active from the passive. One of the greatest things about the Catholic Mass, and why it endures so forcefully, is that there is no division between the active and the passive since the "audience" is part of the play, so to speak, along with the priest.

The Mass is so beloved that people who don't even like what the Church teaches or believes go every week to participate.

What humans love more than anything else is the Real. We get various degrees of it here and there, but none are as impressive as the presence of the Real unmediated by artifice, but either through or with another human or by apprehending grace or God directly.

In judging art and its forms, we can only judge as a kind of descent from the mountain top in gradations. There was perfection, and now here it is a little so, and there a little more less so.

Some things are lesser, but perfect for what they are. A good joke, for example. Things can be perfect in themselves according to the boundaries or their frames. Movies can be perfect as they are, but they don't ever achieve the transcendence that the unmediated Real does.

My argument with film (or art) is when a movie fails to be perfect on the terms of genre, execution, etc. If the story doesn't work, or is evil in that it subverts truth by lie and seduction, then it doesn't matter how fine any other aspect of it is.

I heard many critics praise Brokeback Mountain as being fine storytelling with interesting characters and so forth. But if my natural sympathies and human compassion are used against me to deceptively persuade me to see homosexuality in a whole new light that wants to lead me to approval and acceptance of a hidden agenda, I'm sorry. An engaging lie, a tissue of half truths craftily made to undermine natural law and visceral knowledge is simply going to be savaged by me.

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johnmark wrote:

: It was here that I meant to say that story is everything. Nothing else matters as much. People

: make far too much of image and spectacle.

On the contrary, image (including, but not limited to, spectacle) is what film is all ABOUT.

: For example, theater is a much more potent and profound art form than film is. Without story,

: theater is just a parade. (Film without story is just a parade of things, too.)

I repeat what I said in the other thread, then:

Koyaanisqatsi
is my #4 film of all time -- does IT have a "story"? ("Dramaturgical development", yes, as the director calls it. Films exist in time, just as songs do, so it is important that certain images come after certain images and before other images, etc.; these things communicate some sort of meaning. But, given that the film has no plot or actors or dialogue, would "dramaturgical development" be the same thing as "story"? Do people go around insisting that "Story is all that matters" when it comes to MUSIC?)

Going to the theatre could never, ever, ever produce an experience like seeing Koyaanisqatsi -- and I say this as one who has seen Koyaanisqatsi with live musical accompaniment by Philip Glass's ensemble. The film ITSELF is simply unreplaceable. If you took a still image from each shot and hung them all in a gallery in sequential order, you would not be replicating the experience of watching that film. And if you replaced all those still images with paintings, you would drain them of even MORE of the qualities that give that film its very unique -- and uniquely cinematic -- power.

: Why is theater greater than film? Human scale, live performance, and interaction that is much more

: demanding and thus more rewarding. Photography is not as great as painting, and live music is

: more thrilling than recorded sound. These are truisms which upset many, but are true nonetheless.

No, this is not true. Painting is better FOR SOME THINGS than photography, but photography is also better FOR SOME THINGS than painting. You cannot generalize and say that any one artform is better, period.

: I've had great film experiences, but presence always adds more. The stage does cause some

: separation, but more, it divides the active from the passive. One of the greatest things about the

: Catholic Mass, and why it endures so forcefully, is that there is no division between the active

: and the passive since the "audience" is part of the play, so to speak, along with the priest.

Hmmm, maybe theatre would be even MORE of an "active" experience if the audience had to STAND throughout the play. ;)

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Hmmm, maybe theatre would be even MORE of an "active" experience if the audience had to STAND throughout the play. ;)

Which, in Shakespeare's day, was true for much of the audience! I seem to recall being in the SRO section for at least one play, although for the life of me I can't remember which play it was.

Even if we could infer some sort of theological reason to prefer one art form over another (which seems to be what johnmark is driving at), that would hardly make such a reason "objective." Theology isn't an exact science either.

Edited by mrmando

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johnmark wrote:

: It was here that I meant to say that story is everything. Nothing else matters as much. People

: make far too much of image and spectacle.

