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Fake Independence and Reel Truth, Pt. 1: Ray Carney’s incendiary film criticism feels as vital today as it did 15 years ago

Fake Independence and Reel Truth, Pt. 1: Ray Carney’s incendiary film criticism feels as vital today as it did 15 years ago

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Ray Carney COM Film Prof. March 23, 1995 PORTRAITAs Filmmaker Magazine reported in its latest issue, the seminal expert on John Cassavetes’ oeuvre, Ray Carney, has refused to relinquish control of a cache of experimental film prints belonging to the avant garde filmmaker, Mark Rappaport. In a letter to Boston University, where Mr. Carney teaches, Rappaport wrote: “This is not a legal matter between Carney and me. The man has clearly and willfully stolen my material. He may mewl incessantly about me having ‘given it him as a gift,’ but this is blatantly not true.” Until Carney, or Boston University, responds publicly to Rappaport’s accusations, we should withhold judgment. That said, the matter is disconcerting—in no small part because this isn’t the first instance of Carney claiming ownership of a filmmaker’s materials. As Slate reported last fall, Carney “feuded with John Cassavetes’ widow Gena Rowland over his discovery of a first cut of Shadows (the result of a 17-year quest), which he claims is an improvised work and therefore does not belong to her company, Faces Distribution Incorporated.”

While we await developments, though, we at MovieMaker want to look back in our archives at a series of articles Mr. Carney wrote for our magazine in 1998. In the turmoil of scandal, it’s sometimes easy to forget how a man built a persona worthy of infamy. In Carney’s case, though, it’s easy to remember; we have documentation. Not only was Carney a champion of Cassavetes (with his book Cassavetes on Cassavetes, he single-handedly re-introduced American audiences to the father of truly independent cinema), he was also an incendiary critic. I was stunned and heartened by the brashness of his perspectives on the state of cinema in the 90s. (When I read Michael Haneke eviscerating Schindler’s List in the pages of the Hollywood Reporter last November, I figured he was the first to call out Spielberg for romanticizing the Holocaust; he wasn’t.) These articles may have appeared 15 years ago, but they feel as vital as if they were written last week.


Part 1

We’re here to celebrate American independent film, but I want to begin by observing what a bizarre concept an independent work of art is. It’s weird because it’s redundant. What other kind of art is there? All art is supposed to be independent. Independence is its natural, its only true state.

That’s why we don’t talk about independent ballet companies or independent ballerinas. We don’t describe symphony orchestras or composers as being independent. We don’t debate the pros and cons of painters and museums being independent. We just take for granted that they are, and would stop paying attention to them if they weren’t. It is only the corporate nature of filmmaking in America that has made independence seem like something unusual. Hollywood has created this nutty situation where the majority of films are basically multi-million dollar business deals, so that the ones that are not have to justify themselves as being some kind of exception to the rule. So we invent this special category called independent film. Then the American Film Institute can invite retired studio hacks in to discuss the pros and cons of being an independent as if it were something controversial and strange. How totally cuckoo. Let’s never forget, the independent artists are not the odd ducks in the history of art; the businessmen are.

Of course, a buzz word is a buzz word, and corporate America recognizes the value of this one, so independence has been turned into a mass-marketing trademark. Once it gets in the hands of the ad men, the meaning leaks out of it, of course.

Everybody is an independent—so long as it sells tickets. In Miramax’s definition of the concept, Tim Burton becomes indistinguishable from Mark Rappaport. I had a student last week try to convince me that Star Wars was an independent feature. It was in a course on independent film I teach. In the first class I asked the students to define what was independent about independent film. The answers were all over the place: Some said it depended on the movie being made outside the studio system. Others said it involved making it for less than a certain amount of money. Others said it had to be made by a young and unknown director. Others said it was a film with a certain kind of style or content. One smart-aleck student said it was any movie that had bad lighting and lots of out-of-focus shots. I told them that, as far as I am concerned, being independent is more about the state of your soul than your budget. I don’t really care how a movie is financed or who produces it. An independent film is any movie that uncompromisingly expresses a unique, personal vision.

