“Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man’s emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.”
Leo Tolstoy, What Is Art?, 1897
I’ve recently written an article in which I discuss why the writer is an artist too, the same way as the painter for instance (Why The Writer Is An Artist). One of the key elements of art that I pointed out is that, in my opinion, art is a mixture of intermingled elements and it is expanded to the artist’s own personality. Indeed, I strongly believe that any artist is not only focused on his art but, with an open mind, he is enthusiastic about numerous art forms, even though he may not practice them all or know much about some of them. By chance, a few weeks back, I came across an interview of French street-artist and photographer JR during which he was asked to define art. After quoting his filmmaker friend Agnès Varda about transmitting something of his own to someone else, he emphasized that it was truly about making connections. I thought that this perfectly echoed the perspective that I personally have on art.
I have always felt a special attraction for versatility myself. Although I did not grow up in a highly educated family, my parents constantly pushed me towards exploration. I had taken a year or two of dance and piano lessons as a child and a few more of karate later on. As soon as Year 3, I was introduced to the English language and in Year 4 I had the chance of having a teacher who reinforced the meaning of art to me by organizing many visits to the museum and creative activities, both manual through carving and intellectual through writing. By good fortune, school reinforced, or rather generated my interest in all art forms. By age 8, my aunt and uncle offered me my ‘First Art Book’ signing their name in it for ‘a future artist’. And on my ninth birthday, I got my very first camera with which I shot a short film with my sisters and even attempted at editing it with the few means I had, still dreaming for so-called professional cameras with astonishing lenses.
My own relation with art might subsequently seem confusing and chaotic but that’s what is so beautiful about diversity and being eclectic. You may like blockbusters and independent movies, romance novels and historical memoirs. You may enjoy listening to classical music and rap music. You may be fascinated by Ancient Art and by contemporary art. You may be fond of writing science-fiction novels and making nature film documentaries. There is no limit neither to art itself nor to be an artist. There is freedom in art and there is freedom in being an artist.
A few days prior to the ending ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival, I stumbled across another interview on French television which left me astounded. This time it was young Quebecois actor and filmmaker Xavier Dolan promoting his latest film in competition, It’s Only The End of the World. First, I must admit that I had only briefly heard of him in the past and I’d never watched any of his films. Still, I was rather stunned by his way of thinking and I was quickly caught up in watching a flow of his other interviews. When a journalist implied that he had previously been disappointed by not winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes for Mommy two years earlier, he responded with humility, as he also underlined in his acceptance speech a few days later, that the motivation to make a film is not only to tell stories but also to be understood. Dolan added that movies had to be done ‘with the heart, to the instinct, without compromise, without giving in to the facility. Even if the emotion is an adventure that sometimes travel poorly to the other, it always ends up getting to your destination.’ You may have noticed by now that connecting, sharing and most of all being authentic and true to oneself is an idea that I am strongly attached to, including in my writing and thus in all art forms.
As I got stirred by Dolan’s passionate spirit, I was drawn back to an idea that had been in my mind for some time now: making a short film. Going back to photography had created a fellow feeling in me and I wanted to explore a new path. I knew it had to be something personal since I had only few skills in this field and not much means, so I figured I could make one telling my own story or at least something that I understood, that I had felt personally, perhaps regarding my innermost feelings. I only had a vague idea at the time but the idea reemerged after being enthralled with Xavier Dolan’s seeming intensity and commitment. It appeared remold and enhanced therefore I decided to work on it. I ended up with this three-minute short film, with a modest basis but hopefully people will sense the emotions I tried to convey and understand its plain meaning.
How would you define art? What is your connection to it? Are you an artist?
P.S: If you enjoy writing about arts, philosophy and literature, you may want to contribute to my brand-new e-zine PAPERS.