Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about an art professor, whose name I cannot remember. It’s a great shame for me not to remember his name.
He made a tremendous impression on me. I can still see him and hear him in my mind. I remember how tall he was, and how his skin was weathered like the people who are happy to go out and live in the wilderness every so often. I remember one time when he joined some of us on the balcony at the end of the hallway for a smoke. He was a funny guy, with an energy that was intimidating until he relaxed.
He was an amazing, intriguing, and authentic man who had stories of life that informed everything about him.
Were any of them true? I had no reason to doubt him. I know that there’s a famous picture of him with Picasso that he showed to us, where they were hanging out on the beach. You could tell it was a younger version of him, and it was the days before Photoshop was on everyone’s desktop.
I remember what he taught us about perception.
He had us read Carlos Castaneda, for an art class. It was weird, but I think we all understood “why” by the end.
He challenged our thinking with sacred names from the tribe to which he belonged. His philosophy that has stuck with me, all these years later, was, “Draw what you see, not what you think you see.”
Drawing is a form of telling. Your responsibility is to the honesty of it.
As I look around at a lot of things in recent months, I think it’s a lesson a lot of people should take to heart. Replace “drawing” with other verbs until the statement makes sense to you.
Looking over my movie collection, I’m frequently struck by the collection of eclectic logos on display. I’m not saying that as if that’s a product of my collection in specific. I’m sure that everyone’s movie collection, if they have one, has a wide range of logos on display.
They’re typically designed to be eye-catching. Logos try to communicate something about the work to which they’re attached. A glance should catch your eye, and keep it.
I come from the school that color should be secondary. I should be able to glance at a simple line drawing version of a logo and still “get the point,” as it were. I can look at the logo for Planet of the Apes in any color arrangement and it’s still indelibly right.
With Planet of the Apes, the elongated treatments of the vertical lines on the “L” and “P,” along with the all-caps and tight kerning, convey tension and something recognizable-yet-abnormal. The “E” joined to the “T” and “S” further convey something that I can recognize but isn’t what I expect.
The beloved Star Wars logo carries on this same sense of scale, but keeps its letters regimented and precise. It conveys energy and scale, too large to ignore and with horizontal lines that pull your focus out. This is a story on a grand scale, though it obviously owes a bit to the Apes logo.
The logo for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight has letters set with imperfect alignments. The worn edges and splatters, hinting at the snowstorm and bloodshed at the center of the plot, capture danger and the rough, displeasing characters. It’s evocative of the Old West type that we’ve been inculcated to recognize over time, which subconsciously communicates when it’s set.
Of course, it proves that color can make a big difference, because if that “8” were also black it wouldn’t be as impactful. An exception that proves the rule, as it were.
But these are only a barest handful logos of the many, many that are out there. I’m not trying to position myself as any sort of expert, just going on about some logos that I love at this point.
The Question at Hand
Obviously this is all subjective. That’s how it works. If you love a movie, you’re likely to respond to its logo on an emotional scale and assessing it dispassionately is difficult.
Favorites come into play, along with personal preferences. I’m not going to attempt to answer the question on my own, because obviously it’s too big a topic for one person to tackle.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to give an honest read. You may even hate the logo for a movie that you love! Here’s looking at you, Manhunter.
So what are your favorite movie logos? Which ones work the best?
If you’re reading this, I’m legitimately interested what movie logos you think are great.
If you’re not reading this, I’m legitimately scared because…how are you in my thoughts?
I paint. I’ve painted my whole life. Some people think I’m pretty good. I think I’m mediocre at best, but I enjoy doing it and that’s that.
Now that the preamble is out of the way, let me explain something to you about the creative temperament. I don’t know what it is.
Anyone who speaks about groups of people as if they’re amorphous blobs of groupthink is a fool or a liar. Every person, even if they’re not “a creative,” is unique. There are as many creative temperaments as there are people who are creative.
I just know my temperament, and it drives me up the wall when people claim that they know about “creative temperaments” because they know themselves. But I digress.
I create in fits and spurts. Sometimes I blog for 30, 60, or more days in a row. (That’s a funny story how that got started, too, and the jackass who prompted it is snickering somewhere as well.)
At one point I was on four different regularly-occurring weekly podcasts and still appearing on friends’ shows. I’ve composed in a journal every day for years, and gone months without writing a single thing.
But one thing that really keeps the momentum going is when I start experimenting with media or techniques that are outside the norm. I love to experiment and mix.
I’d started using candle wax to build a textured, layered, multi-colored abstract on canvas, just starting to see where I’d lay on the paint. I had a vision in my head and could see it clearly. I’d nurtured it along for days, seeing that vision come together in my mind’s eye.