To say the obvious, most movies are the opposite of being personal. They are as industrial in their design as amusement park rides. And as mechanical. In the 10 years that separate Star Tours from The Lost World, it’s become increasingly hard to tell Hollywood and Disneyland apart. Filmmakers like Spielberg might as well work for some hybrid called Disneywood or Hollyland.

Rather than being unique, most movies are recycling operations. Of course the real recycling is not of pieces of plot and character, but of intellectual and emotional clichés that make their way through the American imaginative digestive system to be excreted on the screen prior to being swallowed whole again. There are really only five or 10 of these films made over and over: the thriller with a twist ending; the movie about competing and getting ahead; the boy-meets-girl romance; the buddy boys who start out hating each other but grow to respect each other in the end; I’m sure I don’t have to list the rest. The trick is to conceal the fact that it is always the same few movies over and over again. Do it just slightly differently, without really departing from the formula. I call it the Chicken McNuggets syndrome. It’s really always basically the same thing as last time, but you add a different sauce or spice to make it look like a whole new meal. It’s a truism to say that these films are mass-produced like cars, but that’s a slander on Detroit. Our cars give us satisfaction for years. They last a lot longer. They are put together a lot more imaginatively than these films are.

You know it’s all formulas when people can get rich teaching courses on how to make movies by recipe. I know someone who goes around teaching a three-day seminar on how to write a script. Can you imagine someone trying to tell you in three days how to score a great symphony? Or choreograph a ballet? Do you really think “Guernica” can be reduced to a paint-by-numbers scheme? But people are convinced film is different. It just shows their secret contempt for the art they claim to care about.

But you don’t have to pay a thousand dollars to take a course to learn the emotional formulas these films are based on. The clichés are everywhere. We are up to our eyeballs in them. We are bombarded with them on television, in the New York Times Book Review, in Time magazine, at sporting events, on the front page of the newspaper. They were not invented by Hollywood. In fact, the movies are not really any worse than (or different from) the rest of our culture. That’s what’s wrong with people who demonize Hollywood (or television). Most of contemporary America is organized around capitalist clichés about rugged  individualism, the value of competition, and the importance of material achievement (not to mention a whole other set of emotional clichés left over from 19th-century melodramatic novels). There’s no point in blaming the movies for the trashiness of our culture. Look at what’s on the bestseller lists or in the editorial columns of our newspapers. Look at our fascination with celebrities, our obsession with “news,” our insane faith in science. Look at the malling of our museums. In my hometown, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts recently mounted back to back exhibits devoted to the work of Josef Karsh, a society portraitist, and Herb Ritts, a fashion photographer—and crowds flocked to see both. Their work is as stupid as a Hollywood movie—probably worse.

But even though it flatters us to imagine our age the worst that ever was, I don’t think things are any different than they were a century or two ago. Rupert Murdoch and Jenny Jones didn’t invent sensationalism. Before Jerry Springer, there was P.T. Barnum; before interviews with women who married men who had sex change operations, people paid money to see the Wild Man from Borneo and the Fat Lady in the side show. Before the tabloids, there was old-fashioned, over-the-fence, backyard gossip. Fox News and MSNBC themselves are just high-tech versions of gossip. The only difference now is that the whole world has become our backyard. Cheap substitutes for thinking have always been with us.

