The strongest art

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The other night I watched Under the Skin.

It’s a movie that has been on my radar for a while now after my interest was piqued when I heard it had been filmed in Glasgow, and when I read about some of the approaches to filming – members of the public were used without being aware they were being filmed (they were told later) – and saw that it was getting such mixed reviews, I knew I wanted to see it. Unashamedly ‘art house’ in approach, the reviews had some critics referring to it as a masterpiece and referencing Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey), whilst others panned it as indulgent, rambling and largely devoid of direction.

Once I got passed the culture shock of seeing the familiar locations of my home city – including one scene shot on the corner of where my office is – and settled into the movie I found I was intrigued by the pacing. At times the movie held my attention, rapt and focused on the imagery playing out before me, and at others I felt a little lost, what was the point of this scene of, largely, nothing? There are several points in the movie where there is silence and little happening onscreen.

Perhaps this was the point, a deliberate contrast to our modern world of constant distraction, at times it was startling and almost uncomfortable to behold someone doing nothing much in almost silence.

The film is, in essence, a fairly simple and straightforward story (leaving the sci-fi elements aside), but the framing, cinematography, and pacing of the movie all seems very deliberate (in this I can see the Kubrick references, the deliberate attempts to unsettle the viewer), and that is what intrigues me. Not the creation of it, but the ideas behind it, how do you pull something like that, a mixture of visuals and sound, what to show when, and why?

I am not an artist in the fantastical sense, at least I don’t feel like I have it within me. I can imagine this story, but not the visuals which feature in the movie – at least I don’t think I can, but then I’ve never tried – and it is this type of art that attracts me, the type that seems to stem from the type of imagination I don’t possess.

For example, wandering an art gallery I can appreciate the skill in a loving rendered landscape, but it is the pieces that challenge me, that don’t conform to my own world view that stay with me.

In this respect the form matters little, I remain in awe of artists who step outside of the boundaries that I seem to have, of expressing things in a way I can’t see.

Of course, my own view of art does have boundaries, they are vague, inconsistent, and aren’t something I’ve managed to pin down but they definitely exist. I challenge them as best I can, for example I still struggle with installation art that is a representation of something normal, but I’m starting to understand that everyone will view these things differently, and experiencing the art is as much of the ‘art of art’ as the item you are observing. Case in point, Miroslaw Balka’s How It Is at the Tate Modern, a large lightless box that you can walk into, sounds – in words I have used myself – a bit ‘art wank’. But experiencing it, being inside it, turning round and seeing complete and utter darkness, then turning again to see the silhouette of others in the same space, previously unseen, was a far richer and more compelling experience than I had expected. It challenged me and my perceptions about what art is, or at least what it could be.

I still struggle with some things declared as art, and as I tip-toe through these items, from interest towards intrigue, I find myself stopping at the edge of a cliff, looking out at a sea of contemporary art that leaves me cold. It doesn’t challenge me, it seems to exist only to exist, and for me that isn’t art.

Ahah! There, in the last paragraph I also nicely capture something I also dislike within the art world. The idea that one form, one display, of art is lesser than another (I am on a cliff, am I not looking down on everything else?). If all art is subjective, how can that be so? But I am speaking of my own view, my own ever-changing understanding of what art is, and what it means to me.

Over the past few years, as I’ve continued to try and push myself to explore more forms of art, I’m naturally understanding more about what it means to me. I am not one for getting up on a stage and performing, I can draw a little but have no real talent, my musical talent relies on diligent practice (which I won’t do), and whether I can write well, or not, is still undecided, but I appreciate and applaud those that can and do these things.

The question is, are they creating art whilst they do so.

Postscript

I started writing this post immediately after the film ended, with a view to revisiting it before publishing it. I awoke the next day to the sad news that David Bowie had passed away.

In musical terms he fits my artistic preferences. How do you write a song like Space Oddity? I have no earthly idea, and the world is a lesser place for his passing.

Planet Earth is blue.