Creativity in the Age of Mass Production/Consumption (10 replies and 6 comments)
Dear Roger and forum members,
This is Cem from Turkey: I'm 25 and a graduate of Media and Visual Arts degree in which I focused on photography and filmmaking.
I have a feeling that my interpretation of life(!) and myself combined with a sense of visual mind that is honest might help develop a language that talks visually and is creative.
Anyhow it seems to me that being creative is getting harder and harder. I have the feeling that there are too many productions out there and at some point everything seems to look alike and different in the same time. This leads me to the question: "is it all consumed?" With the rapid availability of smartphones and various types of cameras, I have the feeling that all the visuals around us are consumed.
In the meantime, although it has become easier to reach the means to indulge in art production, I have a feeling that the diversity has only gotten less. Available tools, in fact, allow a bigger range of diversity in terms of visual look (you could say the same for sound too). Still there is a certain obsession to reach the best of cameras and visual quality, which in turn creates a uniform look in most of the things I see in photography and films.
I think it was Jackson Pollock who said "something in me knows where I'm headed."
I'm struggling to find my own creative way and sometimes I feel discouraged by the immense amount of productions out there. A drop of water means nothing in an ocean. There is also the pressure to reach a certain look.
Wonder what you think about all this?
First of all congratulations on being a graduate!
I think that many things you say here are an excuse to keep you from creating something yourself. The availability of writing tools and the great diversity of existing books didn't keep great writers from writing.
Leaving the safe environment of school or university is a step that can be overwhelming. But – as Van Halen – would put it: you might as well JUMP!
thank you for the message.
I don't think they are only excuses: the things I said have factual basis. I also don't think that a beginner should stop trying. But we might as well do it in a more contemplative manner, which is why I wanted to start the discussion.
I don't mean this as an accusation. I don't doubt your honesty. I'm sure every artist feels like you every now and then. I recognize it myself very much. But I don't agree that being creative is getting harder and harder. Yes, we live in a visual world, where we consume many many things each day. This can fill your head, discourage and block you, but it can also be food for thought and brew and stew to something new. It's up to you. I don't believe in a more contemplative approach, but again that's personal. Art often develops from a feeling within, an urge to express oneself.
Another thing is getting noticed among the mass of visual creations. I even think that good creations are easier to get noticed these days. The world has never been a smaller place.
It's all about perspective: an ocean is a drop of water in the universe.
Some days ago I was watching a documentary about composer J.S. Bach. When Bach was 20 years old he traveled over 400km on foot to meet his great example composer and organ player Dietrich Buxtehude. Bach stayed there for three months to meet him and hear him play.
I don't know if Bach wrote down the music he heard, but I think not. And even if he did, it would only have been possible to make rough notations.
If you listen to certain composition from Bach you can clearly hear influences from Buxtehude.
When Bach returned from his journey, he took impressions with him and his subconsience and genius transformed Buxtehude's music into something new.
The point I'm trying to make with this story is that Bach in his time had to do a physical effort to get to his source for inspiration. And he had to use his head as a harddisk to store what he had heard. Nowadays...
I think it's good for creativity not to have your inspiration within hand's reach all the time. Your 'mind's eye' (or ear) should make it's own version.
"In the meantime, although it has become easier to reach the means to indulge in art production, I have a feeling that the diversity has only gotten less. Available tools, in fact, allow a bigger range of diversity in terms of visual look (you could say the same for sound too). Still there is a certain obsession to reach the best of cameras and visual quality, which in turn creates a uniform look in most of the things I see in photography and films."
This is a topic that has occupied me for years. I work in sound and there, the music all sounds the same - four or five guys try to sound different and by doing so, all sound the same. They can create any sound they could possibly imagine in their wildest dreams - so they all make the same sound. They all reach for the same effect-pedals, the same presets on their Korg and Yamaha synths, the same chords on their Fenders and make all the same sounds.
Has it all been said - (in my humble opinion) No! The hell it has!
So now I must ask myself - what has gone wrong? Why were the Beatles and Pink Floyd able to make noises and write words that were totally different to all that went before them and why are those in the rock/pop/film-score business not able to dream of something different?