The artist’s job is to free people from the clichés and tell the truth. That’s a lot harder than it sounds. We prefer the formulas because they satisfy our prejudices. Truth is always challenging. As T.S. Eliot wrote, humankind cannot bear much reality. D.H. Lawrence put it even better. He said we go through most of our lives with parasols over our heads, with a painted sky on the underside of them. We look up every once in a while and admire the view. Of course it’s all a sham. But we don’t realize it until something forces us to—until something breaks through the painted picture to reveal what is really on the other side. It can be some emotionally shattering experience that comes crashing down on us and collapses our parasol. Or it can be some artist who slyly sneaks up on us and slashes a hole in our parasols, so that we can see past them. We briefly get a glimpse of the real cosmos on the other side. But Lawrence went on to say that since we’re not used to it, the sight of the other side is almost always bewildering or frightening. The parasol is no sooner cut open than we go about sewing up the hole. We prefer the painted sun and moon and stars.

That’s a parable about almost all truth-telling art. Precisely to the extent that it breaks through the clichés, it’s going to meet with resistance. It’s not unique to film. Think of the reception the paintings of Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Eakins got in the 19th century. Or of Stravinsky’s Sacre du printemps early in this century. They were jeered at (in the case of Stravinsky, audiences actually rioted). The important critics scoffed at them. A few years ago I had a conversation with a curator at the Whitney Museum who said that could never happen nowadays. The implication was that 20th century viewers and critics are so much smarter and better informed than those dopey 19th-century ones. But then how do we explain film events of the past 50 years? The initial Paris screenings of The Rules of the Game were so disastrous that the film was pulled from distribution and not screened for the next 11 years—until it had an equally bad run in New York and was withdrawn for a second time. Carl Dreyer’s crowning final masterwork, Gertrud, was booed on its world premiere screening. I should say, booed by the viewers who remained at the end of the film, since more than half of the audience walked out before the movie was over.

There is no doubt whatsoever that A Woman Under the Influence is one of the major works of American film art—but when Cassavetes completed it, he couldn’t get anyone to show it. Woman was scripted in the spring of 1972 and filmed later the same year, completely outside the system (funding was split between Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, and Peter Falk). It went into post-production immediately after the shooting was complete, and was finished by the end of the year. But as many an independent has discovered, making the movie is only half the battle; getting an audience to see it is a whole other war. For 18 months (“the most discouraging time of my life,” John told me), Cassavetes went from city to city trying to convince an exhibitor to book the film. The response was always the same: It was too long, too boring, too sloppily made, too depressing. Not one distributor in America would take a chance on it. Finally, more or less in desperation, Cassavetes offered it to the New York Film Festival in the summer of 1974. They didn’t want it, either. It was screened for the selection jury and rejected. (According to the story John told me one day over lunch, Molly Haskell led the chorus of objurgation, telling him to his face that his film was “the biggest piece of garbage I have ever seen.”) It was only after John called up Martin Scorsese, whose Italianamerican was scheduled for the festival’s opening night, and asked him to withdraw his movie as an act of solidarity, that Woman was granted a couple token screenings a few nights from the end of the festival. The rest, as they say, is history (Gena Rowland won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Mabel). Nowadays, the members of the selection board fight each other to take credit for having discovered the movie. But the truth is that if Scorsese hadn’t blackmailed the festival, the world might still never have heard of Woman.

But I’d emphasize that even after Woman was doing fairly well commercially, virtually none of the major American critics appreciated it. Here’s a representative contemporary critical opinion from a dusty old edition of Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies I found on my shelves: “Typically overlong, overindulgent Cassavetes film.” Maltin gave it two stars out of a possible four. To put that into perspective, on facing pages two stars is the same as Woman’s Prison and Won Ton Ton the Dog that Saved Hollywood received, and one star fewer than The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, and two stars fewer than The World According to Garp. Here’s the write-up on Woman from an old edition of another standard reference book, Halliwell’s Film Guide. Leslie Halliwell doesn’t use stars, but makes his opinion perfectly clear. Again I quote: “Insanely long case history in close-up, with all parties constantly on the brink of hysteria. Hard to sit through.”

