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Darryl A. Armstrong

From Aesthetics to Practice: How does Art Affect Your Life?

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So, how does art practically affect your life? For those who teach or create or criticize, there are fairly obvious answers. But what about the layman? He goes to see a movie or he listens to an album or he reads a book -- then what? How do the ideas presented in art manifest themselves in everday life?

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Art influences culture which then influences art which then influences culture which then...it's just turtles all the way, baby! Whenever anyone sees a movie, they're a part of this chain.

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Though I am not a musician and can not quite read music, music is inescapable and constant in my life. Even background music (ie. the stuff played for manipulative atmosphere in stores, elevators, etc.) gives me pause. I cannot help but listen and critique, weary as I may be of a particularly overplayed song or arrangement. I would say that my own particular aesthetic sensibility is a major influence on many of my choices in life. I have read The Jerusalem Bible since 1973 for precisely aesthetic reasons. It is a bit weak on Old Testament poetry, but incomparable for narrative and New Testament epistles IMO. No modern translation comes close for beauty and clarity.

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Rich, I think you're hitting on what I was asking about. When a person hears a song or sees a movie of visual artistic image, how does that affect them? Does it impact their thoughts? Does it go so far as to impact the way they relate and react to the world around them?

I'm asking these questions because I see a lot of people who will watch a movie and afterwards merely state, "That was good," or "I didn't like it so much." But do these movies have a larger effect on a more subtle level on these people that manifests itself some other way?

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Thanks. I think that my first true act of early adult rebellion was to attempt to govern my choices in life by taste and aesthetics, re: translation choice, but also consciously choosing to avoid pop and rock in the early '70's for jazz. One of the biggest influences on this attempt was the Esquire "Best of Everything" issue of 1973. They hired the great chef and author, James Beard to figure out "the eleven herbs and spices" (the ad tagline back then) in KFC's original recipe. I was impressed by just the thought of sensitising one's pallet to such an extent. I have tried to do the same with various pallets ever since.

I should note that while The Godfather was a seminal event in my film/aesthetic life, I was grounded for having gone to see it. I love aesthetics. It influences how and where I worship formally.

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I think for the most part that it makes Christ unrecognizable ( The taking in of useless images ). It is spiritual clutter. And the more so in direct proportion to the extent that we say we can 'see' ( through the clutter ). The confrontation with these images reinforce our desire to 'be like gods'. And yet, movies more and more are 'lying from their nature'. They are becoming more unreal and they are making us more unreal. The "unreal-ness" of them, I think, is mainly found in the acting and actors.

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I'm curious. Have you seen The Godfather? There are moments when Brando's performance gives me a glimpse of some of the characteristics of God, unintentionally on his part, I am sure. It is one of the films of which I have made a study. I particularly am moved by the opening sequence mated to the undertaker's sequence initiated by Hagen's phone call. If you are familiar with these scenes, I can explain what I mean. OTOH, one man's useless image is another man's inspiration. I am fascinated by the flexibility God has in dealing with us.

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Rich, I would love to have you explain. I am fuzzy on how The Godfather begins after seeing so much of the Saga that was on Bravo. I would probably know what you were referring to, though, if you wrote about it.

But still, I would ask you a question first. Are the gates of Hell locked from the inside or the outside?

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Rich, I would love to have you explain. I am fuzzy on how The Godfather begins after seeing so much of the Saga that was on Bravo. I would probably know what you were referring to, though, if you wrote about it.

Though there is added material to add to the story, the Saga is really a mangling. What makes II so artfull is the flashback to Don Vito's early life. The opening to the first film is traditionally called the "I believe in America scene". The Don is at his desk playing with his cat while an otherwise uncorrupted by the Corleones undertaker makes a case for killing the guys who mutillated his daughter. The Don, who can refuse no request on his daughter's wedding day, declines murder as unjust. The attackers are alive. He then scolds the undertaker for his timing, having never had anything to do with Don Vito since they were kids together. The undertaker pays a gesture of tribute, all is right. The Don offers any and all hospitality against "a service, and that day may never come..."

SPOILERS: After Sonny is killed, the Don who has been bedridden, arises and orders Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) to "make a call to that undertaker." Hagen immediately calls (apparantly in dead of night) and DEMANDS the service and for the gentleman to be at his post in one hour. Cut to the basement morgue at the parlor. The undertaker seems horrified at what he may be asked to do (falcify a death certificate? Worse?). Vito, almost in tears, pulls back the cover of the corpse and asks humbly for the man to put all his skill to the task for the purpose of making the body presentable for Sonny's mother (Vito's wife).

