Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ideas on Artistic Innocence in Film

A while back I was having a conversation on film with a friend who works in media.  He did not get some of the references to certain filmmakers that I had made and proceeded to confess that he didn't watch a lot of old or off-mainstream movies.  He claimed this was because he was a "pure" filmmaker.  I suppose he meant to imply that he was uninfluenced, working sheer on his own creativity and not copying the styles of the greats and using their influence as a crutch.  If this is the case, he was incorrect because by schooling and vast media exposure, his "innocence" had already been destroyed.  This brings up other questions such as what is the value of artistic innocence and what are the problems that go with it.  Artistic innocence is a currently unattainable yet interesting idea. What is artistic innocence?  Some would say it is pure creativity and beginning.  If someone works with no sense of past or being influenced by others, this is artistic innocence.  This innocence is at its fullest when a medium is brand new.  Although a medium will take some cues from other media that came before it, it has not yet learned to "be itself."  Another definition, which I will not be using here unless expressed otherwise, would be that although it has a past which it draws influence from, it is relatively ignorant of this and not self-conscious.  In many cases, the latter may perceive itself as the former.

Is artistic innocence even possible in today's media world?  I would answer that with a very serious "no".  We are currently so inundated with media, it is not possible that it has no influence on us, but it is designed to be "invisible" and not make us conscious of itself.  Just as past media experience influences what consumers like, it also affects in what creators create. All the hours we have spent watching movies change our idea and conception of cinema in some ways that are irreversible.  It would be impossible to return to any "state of innocence."  The medium is no longer new, except to those who have been living under a rock, and the cat is forever out of the bag.  Another factor that destroys innocence is schooling.  I think this is the main reason why many artists are opposed to film school.  If someone is teaching you "how" to make movies, they are necessarily giving you a viewpoint.  Unless you ignore them completely, they are an influence on you.  Even if they are only teaching the bare-basic conventions, they are still giving you creative ideas that are not your own and are built on preconceived notions.  This is against the very idea of innocence.  Innocence is before this, before all preconceptions.  The final thing to note is that culture and art are a continuum and the beginning of a new medium is not the beginning of time.  Sergei Eisenstein, the Soviet film theorist notes:
"...I have always derived comfort from repeatedly telling myself that our cinema is not entirely without an ancestry and a pedigree, a past and traditions, or a rich cultural heritage from earlier epochs.  Only very thoughtless or arrogant people would construct laws and aesthetic for cinema based on the dubious assumptions that this art came out of thin air!"
Some artists in the past have tried to achieve innocence by self-consciously copying it.  While this can yield good art, it can not yield innocent art.

Paul Gaugain self-consciously copied the innocent style of Tahitian natives

What is the value of artistic innocence in film?  Added to the values I already mentioned in my previous article, innocence can give us a glimpse into the universal.  Seeing an art form at its beginnings could be argued as bringing us closer to what that art form truly is, short of its historical influences and seeking some universal good.  Beginnings are almost purely theoretical and without preconceptions.  As I've already mentioned, though, there will always be an earlier medium or even just experiences of reality that will exercise some influence over the new medium. Innocence creates a number of problems.  Conventions were developed over time for a reason.  I understand that too much knowledge can, and has, lead to formulaic staleness, but show me someone with innocence and I'll show you someone who doesn't know what he's doing.  Does sheer creativity make up for lack of skill?  For someone to be both innocent and great, they would have to be a genius.  They would be an unnecessary genius at this point because the beginning phase is over so why needlessly revisit its challenges?  I also believe that there are aesthetic universals so inherent in the nature of the film medium, that they would show up no matter where a film culture got started.  This would lead to accidental unoriginality and, of course, solving problems that no longer exist.  When you couple this lack of conscious knowledge with an intuitive knowledge of what has come before which comes from a high level of media exposure, accidental unoriginality becomes an even greater issue.  I would guess that many amateur screenwriters have unwittingly written movies that already exist.  The past is useful not to be mindlessly copied, but to be built off of or used as a foil.  By knowing about the past, we can be more consciously original. True artists need to have the correct amount of creative spirit and imagination while taking the necessary and unavoidable influence from the past.  In the case of Hollywood, its golden age was so great because it had the right mix of knowledge and innocence.  It was knowledgeable enough to be skilled and aesthetic, yet innocent enough to take chances and try new things.  Below are two examples of artistic innocence which I feel, while they have a certain charm, are not superior to much of what came after them.  Also, here is an article for those who are interested on historical awareness in art generally and some of the problems and challenges it created in modern art.

No comments:

Post a Comment