What can we learn from such off-base judgments? One thing is that when a film leaves accepted formulas behind, most critics get confused. It isn’t, as my curator friend felt, that earlier viewers and critics were stupider or less knowledgeable than we are. The fact is that an original work is always going to be at least a little disorienting because it’s not going to fit into our existing categories. As Marshall McLuhan said, when real revolutions come along, they don’t look like breakthroughs—they look like chaos. I’ll provide a concrete example, a personal confession. I have written four books on Cassavetes’ life and work—two in English, one in French, and one in Japanese (no American publisher has shown interest in issuing English versions of the last two)—but let me confess publicly that I stormed out of the first Cassavetes film I ever saw. It was Faces. The movie confused and offended me. It violated everything I took for granted about how movies were supposed to present things. The shots weren’t beautiful; the lines weren’t elegant. The acting and scripting seemed somehow out of control, even a little dangerous—sweaty and in-your-face. The characters were too extreme. I couldn’t figure them out. Scenes were hard to follow. I didn’t know where they were taking me. In short, Cassavetes didn’t play by the rules of filmmaking I was familiar with. I left 10 or 20 minutes into the movie convinced I had been looking at one of the stupidest and most poorly presented films I’d ever seen. For some weird reason, I went back a week or so later. But I walked out again, more convinced than ever. Then I went back again (for reasons I still don’t understand), and it was only on the third time that I was able to sit through to the end of the movie. But even then I didn’t know whether I liked the film or hated it. It’s now years later and there is no doubt in my mind that Faces is one of the five or 10 greatest works in all of American film. But it took me a very long time to realize it. (And, to tell the truth, Faces wasn’t the only time this has happened to me. I’ve fought some of John’s other movies tooth and nail also. Resisted them almost to the death, before I belatedly appreciated the originality of what I was seeing, sometimes weeks later.)

One of the reasons I can tell such an embarrassing story is that I told this to John once to apologize for my stupidity about his work, and he said the same thing had happened to him when he first went to see A Place in the Sun. He said he walked out on Montgomery Clift’s performance and only later realized that what he most couldn’t stand about it was precisely the quality that he eventually learned the most from. John had a hilarious routine he used to do to characterize this viewing situation. He would mimic a viewer watching one of his films just after the lights in the theater went down. He would slouch down in his chair, writhe in pain, and flail his hands in front of his eyes, as if to protect himself from the fury of an atomic blast, shouting (in-between his cackling laughter): “A new experience. No! Save me! Anything but that!” The point is that it’s easy to praise original, innovative film in the abstract, but the particular case can test our patience. We cry out all of our lives for masterpieces, but face to face with one, we invariably reject it. The problem is that the next masterpiece never looks like the last one. By definition, it breaks the mold; it gives us new ways of knowing different from those we are accustomed to. It sees the world with fresh eyes. It shows us things we haven’t seen before—and perhaps don’t want to see. That’s why when the next Rules of the Game, Gertrud, or Faces appears, it won’t look like The Rules of the Game, Gertrud, or Faces. That’s why there’s more than a decent chance we’ll walk out, shaking our heads and saying: “No. No. That’s not what I really meant at all.”

Read Part 2
Read Part 3
Read Part 4


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  1. Paul says:

    While I find it often entertaining to read the contrarian and often pseudo-intellectual rants of the malcontent Carney, I have always found his logic and reasoning to be poor. The truth is always challenging? Talk about a cliche, from a man who hates cliches. The truth (reality) is more often not challenging, we observe patterns and create biases. Very rarely we have situations that break these patterns and challenge our biases. Sometimes they allude to a greater truth and sometimes they do not. I also like how he attributes ‘our insane faith in science’ to the trashiness of our culture (if you want a good laugh search “Ray Carney global warming”, Carney is quite the climate scientist apparently). Seems like a pretty disingenuous statement coming from a man who’s reputation relies on the acceptance of the quasi mystical ‘pragmatic aesthetic’.

    • Dj says:

      Well, I don’t think I can agree with that.

