Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I Want To Be An Old Artist, But Movies Are The Art Of Our Times.


Bill Cunningham New York (2011); Between The Folds (2008)

I saw the Bill Cunningham documentary the night before last, and last night watched a documentary about origami a friend suggested. In Cunningham I saw what I have wanted for myself since I made the decision in my teens to become a studio artist I wanted to be an old artist; to someday be able to look back on a long life of making art. In the origami artists, I was reminded that there are many art worlds, each with their own theories, markets, aesthetic battles, etc. That I chose to move to New York, not because I believed it was the only art world, or even the only art world that matters, but that it was the art world that seemed to offer a place for me and my particular personal aspirations. I am well aware that for an artist to say that movies are the art of our time is counter-intuitive, but at stake is what is great and why.


I have made my case explaining why I believe movies are the art of our time, and my friend, the painter Michelle Vaughan, has made hers, as well as rebutted mine on her blog. Vaughan complains that my reasoning is confusing and overly complex – that the introduction of architecture was a “smoke and mirrors” attempt to change the subject. The heart of our disagreement is that Vaughan believes that “Without an Artist, There is No Art.” That movie making is art by committee, that the only intention is mass entertainment and profit and therefore movie-makers cannot explore personal idiosyncratic visions that characterize “quality art.” That greatness in art can only be achieved if the intention is unrestrained personal expression.
Caddyshack (1980); 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)


In immediate response to Vaughan, Daren Fowler posted a defense of film as art on Hyperalergic’s Lab page. Fowler listed challenging art films, like Luis Bunuel and Salvidor Dali's Un Chien Andalou (1929); and undeniably great film like Julian Schnable’ The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Fowler shares Vaughan’s conventional view on artistic greatness. I do not. The other criticism my idea has received seem to come from simular perspectives on art. The artist Bill Powhida quipped on Twitter “Let's go watch Arthur and then re-read John's essay "the kinds that foster new ideas." explaining that he was not criticizing the idea that art could be made in groups, but instead, "using example of how moribund, derivative and useless movies can be, like painting, not matter how big the crew.”  In a simular vien J.D. Hasting teased "Hive mind 4 life, suckas"

When I was thinking about what I meant about "art of out times" I began to think about other art forms that seem to capture the aspirations of their times and place. The importance of cathedral building and alter piece painting to Medieval Europe. The massive canvases of 18th century history paintings and 19th century Hudson school. the quasi-scientific studies of clouds by the Impressionists, the efforts by early abstract artists to pierce the viel of vision and see the universal orders that underlie our world. Mid-Century American Modernists desire to make visible the emotional turbulence of freedom. I began by thinking about the shape of our times and art's place within that moment. New York is central to a global art world, but that art world is just a small corner of the enormous flows of creative production taking place right now.
Opening Day Art Basel (2010); Star Wars exhibition in Philidelphia

Powhida joked (I think he was joking), that "You're clearly right movies are the art form of our time if I'm making them." That is the only argument I can see that Vaughan has made for contemporary art. It is a solipsistic logic; that art must be made by an artist. Taken further it means, just as Powhida suggests,  that anything an artist makes is art (a joke I like making when serving sandwiches, or leaving the wash room to some poor soul who has the misfortune of waiting to go in after me). Individual genius is not the halmark of our time, it is a hold over. Additionally it is a damaging hold over. As a lens for looking for value, it is blinding. Within the antique frame of artistic greatness those who would justify a list of "great post war art" can, legitimately (within the logic of greatness), claim that great post war art is an almost entirely white male enterprise. Art is not a mater of individual geniuses and a small elite of taste makers. It is the one of the ways we project our our values to the world, as artists, as collectors, but also as nations and, increasingly, as a developing global society.

