Sunday, January 02, 2005

Is Cinema An Art?



[A bummer--it appears that I have a nasty case of tendonitis in my fingers, and the doc has decreed that I limit contact with drawing pen, piano and the computer keyboard for the next few months. I'd like to continue blogging, but on the more modest schedule of once a week--most likely every Sunday. Many thanks for your patience!].

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What is sometimes most fascinating about a work of art is that in a million small ways, it expresses the personality of the artist.

And if the personality of the artist can emerge so readily in, for example, a painting or a film, it follows that any and every activity performed by an artist could be said to, in one way or another, express his or her personality.

The artist whose personality and sensibility I admire most is probably French filmmaker Jean Renoir. There seemed to be a wonderful unity and continuity to his life and his films. Every film he directed, every interview he gave, every word he wrote, every sculpture he made--they all seem to emanate the intelligence, humanism and generosity of his personality.

Here he is, from his moving memoir, My Life And My Films:

"To the question 'Is cinema an art?' my answer is, 'What does it matter?' You can make films or you can cultivate a garden. Both have as much claim to be called art as a poem by Verlaine or a painting by Delacroix. If your film or your garden is a good one it means that as a practitioner of cinema or gardening you are entitled to consider yourself an artist. The pastry-cook who makes a good cake is an artist. The ploughman with an old-fashioned plough creates a work of art when he ploughs a furrow. Art is not a calling in itself but the way in which one exercises a calling, and also the way in which one performs any human activity. I will give you my definition of art: art is 'making'. The art of poetry is the art of making poetry. The art of love is the art of making love.

"My father [the impressionist painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir] never talked to me about art. He could not bear the word. If his children chose to go in for painting, acting or music, they were free to do so, but they must never be pushed. The urge to paint a picture must be so powerful that it could not be resisted. My father said of Mozart, whom he worshipped, 'He wrote music because he could not prevent himself,' to which he added, 'It was like wanting to pee.' He considered that the mode of expression was unimportant. If Mozart had not made music he would have written poems or planted gardens."