On the contrary, image (including, but not limited to, spectacle) is what film is all ABOUT.

In addition, in any movie which includes sound, that sound is also what the movie is about. Images are only half of the matter.

David Smedberg wrote:

: johnmark wrote:

: : Story is all that matters. And the story must be of good morality.

:

: What is a story? :)

To this I would add, why does it matter so much? Koyaanisqatsi is my #4 film of all time -- does IT have a "story"? ("Dramaturgical development", yes, as the director calls it. Films exist in time, just as songs do, so it is important that certain images come after certain images and before other images, etc.; these things communicate some sort of meaning. But, given that the film has no plot or actors or dialogue, would "dramaturgical development" be the same thing as "story"? Do people go around insisting that "Story is all that matters" when it comes to MUSIC?)

See, I'm pretty sure that in any movie which sets out to have a story, that story must provide the governing principle. That's because of my (relatively broad) definition of a story, which holds that any work which represents a person, i.e. a being capable of choice, is a story. Thus, a portrait would probably be the simplest form of story. It represents, through the image of his or her face, the series of choices which brought the person represented to the point they were at at the moment their visage was "frozen" into an image.

For me, this creates a contrast between an ordinary painting, in which there is only one artist, and a portrait, which is a collaboration between the painter and the subject. In, say, a landscape, the artist has only himself or herself to answer to, whereas in a painting with story, the artist has a responsibility to characterize the person(s) represented fairly and in accordance with truth. The same goes for a movie, a book, or any other artform - should an artist attempt to tell another's story, that story has got to come first, in my opinion.

As for any artwork which does not have story, I'm pretty sure that we're in agreement that it shouldn't be judged as if it did. :)

Having not seen Koyaanisqatsi, I'll have to hold out on commenting on whether that movie has story, but I will say that this plays into my previous idea: without its music, I'm quite sure that Koyaanisqatsi would be a fundamentally different piece of art. It is the joining of sound and image that characterizes most modern movies' art.

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In addition, in any movie which includes sound, that sound is also what the movie is about. Images are only half of the matter. . . .

Having not seen Koyaanisqatsi, I'll have to hold out on commenting on whether that movie has story, but I will say that this plays into my previous idea: without its music, I'm quite sure that Koyaanisqatsi would be a fundamentally different piece of art. It is the joining of sound and image that characterizes most modern movies' art.

I agree up to a point. Sound is not an essential part of what constitues film as a medium since silent films are equally part off the category of 'film'. I would also argue that even a film intended to have sound is still clearly film when the soundtrack is missing, whereas the soundtrack without the images is something altogether different. But you qualify your comments wisely to limit them to 'any movie which includes sound', in which case, although you clearly can watch it with the sound off, you diminish the experience and certainly don't engage with the bisensory experience which the filmmaker intended.

I still feel instinctively that, as you say, story provides some governing principle (when there is one). I feel more and more than we can't be reductionist about it. We can't say, clearly, that films are 'nothing but sound', and we cannot say that films are 'nothing but image' (except at a purely physical, technical level since that is precisely what films are; it's not a very useful thing to say at an aesthetic level) but neither can we say 'films are nothing but stories'. Of course there are many exceptions - Koyaanisqatsi etc - but my guess is that the level we usually value ahead of others, even slightly, is the narrative.

Most films do have some story (though I wouldn't define it as widely as you do). I haven't yet seen Koyaanisqatsi either, but given that the word apparently means 'life out of balance' (I'm rashly believing Dan Brown on this point, though most things he says about most things seem to be not quite right or jnust plain wrong!), I suspect there is something that could be loosely defined as story. I imagine that it has images which reflect the beauty of the world, as well as the mess humans have made of it. If this is so, at the least it acts as a signifier to the story of human recklessness towards our environment. Show it in a Christian context and it also acts as a signifier to the story of God creating a good world. If my guesses about the film are wide of the mark, I will go and hide in a cupboard until I've seen it.

