First Rule of Art: Those That Can’t Do, Critique

What constitutes as art? In a pop-culture survey course I took years ago, we analyzed the difference between elitism and populism and how, more often than not, elitist society would frown upon populist art forms, considering their composers as far from artists. As fun as it would be to address this using a high-concept sitcom such as Community or Parks and Recreation, I’m going to approach this from a different angle.

An example of elitism vs. populism in pop-culture would be the motion picture industry and the debate over what constitues as a “film” vs. “movie.” The former trumps the latter in wordage alone, and there is a reason that box-office draws are scarcely represented at the Academy Awards aside from visual effects categories. While The Dark Knight (Best Supporting Actor went to Heath Ledger) and Avatar (Nominated for Best Picture) are recent exceptions, they surely do not represent a shifting trend. Ledger’s performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight was one for the ages, surely deserving of the Academy’s recognition. Avatar being nominated for Best Picture, I would imagine, has more to do with its worldwide appeal and record-breaking gross than the movie itself. Aside from those two nominations, and Avatar director James Cameron’s nomination for Best Director, every other category each of those movies was nominated in was for visual or sound effects.

Did Disney get residuals from all of the money Avatar made?

As a special effects piece, Avatar was widely considered an event that movie-goers were required to experience in order to visually see how far we’ve come, no small feat in an age when most summer blockbusters are live-action adaptations of comic books and cartoons (many of which have been incredibly entertaining for 20-somethings who grew up with these franchises). Imagine what the X-Men film franchise could have done with the Avatar technology? With all of the money it raked in, Cameron and his team will never have to work another day, but Avatar is art by visual aspect alone. I am far from a movie/film critic, but the movie’s plot was told twice prior in the last 20 years (see Dances With Wolves and Disney’s Pocahontas).

Community is a sitcom with high-concept ambition
Elitist art is a rarity in a pop-culture society much like the one we live in, but elitist art should not be considered as the only true form of art. Authors like John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway are revered today for their novels, but many of their contemporaries frowned upon their writing styles. Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent was viewed in the 1950’s as having been “poorly written” by many literary critics who cringed at his inconsistent voice, having written whole chapters in First-Person and others in Third. Hemingway is widely considered a master of the concise sentence, but his unique approach to dialogue, as evidenced in A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, was something critics spent the majority of the 20th Century debating.

Art should never be formulaic, yet when aspiring artists stray from the accepted “norm,” they are often times met with harsh criticism. That said, a unique approach is never a guarantee for quality results. I find myself far more drawn in during a Mike Judge comedy than one backed by Adam Sandler’s “Happy Madison” brand. Both may be entertaining, but one mixes cheap gags with heartfelt pathos while the other, despite being written off as idiotic, is a well-told satirical work offering crafty insight into the human condition. This has been evident since the Beavis and Butt-Head days.

After 14 years, and not a moment too soon. Welcome back, guys.

Speaking of, anyone hear the news that America’s favorite headbangers are coming back?


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