      The truth is actually very confronting. Why would it otherwise be so hard to admit your own mistakes, to take critisism (REAL critisism), to speak out in a group of people cause you think differently about something, etc. Group thinking is a very big lie, but, sadly, the most excercised one. to give you an idea: ask what is wrong with a particular religion to other religious groups. you’ll get a lot of sinful accusations and bad mouth talking about the opposite side. The irony is, that you can replace the word “religion” with almost anything (country, family, sport, class, people, brand). We like to be popular. You may think it is just a puberty case, you see it in adulthood too. At work, with friends, sports.. To put it in a great artist’s own words:

      “We live too much from one point of view. That’s why we get so chicken in life we’re afraid of our jobs, our wives, our kids, going out on the street all by ourselves.”

      And carney’s words about “faith in science” is to be seen in the same context as the faith the people had in the pope in the 12th century and the kings and big leaders in the past. Most scientists are pretty dumb people with no real vision, and have only save routes to walk on. Look at how much critique Galileo got back in his days, how Einstein had to do it all by himself in his early years. And the people who lashed out their hard words were scientists and professors who were considered to be the brightest people on the planet. But also in art: the crowd had near riots at Stravinsky’s ballet ” premiere, Van gogh’s work was hated at the time. There are way to many examples of people who had to go through massive critisism. Every big artist, scientist, leader has had to deal with a lot of resistance in some point during his/her life.

      If you really think that Carney is about “quasi mystical ‘pragmatic aesthetic”, you haven’t really read his words carefully. He says that a work of art has to be judged by the things we can see, not what we pretend to see. Great art deals with emotions. And words simply aren’t enough to explain your own experiences. just look at your own life. Is it that easy to describe your personal relations with a few anecdotes?

      Just try to find the truth, not the easiest way out. Take the challenge. Disagree with people. It will be hard most of the times, but it is so much more rewarding for the soul afterwards!

      take care!

      • Paul says:

        To say that people accept group think (religion, patriotism, ect) because they are afraid of the truth is ridiculous. People accept, or to better put it, negotiate with group think for a variety of tangible reasons (opportunity, safety, reciprocation of values, material gain, ect). The dynamics of group think in various institutions have been well studied, they do not arise because of a human aversion to truth, but because of various trade offs which are advantageous. Humans have a limited perception and a limited ability to model the world, we therefore have a heuristic view of the world. This is why I think that events that break our would view are not indicative of a greater truth, but indicative of the limitations of our perceptions and brain.

        To compare the current belief in science to the faith people had of religion in the 12th century is absurdly disingenuous. Science at its core is the use of observation to understand the world. To create models (which are approximations to reality) and theoretical frameworks based upon evidence is what science is. It is the complete opposite of faith, which is the acceptance of a belief without evidence. Your example of Galileo and Einstein are specious when one considers the history of science. Galileo was shunned because the Vatican opposed the heliocentrism. The opposition from the Vatican was primarily formed from religious dogma. The idea that Einstein had to do it all by himself in his early years is ridiculous. Einstein was one of the greatest geniuses of all time, but his work on special relativity was based upon Lorentz transformations, Poincaré transformation, the Michelson–Morley experiment, Maxwell’s equations, and the works of various other scientists. His work on the photoelectric effect and Einstein solids made use of the work of Plank, Wien, Dulong, Lord Kelvin, and other scientists. Einstein’s crowning achievement, the theory of general relativity, was a work of collaboration. The theories of Einstein were actually rapidly accepted in the scientific community (about 3-6 years) because they were verifiable with experimental data. To say scientists are dumb because they rely on the work of the past is idiotic. Original thought is worthless in science unless it is verifiable via evidence or builds upon accepted (verified) theory (a lot of scientist have issues with this type of validation because it crosses the line from science to philosophy). A goal of science is to build consensus, thus a lot work is verifying the claims of others, not postulating new theories.