2011 marks the year the population of the world reaches 7 billion. That is double the number of people alive the day I was born. For the first time in history mor of those people live in cities than live in rural settlements. In 25 years the worlds population is expected to peak somewhere around 9 billion and by then 75% of us will live in cities. This is the deciding condition of our time. This is why I chose to place movies within a continuum, with contemporary art on one end and architecture at the other. With art we experience intimately, as a one on one interaction with an object in space (this is how we look at contemporary paintings too), vs the totally public domain of of our day today interactions architecture.
Georg Simmel; George Lucas


Alan Mitchell, emailed to tell me about the German sociologist Georg Simmel's 1903 essay, The Metropolis and Mental Life. In it Simmel wrote about the experience of modern city life in the most perfect of cinematographic terms, "“the rapid crowding of changing images, the sharp discontinuity in the grasp of a single glance, and the unexpectedness of onrushing impressions.” If I were a better writer that is exactly how I would have describe the unique experience of watching movies in the theater. That it stands in the center of a continuum, where intimacy and publicness are constantly mixing. We are alone in the dark, but we are with a crowd. We are viewing faces at extreme close ups from hundreds of feet away at the center of a crowded theater. That we are doing this together is a key part of the experience, and while Vaughan caracterizes theater audiences as "captive," that couldn't be further the truth.

We have all kinds of opportunities to watch movies however we want - on our TVs with our families, alone in bed with a lap top, on the subway with a iPhone or Game Boy, we choose to crowd together at theaters, and that choice is the most important aspect of the experience. In her book, Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacob takes special aim at the modernist desire to make private pleasure public:
"Togetherness" is a fittingly nauseating term for an old ideal in planning theory. This idea is that if anything is shared among people, much should be shared. "Togetherness," apparently a spiritual resource of the new suburbs, works destructively in cities. The requirement that much shall be shared drive city people apart. 
When the choice becomes one of forced togetherness, people either become "exceedingly choosy as to who their neighbors are" or, Jacobs observed, "settle for lack of contact." Movie theaters are places we choose to go to To anonymously watch among equally anonymous strangers. We don't care who we are sitting next to as long as they don't have a child, BO, or a conversation on their phone (I talk at the movies, as does my sister and father, so I rarely take aim at those who need to whisper about what just happened). But we clearly like the unique mix of publicness and annonimity. (If we didn't we would have stopped going as soon as we had TVs, or VCRs, or Cable, or HDTV, or 3DHD...)
Rem Koolhaas totally gets it; Zaha Hadis doesn't


There is nothing apperently high-minded about why we go to the movies, but that is not to say that movies are constructed and consumed for only the most apparent and base reasons Vaughan and others focus on. In Delirious New York Rem Koolhaas writes about the architecture of entertainment that proceeded film, and "the self-defeating laws that govern entertainment: it can only skirt the surface of myth, only hint at the anxieties accumulated in the collective unconscious." Which is to say any individual structure. He was writing about amusement parks, movie theaters, in contrast, renew themselves every few days with a never ending stream of new releases each skirting myth and playing on anxieties in new ways. Koolhaas writes of the intent of the architects of the fantastic, that "it is the explicit ambition of devises to turn provincialism of the masses into cosmopolitanism."

The key, as I tried to make clear in my original argument, is not innovation. If individual films are innovative they are, like all art, innovative within strange and contradictory feedback loops. Between audiences, Movie-makers, taste-makers, moral watch-dogs, government censors... on and on, The "technologies of the fantastic" (Koolhaas' term) test our desires for myth and our willingness to look out our anxieties. All art forms have outer limits, that they work within, push against and break with. No artist no matter how radical works without restraint. Vaughan argues that entertainment is the sole intention of movie makers, but as Koolhaas makes clear, that is anything but a straightforward and simple intention. Entertainment is less puritanical than enlightenment, but just as convoluted. To again update Koolhaas' observations on the architecture of amusement, in a world "obsessed by Progress" movies attack "the problem of Pleasure, often with the same technological means."
Revenge of the Sith (2005): Spiral Jetty (1970)


The premise of this blog and the project behind it (an artist commentary for the original 1977 Star Wars movie), is that there is no need to accept that George Lucas is a great artist to see that Star Wars as great art. The group that made Star Wars with Lucas were shaped by art schools, Unions, marriages, politics and history. The millions of people that went to see that movie that year, and continue to watch that film around the world, were doing something more than expressing an aggregate of individual tastes, they were sharing something of value. What we are looking for is an aggrigate of values expressed. Acknowledging that is not an endorsement of the "hive mind" or a surrendering of judgement to the "wisdom of the crowd." To paraphrase Steven Johnson, this is not a hunt for the wisdom of the crowd, it is a discussion of the wisdom of someone in the crowd. An effort to see the value of an artform, without ever needing to name a single instance of greatness. After all, the Spiral Jetty is undoubtably one of the greatest works of art of the twentieth century (and a personal favorite), but where does that get us? Of all the modern art forms I can think of from movies to origami, earth art is arguably the least consequential to life in today's world. (But that's a totally different bar bet.)

