The Board at St Joseph’s Catholic School decided to hire a chaplain that does not have a teaching role in the school. Great choice as far as I’m concerned. I like teaching, but a teacher has a different relationship to the students than the chaplain does.
Nevertheless, I’ve been asked to teach the Film and Media elective course for 11th and 12th graders. This is fun, and quite a shift since I guess most Catholic school students would expect their priest to be teaching theology or ‘How to Behave Yourself 101′.
We just started the course with a discussion on the nature of Art. We began with the question: “What is Art?” The answer the students themselves came up with is: “Art is a reasonable, creative expression of human emotion.” Not bad eh? Can you come up with something better?
This led to a discussion on how the ancients viewed art. The Greeks and Romans had seven categories of art: 1. History 2. Comedy 3. Tragedy 4. Dance 5. Poetry 6. Music 7. Astronomy. The great thing about the ancient arts is that they were essentially performance arts–even the history and astronomy had a performance element in that the history would have been re-told in epic form and the astronomy would have been applied with fortune telling. Furthermore, this art was integrated. The History was told and re-enacted through the drama, which included music and dance, and inasumch as it was the stories of the gods and goddesses (each of whom had their familiar planets) it also included astronomy. In addition, this art was religious and communal. It was the means whereby the ancients made sense of the universe and made sense of their own lives, and it was religious in the largest sense because it was the way they interacted with their gods and goddesses.
What is most interesting about all this is that since then the arts have become more and more individualistic and ‘creative’. Modern art is all about iconoclastic, individual nihilism. There is nothing communal about it, and certainly nothing integrated with the other arts, and nothing religious.
Film is different though. By it’s very nature film has to be created by a community of people. Making a film is team effort. Furthermore, it integrates the seven ancient forms of art in a way no other art form ever has. With the possible exception of astronomy the seven art forms are woven together in film. The fact that film is a popular art form shows that it is also communal, and since the films are global in their distribution the communal aspect of a great film affects virtually the whole human race. Finally, many films are, in the largest sense, religious. In other words, they deal with the big moral questions, the big questions of who we are, what our lives mean and what our ultimate destiny might be.
This is one of the reasons I find ordinary popular films so intriguing, because we have come full circle and with the most modern of technologies we are together practicing the most ancient of communal art forms.