In only my first week of college, and my second class period of the week, I was greeted by a question I had not considered in quite a long time. It had been proposed by my English professor in hopes to spark discussion and mindset among the group of thirty in the class, and came as a minor shock to think that this would be what the first hour and fifteen minutes and one page paper of English 111 would consist of. It was a question that was oddly relevant to what I wish to achieve in the future for myself as a film critic (or critic of general pop culture), and yet not related at all in the grand scheme of things.
He asked: "What is art?"
You can imagine my confusion when it came to the idea that this was a topic of discussion in a class where writing was the primary focus, but I let him go on. A few well off paintings were displayed on the bigger screen, and he asks us again- what is art? Bare in mind I had known that we would have a paper to write on this topic, and so my mind was already racing with ideas and yet I could not justifiably define art. It is only at the end of the class that he clarifies the exercise. In order to write, he said, we must first become capable of forming our own opinions.
And what irony does that hold in my life at this time in particular when I thought about where I wish to be in a decade or so., and in order for an opinion to be formed.
And so the following day I sit in the student lounging area and listen to the designated speech i which our first paper is centered around- Neil Gaiman’s Keynote Address at the University of the Arts, 2012. To my surprise, I already had an unlikely definition of what art is, and it goes by the name Srdjan Spasojevic.
Srdjan Spasojevic is one of the most infamous film makers of the twenty first century, one that I aspire to one day have the pleasure of interviewing (quite a long shot if you ask me, what with the language barrier and everything but that is a story for another time). He is most well known due to his movie, “A Serbian Film” or “Srpski Film” which tells the story of a former adult film star who is forced to commit insane acts of violence such as rape, murder, and eventually incest. No surprise to the audience, the film was banned in multiple countries; however, that does not make it any less artistic to me.
Now I know what you may be thinking- how in the world can something so vulgar be “art”? That’s insane! It should be condemned!
Well, you’re right. The acts should be condemned, but what Spasojevic did with the acts, the way they were framed were done justly, and in the name of art, and listening to Gaiman's speech, it dawned on me that this was my own personal “definition” of the arts- Spasojevic’s film style.
In Gaiman’s speech, he states “When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing.” I believe this is relevant for anything within the realm of creating and not just art in itself. He goes on to explain that if you don’t know the rules, you don’t know where to start, you have no barriers, no perimeters, and you will go on to exceed them because you don’t know when to stop. Spasojevic had done this when he created his first and only feature length film of his career, and it went on to Cannes where it was later banned. His mission was to tell the story of Belgrade through the most taboo situation, and do so effectively so the audience left what the country had felt at one point under the government.
In his speech, Gaiman says “I got out into the world, I wrote, and I became a better writer the more I wrote, and I wrote some more, and nobody ever seemed to mind that I was making it up as I went along” which bares an amusing likeness to Spasojevic’s own history in creating film.
And he begs the question, “what would be the fun in creating something you knew would work?”
This to me is the most important of all of the pieces of advice he inserted into the speech. Beneath all of the “don’t be afraid to make mistakes” talk, this was the core less. If something doesn’t work, that means it’s new and memorable because if it worked, someone did it before. What bigger failure of a movie that is so well known and notorious is there than “A Serbian Film”? One could say “Cannibal Holocaust” due to it’s history of being banned and realistic violence, but any movie buff would recommend the film to another horror fan. Not once have I heard someone say “sit down, focus, and watch ‘A Serbian Film’” and that’s where I believe that Spasojevic won because curiosity and controversy gets audiences.
What I mean to say through all of this is that although I had not appreciated it at the initial time of viewing, Spasojevic’s film made me realize my criteria for art itself, and thus helped me understand what criteria I would hold for other movies in the future.
While art takes it’s form differently from being to being, and can vary over time and change in opinion, art to me is rawness.
And so maybe this example is taboo, and maybe it is frowned upon, but upon listening to this speech it made me come to my full attention of what I look for in art, and thus giving me a base for what I look for in movies- is it to that Spasojevic level.
Art is limitless, it’s estimation, it’s guessing, and it’s uncertainty. It’s doing what you want to do regardless of what the outcome is, and it’s conveying messages to the greater masses. Art is communication, and art is not perfect, but in the right lighting, if you squint and close one eye and roll the other back- even the darkest pieces of artwork can be beautifully done.