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What is creativity, art, Art and design?

Recent conversations – in person and on Twitter – have had me thinking about creativity and art: what are they and how do they apply to film, television and other production?

Most people associate “art” with the fine arts, but I think the term gets used without much real content. Most often “art” is conflated with “creativity”. With the additional complication that most people don’t understand what they mean by “creativity”, once again conflating it with fine art.

About 30 years ago, I shared an apartment with an up-and-coming artist, during the period he was doing an Arts-related undergraduate degree. David Middlebrook is still a highly regarded painter and artist is Australia. Although I haven’t had any contact in most of that time David taught me the difference between “art” and “Art”.

He had two functional definitions of “art” for himself: “Art is what the Art World will buy” (the cynical); and “Art is Passion” (the truth). He was true to both. On one hand he painted plain pots with unique designs, selling them at a significant profit. That helped fund his University time: that and selling paintings. He made no pretense that these were anything but “art”: created purely for the purpose of attracting a sale.

The designs were definitely interesting, and he was a competent craftsman, but he had no internal pretense that what he was doing was “Art”. There was creativity and craftsmanship but no passion. It wasn’t “Art”.

While it wasn’t “Art” it definitely qualified as “aesthetically pleasing”. I suspect many people say “art” when they mean that something is aesthetically pleasing. A good editor will make something way, way more aesthetically pleasing at every level: that the story flows, that nothing takes us out of the story, that music and any graphics or effects enhance the story. If you want that to be the definition of “art” then that is, of a sort. But it’s not passion driven.

As I tended to work late, I once arrived back at our shared apartment after he had gone to bed for the night, and there in the TV room/art studio was a painting that had only been started that day. That painting was so full of anguish and passion that my immediate thought was to wake him to find out what dreadful thing had happened. I didn’t but it had been a particularly distressing day for him, and there is was in the painting. The passion/pain that went into the canvas and oil, was so obvious that I have no hesitation calling it “Art”.

Interestingly, as the incident faded in his life, the painting became much less disturbing as it was finished. (In my opinion, less passionate, but I wasn’t the artist.)

So I cringe a little when I hear people talking about editing a film, TV show or other video production and calling it “art” because of their creative involvement – that all film and television is art, because it has been creatively put together. Now, if we’re going to use the “good aesthetics and creativity = art” definition I outlined above, then it is “art” by that definition.

Film can be “Art”; Television or other production can be “Art” but most is not. Perhaps it is reasonable to call it the “art” of the cynical Middlebrook: done because someone will buy it and it’s creative and competent enough.

True passion for a project means that you cannot NOT do it. That you drive forward regardless of whether or not there’s pay involved, because you simply can’t NOT do it. I’ve got deeply interested and enthusiastic about every project I’ve worked on, but I’ve never confused that enthusiasm with passion, because at the end of the day, I could walk away from the project without my life being changed permanently. If I had created “Art” it would have changed my life, and the lives of others.

I have never made “Art” in my life. Not that I recall, and with that level of passion involved you’d think I’d remember! I’ve made a lot of aesthetically pleasing stories, visuals and edits (and not a little motion graphic design). I have been incredibly creative. But that’s another word that trips people up because it has been complicate with the “art” concept.

Creativity is problem solving. Finding a creative solution means finding a solution to an insolvable problem. Good editing is highly creative because there are many problems to be solved: what’s the story, where’s the story, how do I convey the story in the available time, how do I make this scene flow, and how do I cut this 237 minute first cut into a 119 minute movie for release but keep true to the Director’s intention? These are creative decisions that require skill, experience and creativity to solve.

Some of my most creative work has been turning really bad, client-supplied, footage into something that is at least workable: making a less ugly sow’s ear, but no silk purse. And definitely no passion.

I also believe that architects are creative. Designers are creative. And yes, software developers are creative, because all use their creativity to solve the problem(s) in front of them. Some engineering is creative. These are particularly creative as they involve both science and “art” or, more accurately, aesthetics.

Design is the application of creativity to the suitability of (things, spaces) for their purpose. Interior design isn’t so much decorative as to make the dwelling fit the lives of the people there; that the objects they interact with will be a good fit for what they want to do.

Apple are very, very good at design. They have some incredibly talented and creative hardware and software people who create the perfect experience for the job. But it’s not “Art”, in most cases. But it is beautiful design (aesthetics) that involved enormous amounts of creativity to reach.

There’s a lot of filmmaking that has no real purpose other than to make money. In fact most “studio” film and television has no other purpose than make money. There is nothing wrong with that at all. It keeps people employed doing what they enjoy doing day by day, and it funds the next project. (And for those who want to argue that all filmmaking is art, I present Bring it On 5 as exhibit A.  A decently crafted movie, and the director and editorial cared enough about what they were doing that it’s an aesthetically pleasing film, regardless of what you think of the banality of the story). But no-one makes a fifth iteration of a movie out of shear passion for the story.

Bottom line, I think most of what people call “art” is aesthetics. Combine a good aesthetic sense, with creativity and I believe that’s what most editors do. If they bring an enthusiasm to the project, so much the better and it’s likely show in the result. It is “art” only by that most broad of definitions.







3 responses to “What is creativity, art, Art and design?”

  1. I don’t care what you call it, as long as I can bill for it. I do both. I make Art people seem to find value in, and will pay for. Is it commercial ? yes. I don’t think there is anything wrong with creating Art with mass appeal because its a far better way to make money then a lot of other jobs 🙂

  2. Kenneth anger when he’s good he’s Art
    Abel Ferrara gets there too
    The transformers movies not sure

  3. Zak Ray

    Good post, Philip. I’ve been mulling around similar thoughts recently, about the difference between Art and Entertainment (is there legitmacy to both? To what extent can they coexist in the same work?). Interesting questions, to be sure.