        The examples of lack of fame for the living Van Gogh and The Rite of Spring near riots seem like products of circumstance and the times rather than a human aversion to truth and challenge. Van Gogh died young and started to pick up notoriety during his last years. He was notoriously difficult person to deal with, which did not do any favors in allowing his art to gain notice. In fact he actively discouraged his fame by stopping others from writing about him (Isaacson). The near riots at the Rites of Spring had much to do with split between the audience (established elites vs bohemians) than it did with peoples opposition to the truth contained in the ballet. Carney is disingenuously framing these as examples of how great art challenges and how people are averse to it. With further examination one can see how Carney is supporting his assertion on incomplete information. One can also find many counter examples of great artists who were popular and accepted without great resistance; JS Bach, Handel, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Rodin, Haydn, ect. Resistance is neutral to the value of art, sometimes art is resisted because it is without merit. The video “Interior Semiotics” challenges me, but it is still awful. Much of John Cage’s music challenges my patience and notions of music, but it is aesthetically awful(I will grant is interesting in an academic sense).

        “And words simply aren’t enough to explain your own experiences. just look at your own life. Is it that easy to describe your personal relations with a few anecdotes?” I may wish to say no, but a great deal could be understood by telling a few hours worth stories in an open and honest manner. The full complexity of my or anyone else’s experiences and relationships can not be understood completely, but they can be reduced to a form which allows a good understanding. The idea that my life experience can not be explained by words, formulas, or systems is an appeal to mysticism (the ultimate questions of life are impenetrable by systems and human knowledge, life experience and relations ships are not metaphysics). To clarify and make ideas concise does not make them less truthful. When Carney makes references to life, love, god, and the soul as things that exist and things that deny our understanding he is making mystical claims. The idea that great art can not be read/understood, but can only be experienced is a mystical philosophy of art.

        To search for truth via understanding, evidence, study, and knowledge is not the easy way out. To deny understanding, to blindly follow faith, to deny agency is the easy way out.

        • Dj says:

          Hi there Paul,

          Sorry for my late reply! But I didn’t check this site for, well, up to this date.

          I have read your entire reply. Before this is going to be a Yes/No debate, I just have to say that you didn’t really read my reply carefully I think.

          I never said that people accept group-thinking cause they are afraid of the truth. We are just lazy to find something truthful. We indeed accept and negotiate. If you say negotiate, I guess you mean is “I’ll just say something that sounds conventional.” The other person will do practically the same and there is no real growth. There is, however, some bonding between people in-group. All you can do is look at your own life and analyze it. Study your friends, relatives, and comrades.

          My comparison between science and religion of the 12th century is not the comparison between science and religion tout court. It’s more of a way of showing how society and group thinking create an atmosphere. Just ask most people if they believe in Darwin. Most people (in western Europe) will answer “yes”. Ask them why and you will see that very little people have studied it. You say that science at its core is the use of observation to understand the world. You just give a definition about it. Religion at its core is more about love and understanding than terrorism and crusades. But that’s not what history shows us. Almost everything at it’s core is great, but that doesn’t mean that everybody who practices it, is doing it because of its deep essence. Manipulation is not as pure as shown in science fiction movies. When you see Coca-cola, you are not reacting like a robot and buy some coke. But it’s more subconsciously. If you know how damaging Coca Cola is for the bones, but you don’t hear a lot of it, there’s something wrong. Money controls the world.