It's not that I don’t value artistic individuality. When I was first invited to the Cunningham doc. I agreed because I got my wires crossed and thought I was agreeing to see a movie about the choreographer Merce Cunningham (an artist and artform I very much admire). I had never paid more than a passing attention to the NYT's Street Style section and had always actively avoided the Time's photo spreads of head of New York's well-to-do. I had no idea that they were the product of a singular, and truly peculiar imagination and personal ethic. I will now study those pages with hightened attention, trying to figure out what Bill is showing me and why.

Transformers 2 (2009); 2012 (2009) - Two very differnt disasters.

But I continue to study the wild-cat authorless worlds of commercial franchises with heightened attention when it comes to understanding the moment we live in. I know from my own experience that being a studio artist is, by definition to be at cross purposes with most of what everyone else is doing. Thinking about any art as good,bad, of quality and as great, leads down reductive rabbit holes that end is questions of personal taste, accidents of birth, and the fickleness of success. None of that tell us anything about the full shape of our times. I am not interested in accumulating the personal tastes of a generation in order to identify a zeitgeist. The mood of the times is just as arbitrary as any personal taste. It is an all but meaningless set of information (unless you are hunting for biases). I am very interested in what we love and why. But because Spiral Jetty is popular does not make it great, and to say that it is great puts a seal on its meaning – it is a conversation ender.

Both 2012 and Transformers 2 are both equally bad by every standard Vaughan sets. They are undeniably art by committee; carefully packaged commodity films constructed to appeal to the widest possible audience. That they were directed by an individual is almost moot, films at this scale are overwhelming industrial manufacturing projects. A director friend of mine who made a big budget scifi film told me that at one point during filming he realized that if he stopped greeting and thanking everyone who came to him with a problem that had to be resolved or decisions that had to be made, that by sheering off the niceties of speech he could gain an hour or two of work a day. That is a gruesome way to work and I don’t covet making that sort of choice. It points to the depersonalized nature of making movies, but it doesn’t mean they are not art.
2012 (2009); Repo Men (2010)

Instead of judging 2012 and Transformers 2, as good or bad (much less great), lets judge them in terms of their ethics. I watched both films with my 11 year old nephew. 2012 was a silly film that shows a fractured family’s struggling to escape a global catastrophe. Here is what I was struck by the film open and the characters are introduced and we learn that the father is a ner-do-well space case and that his youngest daughter who is six still wets the bed. The film goes forward, lots of things blow up, people die, melodramatic music plays, the loser dad proves himself to his alienated wife, and at the end the family has survived and come together to look out over a sun rise on a new world. It is truly trashy stuff.

But not all trash is equal. We are still talking about art., and even bad art can be judged. The very last line of the 2012 is the little girl’s. She confides with great pride that she no longer needs to wear diapers to bed. Through most of the film her role was the standard Spielbergian screaming child that adds immediacy to already unbearably tense situations. But there, at the very beginning and end, the movie-makers gave her a battle and a victory. Because of small intimate moments like those throughout his movies I trust Ronald Emmerich. I would happily return to see the next film he makes.
Santiago Sierra, 160 cm Line Tattooed on 4 People (2000); Michael Bay

Michael Bay, on the other hand, never passes up an opportunity to belittle or express contempt. His films are freighted with misogyny and racism. His imagination can only be described as septic his art as malignant. I equate him with the cruel and mean spirited views of those who would defend pouring trillions of dollars into a war misrepresented as a fight for freedom while simultaneously howling about billions spent to educate and care for the poor here in the richest country in the world. On a smaller scale I equate him with the malignant and septic imagination of the artist Santiago Sierra, who pays day labors to tattoo lines across their back, sodomize one another at art fairs and to live behind bricked up walls in galleries. (Shame on me for mentioning his name.)