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Tony, you make good guesses. :)

And if memory serves, Dan Brown spells "koyaanisqatsi" differently from how the film does. But anyhoo. The thread for that film is here, if you're interested.

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And if memory serves, Dan Brown spells "koyaanisqatsi" differently from how the film does.

He does indeed: 'koyanisquatsi'. Ha! But given the difficulties in transliterating words like this from one language to another, I'll let him have that one rather than adding it to my list of blunders, howlers, non sequiturs, complete inventions and faux pas!

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There are many, many films I value for reasons other than their story.

Sometimes, a film's narrative isn't all that great, but the imagery is powerful enough on its own to have redeeming value.

In fact, some films with sloppy and even immoral storytelling have, against the director's best efforts, offered images and moments here and there that are worth encountering in spite of the trouble they're set within.

The Last Temptation of Christ, for example, isn't so hot as a narrative about Jesus, but there are moments and images regarding Christ in that film that speak powerfully to this viewer.

Mulholland Drive is less a narrative and more a work of surrealist art about the depravity of Hollywood narcissism; I don't recommend the film for general audiences, primarily because most viewers aren't equipped to process what Lynch is doing there; in fact, I try to steer a lot of people away from it. But, speaking from personal experience, I find its imagery and sound to fuse in profoundly affecting ways.

Looking at my all-time Top Ten, there are only a few where I'd say that the story was the primary reason I love them. Wings of Desire and Blue are much more compelling to me as visual poetry and meditations on the spirit than they are as narratives.

To say "Story is everything. Nothing else matters. People make far too much of image and spectacle." is like somebody talking about food and telling a gourmet chef that "Nourishment is everything. People make far too much of flavor and presentation."

I think God cares about excellence in visual appearance too. When he gave specifics for the tabernacle, he was careful to make precise specifications to ensure it would be beautiful, because what we see speaks to us.

Of course, as a storyteller, I would never seek to de-emphasize the importance of excellence in storytelling. Cinema is a powerful tool for storytelling, clearly, and most people go to the movies because they want to be told a good story. Many find non-narrative films alienating.

But many filmmakers seek to speak to us through what they show us with light and color as much as through story. And the more I learn to appreciate those endeavors, the more I'm drawn to richer, more rewarding films -- and the less patient I am with filmmakers who just film scripts without taking advantage of the communicative possibilities of such a large canvas.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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Tony Watkins wrote:

: He does indeed: 'koyanisquatsi'. Ha! But given the difficulties in transliterating words like this

: from one language to another, I'll let him have that one rather than adding it to my list of

: blunders, howlers, non sequiturs, complete inventions and faux pas!

I'll gladly let him have it, too -- provided he was referring directly to the Hopi word and not referring to the film. Heck, if I, as a Canadian, can spell a title World Trade Center or The Color Purple even though the spellings in those words just look wrong, wrong, wrong to me, then Dan Brown should surely be able to spell Koyaanisqatsi the way that Godfrey Reggio did! :) (Oh, but what to do, what to do, when an American film like Rumor Has It... is released in Canada with the title Rumour Has It...?)

johnmark wrote:

: Mr. Chattaway

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In fact, going to the theater can produce an experience greater than the movie. Not different, but greater.

I'd like to see theater produce an effect greater... or even similar... to Koyaanisqatsi. Or March of the Penguins. Or Baraka. Those are uniquely cinematic experiences. I can imagine theater productions that are just as memorable, but for different reasons and to different effects.

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BTW, my apologies, Tony, for not responding to your original post, but only to the follow-ups. A few comments, if I may:

: Intuitively I feel that of all these, the single most important is the normally the story (assuming

: the film is not non-narrative experimental work like Nathaniel Dorsky's) because story-telling

: seems to be a basic fact of human nature.

I appreciate your qualification, "normally". :)

I might replace the word "story" with "structure" (since the most important thing about a film is not just the images but how it arranges those images), and then tack on the adjective "narrative" (since the structure followed by most films is indeed a narrative one).