I am old enough to remember how rock-n-roll grabbed the entire youth of Planet Earth and changed everything. Back around 1950 a young black guitarist called Charles Berry, known to his friends as Chuck, was playing with his band to segregated audiences in the Southern States - Blacks on one side, whites on the other. The whites wanted upbeat country & western, the black folks wanted 4:4 blues. At first, he played one type of music and then the other and the two crowds danced alternately.
After some experimentation, Chuck speeded up the blues so that it almost sounded like C&W and perfected a new style that that got everybody dancing. It sounded a bit like skiffle but didn't have the skippy time signature. It grooved - it was in 4:4. Soon this kind of music spread across the South and was heard by a C&W band run by Bill Haley - who released the record 'Rock Around the Clock' and Berry went to one Leonard Chess to record 'Ida Red' which Chess changed to 'Maybelline'.
The explosion that followed was deafening. Everybody from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty was covering Chuck Berry tunes - and soon others covered their tunes and then those covers were covered. Today everyone, their mothers-in-law and their dog are playing upbeat 4:4 rock tunes.
As Bruce Springsteen once said, "We're all playing Chuck Berry tunes!" (And he should know - he started off in a Chuck Berry covers band.)
So why can't the music business move on?
And the reasons I find are our lack of limitations - and this applies very much to film.
We can create the wildest sounds. We can download all the samples for free. We can listen to anything. We can create anything. There are no technical limitations anymore.
The same applies to film. Anybody can buy an HD camera for pennies and create any image. The chances are that their telephones in their pockets would put any TV or film camera from just 20 years ago to shame for technical ability - and all the post-production tools you will ever need are a free download away.
We are mesmerised by the brilliance of all this unbelievable technology. Soon, very soon, actors long-dead will be returning to the screen. Today holograms of dead people (Elvis, Whitney Houston and others) are touring with live bands. No doubt Michael Jackson and Prince will be back on stage soon. Wave enough money at a problem and a solution is bound to appear!
You can't blame those making films and TV programmes for reaching for better cameras and sharper lenses, better grips and lighting. We no longer 'fix it in post' - we are today often creating it in post. The problem is, far too often what we create wasn't worth the effort!
But why? Here are (health warning - just my opinion!) some possible reasons -
- Too much money concentrated in too few hands. The big boys want sure-fire hits and not experimental art films. Institutional shareholders are not interested in artistic integrity! If they want to keep their jobs, they need to see profits!
- The grass-roots boys are copying the big boys and usually failing. A bit like the local head-banging band copying Nirvana, instead of doing their own thing.
- Everybody is shouting and nobody is listening. So now we have to shout REALLY loud - i.e. marketing costs are getting sillier and sillier. This feeds back to the need to only create sure-fire hits.
- I love the cheesy three-act, two-hour movie format. State theme, create the catalyst, start the business, B-story, Bad Guys, all-hope-is-lost, fight back, triumph, epilog, roll credits! BUT it's time to try something NEW! We can't just keep on playing Chuck Berry tunes - no matter how good they are!
- A child-like desire to use any and all new technology such as green screen, CGI, wire removal, object enhancement, face augmentation - you name the goofy new toy and someone will want to include it in your movie, no matter how hopelessly inappropriate it might be!
George Bernard Shaw once wrote, when he was the music and theatre critic "I ask myself, are they creating something new, or are they just going around in circles, stuck in the same old groove?"
I wonder if the same-ness of everything today also comes partially from the post modern nature of filmmaking today. People were always inspired by other artists’ work, but due to the nature of the internet and social media, much of the human experience in the real world has been diluted or lost entirely. I have a suspicion that artists in the past drew from their life experiences to create the art, whereas younger artists today almost entirely create their art from other art they’ve consumed. Movies are mostly trying to be like other movies the filmmakers love as opposed to them using film as an outlet to express something inside them they’ve experienced as human beings.
"Movies are mostly trying to be like other movies the filmmakers love as opposed to them using film as an outlet to express something inside them they’ve experienced as human beings."
I think that is a very important point. Films are self referencing and are losing touch with what is happening in the world outside the bubble. It is also true that money is only invested on films in an expectation to make money, on films that there is an audience for.