I understand that both Emmerich and Bay are the eye of the needle, that around them are clouds of creative people working on an industrial scale to make the block-busters that bear their names, but that doesn’t mean that those movies aren’t art that can be judge on their merit. Movies can be and should be, and so should artforms. Lining up great works is a tired and futile exercise. (There is a "moribund, derivative and useless" industry if there ever was one.) I never would have bet Vaughen that movies are the greatest of all art forms, or that there are more great movies than there are great paintings, not because I would have lost, but because there would be no way to decide the bet, nothing to discuss.

17 comments:

  1. Hahaha- I feel the need to clarify that my comments on hive minds should be construed as value neutral.

    II feel as though this debate is at cross currents with itself. I feel that Vaughan is answering "which art form currently produces the best art" while Powers is answering "which art form best represents the time we live in." I think the original question "what's the art of our times" allows for either interpretation, and that both sides have presented their views pretty well. The judgment of who wins may come down to which of the 2 questions the judge is more interested in, though, without the other party actually being "wrong."

    #WhyCantOurHiveMindJustGetAlong

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  2. I don't think we are at cross currents. I think it is very difficult to argue for the relevance of fine art on any other terms than the bloated, weary, and dated concept of "greatness". Michelle and others are infatuated with tall trees but the contemporary moment is best thought of in terms of lush forests.

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  3. That summary helps me a lot.

    Now my OCD is making me listen to this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d6_LUDa_Zw

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  4. Many years ago, Felix and I backpacked throughout Japan we noticed there were no homes built on the hillsides of towns. This seemed odd, so we inquired with an English speaking friend as to why. It was explained that Japanese society reject the “king of the hill” stature, as it’s a blatant way of displaying wealth, power and importance. It’s garish. Tokyo’s imperial palace is in the center of town, not a castle on a mountain. This would go directly against a neighborhood like the Hollywood Hills; one of the biggest houses looking over the city use to be owned by Merv Griffin (old television host and big producer, look him up). Most American cities work in the reverse of this Japanese tradition – Americans like to be the cat sitting on the hillside looking over the land.

    John’s point about “tall trees” made me think about equality. And I know he is very much into equality on many levels. I understand his position to pose popcorn movies as the “Art of Our Time”, because in his view it’s like a universal way of coming together on the same level and having a shared cultural experience. There is no one great thing, no markers.

    But I still believe that intent is an important factor in calling something art. Hollywood often doesn’t label their popcorn movies “art” – and neither do I. It’s entertainment… just like “The Real Housewives of Wherever.” Perhaps I am more traditional, but I believe that contemporary art has done it’s job through “our time” – and the only factor making it not as accessible as movies is the direct competition with movies. Entertainment trumps art. Entertainment also trumps science and history museums, books and many other activities, because entertainment is easier. No one has to work. You zone out and escape; and stare willfully into that big, rectangular, flickering box. I protest that popcorn movies are not "The Art of Our Time", simply because they are not art.

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  5. My point with the tree metaphor was not social leveling (although I will not deny that is an element of what I believe makes movies so relevant to today’s world), it is a more a matter of acknowledging the importance of strong, rich, and contradictory networks over isolated instances of greatness. The artworld still likes to pretend that its tall trees are self-made wonders, bootstrapping acorn all. But the truth is greatness is the product of an environments. Tall trees grow in soil enriched by dead trees, sheltered from damaging winds, and strengthened by the early slow growth of rising up within the shade of the forests surrounding.

    When looking for an artform (and that is the bet – movies, not movie) that represents our moment we should identify the most complex network. Movies are where musicians, photographers, sculptors, painters, choreographers, writers and every other creative disciple converge. We go to movies to watch literature, and listen to an expression on someone’s face. Movie scores are only “manipulative” when they suck (talking to you Roman Polanski), when they fail to integrate well within the film.

    Movies are networks of networks made visible. The intenet is not an artform and neither are cities, Movies are singular in this respect. I reject the requirement that I should defend them by cataloging instances of excellence, since the discussion was never great art, but the artform most relevant to our time.

    Lists of all-time-greats are so 1961 (which may be why they remain dominated by white guys). The art of today should reflect the values of today, equality is laudable, but not the tell tale trait of our moment. Rich, dense and complex networks are ever so 2011.

