Beyond Art And Ego
Saw this interview the other day, where the interviewer adjusts his particularly large balls and asks M. Night Shyamalan about the Last Airbender reviews. Here’s the critical snippets:
Vulture: Have you read the reviews for The Last Airbender?
M. Night Shyamalan: No, I haven’t.
Vulture: Well, are you aware of the reviews?
Shyamalan: No, actually.
Vulture: Well, for the most part, critics have not been kind. Are you just ignoring them? Will you read them this weekend? Have you just not had time?
Shyamalan: Are you saying that in general they didn’t dig it?
Vulture: In general, no. Roger Ebert, who liked The Happening, did not. The first line of his review is, “The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category that I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.” How do you react to something like that?
Shyamalan: I don’t know what to say to that stuff. I bring as much integrity to the table as humanly possible. It must be a language thing, in terms of a particular accent, a storytelling accent. I can only see it this certain way and I don’t know how to think in another language. I think these are exactly the visions that are in my head, so I don’t know how to adjust it without being me. It would be like asking a painter to change to a completely different style. I don’t know.
Vulture: Critics haven’t been kind to your last couple of films. Do you still worry about reviews?
Shyamalan: I think of it as an art form. So it’s something I approach as sort of immovable integrity within each of the stages. So if you walk through the process with me, there’s not a moment where I won’t treat with great respect. So it’s sacred to me, the whole process of making a movie. I would hope that some people see that I approach this field with that kind of respect, and that it’s not a job.
Rest of the review is right here.
Believe it or not, I don’t know that humility is a necessary trait in terms of creating, or storytelling, or quote-unquote making art, because the very act of putting yourself and your work out there already demands a robust ego. You’re saying, “My story is worth telling among all the millions of stories,” and so you package it up and spray it down with sweet-smelling perfumes (or Febreze, if you’re cheap like me), and then you put it out into the world with the express understanding that, “This is good enough for people to want to read this.” Or see it. Or hear it. Or whatever it is that you’ve cobbled together: song, film, novel, poem, iPhone app, webcomic, recipe blog, porn.
What Manny is doing here, though, speaks to why I’m very leery of ever calling what I do “art.” Art — improperly, incorrectly — is ascribed this kind of indestructible quality, this (as he calls it) “immovable integrity.” Once you let that be your platform, once you allow that to be the place from which you start, you have little to no room to improve. Shyamalan here basically believe he’s speaking a different, and possibly better, language.
He believes he created the best film he could’ve created.
He believes that what he did was art.
That he respects it. His process. To change the process, it’s intimated, is to disrespect it.
This to him is not even a job. It’s something bigger. Stranger. Altogether more ethereal.
And that’s where it gets wonky.
As creators, and this is just one man honking into the void, attitudes of this ilk are why I encourage you to view what you do as craft and not art. Is it art? Yes, no, maybe so. Don’t even worry about it. Let someone else decide. But if you buy in too deep, if you start to excuse the smell of your own stink as something immovable, unchangeable…
…then you end up hiding in an impenetrable fortress built of your own Narcissism.
It’s okay to love your mistakes.
It’s not okay to be blind to them.
Always be open to learn. And change. And grow.