What is Normal? And Where Do I Run To It?
Yes, it is a Syndrome, and it influences what passes for art in our world growing smaller. You might ask: What is the "Rachel Getting Married" Syndrome? Well it is complicated, and it will need more time than I have at this sitting to develop what will be an ongoing thesis. I will, however, find the time to expound on the subject, but I honestly believe it may be deeper than the “Rabbit Hole” from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” so please be patient.
First, let us begin with the picture, "Rachel Getting Married." It was abysmal as entertainment and really taught us very little about real, normal lives. If the movie spoke to your inner soul, seek help! Furthermore, these people in this story were not close to anything resembling normal, and if you think this little "indie film" was a "delicious slice of life" expose on "blue state America," get a real life, and gain some real perspective ... if you can.
The reason I pick on "Rachel Getting Married," it is the highest rated reviewed bad movie since "The Hours." It also taught me that there is little independent perspective among reviewers. After a few months of reviewing film, art, and on occasion, music for Better Angels Now, I have set a few ground rules: Never read other reviews to gain an angle before I see a picture or before I review it. I have read other reviews after I have set a parameter of the film's rating, just to see if others see what I see. The problem I see with other reviewers is that they try to sense the "buzz" of a film before they see it, or worse, before they review it. I really believe most well written, and well-meaning reviewers, want to be within certain tolerances acceptable to other reviewers, or quite possibly, if they cannot concur with their peers, they will often make a big show of the defense of that objection. By either opinion, within the tolerances of acceptance by other reviewers, they seek acceptance.
"Rachel Getting Married" is not the villain here, it is just an accessory to the condition of being included into the group that builds the platform that is extended to some creative ventures, and not to others, and the problem here is, often, the others never get a chance. The problem is: Wide-ranging acceptance, by the public, must be achieved before the artists producing most projects artists can be successful, and when they are not successful, eventually, some really good artists must stop creating and get another job. Reviewers do play a part in this acceptance paradigm, so, in some larger collective measure, they play a part in the process.
If only people didn't listen to us ... well ... them, so much. Personally, decades earlier, I used reviewers as a service to influence my choices in film entertainment, but, I eventually saw so many credible pictures go under the reviewer's knife, I quit. Only recently, decades later, I have begun to sample the thoughts of other reviewers, and I am even less impressed than before with their genre. I do it to gauge my perspective against the broad perspective of my peers. What I have noticed is their (other reviewers) perspective is not that broad; however, it takes a bad movie like "Rachel Getting Married" being loved by most critics, and a not so bad picture like, "The Spirit" being hated by most critics to understand that they (the reviewers) are probably mimicking each other, for the sake of their inclusion in some lost, lonely high brow club of pseudo intellectuals. It is as if these reviewers, subconsciously or otherwise, seek this inclusion by describing their idea of art, irrespective that it may be obtuse in conveying any meaningful purpose, as unique, important and worthy of praise. In effect, the obtuse becomes the new normal, and in this measure, these high brows, who are obviously non-individualists, become mainstream conformists.
Film critics may be part of the problem, but they are only one leg of the three-legged stool influencing the buying habits of consumers for what passes as art. The other is the music industry. One must ask his or herself, which came first the demand for crappy musicians playing crappy music, or are they the only ones that can secure recording contracts? Why are arguably innovative, but truly terrible musicians the performers that receive the lion share of reviews in these more widely read publications? Or is it that these conforming “avant-garde” music reviewers know nothing of what it takes to produce music? I do not know the universal answer. I do, however, have my opinion, and that I know well.
I do know that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a New York City “avant-garde” shriek band, is very popular with these same critics. I have sampled their music and it is simply as follows: They have a guitarist who knows five, maybe six chords, but has not mastered the technique of picking; no bassist, a basic garage band drummer, and a stumbling vocalist, who, well shrieks into the microphone, and growls a bit. Sadly, she appears to comport herself off the stage as a serious, but alternative artist. Alternative? Does she mean a bad musician, like herself, as an alternative to, well, good musicians? I couldn't help but feel sincerely embarrassed for the “alternative” combo, and moreover, the void of spiritual profundity of their most committed fans - lost in the delusive fog terminal stupidity.
