The Antipodes of Literature

I have decided to begin this [experimental] section with an old post from my blog. It is fitting because it shows where the title of the book came from [I lifted it from the title of that article] and also because the article fulfills its purpose… it argues [sucessfully?] that scripts are literature. They are objects that belong to the Category of Art. If I am going to try and nail down my thoughts on the way Artists/Audiences interact using screenplays as the medium through which the discussion gets focused, I am required to show that Screenplays are Art. [You would be surprised how prevalent the idea is among screenwriters that the result of their writing effort isn’t Art.] Without further preamble, what follows [with considerable editing and abridgement] is my article entitled:
Bowdlerizing Kant

Beside this sentence sits one of my favorite paintings. I was fortunate enough to view it in person during its exhibit at the Smithsonian during the middle 90’s.

I must not be alone in my appreciation of the work, because the exhibit coordinators funneled the whole viewing experience toward this wheatfield. It hung center stage from the very last wall before the exit. Whatever you may think of it, personally, the one thing we can all agree on is:

It is Art.

A couple weeks ago, I was mentioning this story to a friend, (117) how I had been fortunate enough to see the painting in person.

After we hung up, I reflected on my choice of words, fortunate enough. Where did that idea come from, I wondered? The painting affected me when I had seen it in slides and in books, so much so that it was one of my favorite paintings long before I even went to the exhibit. Why was it “fortunate” that I got to see it in person? After some thinking, I came up with an answer which I [naturally] immediately related to writing screenplays.

You see, I’ve often claimed that Screenplays can be Art. This claim has, for the most part, fallen on deaf ears. Are the defenders of the screenplay as mere blueprint idea just more realistic than me? Am I wrong to wish for some screenplays to aspire to be more than a blueprint?

The most common reason given for screenplays not being Art is: The finished product [a script] isn’t the intended form of consumption. It requires input from dozens of other people before it becomes what it’s meant to be consumed as [a movie]. Directors, cinematographers, and actors all lend their talents to the finished product, and the SUM of these contributions outweighs the contribution of the writer. That is why screenplays aren’t Art.

I’ve always thought this argument verges on contradiction. At the very least, it seems shallow unless the people wielding it are willing to say some things which NO ONE else thinks are true.

Namely, regular plays can’t be Art either.

These require almost the same amount of contribution from other sources as screenplays, and [also like screenplays] the script which underlies a play is not its intended form of consumption. Holding this position amounts to saying that viewing something “live” is art, viewing it “recorded” is not. (118)

We could make things even more disastrous for the holders of this view by forcing them to weigh in on other Arts. We could ask them whether they think that Mozart wasn’t being a genius when he wrote the music for his Requiem. We could reasonably wonder, under their interpretation of Art, if it is the conductor and the individual members of the orchestra who come together at a particular theatre and perform the music on a particular night that create the genius. Isn’t Mozart’s sheet music just a mere blueprint? To evade this, they’d be forced to say something like: The SHEETMUSIC is really the intended form of consumption.

So, what gives? Well, if I were out to slight Directors, Cinematographers, Actors, and the rest, I’d get into the arcane history between the various guilds and how credit was parceled out for money. How this parceling led to the idea that movies were more a result of what happens after the script is turned in then what happens overtop the keyboard. I could also mention the influence of Auteur theory on cinema scholarship and try and discredit that too. However, I’m not out to slight directors and the rest. Sometimes the sum of the efforts of the others leads to a far greater result than the potential in the pages. The collaborators can make their own claims to Artistry as they see fit. Besides, I don’ think the issue lies with the Guilds and the critics.

The problem is, I think, rooted in the idea that the consumption of Art has to be privileged. If something can be consumed by large numbers of people at the same time then it is not Art.

Woman3I’ll back this up with the following: Willem de Kooning’s Woman III sold for 137.5 million in 2006.

litho-bull1A print from Francisco de Goya’s Bulls of Bordeux sold for 364,000 dollars in 2010. It was 1 of a 100 in that edition.

Mix the proceeding with this:

Iron is the fourth most abundant element in the earth’s crust. Gold is 72nd. Add to this the knowledge that we could easily have our modern civilization without gold, but we’d be back in the Dark Ages without iron– and you can see where I’m headed.

Bowdlerizing Kant, I began to wonder if the human mind doesn’t come equipped with a categorical disposition to view what is “rare” as more valuable, even when the empirical proof (as in the case of gold) directly refutes what our mind tells us. It is probably useful to us to come pre-wired with a category recognition system like this. I just think in the case of screenplays we are let down by our wiring. We view a movie and we know a million other people viewed THE SAME movie at nearly the same time as we did. That is not an experience we perceive as valuable.

In short, I’m arguing that screenplays are excluded from the pantheon of Art, because, overwhelmingly, movies are excluded from the pantheon too.

Undoubtedly this is not the full truth. I do think the juvenility about credit and money between the guilds caused some of the belittling of the medium. I also think that the “newness” of the medium is partially to blame. (119) But the “rareness” aspect I’ve raised here is, without a doubt, the most interesting to me.

Many thanks to my philosophical idol whose ideas I’ve just Bowdlerized.


117 This friend is, walker.
118 Live/recorded being the only real difference I can see between the consumption of a play and the consumption of a screenplay.
119 Everything new faces a moment of scorn before its acceptance. Writing a review about his wife’s novel, Percy Shelley said: The novel of “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus,” is undoubtedly, AS A MERE STORY, one of the most original and complete productions of the age”.

Talk about damning with faint praise. My critical barbs have nothing on this guy.


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