    As to the question of intent, perhaps for argument's sake, you are using a very narrow definition of art as something intended for the "fairly straight-forward environment" of the museum. Where does graffiti fall? Is a form of self-promotion, protest and vandalism art? (Care to comment Hrag?) More often than not, its intentions have nothing to do with art, but it is still collected, discussed and seen an artform.

    Likewise with quilts. Should we dismiss them as not art because they were intended as bedspreads?

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  6. After receiving a flurry of DMs from John yesterday trying to convince me I am losing this argument: << It only feels like a gold mine, its really just an extremely deep hole. :D >> and << I think you want to cook for me. >> I maintain that, no, I have not lost, yet.

    Grafitti? Yes, public/urban art. Quilts? Arts and crafts. There is an artist(s) behind both, and freedom of expression. They fit within the general criteria and have made their way into many mainstream art institutions.

    Powers is posing his theory on the entire movement of popcorn movies. Of course I agree there are certain instances when movies have crossed over into art (the Hitchcock movie “Rope” comes to mind, and there are many others). But he is calling lots of people who do many different things to create movie productions an art form, when there is no artist, there is little freedom and the original intent was never such.

    Should we look at sports and decide that it’s art too? Why not?! Why don’t we call football and the Superbowl “The Art of Our Time”? It shares many of the same qualities as movies... and there would be far more Americans who would get behind this and say, “Hell yes. Football is ‘The Art of Our Time.’” Millions of Americans get together to watch the Superbowl; they have a shared experience, there are amazing moments the audience never forgets and they can talk about it at the water cooler. But would it not be a bit silly? Football is a sport. Popcorn movies are entertainment.

    I woke up and saw this on the front page of today’s New York Times Art section. It explains how the producers of Spiderman (the Broadway musical, not the movie) are ditching many of Julie Taymor’s artistic ideas. These were her visions for the piece, and they are now out. Why? A focus group didn’t like them. Producers are giving the Greek mythological spider, Arachne, the heave-ho. This is now a production via committee, to revive this gigantic flop and make it profitable. Broadway is an entertainment business, just like Hollywood. For Julie Taymor to have been given all that creative control/freedom in the beginning was extremely unusual, and it never worked within the Broadway model. The entertainment business runs itself by a different set of rules, and it ain’t art.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/16/theater/julie-taymors-vision-for-spider-man-takes-its-final-bows.html

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  7. When the terms of the argument were announced, my first thought was that trying to determine the true art of our time was a mug’s game. It would almost certainly be a matter of personal choice and inclination, or if it came to a vote, a populist tally of those singular tendencies. But after reading the respective arguments I’ve come to the conclusion that while as an artist I dearly want Michelle (and art) to win, I think John easily has the popular high ground, which happens to be the middle ground. But as I thought about it I don’t think John can hold that ground. His argument for the communal urban nature of movies falls apart for me in the face of the decidedly suburban home viewing of works of long form dramatic television like The Wire or The Sopranos which are the equal of any film. If the art of our time will always be the gesamtwerk of the most complex and far reaching system, then the art of time isn’t film.

    It’s advertising.

    Advertising easily spans beyond the limits of film, permeating everything we experience. If you’re not interested in any particular art form, you can pretty well ignore it (excepting perhaps architecture, but I’m not sure how you could disallow it for its required utility), but to get away from advertising on this planet you have to go to a remote corner where art is pretty much beside the point as well. Advertising encompasses speech, the printed word, music, still graphics and the moving image. It is as simple and crude as the hand drawn sign in a window to the overarching long term management of a corporation’s brand identity and global resources. It stares out at us from the labels of the food we buy and speaks via the logos emblazoned on nearly every object we own.

    If historically art has been a mouthpiece for power, conveying the authority of the church or state, then our age of extra-national global corporations has an art it deserves.

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  8. Brian, in the most depressing sense - you have a good point.

    Excuse me while I move to Greenland.