That said, there are different kinds of narratives, too. Does The Passion of the Christ tell a "story" or follow a "narrative"? Well, sure, in one sense; the images are not just grouped according to a set of abstract themes, as in Koyaanisqatsi, but they follow a consistent set of characters across a straightforward linear chronology from one point in time to a later point in time. But in another sense, that film has a rather non-narrative agenda. A number of people complained that the characters weren't fleshed out too deeply, or that the events were not given enough context; but on some level, the film was meant to be a cinematic interpretation of icons, paintings, and Catholic rituals -- and so the film itself worked much more on the level of image and the expression of a certain form of Catholic piety than it did on the level of "story".

One film that got a bit of love around here a few years ago was Punch-Drunk Love, and that film also doesn't have a particularly deep or complex "story" -- but a number of us defended it as a sort of cinematic piece of music, or poetry. The film creates an experience that resonates in a way that goes beyond mere "story".

And there are lots of other examples one could cite, too.

: I recognise that story takes a back seat in some kinds of film - musicals, for example, may not

: use the story as anything more than a hook for the songs - but are even these ruined if the story

: is a complete failure? Can the other factors adequately compensate for a rubbish narrative?

Again, there are different kinds of musicals; some weave music and narrative together very tightly, while others use the narrative as little more than connective tissue -- and I would argue that in almost any decent musical, the songs THEMSELVES help to move the narrative along (this is true even for a film like Singin' in the Rain, in which virtually all of the songs were written in the '20s or '30s and the guy who owned them wanted to revive them in the '50s by building a movie around them; the narrative -- which, incidentally, is great! -- is, in some sense, just connective tissue, but it plays to the strengths of the songs and gives at least some of them an opportunity to move the plot or the character development forward).

As for whether "rubbish narratives" can ruin things, a lot of it may depend on how the narrative is interpreted and performed by the actors, cinematographer, and director (and others).

Incidentally, this thread is beginning to remind me of the distinction C.S. Lewis made between "myth" and "poetry" -- to quote something that I posted to my blog last year:

What really delights and nourishes me is a particular pattern of events, which would equally delight and nourish if it had reached me by some medium which involved no words at all -- say by a mime, or a film. . . . In this respect stories of the mythical type are at the opposite pole from lyrical poetry. If you try to take the "theme" of Keats's Nightingale apart from the very words in which he has embodied it, you find that you are talking about almost nothing. Form and content can there be separated only by a false abstraction. But in a myth -- in a story where the mere pattern of events is all that matters -- this is not so. Any means of communication whatever which succeeds in lodging those events in our imagination has, as we say, "done the trick." After that you can throw the means of communication away. . . . In poetry the words are the body, and the "theme" or "content" is the soul. But in myth the imagined events are the body and something inexpressible is the soul: the words, or mime, or film, or pictorial series are not even clothes -- they are not much more than a telephone.

Sometimes good myth can be detected even through bad poetry, if you know what I mean.

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Mr. Chattaway,

Since the Pope recently make an argument about the nature of God from John,

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Johnmark, I agree with a number of your points - up to a point. The problem for me comes because you keep absolutising things that cannot be absolutised. It is in principle impossible to make absolutes out of the aesthetic experience because they are culturally bound as well as being tied in with personality and experience.

I gave a perfectly good example of what I meant about a vast difference between Psalm 23 and, let’s say, Cole Porter’s Night and Day.

Psalm 23 is a wonderful psalm. If I want to reflect on God's care for me, it is enormously potent (though less so than some other parts of Scripture for me). If instead I want to reflect on the nature of romantic love (which is a reflection of God's love for his people as made clear by the constant use of marriage as the primary biblical metaphor for communicating the relationship of exclusivity and intimacy which ought to exist between God and his people), then Psalm 23 doesn't even feature on the radar. The Song of Songs is more the territory then, but the idioms of SoS are such that more contemporary expressions of it will have a greater emotional impact on me - Notting Hill for example.

Time lapse photography is a wonderful gimmick, a matter of spectacle. We can’t be talking about gimmicks here in relation to the difference between a poem and film, per se.

