What do you think of when you hear the term, “artsy”? If I were to say to you, “You have to go see XXX film, it is SO artsy” would you see it? Or, “You have to read XXX, it is SO literary.” Would you be interested or would you forever remember NOT to listen to what I say?
I think good films and books have underlying themes. Hidden messages. Depth. Sometimes, these books and films are called artsy, because artsy book and film makers like themes. They like layers. They, usually, would prefer not to lay it all bare for you like laundry on a clothesline. And if they do, they sneak some underwear under a shirt, or a tie behind the skirt. Perhaps even Aunt Dora’s old band uniform. Hidden. Unexpected. Interesting.
I also think that sometimes “artsy” book and film makers take themselves altogether too seriously, as if they possess such a level of knowledge that we do not have, they feel it is their duty to teach us. Instead of treating their readers and watchers as similarly intelligent people, they preach. They forget that, above all–above ALL–their readers and watchers would like to be entertained–not just song-and-dance, but moved to tears, pulsed with laughter. Inspired to talk about that piece to everyone they know.
The very best films and books, I believe, exist in the middle ground. They are enlightening and surprising, intelligent and layered, but they are fun to read and watch. They are “story” as story should be. This middle ground is the entirety of my goal as a writer; it’s where I want to live–to find and rest in that middle ground. It’s what I hoped to do with my first book–what I believe I did–and what I hope to continue to get better at.
It won’t surprise you, if you’ve read this blog before, that I loved the movie, Lincoln. But I also recognize that I was predisposed to love it as long as the story and acting were good–which they were–because I love the subject. However, Lincoln was not my favorite movie of the year. Nor was Argo (overrated, in my opinion, much as I love Ben Affleck and his ability to surprise us–very artsy of him–by leaping from pretty-boy to directing some of my favorite movies; Gone Baby Gone is AWEsome).
My favorite movie of last year, by far, was Beasts of the Southern Wild. It is lyrical. Surprising. Moving. Interesting. Layered. Unexpected. Intelligent. Visually stunning. Can’t say enough about it. It lands right in the center of art and entertainment.
As for books, it’s hard to name a favorite, so here are a few that I think walk in that wonderful middle ground: The Snow Child, The Language of Flowers, If Jack’s in Love, Train Dreams. If you haven’t heard of some, check them out.
Like–God, just about everything–art and movies and writing resist definition, as much as we try to box them up in pretty little packages. That’s why word of mouth is so important. So…if I were to tell you, “Go see Beasts of the Southern Wild and read The Snow Child or If Jack’s in Love, they’re right in the middle of artsy AND entertaining,” would you?