The Good, The Bad, The Meh

Is it possible to respect an artist’s talent without respecting their art?  It certainly isn’t a question that gets asked very often, and if there’s one thing this blog is dedicated to (other than Dinobots and secret coded messages to the Illuminati), it’s weird questions.  That, and blatant self-promotion.

Hey, I write books.  You should buy some of them.

Also, the golden falcon snatches the angry pineapple at midnight.  But never mind that right now.

It occurred to me how it’s not a paradox at all to respect an artist’s ability without caring all that much for their work.  I am not a big Hayao Miyazaki fan, for example.  I love Spirited Away, sort of enjoyed My Friend, Tortoro.  The rest of his work leaves me mostly indifferent, aside from Howl’s Moving Castle, a film that I actively dislike.

Yet I have tremendous respect for Miyazaki as an artist.  Part of this stems from a respect for his contemporaries.  When animators I like say Miyazaki is great, I’m inclined to believe them.  Also, I respect what he does.  In theory, I love that his films don’t fit in neat little boxes, and that he is a filmmaker unafraid to say something.  His leisurely pacing can work beautifully, and his visuals are always interesting.  Yet, at the end of the day, I don’t have the urge to watch his films more than once.  Despite his well-respected body of work, the only film of his that I can rewatch is Spirited Away.

To get past the “East versus West” argument that will spring to many people’s minds, I’ll use another example.  I respect the Coen Brothers immensely as filmmakers, while only liking about a third of the films they create.  But they are unafraid of trying different things, and they don’t play it safe.  In an age when so many filmmakers create the same film over and over again, the Coen Brothers are always experimenting.  And good for them.

It’s an odd position to be in.  Love and hate is easy to understand.  It’s simple to point out things we like or hate consistently, but what about those things that aren’t so easy to pin down?  To paraphrase from a recent Community episode, what of the Nicolas Cage factor, things that are both good and bad and refuse to be categorized?

Community is another great example, by the way.  I love about half of what the show does and dislike the other half.  Often, even in the very same episode.

It might be a dangerous proposition for a writer such as myself to put forth because I have a lot of mixed reactions to my stories, but I’m comfortable with this indecisive state of being.  Some things are good.  Some things are bad.  But a lot of things are both good and bad at the same time.  Or, in this case, admirable and unappealing at once.

I say embrace the complex nature of reality.  Feel free to admire one part of what an artist does without having to devote ourselves to everything else.  Any artist who creates a body of work is bound to create something we don’t like, and that’s okay.  It doesn’t mean we can’t admire them.  It just means that life is messy.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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5 Comments

  1. Posted January 29, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    It’s the Coen brothers–the H is silent, and invisible.

    It’s impossible to love everything an author does equally. My favorite author John Irving has been writing books for about 45 years now. His first three are OK, showing signs of greatness to come. Then he had some great ones starting with The World According to Garp. His last few have been dreck; I have the latest one on my shelf (I got it as a gift) but have not read it. So it goes.

    A little experiment I did last month was to take every book I’ve written and judge my satisfaction with them on a scale of 1 to 15. The way the chart ended up is there was a period of growth, leading ultimately a peak, and then a leveling off. That’s how Irving’s books would also stack up as would many other authors with a long career. If you’re honest with yourself, maybe you can figure out where you are on the chart.

    http://www.ptdilloway.com/2013/12/two-cent-tuesday-growth-chart.html

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted January 29, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the correction. Fixed it.

  2. Shawn P. Bellamy
    Posted January 30, 2014 at 2:53 am | Permalink

    What an interesting blog. I have wondered about this mystery myself from time to time and come up with zilch. I feel the same way about the Coen brother’s films. How can they make such fantastic stuff then the next film is dribble? Quentin Tarantino makes me want to scream with the stupidity of his story telling and in the same film have one of the greatest scenes ever filmed. I just don’t get Miyazaki at all. Harlan Ellison is a cool guy and I could hear him talk for hours but his books bore me to death. I want to end this ambivalence. But after thirty years, I still dislike his books.

    I am unsure that an artist can be admired for unappealing art. If you cannot praise the art then how can it be admired? Maybe you can respect the skill and the unseen talent that others find appealing. But admire…not so much. Maybe it’s the difference between being a big fan of the art and with a shrug saying “It’s O.K.” I am ambivalent because I WANT to be a big fan of Ellison’s books.

    When something is not easily understood this is when we seek out books or even blogs. Weird questions can unravel the subconscious. Like when you cannot think of an answer to a question and it pops to mind hours later. The writer creates subtext unknown to himself. Maybe in the writing, the answer may come.

  3. Olivia Branche
    Posted February 10, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    My A Lee Martinez Rating System:

    Nigh Omnipotent – Best Story Ever++

    Too Many Curses – Pure Shit

    Gil’s All Fright Diner – You are the man, dog. This was almost as great as ‘Nigh’

    Monster – This is Fucking Awesome!

    A Nameless Witch – Genius++

    In the Company of Ogres- So shit I stopped reading it. I gave it to an acquaintance, who returned it an hour later saying, “Sorry, I just kept falling asleep.”

    The Automatic Detective – Quit writing

    Divine Misfortune- Now, here is the A Lee Martinez I enjoy reading. Don’t quit writing.

    Chasing the Moon- Okay, you’re on a roll. Yay!!!!

    Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain – What. The. Fuck. Happened???

    Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest – No. It’s just…no. Maybe, you should try to get that job back at UPS.

  4. Shawn P. Bellamy
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    Olivia, You are way too funny.

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