October 17, 2021

The Responsibility of Art

George Saunders, writing in his brilliant book on writing, A Swim In A Pond In The Rain, pinpoints filmmaker Vittorio de Sica’s 1948 film Bicycle Thieves as an example of the responsibility required to create vivifying art:

“De Sica was taking responsibility for every single thing in his film. Of course he was. Bicycle Thieves is a great work of art and De Sica is an artist, and that’s what an artist does: takes responsibility.

Consider this: a girl, Radha, short and unafraid to speak her mind, plods up to an old man, her family’s elder. The man looks down at her as she’s taps on his knees. “Old man”, she says in a pointed manner, and a smile creeps across the man's face. “What do I have to do to get as old as you are?” The curves of his mouth break into a full smile. “Why nothing” the old man answers, “but one thing at a time.” She frowns, walks away, and never forgets.

The act of creation is about taking care, (as Jurassic Park editor Michael Kahn said) one moment at a time. This can be the easiest thing one can possibly do, and the hardest. Just as when we see a piece of art that really strikes us, when we meet someone who really takes care of us, and is present to us here and now, we remember them for years. Those who are able to step into a task in this way are the special ones. They light up the path, and embody a responsibility for their actions that marks their work as different: a well-made bed, an intricately planned meal, a warm smile, a delicately written email, a conscious compliment. These aren't mistakes. They're an example of that universal truth: art is not merely trapped within the gallery, the concert hall, the cinema, or the theatre. It is everywhere, and in all of us. As Foucoult remarked so presciently, “We must create ourselves as a work of art.”

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February 19, 2024

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