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  9. Sardonically pushing sport as the art of our times, or arguing (sincerely?) that advertising is, both share the premise is one shared by Greg Borensein who commented on Twitter a that: “I'm with you about movies being art, but they're _the_ art of the 20th century, not our time. Nowadays, pop culture & celebrity are like toxic waste products left behind by our forbearers. They block fresh development.” I wanted to address this in my rebuttal, but it got lost in swirl.
    This attitude about arts place in the world isn’t just 20th century, it’s solid 1930s era Clement Greenberg. The common belief is that mass culture is “toxic”, that art is separate elevated sphere that needs to be protected from the self-promotion, and spectacle of what Greenberg called "ersatz culture," or “kitsch.”
    All art it is a useless activity. It is a form of play that takes place in a bounded field (no matter how expanded). When Greenberg wrote his defense, he was doing so against the backdrop of fascist pomp, communist propaganda and a deluge of mechanically reproduced posters, recordings, cartoons, films, and other ephemera produced by capitalist economies. The anxiety is one that is obviously still alive and well, it is that the authentic will be replaced by a more compelling, but inferior inauthentic substitute.
    Much later, towards the end of his life, Greenberg admitted that ersatz culture had gotten a lot better:
    “Today I am not bothered by kitsch as I used to be, I was bothered by it when I was growing up. I remember a record player at college that went on forever. It was the repetition that bothered me. Today I think kitsch is better then it used to be. Movies have become much, much better over the last thirty years. I think if I had grown up in the 60s I wouldn’t have felt so assaulted or assailed by kitsch.”
    History is on my side. Greenberg was wrong, art isn’t getting worse and movies are, as he later admitted, getting better. The illusion that art was a sphere above the vagaries of markets, is just that. It does art no service to pretend it is something that it is not. It is important, crucial even, but it is not the art of our time. And to say ONE form of mass entertainment is, is not at all the same as saying ALL mass entertainment is. Sport is wonderful but it is not art. Music making, image making, acting, and literature all are, and movies are the intersection of all those arts, the movie house is where we go to enjoy all those things crowded together, and it is not an accident that we do so crowded together with strangers, artists, accountants, advertising executives, the whole shebang.

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  10. I argue for advertising as the endpoint of an inclusive view of determining what art is allowed into the discussion. I think this goes towards one of the fundamental differences between your argument and Michelle's, which is the intent of production.

    In defending art Michelle is looking at something made to be art and intended to be seen as art. It can expand with recontextualization as needed (quilts, graffiti, etc) but when viewed the intention completes the definition.

    Where I find the argument for movies (as opposed to "film") to be problematic is that the intention is never there for things like Tranformers or 2012. They are made as entertainment and do not aspire to be art. By opening the door to works not intended to be art by virtue the use of artists, artisans, and forms of artistic media, or of the craft of their production I think also opens the door to other systems of production that do the same, as advertising does.

    Claiming that communal nature of watching movies as a point in it's favor ignores that people can just as easily see similar entertainment elsewhere (the hours spent watching TV surly dwarf those spent in theaters), but also that advertising goes farther. We are all captive to advertising, and are subject to it at every point of the day. The scope of advertising's reach is beyond the voluntary congregation.

    Likewise, while I would agree that movies are the new gesamtwerk, replacing the theater and opera Wagner envisioned, although now being challenged by television dramas as I noted above (is this an instance of the new medium catching up after starting a half decade behind?), I think art has an argument here, too. Art can be made by single person, and there are artists who use written, musical, and visual elements in their work. Movies as you argue them almost certainly need to be made by many, and the intention is for profit (as Michelle has argued). But if we are judging on a complete use of all, then advertising goes farther than movies. Indeed it encompasses them. Movies (especially fare like Transformers or 2012) are advertisements. So are sports. In truth so is art. If you open the door wide for inclusion, scope, and effect, You must go all the way.

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  11. "Open the door"? Are you really arguing that there is no profit motive for making art? That the only motive of movie makers is profit? That art is a binary decided by intention? That either one takes a puristic idealized view of art as an autonomous realm protected from the crass motives of the commercial economy, or, conversely, one is forced to concede that everything all cultural production is equivalent?

    I think it is needlessly cynical to try and push my logic to an extreme - after all others have made the case that TV is the art of our time on merit of the high quality of long for story telling flourishing on Network and Cable TV at the moment, but that doesn't explain the centrality of going to the movies in the lives of people around the world (Bollywood makes more films than Hollywood).

