Are Movies Art?

Deepavali or Diwali, however you may call it, is over and thankfully that means I no longer have to hear aberrant comments. People who are going crazy with the Lakshmi Bombs, 1000 walas, hydrogen bombs are the same ones who criticise Metal for being ‘just noise’. Guess we can banish these thoughts for at least a year now.

I was recently pondering a discussion I’ve had with few clusters of people before. Are movies art? Interestingly this has generated a lot of mixed views. While some people clearly feel movies or films are the paintings, classical music and sculptures of today; others beg to differ. They feel that movies do not evoke the same degree of creativity to allow for interpretation. Much like everyone else, when someone mentions art the cardinal cognition that comes to my mind is Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

The Mona Lisa was painted in first decade of the 1500s and extraordinarily still remains a highly deliberate piece of art. For example, the smile of Mona Lisa, the explanations range from scientific theories about human vision to curious supposition about Mona Lisa’s identity and feelings. Somehow 500 years has not been enough to decipher the smile of Mona Lisa, let alone the numerous other cryptic secrets Da Vinci has left behind on the rest of the painting. 9 Symphonies heard around the world by one of the most legendary composers; a story that shows the art of music is universal, so much so that a deaf person composed what is his greatest piece of music and largely considered the best in music history. The Sistine Chapel, The Taj Mahal, Lady Justice or The Venus De Milo, all indisputable works of art that have stood the test of time and have precipitated thought and awe across various generations of human beings. This without a shred of doubt is art and even the most cynical person couldn’t possibly argue with this.

What about films? Can you class a 120 minute celluloid along with Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night?

The Oxford Dictionary defines Art as:
“The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”

It’s evident that movies/films fit into this category yet, for some reason, there is a large reluctance from people to accept movie and movie making as a form of art. Perhaps this is due to several irons in the fire. We have access to so many films and end up watching most of them and are never left fully satisfied barring maybe 3 or 4 of them. Hence, immediacy of thoughts estimates that only about 1 in 30 films are actually admirable. Even lesser would be considered as really brilliant.

However, movie making is a combination of so many different unique skill sets from so many different people, all of which need to blend together seamlessly to leave the audience with a riveting experience for a rather short duration of time. Scripting, casting, directing, screenplay, acting, editing, music, production values and timing all play an integral role in deciding the outcome of the movie. No wonder only a rarity of films leave such a lasting impression and in my opinion simply have to be considered Works of Art. Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Nayagan, Psycho, Goodfellas, Monty Python, The Dark Knight, Avatar, Star Wars(original trilogy) are master pieces and for me will stand the test of time(some of them already have in a rather fast moving field).

Will there be terrible films? Yes. But if a movie like Dhoom 3 should be put on the pedestal to judge films as art then so should the drawing of a tea-pot that you made when you were a toddler(for drawing and painting).

Much like the evolution of plants, animals and humans, one should consider the evolution of what is art. I would like to close this matter of personal taste with a quote by WB Yeats “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper”.

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5 comments

  1. Placing films on the same radar as paintings / literature or any other form of art, purely designated as one is honestly unfair. While most other forms predominantly thrive to achieve only artistic brilliance, films have been bestowed with a variety of tasks such as catering to a wide audience, finding sufficient commercial value, being ‘entertaining’ enough, making them easy to access and so on.

    However, a level field of play for films is perhaps music. Whether you like to imagine art for art’s sake, touching people’s lives, striking an emotional quotient, gaining popularity, making money or being an absolute piece of shit, music has the potential to do it all (in some cases all at once). However, few could challenge the credentials of music as a form of art. And with various examples, it could be demonstrated that films possess all these capabilities. And the fact that films are a team sport, make it all the more special. While some might argue that other forms of literature leave a lot to one’s imagination, giving room for all kinds of interpretation, I’d say so do films. Watch any David Lynch / Kurosawa / Wong Kar Wai / Satyajit Ray film and you’ll will be able to clearly identify with your vague eyes where the art lies.

    1. What is artistic brilliance though? The Scream achieves several levels of ‘art’ and ‘entertainment’. Its amusing, funny, has a range of colours and also makes itself accessible to people with artistic intuition. And thats what movies do also. Why is it that we can only call what Kubrick or Kurosawa do as art and not a film like Hot Fuzz, despite it ticking all the boxes.

      Like I said in the blog, a film like Dhoom 3 or Transformers is as much as art as is a drawing of a tea-pot or a kettle that you or I do. As a matter of fact, I think you yourself have gone on to say that Films are more or less art because of the difficulty it takes in making them.

  2. I think there are definitely individual works of art in a lot of films but as a film as a whole they might be flawed. A lot of Hindi films have some amazing quatrains with a lot of meaning but more often than not, they dont make sense in the scene or the movie. This is why making a movie that is a master-piece is definitely art. All the pieces have to fall in the right places and the jigsaw puzzle needs to be fully complete.

  3. Guess the first part of my post didn’t come through after all 🙂

    A wonderful, well-balanced post, Abhi.

    Agree with you that Movies are art. Ditto for the Dhoom 3 analogy. A movie is a very powerful and impressionable canvas, almost life like. I guess that dazzles many people.

    I don’t know about you, but I am a big admirer of Yash Chopra. He is an artist, and movies like Veer Zaara are a work of art – not because of the Indo-Pak angle, or…..

  4. ….sorry, was typing this from my iPhone and the comment got posted before I could finish :).

    …or how amazing Shahrukh Khan’s age transformed during the movie. The movie touched people. Made them really happy. It is the same logic for a movie like Alai Payuthey or Kandukondain Kandukondain. They ‘touch’ you. Movies like Dhoom 3 do not. For they simply ‘entertain’ you. I guess that’s where I would draw the line between an a work of art and an amalgam of digital effects. Krissh 3? Pass please.

    Like Yash-ji says in his poem in the opening credits to Jab Tak Hai Jaan (a movie I watched purely out of respect for him, it was his last one before he died): Is jasbaat ko barkaraar rakhunga main, Jab tak hai Jaan, jab tak hai Jaan (I will keep this passion relentless, as long as I live). Only an artist can say that.

    🙂

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