You cannot simply dismiss a particular way of producing an art work as a 'gimmick'. Spectacle is part of art. The beauty of a time-lapse film of a rose budding and bursting into flower is breathtaking. Give me that rather than Van Gogh's Sunflowers or even of the Dutch still-life masters and day. I see more of the beauty of the rose in it because it takes me closer to the Real of the rose, which seems to be one of your primary criteria - and one of mine too in many contexts.

There is nothing that language lacks in conveying a truth or a wonder. The difference is medium, not effect. I mean, the wow factor is real in every art form.

But there is. Language cannot adequately convey the splendour of the Horsehead Nebula or the intricacy of the mirad of microscopic plankton, or the shimmer of light on a stag beetle's wing casing, or the peculiar quality of light that one experiences in the English Lake District, or the subtle shifts of hue in a sunset or countless other things. Language can describe them; language may be able to evoke memories of such things and thus create in us a similar emotional state - but it is not the same as the images of such things falling on my retina to be processed afresh by my brain. Language can describe the aching melancholy of Samuel Barber's or Albinoni's Adagios or the soaring beauty of The Pearl Fishers' Duet, or the joyful exuberance of Mendelssohn's Octet, or the stately grandeur of HAndel's Zadok the Priest. It can describe them, describe the feelings evoked by them, remind me of them, but it cannot even convey what it means to hear a chord or three notes filling the space in which I sit. Language simply cannot substitute for the real.

A film, however can get me much closer to the reality of all these examples by bringing the images to my eyes and the music to my ears. Yes, it's better in many ways to be at a live performance, but I will never be able to see with my own eyes the Horsehead Nebula or the magnificent emptiness of Antarctica or the courtship of blue whales.

Uniqueness in a particular form is not what impresses.

But you are arguing for the primacy of some forms over others. You have said that theatre is better than film because it is real, human-scaled, etc. Isn't that suggesting that it is the uniqueness of the form which impresses you?

Invoking wonder is impressive and I will assert that certain forms or expressions do that better than other forms.

Exactly. And as I have just set out, film is a far better medium for some things than any other form or expression.

The best means for conveyance is unmediated experience of truth. From there, we descend in order of Power to sacred literature, to poetry, to painting, music, to theater, prose, photography, film, TV and so on. It’s not like I’ve made it a system, but there is a gold standard regarding the sacred and art.

Yes, unmediated experience of truth is best, but as I've indicated, it's not always possible. But then your ordering of forms is precisely a system that suits you and your background, personality, cultural context. Of course Scripture is the most powerful of all since it is God's inspired word - God himself speaks through it by his Holy Spirit which is an extraordinary transcendent experience.

Does anyone here yet deny that the 23 Psalm or The Lord’s Prayer -- works of art, of rhetoric, of poetry, of language, of musical sound, of pictorial painting -- are not more effective in their power, their charge than just about anything you can name?

Yes, they are God's word, so for me as a believer it has a profound impact. But the problem with introducing these into this discussion is that it is no longer comparing like with like. There is nothing else that God has inspired in the same way, so it doesn't actually help us in discussing whether the experience of film is a greater, lesser, or just different thing than the experience of literature in general. But if the BIble was merely the words of human beings, then it could not in and of itself be given a greater value than anything else.

From there on your system is frankly elitist. Poetry is deeply culturally-related. You need great fluency with a language which is not your own to even begin to appreciate it, and it never translates adequately. Visual images are cross-cultural, independent of language. I would venture that this could be a criterion for saying that visual media are therefore greater than verbal media.

If I speak in absolutes, it’s because there are absolutes. You may not, for example, tell me that there is any figure in literature who is greater than Shakespeare. Or in prose fiction greater than Tolstoy. If you have a different opinion, you can’t be taken seriously. You are not intelligent. If that offends you, well, you have no wisdom.