Some time ago it struck me that this is a wonderful demonstration in an artform of the notion of God "not tempting us above that which we are able". There was no way for the undertaker to know what would be demanded. Foreknowledge was not part of the bargain, nor any condition. The Don was obviously sensitive to the man's desire to have a clean business with no mob connections (that is strongly implied in the other scene). What was asked was extremely demanding, but not a compromise of anyone's integrity. Repeated viewings of I and II have left me with the impression that this was Corleone's hallmark according to the story.

But still, I would ask you a question first. Are the gates of Hell locked from the inside or the outside?

Irrelevant. Hell is a pit. It has no gate. :roll: what is the point of the question, other than being cute?

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Rich Kennedy wrote:

: What was asked was extremely demanding, but not a compromise of

: anyone's integrity.

Very interesting analysis, Rich! Though of course, the whole thing began with the undertaker asking the Don to kill, and then beat, someone for him. One might say the undertaker's integrity had already been compromised there. But yes, I have always been touched by the way the undertaker seems horrified by the call he has received in the dead of night ... and then he discovers that he is being allowed into one of the most intimate, personal, vulnerable moments in the Don's life. Very powerful.

: gregory wrote:

: : But still, I would ask you a question first. Are the gates of Hell locked

: : from the inside or the outside?

:

: Irrelevant. Hell is a pit. It has no gate. :roll:

Personally, I like the notion that God's presence will itself be hell to those who have rejected him. There will come a day when none will be able to get away from God -- and those who have set their faces away from him will find this deeply, deeply irritating, to say the least.

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Very interesting analysis, Rich! Though of course, the whole thing began with the undertaker asking the Don to kill, and then beat, someone for him. One might say the undertaker's integrity had already been compromised there.

Yes, but I was concerned about his public integrity and how it is preserved by "the service owed to your Don", and further, that the undertaker was seeking justice in response to a suspended sentence (I should have mentioned that). It is the Don that pulls the father back from overreaction in a situation where, by tradition, he cannot refuse.

But yes, I have always been touched by the way the undertaker seems horrified by the call he has received in the dead of night ... and then he discovers that he is being allowed into one of the most intimate, personal, vulnerable moments in the Don's life. Very powerful.

Yes, the relief on the undertaker's face is immediate, as is his awe, presumably, at the Don's wisdom in such a painful moment. The way Brando handles the morgue scene is one of the most continually moving aspects of a film that I am embarrassed to say, that I know better than some books of the Bible.

Personally, I like the notion that God's presence will itself be hell to those who have rejected him. There will come a day when none will be able to get away from God -- and those who have set their faces away from him will find this deeply, deeply irritating, to say the least.

I could see that. Never thought of it like that (though this is what has discouraged suicide in darkest moments). I take it that there would be some sort of co-mingling of what one would consider to be Heaven and Hell in this construct?

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Rich Kennedy wrote:

: Yes, but I was concerned about his public integrity and how . . . the

: undertaker was seeking justice in response to a suspended sentence (I

: should have mentioned that). It is the Don that pulls the father back from

: overreaction in a situation where, by tradition, he cannot refuse.

True. But even after the undertaker has been pulled back from his overreaction, his "justice" still seems like "vengeance" to me. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that. Or is there?

: The way Brando handles the morgue scene is one of the most continually

: moving aspects of a film that I am embarrassed to say, that I know

: better than some books of the Bible.

Heh. Yeah, he's great in that scene ("I don't want his mother to see him like this," "Look what they've done to my boy," etc.).

: : Personally, I like the notion that God's presence will itself be hell to

: : those who have rejected him. There will come a day when none will be

: : able to get away from God -- and those who have set their faces away

: : from him will find this deeply, deeply irritating, to say the least.

:

: I could see that.

This is how my girlfriend has explained the Orthodox view to me, though I haven't checked with her priest or anything yet -- still, it syncs up well enough with what I've always thought, which is that hell is not so much a 'place' as it is a state of mind, a state of being isolated from God, a state whereby we remove OURSELVES from God's presence (a la C.S. Lewis's remark that the gates of Hell are locked from the inside, or a la Lewis's depiction of Hell in The Great Divorce as a place where people retreat further and further into themselves and try to move as far away from each other as possible; cf. also the scene in one of the Narnia books where some dwarves, I think, refuse to believe that they are being given good things, because they have already predisposed themselves to believe that everything around them is horrid (sorry, I don't remember that scene anywhere near as well as I should)).

: Never thought of it like that (though this is what has discouraged suicide

: in darkest moments).

