Has Art Become Retro?

This is about how I feel art has become retro.
February 16, 2010
When you think of the word "retro," what comes to your mind? Movies? Music? TV? There's so many old things from our younger days that are now considered retro. Now it seems like we something new that could possibly be called retro. Or is it? I am talking about art.

Now, when you first hear the word "art," what do you think of? Painting? Sculpture? Film? That's just it, there's isn't a single thing that isn't art. Art is all around us. Art has been around since the beginning of time. However, it seems, to me at least, that art has been going downhill and become retro. I will not be talking about all art forms, since just about everything is art, but I will be talking about my favorite art forms. Let me start with one of my favorite arts.

Acting is the idea of becoming someone else and making it look seamless. It's been around for a very long time. It made it's big break when William Shakespeare took his plays to the stage. Back then, there were no actresses, only actors. So, if the play called for a woman in it, a man would play the part. By today's standards, it comes off as being unusual, but it set the standard for what an actor does: become another person. In years to come, many methods of acting came about for actors and actress to become someone else. For example, Constantin Stanislavski, who was a Russian actor and theater director, came up with what is now know today as "method acting." This method would have actors think hard about their character and what he/she is feeling. To portray these feelings and emotions, an actor would think in that state of mind that the character is going through. In other words, it's not just an actor pretending to feel a feeling. It's an actor having that feeling and using it. It's a brilliant method that went on to be used by many including Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro. How is going downhill as an art? Well, with the rise of technology many producers are thinking of making fully computer made films with computer generated actors. Why? Human actors have been around for centuries. What's the point of changing it now? Plus, wouldn't it cost more money and more work to create actors, rather than just have one come in and audition? Plus, and the most obvious, it takes away from the art of acting. There's a big misconception to people who don't know about acting, that anyone can do it if they just make believe hard enough. It's so much more than that. I mean, I'm not an actor, I'm an aspiring filmmaker, so I know what actors have to do. They can't just pretend to be anyone, they have to feel it, not only psychically, but in the mind and in the heart.

Now, I want to talk about an art that's as old as acting, perhaps even more so. That art is puppetry. I know many would think, "How is puppetry an art form?" You just have to move your hand up and down." Again, it's much more than that. In fact, there's more than just a regular hand puppet. There's rod puppets, bunraku puppets, marionettes, etc., I could go on forever. Some earliest forms of puppetry were started in Japan with bunraku puppets. These types of puppets are normally operated by more than one person. One person might operate the arms, another would do the head and other person would do the legs. This just a basic way of doing it, sometimes more people can get involved. Soon,Italy became known for their show called, Punch and Judy. Punch and Judy were glove puppets that were operated by a single hand, mainly using your fingers to move the head and hands. Eventually, puppetry came to television and film, thanks to people like Jim Henson. To go further down the line, films even started using puppetry to accomplish special effects. For example, did you know that the werewolf from An American Werewolf in London was a cable controlled hand puppet? Or that Brundlefly from The Fly was a cable controlled marionette? Interesting, huh? However, do you think if those films were today that they would be done the same way? I doubt it. I think they would've turned to CGI. I say that puppetry is going downhill because of advances in technology, such as CGI. Why have a CGI character when you could have a hand made character that looks real with a 3D feel to it? Plus, a puppeteer is like an actor, only hidden. They too have to give a performance. A puppet and puppeteer work symbolically together. A puppeteer does the same movements a character is doing, so that they portray those movements in the puppet. Nowadays there's even digital puppetry, where a 3D character is controlled by a puppeteer on a computer. Interesting and unique idea, but it doesn't have the same feel as actually holing the character in your hands and bringing life to it. The same goes for this next art form.

Like puppetry, the idea of animation is to make things come to life. In this case, it can be drawings, models, and other things. This has been around since the invention of the movie camera, which came about in the late 1800's. Back then, people would put a nickel into a little machine with a tiny scope to look into. When you looked into it, you would see a little animation of a horse running or a person walking. Animation back then was very simple. It was basically a series of drawings that would sit on a wheel like machine and by turning a crane in front of a camera the images of flip and make a movement, which is now a basic animation concept known as a flip book. Thanks to people like Walt Disney, animation became so much more than basic movements. Now there were backgrounds that moved with the character. Also, like in a feature film, different camera movements could now be used. This was because of an invention called the Multiplane Camera. This device would put a series of backgrounds together on separate planes and picture would taken of them, then the backgrounds would be moved a little bit and another picture was taken. This process continued until a complete shot was made. It really gave visual depth to an animated scene. Besides drawing animation, stop motion animation has been around many years as well, it was perfected by Willis O'Brien who made the dinosaurs for the 1925 film, The Lost World. He became more well know for King Kong, where he made and animated the title character. It was groundbreaking and still considered to be a milestone in special effects. Again, like puppetry, there's many forms of animation besides the ones I talked about. There's also sand animation, cut-out animation, pixilation, paint on glass animation, etc. The list goes on. An animator is also like an actor because they have to give performance is something that they're animating. However, this art has gone downhill because of computer animation. While the concept of animating is the same, the art of it is gone because you're only using a keyboard and a mouse. Back when animation started and for years to come, everything was hand made. Now that's no longer the case.