Given that melted wax can run, I’d decided to leave it on the floor to let it dry and set. I went to bed.
The following morning, the canvas was devoid of anything but a shadow of the composition I’d been building. There were tears in the canvas, as if someone had dragged a blade or some sort of tool like a pencil across the canvas and worn holes in it. Not jabbed, but worn through in patches like denim in the 1980s.
The dog, smelling the candle wax, had decided that I must have left a treat out. That lovable dope ate it by scraping it and licking it off the canvas. The dog then made a new composition called “vomit on the carpet,” but it’s not been preserved for the art crowd.
And so that beautiful vision in my mind’s eye has to be reset, and I have to soldier forward in hopes I can recapture it somehow. I’ve churned out 11 paintings in the last three months, I’m sure I’ve got the momentum to find that inspiration again.
I’m sure there’s a lesson about life in there somewhere, but all I can think is that finally I experienced one of the most clichéd moments a boy can have.
I’m going to go somewhere with this, but it’s going to take a little bit to get there. I need just a little patience.
Sometimes as I struggle to think of something to write for this silly little blog, I think of how much freer I felt years ago when I first started writing online. Going all the way back to the original “kessel korner” on the Star Wars-dot-com blogs, my blog has largely been a stream-of-consciousness log of my thoughts and an excuse to exercise my desire to write.
That’s not profound. That’s what a blog is supposed to be.
I’m not famous. I’m just an average person who likes to write these things. I don’t know why I feel compelled to lay my words out there. Whatever it is, it’s probably the same sort of thing that drives my desire to podcast. I just l just like to talk, and writing is like talking without the interruptions.
I’m also the type of person who likes to throw ideas out there and figure them out. I might change my mind. I might not.
The writers I’ve read my whole life, the memorable ones, did the same thing. Coupled with my dad, those influences cemented my approach to topics.
Contrary to what some might think, I enjoy being challenged. However, contrary to what some prefer, I enjoy arguing my point as well. If you’re going to change my mind, then it’s incumbent on you to present a persuasive argument. It’s not incumbent on me to fold at the first sign of disagreement.
The Twilight Zone also gave us one of the best rides EVER..
I’ve sometimes pitched controversial sorts of questions, especially when I migrated to the current platform. Years ago I put out something where I openly castigated people who wanted to edit or censor The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I was told that thinking that would become an accepted norm was foolish.
(Aside: That blog doesn’t exist anymore, which ties into where I’m going. I don’t think it’s even on the Internet Archive, but that might not be around too much longer anyway.)
Like any sane person I thought nothing of throwing anything out in a public forum. I grew up tolerant of a wide range of ideas, even when I disagreed with them, though the more asinine of my friends considered such conversations an opportunity to mock and assert their dominance.
This is why the act of writing online was something of a safe-haven bull session. It occasionally attracted the scorn of those same old acquaintances from decades past, but it didn’t bother me too much.
In a sense, my blog was a message board for people who knew me. I’d throw something out there and they’d either give me the business or ignore it until I wrote about something they cared more about than Darth Vader’s poop.
It felt like the Internet was supposed to feel. It felt free, conversational, and therapeutic.
That came crashing down one day when I made a salty jokes at the expense of a writer with his own following on social media. I wrote the joke to be snarky, and with the idea that “no one” really read this anyway. I wrote it to get a chuckle out of people who knew what I thought of this writer’s work.
I was pilloried and when I apologized he refused to accept it at first. I had to grovel.
I had to ask repeatedly what it was he wanted me to do to prove my apology was sincere. Some people suggested he sue me. Some people told me that comedy was only for Licensed Comedians™. One of his followers recommended I kill myself to prove my sincerity, which was a novel suggestion considering I was being attacked in bad faith because my jokes were “mean.”
This person of limited celebrity leveraged their social media platform to humiliate and attack me, and send his “followers” after me to exact social vengeance. Ironically, this same person presently has his Twitter account locked down because something he said was “taken the wrong way.”
I locked down my social media accounts. I locked down my blog and scoured for anything that could be taken out of context. There were a great many things purged at that moment. I removed by site from indexing for a long time.
I acted not just in my own interest at the time, but that of people other than myself. I wanted to protect them from the storm. The impression was that my joke would “cost” people around me and so I had to act quickly.
Some people stood by me and helped me get through, but I was taught a lesson to beware the slightest unguarded moment. Take care that the past is not there to be used against you again. Hide even moments when your thoughts were not those of the mob that wants to destroy you. Erase reference to your family.
And this is where I start getting to my point.
What Are We Losing?
