July 15, 2005


A few months ago I watched Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, and loved it. As I'm sure you all know, I routinely display the percentage rating I give movies here on my blog, and the rating for Pulp Fiction reflected this. A regular commenter, who I have a great deal of respect for, noted that the movie has a great deal, perhaps an excessive amount, of foul language, and I responded with a quick rundown of what I loved about the film and drew (speaking of gratuitous) a parallel between it and works by an author that I know he loves.

At this point, my challenger returned, as he is often wont to do (unwilling as he is to allow me to get away with not fully fleshing out what I believe and why when I make a controversial statement), and presented me with some questions. Namely, what I was asked boiled down to this: "How much intellectually stimulating content is required in order to overcome excess profanity or other troubling content?"

I quickly realized two things: First, that I would not be able to manage a proper response in the comment sections. Second, that I was essentially being asked to reveal a fairly vital chunk of my personal philosophy of art. I felt that this needed to be done eventually anyway, and that this was the perfect opportunity to do it. So I took a running start at the thing, and then (quite frankly) became intimidated at the prospect and allowed myself to become bogged down by multitudinous summertime activities and responsibilities. A few things have struck me with particular force since then, and I have taken what I began with, expanded it and modified it, and I hope that it now turns out that I have something to say after all.

My philosophy of art, as I picture it in my head, has long appeared to me as giant jigsaw puzzle being assembled without the benefit of reference to the box it came in. I do have a philosophy, yes, but it is not a fully developed one. It has grown in two years from the presence of only a few properly anchored pieces to a place where I am beginning to finally conceive an idea of the outline of the finished product.

This, I think, is how it should be. A philosophy of art needs sufficient time to develop, and I am still collecting data and experience for mine. I am still enlarging a pool of study materials consisting of, in particular, works of literature and film and fitting them into place within the framework that is slowly taking shape in my mind. It is quite probable that this process began very near to the time when I first began this blog, and if one were to read through the entirety of the thing (a task I do not by any means recommend that you undertake) it is just possible that I have conveyed (or am beginning to convey) a sense of this dark shape.

I think the formal beginnings of this process can be traced directly to the Honors class "Only Inklings" which I took during the fall of my sophomore year. It was in this class that I was finally made to understand that a certain "guilty" belief which I held more or less in secret might not come as sharply into conflict with my Christianity as I had formerly been led to believe. Namely, the idea was that truth in art (in particular, as I say, in the art of narrative, i.e. literature and film) may exist with or without the supporting presence of any other virtue, and furthermore, this truth is worth pursuing for its own sake alone, perhaps even as the supreme quality (beyond mere technical brilliance) which makes consumption of art worthwhile.

Of course, I didn't have it spelled out, even for myself, nearly that explicitly at first. However, the journey in this direction has continued in a more or less continuous flow through at least one class during each semester of my college experience. Other major contributors to this particular area include English Literature II, Studies in American Film, World Literature Through Film, American Literature II. I have similarly high expectations of my upcoming classes in Reading the Bible as Literature and Literary Criticism, and perhaps my Senior History Research Seminar as well.

However, the process has of course extended well into the realm of extracurricular activities. Long before Watson's film class and the beginnings of the movie list, my friends and I were seeking out, viewing, and discussing films of very limited popular appeal and very high critical acclaim, content no object. Movies aside, I have shared more discussions with these same friends than I could possibly enumerate on a wide-ranging variety of topics, and these, in addition to my constant visits with professors outside of class, have further served to drop puzzle pieces into place. My own independent readings (though always less thorough than I would wish) have played an important role as well.

A few important steps along the way have included a growing (but still far from perfected) ability to pick those worthwhile nuggets of truth out of a story in the first place, and, through an ever-widening exposure to those works which are widely considered great, the ability to draw and strengthen thematic connections between authors and directors who present similar ideas and philosophies to their audiences. These are the things that I strive to do.

In the end, although I was initially intimidated by the prospect of attempting to encapsulate a few years of broad study in a brief but meaningful post, and then transform that into a blithe and pithy philosophical motto, I have come to realize that explaining where I am now does not require any such profundity or verbosity. My not-quite-complete and not-totally-substantiated personal philosophy of art is a simple one. Seeing what I have already expressed of it, you may find yourself several hundred yards ahead of me . . . or you may believe that I am on the wrong track entirely. That's fine. I invite and encourage any and all comments.

What I believe is this: Fiction or nonfiction, adaptation, remake, reimagination, or based-on-true-events, regardless of genre or source material, a work of art in the realms of literature and film derives a significant portion of its inherent value from the validity of what it communicates. Unless its purpose is purely to entertain (and while I may sometimes enjoy such things, I do not allow them anywhere near, say, the same latitude of expression through questionable content), any book or movie has something to say . . . some message it is trying to sell you. It is my goal and my great joy to search for and find this message . . . to discover precisely what the artist is trying to sell me, how, and why.

The next step, which I approach even more seriously, but with no less enjoyment, is to discover whether the artist's message is a true and worthy one. This is accomplished by applying to it my personal philosophy of religion, yet another growing, but still not fully matured, area of my worldview which has developed along a different but parallel path to my philosophy of art, through yet more classes, discussions, etc. (another subject for another time . . . perhaps).

Does the idea, ideal, philosophy, lesson . . . whatever . . . which is being presented to me meet with an objective, biblical standard of Truth? If so, how can I benefit from having seen this particular "spin" on the issue? How might I incorporate it into what I know, believe, and hope to pass on to others? What new connections or ideas might it help me to see? If the issue does not come across as true, why not? Where did it go wrong? How might it be refuted and shown to be untrue? How believable might this idea be to someone who doesn't know any better, and how can I get a good enough handle on the issue to see their point of view? These are just a few of the many many questions that I have begun to try and ask myself as I watch or read.

At this point, you may all be realizing that I haven't ever really answered the original question. That's because I don't know whether there is one right answer. I'm no filthy relativist, but I really don't think there is one absolute line that can be drawn for everyone on this issue. At least, I hope there isn't, because I'm not quite sure exactly where my line goes yet . . . but I know that it's a lot deeper in the grey area (which some think I'm only imagining anyway) than most of my fellow Christians'.

In fact, a number of people I am very close to, people I respect and love, disagree rather pointedly with my perspective. And I think we are all still struggling with whether that's okay. For my part, I will willingly, even emphatically, acknowledge that my beliefs on this subject are not for everyone. Far from it. But they are my beliefs for all that. And, while I will try not to step maliciously on the toes of those who strongly disagree, I will not back down simply because they disagree, and I will continue the journey of personal discovery which I have begun. No one can begrudge me that, surely. I hope it lasts a lifetime, because it won't end until I have all the answers. And if and when that happens, well . . . Let's just say, if you think I'm insufferable now . . . ha!

Posted by Jared at July 15, 2005 09:45 PM | TrackBack