Friday, July 30, 2010

More Real Life Inspiration and the Danger of Preconceptions

I see real life true stories all the time that I think are way funnier than most of the movies and TV shows I see. Check out this recent one from CNN.com about a bear getting stuck in a car.

What's the funniest aspect of this article? Is it that the bear climbed inside the car to get at an old peanut butter sandwich? That the door slammed behind the bear trapping him inside? That he started to panic and thrash around and starting honking the horn, accidentally freeing the parking brake and rolling down a hill? That the deputies had to open the car door with a rope so the angry bear wouldn't maul them as he was freed?

Or do you agree with my kids, that the funniest part is the "present" that the bear left on the front seat? No matter, the point is that there are many aspects to the story, and an infinite number of ways you could translate this event into an entertaining short film, depending on the point-of-view you used (the bear? The neighbors? The owner of the car? The police?).

I know animation students around the world are heading back to school soon and many of them will face the quandry that many have faced before: what subject will my student film be about? And looking to real life can provide you will completely original inspiration.

I first read this little blurb on The Onion three years ago when it first appeared and I never forgot it. I always love it when people come up with imaginative and creative explanations for the unremarkable non-events that happen to us every day. This paragraph is maybe the most brilliant piece of writing I've ever seen and hopefully you will find it as inspiring as I did. Any number of great short films could be made from that kind of an idea: explaining every day mundane events as the work of unseen forces, a battle between good and evil even.

Next is a short piece from "The Colbert Report" that also left a big impression on me. It's a great story of some petty bureaucrat holding people to "rules" that nobody cares about. Watch how the producers and writers of the show are able to turn this small town annoyance into a funny piece by the way they present both sides in the kind of hard-hitting style that "Dateline" or "60 Minutes" uses to tell the kind of bigger, more serious stories that those programs cover.

It's about four minutes long and it doesn't get into the story right away...there's a bit of Stephen talking about other stuff first. You can watch it here.


The thing about this one that strikes me is that the story isn't really told from one point of view or the other. The piece shows everyone in an unflattering light and pokes gentle fun at everyone involved. They don't take sides. They don't treat the kid like an innocent who's being punished by an unfair tyrannical system like you might see on a more serious news show. They edit the piece to make everyone involved look nutty!

And that brings me to a bigger topic. I think that our preconceptions can inhibit our development as artists.

The freedictionary.com defines "preconceptions" as a partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation.

When we hold strong opinions then we naturally aren't open to new information that can challenge those opinions. Artists need to be open to new ideas in order to grow and improve as artists. So do yourself a favor and examine your own preconceptions. Where dd your preconceptions come from? Are you sure they're true? And are they hindering you?

This is a tricky, sensitive thing to write about. People's personal beliefs are more sacred to them than anything and they don't like it when they are challenged. So bear with me here and read with an open mind....

I have known people who wouldn't attend life drawing classes because they felt their religion would forbid looking at nude people. I respect their beliefs and I know it took a lot of bravery on their part to stand by their convictions. I know they feel like they made the right choice and I applaud them for that. But I also think they probably didn't get as good an education in life drawing as they could have, so their preconceptions held them back.

Years ago I worked with a female writer who wrote great female characters but her male characters just weren't quite as great. There was something lacking in the men in her script and I couldn't figure out what it was that I felt was missing. But as I talked to her and got to know her better I realized that she had certain preconceptions about men in general and, in my opinion, some resentment towards the whole male gender. We need to be able to climb into our characters and inhabit them and have a deep affection for them on some level in order to bring them to life, and I have to say that it's uncomfortable for me to talk about, but over the years I think I've seen artists of both gender that had strong opinions about the opposite sex and it held back their ability to breathe life into their work. It kept them from creating unique and special three-dimensional characters. Their characters never quite broke out of the preconceptions that their creators ad.

Obviously any prejudices we carry around are going to keep us from seeing others in an objective light. I think artists need to be as objective as humanly possible to do their job. One of the biggest challenges to an artist is that we must always surprise the audience. If we don't constantly give them the unexpected they will lose interest quickly. And what's more unsurprising or more of a cliche than a prejudiced view of other people?

The internet is full of blogs where people post artwork and say "look how horrible this is, it's terrible, what kind of idiot would do this garbage?" It's good to be critical and we should never treat shoddy work like it's genius but also you can learn a lot by studying artwork that doesn't fit into your usual taste. Somebody put some time and effort into every piece of art that you see and chances are there's something well done about it and something you could learn from it that you won't get if you discard it automatically. So be open and don't reject things out of hand; ask yourself why the artist made the choices they did and are there some successful aspects to the work?

People who have narrow tastes and are completely intolerant of things outside that range don't develop as quickly as artists who accept a wide range of styles and are open to more influences (in my opinion anyway).

When I was a kid Time magazine had an ad (or was it Life magazine?) that showed Picasso just starting a painting on a canvas. The text of the ad said something about how Picasso "woke up every day and saw the world anew like a kid". I think that's a pretty good goal for artists and also a fairly decent recipe for happiness in general.

6 comments:

Guy Cx said...

Great text, thanks a lot!

Jesse Hamm said...

I agree with your overall point, but I wouldn't necessarily call religious conviction against nudes a preconception, if by "preconception" we mean an unexamined prejudice. Possibly those people gave plenty of objective consideration to the issue before arriving at their convictions.

Scott C. Gwynn said...

What a great reminder! I also absolutely loved the stories.

Jennifer said...

Fantastic read, but the artist who took a dump in a toilet and praised it as art and put it in a NY gallery isn't sharing anything with me and my preconceived notions other than a rotten stink.

Not all art is worthy of that second look and ponderous thought. Have to disagree with you there.

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