Seriously? Interesting.

: I take it that there would be some sort of co-mingling of what one would

: consider to be Heaven and Hell in this construct?

Perhaps, but I have no idea what sense it makes to speak of the afterlife in spatial terms.

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True. But even after the undertaker has been pulled back from his overreaction, his "justice" still seems like "vengeance" to me. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that. Or is there?

No, but it always should be noted. It is a natural human reaction that seems taken for granted in films and always has been. Jeffrey has led me

to question some of my assumptions about it. I am almost always satisfied that vengeance can be a reasonable response to acts against those for whom one is responsible. I am less certain when it is in response to acts against one's self. It is probably impossible to completely separate one's personal emotions from those of the agony of a father. I, therefore think that there is no definitive answer here. That is what makes for good pictures, to my mind. Life does not always present easy situations and answers. The more a film reflects and analyses that, the better.

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Moving back toward the original question of How Does Aesthetics Affect your life... I guess I'd always assumed "aesthetics" had more to do with theories about art, but the question here seems more one of how art or aesthetic sensitivity in general affects our lives. I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately. Like many, I come from a tradition that has been resistant to image, metaphor, and myth in favor of systematic, propositional truths and utilitarian bottom lines. I've seen how a lack of aesthetic interest or sensitivity can create an environment, it seemed to me, incapable of sustaining human life -- even, or especially, among those so concerned about the moral considerations that they'd almost rather be safe than sorry ("No brains, no headaches...") And while I know there's plenty of naysaying about the image (Neil Postman, et al, even Jacques Ellul), I sometimes wonder if the image -- especially the cinema -- has had a healing effect on a culture overly-focussed on the word, just by getting us to look at pictures. Obviously, reflecting on different kinds of images can have different effects, morally or otherwise, and talking about those kinds of things would be another layer to this discussion, but I'm thinking first in terms of the general necessity for aesthetic receptivity. I've been reading a devotional called "Radical Optimism," which talks about mythic (as opposed to realistic or literal) forms as a way of inclining our consciousness toward the transcendent, "because [myth] liberates the mind from literal, one-dimensional, fixed, denotative interpretive habits [we] often otherwise have..." The point being that one way "aesthetics" affects our lives is that it makes possible a more wholistic experience of reality and existence than can be had without it.

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Hell is the frozen image of the moviestar. Eternally frozen in the perfect image, an image whereby he/she can be a 'beatific vision' for others, able to be seen and adored by all, in all times and places. But eternally FROZEN, afraid to spoil the image, even for an instant.

Every movie we watch makes us either more real or more unreal. Either more of a "moviestar" or more authentically human. I don't know whether this "watching" would apply to taking the movie in as a whole, or to what degree compartmentalizing a movie ( mentally ) may effect the degree to which we become this 'moviestar'. The movies that seem neutral are really contributing to the building of the spiritual sets and props that make up our fantasy glamour life. Soon we may find ourselves in the midst of our own spiritual city. The bummiest bum in that city will be God himself, because he will never leave, he is always there. We will subconsciously cast him as a bum. He will become unrecognizable to us in this way. Until our city comes crashing down at death.

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Hell is the frozen image of the moviestar. Eternally frozen in the perfect image, an image whereby he/she can be a 'beatific vision' for others, able to be seen and adored by all, in all times and places. But eternally FROZEN, afraid to spoil the image, even for an instant.

Every movie we watch makes us either more real or more unreal. Either more of a "moviestar" or more authentically human. I don't know whether this "watching" would apply to taking the movie in as a whole, or to what degree compartmentalizing a movie ( mentally ) may effect the degree to which we become this 'moviestar'. The movies that seem neutral are really contributing to the building of the spiritual sets and props that make up our fantasy glamour life. Soon we may find ourselves in the midst of our own spiritual city. The bummiest bum in that city will be God himself, because he will never leave, he is always there. We will subconsciously cast him as a bum. He will become unrecognizable to us in this way. Until our city comes crashing down at death.

It seemed odd, but the above words were recently scrawled into a bathroom stall door at The Michael Bay film festival.

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O.K., there's one even I can laugh at. But seriously, even the heavyweights ( like Coppola ) in my opinion aren't exempt from this 'for or against' principle, at least in our day.

One version has our above story ending with the "moviestar" going so far as to placing a gun filled with blanks into one of the drawers of one of the bedrooms of her make-believe world, so that she might fake her own suicide right before the face of the bum. After that , it's true she would have to lay/lie there, still, for all eternity, as it's true that the face of the bum never leaves nor blinks, but this for her is preferable to opening her eyes.

