The credits started rolling and my roommate and I switched the lamplight on mechanically, under duress. We sat there nervously, both wanting the other to help us come to an understanding of the film, but feeling like anything that could be said would inevitably be crass, would be a violation. Josh made an attempt at talking, but I don’t think he managed a complete sentence before he tossed the conversational ball: “W-What did you think?” I just stood up and cleared away our dishes. Incomplete pass. Within a few minutes, we were sitting across from each other on the floor, crying, crying, crying.
I got in late for work the next morning. Josh and I – we hadn’t been able to stop talking. Bedumbed the night before, now we were bursting. We stuffed hours talking. My shower, my breakfast, exercise, devotions: gone. I did manage to get dressed. (Praise be.) The rout continued: within three days I found myself referring to The Thin Red Line as “my favorite film.” In three days it had supplanted a favorite of nine years. I was capsized. Overthrown. Demolished. Smitten. Trounced.
It feels like that experience is the best argument I can offer for this film’s sublimity. It is sublime. I felt it. In my gut. I have never reacted to a film like I reacted to this one. Not even close. I know, though, that we could bandy “I loved it”’s and “I hated it”’s forever (and that TRL has gotten plenty of the latter), so I’ll try recommending it with slightly more universal tools than my upturned innards.
I’m going to say two things here: that Line’s departure from genre norms is a good thing, and that its contemplative indeterminacy is timely and wholesome. If you don’t have much time to read right now, skip to the second section.
Never have I so immediately thought I would love a film as after I saw this trailer.
Here are a few of the major points from a talk I gave to two high school classes recently:
You don’t see the world very often.
– You identify things, but you don’t see things. In fact, you can’t see things; you see color, line, shape, tone: light.
– Likewise, artists don’t draw or paint things. They draw shapes and tones that are sometimes somehow similar to the particular sights we associate with things.
Visual beauty has to do with seeing and not with identifying.
– When you love a painting for its beauty, you are not loving it because of what it represents.
– Abstract art has just as much (or more!) possibility for the pure appreciation of its beauty as does representational art, because our identifier doesn’t get in the way of our ability to see.
Artists, before they are anything else, are masters of sight.
– They’re good at it, they love it, and they can command it.
Artists are also masters of their medium.
As a bare minimum, art appreciators need to be people who see well, too.
ONE MORE THING..
Art is not always meant to be beautiful.
– Some good art is ugly.
In fact, art can be made for many reasons.
– Some art is primarily meant to inspire thought, not aesthetic admiration.
– Some art is primarily meant to be a network of symbols.
– Some art is primarily meant to be the self-expression of an individual.
– Some art is primarily meant to be an effective optical illusion.
– Some art is primarily meant to be an exploration/presentation of the medium being used.
If you are going to correctly appreciate a piece of art, you need to first understand why it was made and judge it according to the standards of the category in which it is attempting to fit.
This post led to questions about what I do with school uniforms, choir boy outfits, and pleasant uniformity generally. I don’t want every street sign to receive individual typographic treatment, do I? & etc.
What I had said was, “I think that I don’t like the OC prettiness because it seems like it exists for the sake of an ordinance. Houses become adorned in such and such a way not because a person likes the house, but because of some rule that tells them to,” and so on. But (see the photo above) I do rather like some ordained stylings. I like school uniforms and all that sort of thing. So how to I systematize my dislike for some beautification systems and my love of others?
Here’s my best stab, so far.
Uniform stylings are suitable when the thing that is being adorned is a category. A student wearing a uniform is not wearing their uniform insofar as they are an individual; they are wearing it insofar as they participate in “student.” The problem I have with stock makeup or clothing and with uni-styled housing is that it takes something that ought to be eminently particular–a face, a home–and reduces it, visually, to a member of some category. People who are students can take off their uniforms when it would be inappropriate to visually instantiate their role, but it’s nice that they can give that abstraction a form sometimes. It’s almost mythic.
In sum, basically, as it were, it turns out that my distaste for over-ordained or inappropriately ordained styles comes down to their symbolic relationship to the things so styled. It’s a concern that has more to do with truth than with beauty.
I’ve consistently felt a little guilty for not liking the prettiness of posh Orange County or of some made-up faces. They’ve obviously been done up for the sake of something like beauty, and that’s the sort of thing I ought to like.
There’s always, of course, the Romantic avenue to be taken: I could insist that I like faces and buildings best when they exhibit a natural beauty. But that route’s never felt quite satisfying to me. What’s a natural building supposed to look like? Man-made beautiful things aren’t inherently less beautiful than the non-man-made ones.
My next instinct is to say that those pretty things are less attractive to me because they’re less skillfully made. This takes care of a good number of sloppy makeup jobs and unsuccessful outfits, but when you get to Orange County, it can’t be a lack of skill that makes it rather repugnant to me. The things there are often made by some of the most talented artists and city planners anywhere. They are pretty.
Then I want to say that it’s too pretty. At that point, however, I think I’m talking nonsense.
I get the chance to travel to the Eternal City with a group of students from the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. We’ll be studying art, architecture, and aesthetics as a general philosophical category. Needless to say, I am most determinedly not bringing my computer with me. I return on the 24th of this month, and will continue posting sometime in that general temporal vicinity.
For the trip, we read a great number of great books, but two in particular stand out so completely that I feel all but compelled to recommend them. These are Leo Tolstoy’s What is Art?, which, like most of Tolstoy, is beautiful, compelling, and deeply flawed, and Dorothy Sayers’ article Toward a Christian Aesthetic, a very intriguing exploration of the relationship between Trinitarian/Incarnational theology and aesthetic theory… the result is a beautiful vision of a Christian aesthetic. Consider them Grossly recommended.
With that, therefore, I bid you, by the power of the Google Language Translator, addio.