These statements are so subjective that they cannot be taken seriously. We bring far too much of ourselves to what we engage with. Milton is for many people - myself included - greater than Shakespeare. What about Goethe or Dante? As for Tolstoy, no thanks. Give me Hugo or Hardy or Eliot or even Austen please. So I am not to be taken seriously? I'm not intelligent? I have no wisdom? How deeply offensive! And what about the vast majority of people in the world for whom English is not their first language? Do you think they even care about whether Shakespeare trumps Milton or vice versa? Norwegians probably prefer Ibsen.

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Theater is easily able to produce effects greater than March of the Penguins et al because we are confusing what effect means if we see it as gimmicks unique to a certain medium.

The Scriptures tell us that the heavens declare the glory of God, and creation itself pours forth speech. I am of the opinion that a true incarnation communicates in a way that cannot be duplicated or paraphrased in any other way to convey exactly the same thing. Uniqueness in form is essential.

Nothing can duplicate the unique glory of a sunset. No theater designer can create a perfect equivalent on the stage of what March of the Penguins presents to us through its captured imagery of those frozen lands.

The story of The Fast Runner wouldn't have been the same filmed in any other context, and especially not on the stage.

The art of Andy Goldsworthy illustrates the uniqueness of a work of art, even if he tries to duplicate it. It demontrates that the particular combination of forces at work in a moment will make every work distinct, no matter how carefully he repeats himself.

Stage plays may echo a film's message, or even create an artificial frozne environment that reminds us of that, but nothing can communicate the harsh beauty of those specific images in exactly the same way. Likewise, a film can't duplicate what a stage play would make of it. There would be something unique there too.

Similarly, nothing done on the stage would have exactly the same impact and effect of the balletic imagery fused with the music and the juxtapositions of Kubrik's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Similarly, if Christ had chosen other things to be the symbols of communion, something other than bread and wine, it would not have been the same thing... it would have changed the meaning. Scott Cairns has a wonderful poem about the glory of Christ's choices... bread and wine... and how their uniqueness is what completes the experience of communion.

These are my opinions, and I welcome challenges. But Johnmark, your know-it-all declarations and "my claims are immune to any challenge" statements are making this all very unpleasant and uncivil. This is a place for dialogue, not for one person to tell everyone else that their own opinions are the "absolutes" of art. And it is definitely not a place for someone to say that anyone who disagrees with them is a fool.

For those of us who are interested in dialogue, there is a function of this board quite valuable in its uniqueness... we can simply block the posts of people who are offensive. But in this case, if you don't change your approach soon, I hope the administrators will take note and then take appropriate action.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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The Scriptures tell us that the heavens declare the glory of God, and creation itself pours forth speech. I am of the opinion that a true incarnation communicates in a way that cannot be duplicated or paraphrased in any other way to convey exactly the same thing. Uniqueness in form is essential. . . .

Stage plays may echo a film's message, or even create an artificial frozne environment that reminds us of that, but nothing can communicate the harsh beauty of those specific images in exactly the same way. Likewise, a film can't duplicate what a stage play would make of it. There would be something unique there too.

Similarly, nothing done on the stage would have exactly the same impact and effect of the balletic imagery fused with the music and the juxtapositions of Kubrik's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Similarly, if Christ had chosen other things to be the symbols of communion, something other than bread and wine, it would not have been the same thing... it would have changed the meaning. Scott Cairns has a wonderful poem about the glory of Christ's choices... bread and wine... and how their uniqueness is what completes the experience of communion.

Yes! And well expressed. Thanks.

Edited by Tony Watkins

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I just lost a reply in defense of absolutes to power outages that would have mollified a number of complaints and challenges. It will take me some time to reconstruct my very careful thesis. I had the file mostly saved, too, but the second power interruption somehow killed that.

On a personal note, I have not said anyone is a fool, and I am not a know-it-all, I am a know-of-somethings. This insistence of some on the subjectivity of art is an absolute statement in itself, so I don

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I believe that there are absolutes, but that doesn't mean that there are absolute answers for questions of interpretation.

The greatness of art: that can be defined many ways. Are you talking about its lasting power? Its aesthetic complexity? Its layers of meaning?