    I have made a serious argument about the nature of our times and the nature of art. It is not, and never has been, an all-or-nothing question.

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  12. Again I agree with your criticism of Greenberg's rejection of kitsch but I think time has marched on and created a new set of issues. I'm not arguing that low-brow culture is toxic and that art should stay away from it. Quite the contrary. I think today's true popular low-brow medium is Internet meme culture: cat videos, 4 chan, etc. I think there's a lot of interesting mass cultural energy to be mined there. What I think is toxic are the formerly popular forms that are now divested of their mass interest while retaining a shell of their former position. Blockbuster movies still make a ton of money due to $20 ticket prices for 3D screenings, but those numbers mask the fact that fewer and fewer people are going to see them. Lady Gaga is the most popular pop musician today but her sales would barely have put her on the charts during the industry heyday of the 90s. The sphere of popular culture has fractured and diverged into a network of many interesting objects rather than a small number of overriding monuments. That's why I call celebrities and the other traces of the old centralized pop culture "toxic". They're like crippled empires in the age of colonial revolution, stumbling across the historical landscape clinging to the past and killing to preserve it. I'm arguing not for art to keep itself pure but to look beyond the shell of this former pop culture to today's real market. Or, as I am trying to do in my own work, to mine the collapsed corpse of 20th century pop culture for techniques and media that it previously horded to itself but are finally accessible for art making now that it has fallen.

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  13. Watched "Love and Other Drugs" (crap) last night which puts a lie to the advertising thesis. Watching an hour and forty minute ad for Phizer is just as bad as watching a movie with an over-bearing score - I was left feeling manipulate. Ads are elements of movie making (especially since product placement became ubiquitous) that can either be well integrated into a movie or, when hnadled badly, can distract and subtract from a movie. The professional was a film that I remember being distracted from the film by the quality of the trailer. Luc Besson had cut the trailer as a montage of billowing explosions and other action scored with a piece of music by Beethoven. It was a glorious trailer. In the film, Besson had Gary Oldman's charicter listening to the music on an ear piece. Olman talked about it, closed his eyes as he listened to it, etc. It was a major plot point - but the audience never heard the piece played. If it had been a better movie it might not have mattered, but as it was, it's absence ruined the movie. The ad had set up an expectation that the movie was unable to deliver on.

    As for declining audience share. I don't see it. Just as in the past, Hollywood is anxious about a non event. They stand to lose money on recordings of their film just as sales of music recordings have taken a hit, but audiences are still going to the movies in record numbers. If anything, audiences have gotten very good at discerning bad movies and staying away in droves.

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  14. If you're not convinced about attendance numbers, read this: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/28/business/media/28steal.HTML

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  15. Read This:

    "People can pay to watch movies at home after a few short months following their theatrical release, through cable television or streamed from the Internet: pay-per-view (PPV) and video on demand (VOD). Initially, home video contributed to an industry wide slump in the late 1980s (see disruptive technology), not to mention the decline of the 'Dollar Cinema' (where first-run films are pulled from circulation to play at reduced rates for the remainder of their run). The theater industry responded by building larger auditoriums with stadium seating layouts, installing more screens (to allow for more variety and more show times), upgrading sound systems and installing more amenities and higher-quality food and drink. The growing popularity of high-definition television sets, along with HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc players may also contribute to the decline in cinema attendance, although there seems to be little evidence of this at the moment. As of June 12, 2009 all US television stations started broadcasting in the digital format. This could also affect US movie theaters."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movie_theater#Post_1920s_:_modern_era

    It makes for a good headline Greg, but use your eyes. Declines like the one in 2008 are dips in a continuing upward climb. I have been reading Obituaries for movie Theaters my whole life. Yearly dips have everything to do with a general economic instability or a temporary reaction to a "disruptive technology" but the fact is, theaters are still packed.

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  16. Anyone pointed out that it's Weber and Lucas yet? The photo... not Simmel. Simmel is a lovely-looking fellow with glasses.

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    1. Hey Carlos, you are the first, thanks - its been long enough since I wrote this that I have no way of tracing back through memory to figure out how I made the mistake. I'll make a fix asap.

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