If you’re not against something, you can’t be for anything.
That idea has been a big part of my artistic development, and why I spend so much time unapologetically analyzing and ranking art. That’s why I think it’s just as important to know why you don’t like something as it is to know why you like something else. Everyone naively enters art school thinking that it’s as simple as saying “oh, I like movies.” But nobody can just make “movies.” You have to make your movies, and you can’t do that without knowing what kinds of movies will never be yours.
Finding what I’m for has proved harder than I thought, but ﬁnding what I’m against has been surprisingly easy. I’ve alluded to this before, but I’ve learned to hate (or at least strongly dislike), a good deal of “cutting edge” art. And that’s mainly because, for all its good intentions, the quickest way to be considered “cool” is to write something that highlights our divisions. Everyone is so eager to “tell the story” of every individual demographic, as part of some misguided attempt at contemporary multiculturalism. When in reality, they’re only serving to turn man-made divisions into permanent ﬁxtures in our society. For a generation that is determined to tear down walls in politics, they’re incredibly eager to build them in art.
So if that’s what I don’t want, what do I want? A year ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, but I think I’m getting closer. The work that I tend to appreciate (and endlessly write about) is stuff that appeals to our connections. I’m impressed by writers who can show that humanity is connected in one large tapestry. Rather than giving every individual group “their own” movies, we should be making movies that everyone feels equally included in, regardless of their demographic.
I’ve been watching The Leftovers, HBO’s cult science ﬁction drama that is widely considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time. As the 2010s wind down, every respectable entertainment publication has been naming The Leftovers the best series of the decade, and I was embarrassed to not have seen it. I have yet to render a ﬁnal verdict (the show’s high points are clearly some of the best TV ever produced, but they’re fewer and farther between than I was led to believe). But it has served as an unlikely source of inspiration for me. Because it’s science ﬁction, the show is able to avoid discussing any superﬁcial political issues. It can explore large metaphysical questions in an incredibly interesting way. While I would certainly need come to some of the conclusions that it reaches, I’m fascinated by the paths it takes. I’m not saying that I’m going to run out and write science ﬁction tomorrow, but I’m getting a little closer to ﬁnding out what my movies are. I’m interested in “big tent” art, things that pull us together rather than dividing us, and that eschew pessimism for optimism and trade contemporary politics for larger cosmic issues. And I think that’s a start.
Artist Slowly Becoming Himself