If we say that we can determine what is truly the greatest work of literature, or the greatest poem, then we have just set a terrible precedent. And the person who claims to know what these absolutes are sets himself up in judgment over people and experiences that they cannot comprehend.

Who's to say what is the greatest film? Every year, different groups of critics vote. And every year, the debate continues. Sometimes, the film that seemed indisputably the greatest one year will be seen in a different light many years down the road. This isn't a useless exercise, as it is important for us to consider the characteristics of excellence, and to celebrate those works that resonate strongly with us or that take us to places we haven't been or need to go. But as we do not have access to God's system of determining greatness in such things, only some notions about what is excellent and what isn't, we would be arrogant and damaging to claim to have a ruler that measures the greatness of art indisputably.

When we talk about art, we're talking about mysteries... and everyone bring different experiences to their encounter with those mysteries. They may see the exact same photograph, but the greatness of the photograph depends partly on the thing itself: its technical excellence, the way it carries on a tradition, the way it "relates" with other photographs, the process by which it was captured, etc; its subject and how the rest of the world of art has represented that subject. But our ability to find and recognize great art depends on its availability, the education of the audience, the way that the work reveals differing aspects over time, etc., etc., etc.

I can't imagine having to sit down and decide which was Jesus' greatest parable.

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: Look, film is simply another form of theater . . .

Wrong. Many films are made without professional actors, and a few without actors of any sort whatsoever.

So is a fair amount of theatre, judging from what I've seen. :P

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People were propelling themselves across the ground, through the air, and in the water for what purpose? A desperate kind of attempt to grasp the Real, to capture something in a moment, an ecstasy in immersion with Nature, but it didn

Edited by mrmando

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I was really looking forward to this thread. Until I got into it.

(John Mark, we all have opinions: the trick is to share them effectively. I hope we can keep the conversation going... )

Years ago, I might have said that the obvious answer to the question posed in this thread is photography. It was the invention of the camera that gave rise to the artform, after all, and they are called "films." Now, however, I'm inclined to think that film is a combination of art forms.

It's always a shame when only one or two elements are at full potential. There are films that are able to be considered good even if the script isn't brilliant, if the acting, say, or the cinematography are exceptional, but we are all on a search for greatness.

Cinematic greatness seems to be that convergence of excellence in writing, acting, filming, sound recording, editing, costuming, lighting, etc. Films are not generally the work of a single artist, and when a team of artists gets it right together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

To use a music metaphor, a high school band may deliver a 'good' rendition of Beethoven's 5th... but just as his greatness cannot completely compensate for limited skill, their shortcomings do not completely diminish Beethoven's work. But one can only truly appreciate the greatness of the composer with a performance by great musicians, and vice versa. In the same way, a great script is best appreciated in the hands of a great cast, director, cinematographer, and so on.

So -- I likely tend to care about photography more than the other elements of film-making (with the possible exception of writing, esp. dialogue). But I no longer regard it as sufficient or even predominant. I'm reminded of an old drum instructor who taught that rhythm was more important to music than the musical scale ("Without rhythm, the notes are just noises.") Well, I'm pretty sure you can't make music without both.

But many filmmakers seek to speak to us through what they show us with light and color as much as through story. And the more I learn to appreciate those endeavors, the more I'm drawn to richer, more rewarding films -- and the less patient I am with filmmakers who just film scripts without taking advantage of the communicative possibilities of such a large canvas.

Well said.

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johnmark wrote:

: Working from the bottom up from your reply, you may quote Crossan as you please, of course,

: but talking about the Real doesn't make anything impossible. That's like saying statements

: about God make discussion impossible which is simply not so.

Well, now, that depends on the statement, doesn't it?

: Now does my observation about that human compulsion to try and touch the Real end discussion?

I can't say it affects the discussion one way or the other, really.

: I gave a perfectly good example of what I meant about a vast difference between Psalm 23 and,

: let's say, Cole Porter's Night and Day. How that is reduced to a dogmatic assertion puzzles me . . .