Now I'd like to talk about an art form that's still used, but now it's pretty rare: Make-up. I know when most people think of make-up, they think it's no big deal. It is a big deal though. Make-up isn't just making a person look good on screen or stage, it also be used as an effect for such things as monsters, zombie, etc. It's been around since the days of theater. However, it went to bigger heights when films started using it, particularly in monster films. Actor Lon Chaney, Sr. is best known for being one of the first make-up artist in film. When he was in the 1923 film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he put an 80 lb. hump on his back to be able to play the part of Quasimodo. In the 1925 film, The Phantom of the Opera, Chaney put hooks in his mouth and did different things to stretch his face out to play the part of the phantom. Later, make-up effects became more advanced and set the standard for how make-up effects are done today. For the 1931 film Frankenstein, make-up artist Jack Pierce transformed actor Boris Karloff into Frankenstein's monster, by sculpting the face out of clay and making a mold out of it and painting to create one big mask for Karloff to wear. Eventually, make-up became even more advanced when make-up artist Dick Smith made a change to make-up effects by making a face into pieces called appliances, rather than a big mask, so that the actor could make a more expressive face. Smith was actually criticized for this, but proved his critics wrong. Smith went even further with his ideas in the 1973 film, The Exorcist. He took traditional make-up effects and combined it with puppetry to make the evil Linda Blair come to life. On that film, Smith had, now legendary make-up artist, Rick Baker as his trainee. Baker used the method that was done in The Exorcist in the 1981 film, An American Werewolf in London. This gave Baker his first Oscar for Best Make-up Effects, which was also a first for the Academy. Many other make-up artists went on to win Oscars as well such as Stan Winston. This is an art form because it combines sculpting, painting and sometimes puppetry and mechanics if the effect needs it. Nowadays, it's pretty rare when you see make-up effects, because technology advances like CGI. Personally, I think the hands of an artist creating a person or a creature of some sort is almost like being a God because you're literally bringing life into something that started out as a lump of clay.

Now we've come to my favorite art form of all time. The art of filmmaking. Filmmaking has been around since 1888. The first film ever made was a two second piece called, Roundhay Garden Scene. The film only consisted of people walking around a garden. It may have been only two seconds long, but that two seconds started one of the greatest art forms of all time. Up until film came along, if people wanted to see a visual story, they would have to go to a stage theater. Now they could go to a theater with a screen. To me, film is the greatest art form because of things such as editing and different camera shots to make you feel the story happening than just sitting in a sit watching live actors and fake sets. Film did the same thing only more advanced, because when we think we often edit our thoughts in a sequence and in different shots, which is why film is so effective. I also believe film is the best art form because it combines just about every art form from writing, to acting, directing, animation, puppetry, make-up, music, editing, and so much more. I think film has gone downhill because now you don't see much original stories anymore, unless you watch independent films. Hollywood produces mostly make remakes, sequels or cliched films that we've seen a million times before and it isn't stopping. It's very unfortunate because the art of filmmaking and storytelling has gone back a very long way. Nowadays, if a filmmaker even tries to be artistic or original, they're seen as being pretentious. Why? Why can't filmmakers be an artist like a painter painting a picture? Is it because filmmakers like Kubrick and Hitchcock are gone and no one can't be like them?For example, films like American Beauty and Lost in Translation are seen as being pretentious. I don't think they are. I consider them to be masterpieces in their own right will possibly go on to become among some of the best films of all time. Why would a filmmaker pretend to be an artist? Maybe they are an artist. Even some people think that Kubrick or Hitchcock pretended to be artists, but they were geniuses and so are some of the independent filmmakers who do things they're way for the art of filmmaking, such as Darren Arronofsky or Wes Anderson.

To conclude, art is becoming retro, because of technology. I know that I didn't mention every art form, but I only mentioned the ones I know the most. I know there is a lot more art forms, but I'm not knowledgeable in things like music, but I do feel that art forms I didn't mention also went downhill in their own ways. I also know what I just said about art is very subjective and biased, since I'm a big fan of traditional arts. Also, I know that's taking away from the work people do with computer art such as Photoshop and CGI animation. I respect the work they do, but I feel like replacing the use of the hand with a mouse and keyboard is a shame. I know you use your hands to control the mouse and keyboard, but it just isn't the same to me. God gave us hands, not just to pick things up, but to create. I believe that art is becoming retro, but I don't believe it will die, because it's been around since the beginning of time and for it to die doesn't seem possible. I do think that digital technology CAN be an art, but it's not the same kind of art as when you make something with your hands. I wish there were more artist out there who could do things more practically than just rely on a computer. There's plenty of room for traditional artist out there.
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