29 June 2008

Art 2D2

Let us consider today a fable, the Tale of the Artist Who Didn’t Know When to Stop.

There once was a humble artist who painted an altarpiece so magnificent that people came the world over to admire it. Each figure in the painting seemed to breathe and to speak to anyone who looked. The artist was much gratified with the people’s admiration, and he didn’t mind, either, that nearly every visitor to the chapel where it stood, took away a souvenir, some little copy of the painting or trinket to remind them of the wonderful painting they had seen.

And so it was for many years. The artist became very famous, and served as mentor to other artists, although he seldom painted anything himself anymore. One day, the urge came upon him to paint again, but instead of painting a new altarpiece, he returned to the chapel where the old one stood. “You know,” he said to himself, “there are really not enough angels in this picture. And for every figure I add to the painting, I may make more money, for the people are sure to want to buy more copies.”

He set about adding so many figures to his altarpiece that he had to add new panels, and it ceased to be a triptych. Soon there was no more light in the chapel, for the new panels rose high to the ceiling and blocked all the windows. But the artist could not stop himself.

One day he heard tell of a new kind of varnish, that would render his paintings more vivid. “I must try that!” he cried. But the varnish-vendor was an honest man. “To use my varnish on your altarpiece, you must first paint over every inch of what you painted before, and begin again.” “No matter!” cried the artist.

Soon every panel of his altarpiece was teeming with new figures. He worked in such a hurry that his compositions were sacrificed, and the figures no longer seemed human. In his frenzy, he painted a new Christ, and then another, and then another, until the altarpiece was crowded with Christs. There were 16 Saviors in the Crucifixion alone, with no room for the Magdalene.

There was no more room in the chapel gift shop for all the extra trinkets. In a fury, the artist destroyed all the copies of the painting as it used to be; only new copies could be sold.

In time, the people began to lose interest. “Why should I go to look at the altarpiece anymore?” they asked. “It no longer resembles the painting I loved. I must have been an idiot to think this man knew anything about art. And what am I to do with all these copies and trinkets?”

Not long after, the artist died, and only his children did mourn him.

MORAL: I gave up on the Star Wars franchise after George Lucas went back and added so many CGI bits to the trilogy that he spoiled all the jokes, slackened narrative tension, and sacrificed what little character development he had to begin with. When he announced “Episodes I, II, and III,” I stayed home; when he revised these new episodes for a television series, I turned off the set.

He continues to tinker with the same material — a piece in this morning’s New York Times discusses new forays into computer animation and video gaming, as if the series hadn’t become mechanical enough already. He seems incapable of coming up with any new ideas, any new stories, and many critics wonder openly whether he remembers how to direct a movie.

George Lucas created a wonderful piece of popular art — perhaps not as great as the Altarpiece of Issenheim, but beautiful and meaningful to many, many people. If he wants to destroy it, that’s his business. But he can’t force me to watch him do it.