Sincerely, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, are one of the worst stage acts I have seen since Mary Jane Rottencrotch debuted her female version of Alice Cooper in my High School’s talent show in 1971. And sadly, if I must continue to very sincere commentary of music like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and I must, I believe Mary Jane had more innate talent than Karen O, lead singer for the NYC shriek band. One might ask how do these talent less geeks make a living? And why should I care?
Simply, in a recessionary economy, the music business, like most businesses, is a zero sum gain. Because of the success of the talent less, infinitely more talented musicians, with the god given ability to provide a far superior musical message: will not get reviewed and receive its accompanying "buzz," will not receive a recording contract, and will perform to much smaller crowds and make much less money. Due to these influential players (reviewers, recording executives) conforming toward a drive for the "avant-garde" acts, there could be a systemic dissolution of talent due to the market conditions drying up the call for accomplished good musicians in favor of these much less talented ones. Fortunately, many really talented musicians will go "underground," where they, along with other skilled musicians, will challenge their abilities and continue to make excellent music. In bohemian enclaves, they stretch their respective talents and they play purely for the love of making beautiful music ... It certainly will not be for the money.
Long before film critics, considering themselves important insiders, and music reviewers, most of whom know nothing of creating real music, there were the New York centered Art Heavies. Some of these individuals are the worst at understanding the process of creating from the left hemisphere of one's brain. Most of the Art Heavies, who are the worst of the lot, are well qualified at writing - some are actually quite good. The problem is they write about a subject they have no knowledge of. It is one thing to study art theory. It is quite another issue altogether to know the process an artist feels and plans as he recreates life within the pure tones of his force of spirit. If one can not create, how can a critical reviewer interpret the artist? Furthermore, why should the critical word smith (reviewer) interpret what is generally beyond his level of comprehension - the actual creation of art?
The sheer pretension of most Art Heavies is so palpable that I usually consider their reviews a farcical comedy act - especially when they use the word delicious. That word always, without fail, elicits a howl from me, which brings my wife in from the next room. My wife is not an artist, never wanted to be, and she even finds their pretentious nature hilarious. Case in point: When the reviewer tells you what the artist felt, or what he was attempting to communicate with his art, you are in the presence of a pretentious fool.
For decades, these Art Heavies bullied creators of art that did not adhere to their vision of what was art. Visionary artists, like Andrew Wyeth, would have their individuality stripped from him and his art by a bevy of Art Heavies, that did not possess the grey matter to understand it. Andrew Wyeth, a sensitive and very talented guy, would spend much of his creative life trying to explain his art, to this narrow-minded community of talent-less bullies, as having an abstract quality. I suppose he knew that they would prefer the abstract art pieces - like the paint splattering works of Jackson Pollock.
Peter Schjeldahl, art critic for The Village Voice and the New Yorker, was among Wyeth’s most impassioned critics, deriding his paintings as, "Formulaic stuff, not very effective even as illustrational realism.” Schjeldahl continued, “Wyeth art is entirely outside the modern world” (Andrew Wyeth did not paint New York). And if that wasn’t enough stupidity via the conveyance of the comments from a bullying Art Heavy, consider these Peter Schjeldahl comments, “Wyeth’s art is beige paintings in beige rooms for people with beige minds.”
Later in reflection of his harsh criticism of Wyeth, Peter Schjeldahl, ever the reactionary Art Heavy, admitted, “I was probably harder on Wyeth than needed to be back when I first moved to New York, in part, out of a sense that I had to reject the provincialism of my own native North Dakota.”
Peter Schjeldahl, like some other self-important Art Heavies, believe that talented artists should come to them to receive their anointment as an acclaimed artist. If that acclaim is not forthcoming, it is the belief of the collective Art Heavy community that creative people, such as Andrew Wyeth, should come to New York to defend their work.
That Wyeth chose to not come to the New York community of Art Heavies to defend his art, prompted Art Heavy Schjeldahl to proclaimed that the great artist suffered: “The self-punishment of the control freak.”
Fortunately for Wyeth, he did not need the kind commentary of those giving voice to what is and isn’t art. While I must admit that the Art Heavies can make or break most careers, Wyeth’s immense communicative talent easily transcended the “provincialism” of the New York critics' propaganda.
For other artists, not of Andrew Wyeth’s immense stature, their careers, and, ultimately, their creativity suffer immensely by the relentless shallow criticisms of the Art Heavies.
To be continued at some later date.
This post appears courtesy of our sister site, Beaufort County NOW, with their expressed permission.