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Never let it be said that I felt that so dyspeptic a vision of art does not have a place on this board. I am trying to process the implications of this. I certainly don't see it that way and my concern is why this medium is singled out. Does it have implications for all photographic media? For all of art? At this point, I don't see why not. In a sense, a sound recording is a singer's voice frozen in my head for all time. Does God have to be the monotone everyone wants Security to kick out of the studio? Why do we have to create a studio in our imaginings to process the performance. Why, in film, do we, the viewers, have to conceive a universe at all from screen images, let alone one in which God is arbitrarily cast as a bum? I thought Joan Osbourne did that in A SPECIFIC song to MAKE A POINT!

Oh, Dan. Congrats. You made him admit to us to laughing! There's hope.

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I am only wondering whether the ideas and messages we may get from a movie are trumped by the sounds and images that make up each moment of that movie. That's why I think Daryll's question as to whether movies are affecting us in ways we are not conscious of, or in ways that will manifest themselves later, especially the very real possibilty that they may rob us of our ability to recognize the face of God, is a very important one. It has to do with a ...well, I've heard the word 'humanistic' used...there is a scene in "Rosemary's Baby" where the devilish next door neighbor, Mr. Castavet, talks at dinner with Rosemary's husband, the actor. Castavet flatters him by pointing out the 'air of authenticity' of one of his stage gestures. My thoughts are that movies are not trying to be art, in the sense that it has been understood in the past ( perhaps ), but they are trying to pass themselves off as 'real life'.

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It's almost as if the actors in a movie nowadays have to BECOME the characters they play, even in a very real sense. 'Coming close' to the real thing doesn't make it in our day. That's why they have to be directed from the 'inside'. And I don't see how this can be done except through faith, faith in God on the part of the director. If Brando should lose that look in his eye ( of being Vito ) for one moment, the movie turns from being human to being humanistic. ( I have a feeling that this isn't the true definition of 'humanistic', but I think it's clear what I mean. ) I believe it is the director who sustains this presence of God within the actors.

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Alan:

I don't mean to start a discussion of The Mission, but I use it here as an example most (if not all) of us would be familiar with. Is this getting closer to the question you were asking, Darryl?

Yes, absolutely -- but I'm also interested in how the effects of art are physically manifested through it's audience.

gregory:

That's why I think Daryll's question as to whether movies are affecting us in ways we are not conscious of, or in ways that will manifest themselves later, especially the very real possibilty that they may rob us of our ability to recognize the face of God, is a very important one.

I hadn't considered the idea that art, or specifically movies, could "rob us of our ability to recognize the face of God" but it's certainly a legitimate answer to my query and one to ponder. Your tone here though has been, or seems to me to be, quite negative. Do you feel there are positive effects as well?

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I believe the "Christ" movie has come. How can I answer with more than that? It was not rejected outright... yet it was not followed either. This seems to be intimately connected to the "Passion" discussions, if not to every other thread on this board. The question with "The Passion" is whether we shoud be focussing on the last 12 hours or on the first 33 years of Christ's life. It is Christ 'in our midst' whose glory is being overlooked, or worse yet, not even cared about. I don't think crucifying, or being crucified by, anyone is any real danger to us. Maybe we are more likely to discuss him away in our day and age - by the bringing into the conversation of a thousand other 'Christs' - than to crucify him? The Christ movie has been drowned out.

One of my faults, perhaps, is not worrying enough about my "tone" and how I am perceived. But even this is a consequence of the same movie.

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gregory:

I have to admit to being in a state of general confusion about what you are talking about in that post, but I'd like to make one comment (although it's rather off topic in this thread):

The question with "The Passion" is whether we shoud be focussing on the last 12 hours or on the first 33 years of Christ's life.

What about the resurrection? Shouldn't there be some focus on that as well? I can see many worthwhile aspects of focusing the story on either the first 33 years of Jesus' life or the last 12 hours, but the resurrection is a very important part of the equation, I think, in either case.

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I should have said: The question with "The Passion" as it relates to this movie... ( the one that I said was the "Christ movie", i.e. the movie most like Christ IMO )

This movie I mention is Christlike in every way ( from what I can see ), but especially in the way that it was ( and is ) received. The reaction is the thing to watch. It is the thing that will most reveal what something is or isn't. Like when the demons cried out, apropos of nothing, when Jesus came near.

This movie also brings together, I think, the joy and surprise of the Incarnation, the sorrow of the Passion, and the glory of the Resurrection all into one.

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