From the previously quoted essay "Have the Artists Gone Mad?", by G.K. Chesterton, here's an interesting line, regarding the question: How do we revive a popular interest in art? According to G.K. the solution "does not lie in increasing the number of artists who can startle us with complex things, but by increasing the number of people who can be startled by common things."
I am not totally sure of the context of that; or how sweepingly he means it; or precisely against what he says it---but I feel like it touches on my likes and dislikes in movies these days.
I'm tired of the elaborate action scene and I'm aghast at the depths of visual insanity which will be summoned up to provide the latest shock. Anyone can think up the craziest thing imaginable and then CGI it onto the screen for a scream. I'm bored of it. Maybe I'm getting old, but I'd much rather be startled by common things, and I think it makes for better art. But I'm not sure Chesterton is right that this will revive a popular interest in art. I think it can only rescue the populace from where the arts have gone.
But hold on now. While we're on the topic, here is a quote that takes it even further and really got me thinking. Especially because I can spend so much time debating (somewhat objectively) the craft of film-making, the subjective preferences of one film over another, and whether a film was rightly and properly entertaining or not. This is found in Dale Ahlquist's Common Sense 101. These are his words revolving around something Chesterton said:
"There is a famous saying that there is no disputing about taste. And it is true. But that refers to our relatively minor likes and dislikes that are simply personal preferences and cannot be changed by the argument. But in matters of art, the problem is that there are people who 'prefer to dispute about taste, because they do not want their disputes settled.' They are avoiding the things that can be argued about and the things that are really worth arguing about because they do not want to face the consequences of losing their arguments."
This one really gets me because I am a person who enjoys disputing about the ins and outs of movie making, my likes and dislikes, and such. It is fun, and somehow feels worthwhile because, well, we watch a lot of movies, and we might as well talk about why it is we like some and not others. But sometimes there is this nagging question in the back of my head: Why am I taking entertainment so seriously?
Part of the answer, and what I think Chesterton is not addressing fully, is that entertainment has become very important. It is, like it or not, from the stupidest pop-movie to the most artsy bio-epic, the most common and accessible medium for Western ideas. It is where worldviews collide and are presented. These are the stories that form our psyche, or at least pull at it from all directions. You can also express things in movies and music that you can't put so well in words.
Furthermore, because we need to be aware of the tricks and methods that can be used to get us to feel or think this or that, I would argue (against the Chesterton of 1927, who, let's be fair, was living in the very early years of cinema) that the finer points of story-telling, film-making, and audience-response are worth discussing because they enable us to think more clearly about those things which have moved us or bored us and why. The medium is worth discussing for the same sort of reason that epistemology is worth discussing. Besides that this can also be a legitimate past-time. Something to talk about, just because it is enjoyable.
But we should not write off this challenge too quickly. I should allow Chesterton's comment to ask me some questions. First of all: Do I watch movies simply to be stimulated? What does it take to stimulate me? How much of that do I need? How much is too much? Is entertainment itself worth taking this seriously?
Taking it deeper: Am I simply disputing matters of taste because I am afraid to dispute anything that could actually be settled? Do I only dispute that which can end in everyone saying "well, that was fun, now I've heard everyone's opinions, and now I leave unchanged and as rigidly fixed in my own"? Am I avoiding the things that can be argued about and are worth arguing about because I do not want to face the consequence of losing?
Lest I cop out and only ask questions, let me venture to say something: As much as I love movies, and the arts, and discussing them, I think that ours is a culture that is absolutely overdosing on entertainment for entertainment's sake. At its best, art is expressing and sharing and inspiring and moving. It is getting us to face the questions, and is startling us again with common things. At its worst this is our way of avoiding the questions.
I am reminded to limit the extent to which I allow arts and entertainment to simply be a mindless escape. I think this is okay to a degree and I'm not judging its existence as a form of leisure. But I don't want the overdose. I don't want the E-Talk lifestyle. If I am going to watch so much film, read so much fiction, and admire so much musical and visual art, I had better not let it be my avoidance strategy. I had better be willing to discuss what the art is saying and not merely how it said it.
This goes for philosophy and theology as well. You can only discuss epistemology so long. At some point you have to talk about something. What do you think?