If all you said was "difference", I would agree. But if you say that one is automatically "better" than the other, then, well, you have to explain WHY one is better than the other. That is, if you are truly interested in "engaging" with what the rest of us are writing here.

: I'll give you another example (because I always use concrete examples with my generalizations

: rather than theoretical abstractions).

False dichotomy. It is both/and, not either/or, and this is why I myself gave you some concrete examples to SUPPORT my theories, rather than as a SUBSTITUTE for my theories.

: Compare the situation of the extraordinary grace a man feels with the birth of his first child, the

: day of his marriage, or some other event that makes the soul fly into air and ether . . .

Haven't got a clue what you're talking about, because I was scared as heck on the day of my wedding and also on the day of the birth of my twins. My soul has had an easier time flying into air and ether on other, much-less-hyped days. Like today, when my wife and I walked down to the credit union with the twins in their stroller. It was such a simple task, and the rain was drizzling all around us, yet I just felt the urge to spontaneously turn to my wife right there on the sidewalk and say that I enjoyed being with her (and the twins) on occasions like this. (And yes, I followed that urge, and turned to her, and said that.)

: . . . then compare that day, that grace with the direct experience of meeting the risen Jesus . . .

As my best man likes to say, neither you nor I have a "frame of reference" for that. (The phrase comes from a line in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and my best man first used it on me after I attended a midnight Pascha service for the first time ever. "So, Peter, now that we have a common frame of reference...")

: Time lapse photography is a wonderful gimmick, a matter of spectacle. We can't be talking about

: gimmicks here in relation to the difference between a poem and film, per se. . . . Invoking wonder

: is impressive and I will assert that certain forms or expressions do that better than other forms.

Like Sean Penn says in All the King's Men, "He said it, and he still doesn't get it." How can you say that "gimmicks" are out of bounds, when "gimmicks" actually have the power to "invoke wonder" in ways that other artforms simply cannot do?

: Art (and film) means to convey Logos and nothing else. The best means for conveyance is

: unmediated experience of truth. From there, we descend in order of Power to sacred literature,

: to poetry, to painting, music, to theater, prose, photography, film, TV and so on.

Why separate "sacred literature" from the other kind? And why emphasize only sacred LITERATURE when there are also sacred paintings and sacred music and so on?

: If I speak in absolutes, it's because there are absolutes. You may not, for example, tell me that there

: is any figure in literature who is greater than Shakespeare.

[ snort ] I certainly MAY. Whether I choose to is a whole other question. (And I'm sorry, but statements like that just cry out to be mocked.)

: If you have a different opinion, you can't be taken seriously. You are not intelligent. If that offends

: you, well, you have no wisdom.

[ chuckle ] Oh, this is getting priceless. Don't worry, you have amused me more than you have offended me. I can't take posts like these seriously enough to be offended.

: Does anyone here yet deny that the 23 Psalm or The Lord's Prayer -- works of art, of rhetoric, of

: poetry, of language, of musical sound, of pictorial painting -- are not more effective in their power,

: their charge than just about anything you can name?

I recite the Lord's Prayer frequently, but I can't say it moves me the way lots of other things do. Part of this, no doubt, is due to overfamiliarity.

: We are all certain of absolutes here. I say there are absolutes in art. Others say not so (which is

: another kind of absolute which is contradictory).

And this, dear friends, is what happens when someone ingests the "you cannot say there are no absolutes because that itself is an absolute statement" RHETORIC without ingesting its MEANING.

To say simply "there are no absolutes" is to make an implicitly self-contradictory statement, because there are no qualifiers in that statement, and thus the statement must eventually be applied to itself, with self-defeating results. But to say "there are no absolutes in this area" or "there are no absolutes in that area" is not self-contradictory at all -- UNLESS the statement itself is somehow rooted in the area that it describes, and thus must eventually be applied to itself, etc.

So the only way "there are no absolutes in art" could be a self-contradictory statement would be if the statement itself were a work of art. And I, for one, do not think it is.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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