Art and Avatar

Ever since I saw Avatar (read my thoughts here), I've been thinking a lot more about what constitutes "art", and how we should judge it. Of course, you can only get so far before you hit a major roadblock - how do you define "art"? CAN you even define it?

I've joked (as have many, many people) about how just painting a solid red square is hardly art. Then again, I've seen this (or something similar, at least) on display in a San Diego art museum, so obviously there are some people who consider it "art". This is a difference that needs to be reconciled before there can even be a conversation about art.

I think a big problem comes from the inability of people to (consciously, at least) make the distinction between art as a subjective concept and art as an objective concept. For example, when I say I don't think a red square is art, what I really mean is that I don't think it's GOOD art. Objectively, I agree that it is art. But subjectively, I don't think it's worthy of the same kind of praise as say, the Mona Lisa.

Which is all a big buildup for me to say that for the rest of this post, when I talk about art, I'm doing so objectively. Art is something created by somebody to have some kind of aesthetic feel to it. It's a vagues definition, yes, but it really boils down to intent. If it was made with the intent of being aesthetically pleasing, it's art (objectively).

If I'm talking about art in a subjective sense, I'll bring in words like good or bad. So, with that out of the way, click below to read my thoughts on Avatar (no spoilers) as a work of art.

So then what defines a movie? Again, being intentionally vague, we can call a movie any kind of story set to moving images. It doesn't require sound, dialog, or even that the images blend together (so you could in theory have a slideshow of images be considered a movie, provided it tells a story). Though, most modern movies do include all these things, because they generally help tell the story.

By these definitions, Avatar is most definitely a movie. And since James Cameron made it to be aesthetically pleasing, it is most definitely a work of art. The interesting questions are, is it a GOOD movie, and is it a GOOD work of art? Note that these are two distinct questions. A movie can be a good work of art without being a good movie itself. And I think Avatar fits into this category.

Of course, we're hitting subjective here, but I enjoyed the experience of watching Avatar. I loved the world it was set in, and thought that the many subtle touches (moss glowing as it's walked over, for instance) simply added to that. From an aesthetic standpoint, the movie was amazing. And because of the technology involved to make it, the leaps forward in 3D viewing, and the overall visual depth of the movie, I certainly consider it a good work of art.

When you look at Avatar as a movie, however, then you need to compare it to other movies, by the criteria that you would judge other movies. This includes the visuals, as well as the dialog, story, music, and much more. Here is where I think Avatar goes to being sub-par. The story, as I've said, is totally unimaginative. I don't think it even tries to be anything other than a rehash of previous things. The dialog is poor (though with some unintentionally funny parts), and the score is nothing special. The wonderful visuals cannot carry it as a movie, even though they define it as (good) art, so as a movie, it is sub-par.

Just for fun, let's compare it to another movie. The one I have in mind is also a sci-fi epic that pushed the boundaries of technology for its time. And it also had a story that was a social/political allegory for its time (and an aggregate of many stories that came before) just like Avatar. That's right, I'm bringing in Star Wars.

I don't think there are many people who try to argue that Avatar was a better movie than Star Wars (the first one, to keep it fair). That's because while they have many similarities, the manner in which Star Wars was put together vastly exceeds that of Avatar. They aren't on the same level.

But when you compare them as art, they're closer. Star Wars is still quite a bit better in my book, because it is good art on many more levels. But the way you experience Avatar is unlike anything I've ever seen, and indeed, unlike anything that's been created so far.

So while it may be a sub-par movie, it's a great work of art. The biggest problem is that the vast majority of people can't make this distinction between art in general, and movies in particular. This leads to lots of reviews giving it extremely high praise as a movie simply for the visuals. And like I told Vicki, we really need to qualify our reviews.

If only the masses would go for that...


Post a Comment