Thursday, August 15, 2013

Can art ever really be "bad"?

It's a tornado, made of sharks!
First of all, this blog post/conversation starter/rant began with a discussion with Chris Brecheen, and wouldn't you know it, he has a damn fine blog of his own. You've probably read one of his articles "Changing the Creepy Guy Narrative", as that one kind of blew up about a month ago, but you should check out the rest. It's full of really insightful advice for aspiring writers, and a healthy dose of snark for everyone else. Here's the link:

Now on to the meat of our discussion for today.

I was recently perusing yet another article about how Vin Diesel is going to be playing Groot the Tree in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy. Which, by the way, is either hilarious or terrifying. If they follow the comics, it's hilarious, because Groot literally only says "I am Groot." It's terrifying if they don't, because god damn it, all Groot should say is "I am Groot." It's part of the wonderful joke.

However, my eye was drawn to a different part of the article. I've seen several articles speculating on Monsieur Diesel's part in the Marvel Universe ever since he started meeting with them. And every single one has said a similar thing: Diesel is known for the "terrible" "awful" "disappointing" etc etc "The Fast and the Furious" movies.

I'm not sure what movies those people saw. I know, for the past three or four years, the highlight of my summer has been watching Vin Diesel, the Rock and a bunch of other action heroes do ridiculous stunts with just enough plot to hold things together. Amongst my friends, these movies are known as "fun", "awesome" and occasionally "the best movie of the summer."

Take a look at Vin Diesel's face right before the Rock smashes him through a wall, and tell me it's not glorious.

This brings me to an interesting point. We, meaning humanity in general but also geeks in particular, apply a set of standards to art that we consider objective. Certain things are "bad", and certain other things are "good." The Phantom Menace is "bad." Game of Thrones is "good." These are things that, when you enter into a conversation with any other geek, will be considered objective truth. Maddeningly, it will often anger people if you insinuate one of these accepted truths is wrong. For example, tell any comic book geek that Superman is more interesting to you than Batman, and six times out of ten you'll make them see red.

Here's an example:

This is considered "good." Hell, this is considered one of the highest forms of art.

This is Rob Liefeld. That should tell you all you need to know.

Now, let's not focus on the differences in these two pieces for right now, let's focus on what's the same. Both are hyper exaggerated pieces that show a battle scene. You can't really tell what's going on in either without staring at it for a good ten minutes. So why is Picasso an Artist, and Leifeld a Hack? Subjectivity, my friend. When we go to an art gallery, we expect to have our expectations challenged, and to have to think. We expect comic book art to tell us the story as simply as possible. Now I'm not, by any means, saying Liefeld is trying to challenge our expectations or create high art. But let's say you take aliens from the planet Beeblebarg and show them these two pieces of art without any context. They'll decide which one is "high art" based on their own experiences and context.

This same process happens at the movies every year. When someone says "That guy's a terrible actor", what they really mean is "I did not connect emotionally with the way this character was performed." Half of us, apparently, love shaky cam as a cinematography style, otherwise those movies would never sell a dime. But if you ask anyone in my circle of friends, shaky cam is the Devil Himself.

When we decide that certain art is objectively good, and other art is objectively bad, what we're really saying is that our personal opinions hold a certain kind of Truth. And honestly, they don't. My opinion that John Carter was a great movie is just as valid as your opinion that Man of Steel is. We might argue about it, we might have valid points about the merits of one over the other, but neither of us will ever be right. You can never be objectively, 100% right about art.

Last week, I met three or four people who vigorously defended The Phantom Menace. And while the rest of us might be aghast at that, and want to continue to hound George Lucas to an early grave about the film, for those four people the film hit their expectations and context correctly. It was a "good" movie. They're not wrong, just because the rest of us didn't like it. And the sooner we can start to accept things like that, the more open Geekdom will be.

Don't kiss. DO NOT KISS.

Now I'm not saying stop debating. God knows I love telling people that I think they're wrong. But we have to do that knowing, in our heart of hearts, that we will also never be right.

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