          “Galileo was shunned because the Vatican opposed to heliocentrism”. Isn’t that exactly how group-thinking works? Ray Carney get’s a lot of criticism because he challenges the Hollywood business-like method of making movies. Nobody sees a problem in it. The most popular way of knowing/believing gets accepted. New ideas get burned. Get shot. So that’s something that supports my argument more than yours, I guess :). Don’t think that we are so much smarter of less naive than the people back then. We have great computer programs for architects, but are buildings getting so much better than 500 years ago? Everybody can read, can write, but are there better books written than 300 years ago? Everybody can buy a cheap camera, are there better movies made than 50 years ago? We don’t learn from our mistakes as a society. “Holocaust was a total failure of civilization and it should never happen again. In stead of making a better world, let’s remember all the victims, millions of victims that died during WO II.” There are holocausts happening today. TODAY! in Africa, middle east,… and all we care about is this big Arabic vs western world conflict. Cause you can choose sides easily. Look at how American, Russian and rich Arabic policies from the 50’s to the 70’s have led to the horrors happening today. Look at Israel. Look at Iraq.

          Einstein Actually had a lot of trouble getting a job. If he was such a big genius (which he was), wouldn’t that be a great teacher to add in your college? Of course, he had friends (thank god!) who helped him during this time of his life, including his wife, who was a brilliant mathematician herself. Maybe she helped him a little bit to develop his theories! 😉 And of course, he used the knowledge from the people you mentioned. I don’t believe that if Einstein was born in 2000 B.C, he’d got that E=MC2 in a flash :P. But we don’t call him a great genius without a reason. It’s because he did it. HE! Not the university. And he “wrote” his big master pieces practically all by himself. The collaborations came later in his life during the 1910’s. It was Einstein, not a great group thinking process, which got him where he was.

          But, as you said, they did get rapidly accepted by the scientific world. His Nobel price is a perfect example for that. That’s why I said “in his early years”.

          Now, the big part! The most important one perhaps! The arts!

          Indeed, Van Gogh was difficult to work with. But so was Mozart, Cassavetes, Fellini, Bach,… Most artists hate being popular. They fear it might make their works too trivial. So if they don’t get famous during their career, it’s partly their own “fault”.
          With dismissed, I mean that the common man never looks at van gogh’s paintings, never reads a good book (ex. Faulkner, James) for the right purposes. The average time a tourist spends in front of a painting is (hold your breath) 9 seconds. 9! They look at it as a summer vacation photo.

          Isaacson? Joseph Jacob Isaacson? He didn’t even like Van Gogh later in his life. And Van Gogh didn’t like it if Isaacson wrote about him because he was a very shy and introvert person. So was Isaacson by the way. And with “others”, you mean Isaacson. There was nobody interested besides him. And we’re not getting better at it. People still feel a lot of aggressive emotion when they listen to rite of spring, a lot of people still find Van Gogh’s work spilling, messy.

          Again, “products of circumstance and the times”. Hmm, well, that’s actually what the problem is, my friend. Most people don’t see art as an individual expression. But first and foremost as an intellectual, cultural product. The conceptual artist is the way to go! Just see how you name different cultural phenomenon: Flavor of the month, hottest in the game,.. These are empty terms. Art is not about being hot. Art doesn’t give us a big hug and flatter us like fake friends would do. It shows us another way of knowing. Terms like “Elites” and “Bohemians” are pretty empty too. I don’t know if you have a musical background, but please, forget about those terms, maybe you looked it up to make your point, but they totally put the emphasis on the wrong places. They are as empty as “impressionist” or “Baroque”.

          Of course, artists of the same period have more in common if you look at subject and style. 19th century Impressionists artists share values that differ from 16th century high renaissance. That’s the unimportant element. Where they differ, don’t overlap, that’s where it get’s interesting. That’s why the 17th century Amsterdam could produce artists as diverse as Rembrandt and Van Hals.

          Bieber, Spears, 50 cent, Tarantino, Kinkade,… Do their works really represent what the human spirit is all about? “Dude, where’s my car?” really? Millions and billions of dollars go to those people. Why? Seriously, Why? Shouldn’t that money go to other benefits instead of Mr. Jay-z’s hummer? They don’t require any intensive thinking. We are simply lazy to find truth, not afraid. We just want to be entertained.