I wonder about the incredible poetry we’re losing during a time when heterodox thought can cost so much. The Beat poets and authors functioned to push envelopes and explore the edges. The counterculturists, the punk rockers, and more have always used controversial thoughts and moments for everything from figuring out big questions to entertainment.
(Stern points out, fairly, that he’s not the same person he was decades ago. But none of us are “the same people” we were in the past, nor should we be. Acting like he’s the only person who changed over time is pretty insulting. Ozzy Osborne isn’t the same person he was years ago, either.)
Through each of those ages, you could nevertheless count on people to defend the right of the controversial to exist. If you didn’t like what someone had to say, then the argument was that it was your obligation to “change the channel.”
In terrifying the artist of failure, we eliminate the chance for the sublime. Destroying someone for an offhand comment they made when younger and dumber is wrong. Destroying someone for a moment of stupidity is wrong. Destroying someone even for the sin of being “offensive” is wrong.
And so I have to wonder what we lose by making people so afraid of mistakes. Fear of even a slight misstep can paralyze someone’s impulse and rob them of the freedom to create. Do we really want a world where creative people are afraid to see where it takes them, because they could instantaneously lose everything they hold dear?
It’s something that I’ve thought of on occasion, because it’s a topic close to my heart. It’s something that I think is fundamentally important to culture, and I wonder at its current scarcity, and the reason for it.
Despite any other flaws in past eras, poetry was eternally there. It was sonnets, it was ballads. In the Beat Generation, it was the currency of the post-war ennui. During the “Classic Rock” era, poetry was the backbone of popular music.
I don’t think it’s an “old man shouting at clouds” moment to say that most popular music today seems like anything but poetry. We exist in the swift current of beats and samples, a regurgitating whirlpool of soulless automation and autotune.
I know the dangers of perception and how it can mar our relationship to objective reality. Regardless, it seems to me that poetry is becoming more rare. At the very least, it seems that there’s no space for appreciation of it.
So I begin to wonder.
I wonder if poetry is dying because of social media. These finely crafted lines that so many work so hard to vomit into Twitter threads and miniature political stands on Instagram could be turned into art. But art needs fire to be forged.
Instead of a fire we have a billion individual embers twisting in the ether. We have too much distraction for potential poets to focus.
And so all these potential poems are lost, and these artists never form. Or they may be laying in wait to awaken, deep inside a generation that will grow beyond the addictive fascination of social media and its cheap valve for dribbling half-art into the void.
Being able to turn doodles into “realistic landscapes” will further dilute people’s appreciation for actual art by strengthening the bias that things must be rigidly photorealistic to be valid.
Color balance, composition, style, and meaning fall by the wayside far too easily for people entranced by “photographically accurate depictions of reality.” Art already suffers enough with this bias, which only gets reinforced with tools like this.
The Photoshop Effect
I complain at times about the damage caused by Photoshop.
The problem is that as soon as someone figures out how to use that tool, they fancy themselves a designer. They may produce things that are cluttered monstrosities, but the fact they created it “with Photoshop” lends it additional credence in their minds. It has a transitive authority because it’s done “with Photoshop.”
I think a similar thing will happen here. I’m not lumping early adopters in with this, as they usually self-select and adopt this tool to use with their pre-existing experiences. Nor am I saying everyone who uses the tool will be a charlatan or philistine. I’m saying that as this tool becomes more widespread, the waters get murky.
Color balance, composition, style, and meaning fall by the wayside far too easily. Now that we’re offering a tool this powerful, people with no artistic sense will have one more arrow in their quiver to argue that they are as knowledgeable as professionals and artists.
You see this decay for the appreciation of art, and craft, in the world’s most popular film franchise right now. The appreciation of craft arguably suffers even more than art.
I say this because while these movies may generate more revenue than the GDP of some small nations, people simply consume. They don’t discern.
Sure, there are people who make comments about how the special effects are inconsistent in these blockbuster films. They don’t care, though.
Audiences have been browbeaten just to expect what they get. Content is consumed, plot points advance over the arc of dozens of movies, and art takes another blow. The baseline changes.
Once some people start spitting out these sorts of “realistic landscapes” at home with GauGAN, I shudder to think how discussions between artists and clients will shift.
There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m allowed to mourn it, though.
It’s one of the reasons I reacted so joyously to Solo: A Star Wars Story. I saw a real sense of both craft and art with that film, and it was like a breath of fresh air to encounter it. I’m not talking just about its visual effects, either. The film is the work of a team of artists invested in their craft.
It makes a difference.
A Possible Core Truth About My Rant
Every generation bemoans at least some of the advances made in its time. When it comes to art, and craft, I tend to take it more personally than other things.
Perhaps I’m just a snob. It’s possible I’m overreacting. I’m willing to entertain that as a possibility.