Shea’s Rule of Thumb for Evaluating Art

Talented artists move you. Talentless hacks just try to shock you.

To be sure, good artists will make use of shock in their palette of tricks. Shakespeare had not problem with it (see “Titus Andronicus”). But a hack pretty much only knows how to shock. So bores like Lady Gaga just keep trying to figure out new ways to make people gasp or feel offended. It’s what a culture addicted to mere thrills winds up with: increasing the dose in order to compensate for the growing numbness.

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  • BadMF

    This movie ( Only God Forgives ) is one people really like or hate. Yes, it is violent, and yes it has despicable characters, but it has a core that I think is good, and reflects the horror of sin and the awfulness that follows.

    The movie is focused on a degenerate family in Thailand. I got the impression that this choice of venues was not a mistake. Thailand has become a haven for westerners to indulge outrageous vice. But this vice has consequences. The brother seeks death, and gets it. The rest of the movie shows the fallout from this act. Gosling’s character is not a hero, but he struggles to obtain some sort of redemption. He sees his guilt, and feels he must pay for the evil he has done.

    The movie is about justice and guilt. No mercy is seen except in one key act in the film. The title is spot on. The hero is the chief of police, who measures out justice, and seems to have the ability to read a persons guilt. He takes only what the situation calls for, and then praises justice. You feel throughout the movie the lack of order, and God, and welcome justice when it comes.

  • BadMF

    It is probably a matter of taste, but perhaps so many people reject the movie not just for the gore (which is comparable to several other movies), but because the movie forces you to contemplate the motives of a man who feels he must pay for what he has done, and must be prevented from doing more. In other words, it requires that the audience have some sense of sin, guilt, retrospection and recompense to fill in the blanks that are set in the movie.

  • Evan

    Winding Refn compares this film to Rembrandt, and also says the only two pure emotions for artistic expression are sex and violence.
    (posts #9 and #11)

  • Eve Fisher

    I’ve decided that there’s something about a pervasive cult of ugliness in art – of all kinds – that makes a kind of weird sense in our society. Beauty is breathtaking, and you know in your bones, when you see something beautiful, that you’d have to be an idiot not to appreciate it. Ugliness, however, requires either (1) the understanding of what they’re doing to make you appreciate it, which means you’re “in the know” or (2) the guts to say it’s ugly, which means that you’re in another kind of “know”. In either case, you win, on the level of self-esteem. Whereas beauty is humbling. You’re never sure that you’d be capable of creating something at that level, or if you did create it, it’s obvious that it came from something beyond you, or it’s just plain obvious that you couldn’t create something that beautiful. In other words, ugliness feeds self-esteem – I’m equal to or better than that – while beauty feeds humility – it’s greater than I am. Thus, in our society, obsessed as it is with self-esteem and solipsism, the cult of ugliness makes a whole lot of sense. And we’ll see a whole lot more of it.

    • D.T. McCameron

      (Having not seen this film but merely the director’s prior work) I would say that it is good to depict ugly things in an ugly way, and not to glamorize or sanitize what is vile or wicked.

      Drive was Noir, and in Noir, crime doesn’t pay. Film Noir is in many ways a very moral genre. For presenting the lives of criminals as violent and brutal and miserable, it does well. To present them as anything else would be millstone worthy.

      And to never depict them at all? Well, I don’t know.

  • Mike

    “There are two senses in which an artist may work to awaken wonder. One is the basest and vulgarest kind of art; the other is the highest and holiest kind of art. The former is meant to make us wonder at the artist; the latter is meant to make us wonder at the world.”

    -G.K. Chesterton, “Littell’s Living Age”, volume 305 (1920)

    • OldWorldSwine

      The latter is also much, MUCH harder. Shock is easy.

      • Mike

        Very true!

      • Mike

        Another GKC quote along the same lines:

        “In the whole range of human occupations, is it possible to imagine a
        poorer thing than an iconoclast? It is the lowest of all the unskilled
        trades. And like many other unskilled trades it has no power of
        combination; the mere ‘unconventional’ moderns cannot agree upon which
        convention to destroy. An artist, at any rate, ought evidently to be not
        only something different from an iconoclast, but the opposite of an
        iconoclast. He ought to be a maker of images, not a breaker of them. He
        ought to be not a destroyer, but a creator of gods”

        -The Daily News, as quoted in The Book Buyer: A Monthly Review of American and Foreign Literature (1905)

  • Elmwood

    I want to see this movie, thanks Mark!