          Do I really need to name more great artists that went through difficult stages for their art or died poor? (Ok I will: Schubert, Vermeer, Beethoven, Eakins)

          Indeed, you name Beethoven. But Beethoven died poor and Hayden didn’t want music of Beethoven published because of a great feeling of anger in it. After the premiere of his 9th, people found that most dissonances were wrong and misplaced.
          I’m not saying that art is ignored by everybody. That would be a parody. But seriously, just look, look at how many people read Shakespeare, how many people have ever listened to Bach, how many people have studies Picasso. And then see how much they love Elvis, how it is cool to listen to music of the 60’s and 70’s. How Andy Warhol is being immortalized by celebs. How reproductions of Rockwell hang in the living rooms instead of Picasso.

          “Interior Semiotics” challenges you all right, but not in a deep emotional, thoughtful way. In a boring, intellectual way. It’s like saying that seeing a flower grow is the same challenge as listening to Beethoven’s Symphonies. Try the 4th movement of his 9th and it’s choral fugal for a great experience. Or his eroica symphony and 1st movement to experience his self-awareness of the genius within. His big ego, but also his fears, doubts in the 9th when his hearing was completely gone.

          There are exceptions, of course. It even can be a 50-50 situation. You have your rich and genius artists of the past: Rubens, Mozart, Davis,… But why? Their wealth was not measured by the greatness of their work, but by the popularity of it. And of course their own talent of doing business. And ask why people love these artists so much; they usually give the wrong arguments. “I love the kindness of Mozart”; “The big women of Rubens are funny”; “Miles Davis is relaxing”. Mozart’s piano concertos, last 6 symphonies and requiem are not filled with kindness; Rubens painted more about the bible and nature than anything else; Davis’ solos are extremely difficult to follow and his chord progressions are mind-blowing.

          “A great deal could be understood by telling a few hours worth stories in an open and honest manner.” To quote Bill hicks “That’s impossible! *Smiles*”
          (Seriously, check out this interview, it’s hilarious and thoughtful at the same time
          You can try to be honest to one another, about your relationship. And have your girlfriend/boyfriend tell their story in an open honest way. A lot of things you didn’t see, feel. But it goes both ways. Let me add something, Tell about your relationship in an “open, honest” way the next week. You’d maybe get a whole different view. Cause now you love her again, all the stuff you had to complain about is relative, doesn’t matter anymore. The human brain can be as random as electronics shot through 2 slits against a wall! Maybe you can read Edward Wilson. He is very challenging about this stuff! Btw, a lot of understanding between people is not through oral communication. And maybe it helps if I say that that is also a proven fact.

          And to reply to your second last paragraph “The idea that great art can not be read/understood, but can only be experienced is a mystical philosophy of art.” is a poor understanding about Ray Carney’s writing. It can be read, it can be understood. But not fully. Not 100%. Not by adding everything up: Composition, dates, color,.. They do not make the painting to what it is as a whole. Our brains, emotions, hearts, process it as something human. Experience is everything. Not only in art, but in real life too. That’s where our decision making arises. Not just from rational thinking. If that would be the case, art wouldn’t exist.

          The bottom line is that if a work of art is popular, it’s not immediately stupid of false. But I leave it up to you to read my words and not read what you want to read. Truth is not always experienced by few. We all feel a sense of compassion when someone just lost a person close to him/her, We all feel it, we do not specifically express it all the same way or express it at all.

          Anyway, I’ll keep searching for truth through study, understanding, evidence and knowledge and I’ll never blindly follow faith. I have no idea why you said that. :). But keep in mind that that’s not what’s keeping you alive. Without the experience, those 4 mean nothing.

          Take care!

  2. Alina Szpak says:

    Forgive me if I repeat myself I posted replay when my computer crashed.
    The only thing I can say is a VERY BIG THANK YOU. After 30 years of moviemaking I finally found somebody who understands. You moveed me to tears, James. Thank you.

  3. Great article! We will be linking to this particularly great post on our website. Keep up the great writing.

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