Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Comics And Movies: Thoughts From Art Spiegelman

In today’s post I’m going to follow-up a little on what I talked about yesterday, specifically how I’m trying to figure out some esthetic theory for thinking about art and entertainment images based on frames from the pop media.

I don’t even have a start, however, so I’m just going to be mentioning some of the kinds of things I’m trying to keep in mind as I attempt to get my thinking in order. After I jot down two or three things I use to get perspective in my thinking, I’m going to put up a quote from Art Spiegelman that provides something like a general framework for how I approach thinking of still images versus moving images (or still images versus extracts from moving images).

(One Art Spiegelman note: There are a couple of conceptual points about “Maus” that I find troubling. I wrote a novel—as yet, of course, damn it, unpublished—that touches on dealing with the Holocaust. Although Spiegelman made some choices that I wouldn’t have made, I have a lot of respect for him as an artist. I wouldn’t have crafted “Maus” the way he did, but there is sincerity in his work that is profoundly moving. It is what art and entertainment should be. By comparison, I would single out, say, Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” as being something else entirely.)


When I first posted about paintings based on media frames, I called the post, “The Abandonment Of Meaning.” One of the things I meant by that title was that when an artist or entertainer recycles an image that was composed by a cinematographer or cameraman, takes the image out of context and creates a new context, a great deal of the meaning of the image is lost and very little new meaning is created. The artist or entertainer selects exactly what frame to reproduce, what part of the frame to reproduce, what manner of interpretation to use for the reproduction. These are very real choices that create artistic input. But they are almost trivial compared to the original process of the first composition.

I once posted Will Barnet describing how much thought went into his painting ‘Soft Boiled Eggs.’

Much of my thinking about the issue of images based on media frames is built around the notion that an artist or entertainer should be the source of meaning, rather than simply [simply?] a commentator. An artist or entertainer should be creating pop culture rather than simply looking around and and singling out what other people do to create pop culture.

This may seem counter-intuitive. It is second nature—even for me when I think about these things—to tend to see movies and television as “primary” sources of culture and entertainment, while just about everything else seems derivative in one way or another. Even when novels or comics come first and serve as the source of a movie or TV production people seem to remember the movie or TV production as much more lasting—for better or for worse—than the source material.

I believe this is an illusion. It is a seductive and persuasive illusion, but I believe it is just an illusion nonetheless.

It is still imagery—carefully crafted by real artists and entertainers—that generates “lasting” art and entertainment. Pop culture pretends this isn’t so. Many artists and entertainers accept the pop culture illusion and devote themselves to creating derivative productions. But a reasonable esthetic theory on this topic should provide a framework for thinking about these things which puts everything in its proper place.

I don’t have such a theory, but this is a general statement on how I’m starting to think of the issue.


Here is Art Spiegelman commenting on comics versus the movies:

Unlike many artists, Spiegelman doesn’t see his stories in his head as though they’re movies which he’s capturing on paper. In fact, he says he’s never seen it this way.

“I like movies, but I don’t think they have much to do with comics except that the language is similar, like wide-angle-shot or overhead-shot or close-up. But I don’t see these things as moving pictures, but accretions of pictures. They’re still pictures that never had any other life in my mind. I can see how you can look at a comic and see how it’s like a storyboard for a film. But the more it’s a storyboard for a film, the less it’s a successful comic. Comics are a very specific organization of still images. They suggest time and motion, but they exist as still images. A character on the left of the frame in one panel can, in the next panel, be in the middle and in the third panel be over on the right creating the illusion of a person moving from left to right. But I never saw that as a person walking or tried to figure out how to divide the panels like the frames of a film. I see a kind of patterning, as if you kept the so-called ‘camera’ still with the figure moving across the background. You’d create a pattern that would attract your eye to a certain part of the page and hold it there.

“When I think about comics I always think of full pages and divide them into panels later. And try to find the individual moment that accumulates the full page.”

“There’s so many other factors operating, such as what size and shape panel to use, which is a problem no filmmaker ever deals with because they always have the same ratio of rectangle to work in. And no filmmaker has to think of one frame from five minutes ago still being present in the eye because a film is based on retention from a fraction of a second to a fraction of a second. Comics are based on seeing all those things at once because peripherally you’re always going to see what happens next and what happened before. It’s interesting that Rudolphe Topffer was doing comics that used cross-cutting a good seventy years before the invention of cinema. A lot of cinematic language is actually comics language.

“I find myself influenced by literature and painting. They all play their part. It’s what makes comics an exciting medium, to synthesize and be able to use little bits and parts from other disciplines. So I’m not discounting the influence of film, I just think it’s overrated.”

Art Spiegelman
quoted in “How To Draw Art For Comic Books

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