There just aren’t anymore sophisticates making films. Consider the work of Orson Welles, who was a great innovator of cinematic language. Lenses were invented, new technique, things that had never been tried before were done in remarkable fashion with Citizen Kane, which is his magnum opus. The brilliance lies in the screenplay, consider that the life of Charles Foster Kane is created through the memory of those who knew him. And it’s all held together by one word, “Rosebud”. This question is what drives the film from beginning to end. Cinematic brilliance doesn’t just appear out of nowhere; it’s carefully constructed, and executed through the actor’s performances. Orson Welles was the very definition of what it means to be a film director, and he knew the actors were of utmost importance before anything else.
Most of the directors today are try-hards, they try to be different while disregarding the past- most of them don’t even watch films. They watch something by Wes Anderson, and think that’s how films should be made. There is just a lack of respect for the pioneers, think about how the greats of the past were able to create amazing films with the primitive technology they had. Now everyone has a 4K camera on their iPhone, and various apps that would facilitate the filmmaking process, but none of them have a clue of what they are doing.
The films I like the most are more psychological; for instance in ‘Paris, Texas’; the whole film is structured around tormented memories of domestic violence- we don’t see them, but when the film starts we see the guilt-ridden look of someone who can’t forgive himself. The remainder of the movie is about him trying to heal and forgive himself. A lot of movies today have a void, because the story is more about a situation, rather than the people and what is happening inside of them.
This is also what Scorsese meant when it comes to superhero movies, it’s all about stopping the bad guy, and “unlocking” the full potential of their super-power, and there is no true window to find ourselves reflected in. One of the most popular directors today is Taika Waititi - Rotten Tomatoes loves that guy. He’s a perfect example of a clown, he adds childish awkward humor in between beats, and he’s hailed a genius. Heaven help the masses! I actually saw Thor: Ragnarok, and there’s nothing there, I’m watching a video game, except I’m not holding a controller.
If you’re making films, don’t question yourself too much, just stick to what you like and try to make it your own thing. Don’t look around and worry about what everyone else is doing, and how commercial they are. Try to make every project the nest it can be, and there’s really nothing else you can do.
I agree – the most interesting films are about a conflict or development inside a person.
I think of 'Otto e mezzo' (Eight and a half) by Federico Fellini. After the enormous success of his eighth movie, La Dolce Vita, Fellini could do anything he wanted with his next film. He made Otto e mezzo, a story about a film director under pressure who has lost his way and doesn't know what his next film should be about. A masterpiece.
Image from 'Otto e mezzo'
That clip you posted was compiled by Brandon Goco, I knew him from the old Turner Classic Movies forum; he now works for the Director’s Guild of America! Very smart and talented guy!
'81/2' is quite brilliant though I am not sure that I would agree it surpasses 'La Dolce Vita'. That last scene on the beach left me quite stunned. I would not think Fellini's primary obsession was to make a commercial success when he was considering either film. I would agree that neither 'appeared out of nowhere' as much of mainstream cinema seems to do today, box office being the main, if not the only, focus. Forget 4K and all that other tech speak. It really doesn't matter. Some shots, in fact most every shot, in 'Citizen Kane' would never pass a Netflix standards test today but it is hard to find anything quite as masterful being made by that company or anyone else.
Well, it’s not expected for anyone to make anything quite as brilliant, Welles was told to quit, that he’d never top Kane, I think William Wyler told him that? And it was true, it seems Welles worked his way down, even though he did make great films like The Lady from Shanghai. If I had to put my money on the nest working director today, it would be Paul Thomas Anderson. I still remember the year No Country for Old Men and There Will be Blood came out, those were two great films that came out in the same year!
Fellini understood the language of dreams. He made images that created a theatre of imagination. He doesn't explain, but leaves room for interpretation. He seems to have no fear of losing the attention or comprehension of the viewer. The last scene on the beach of La Dolce Vita is breathtakingly beautiful – I think – because of all the scenes before.
I also don't think that Fellini aimed for commercial success. But I think he felt some pressure to make his films an artistic or intellectual success.