Have you ever had a moment where you realized you were 100% wrong about something? I’ve had a handful of moments like this in my life and I love them. I love them because they’re so completely unexpected and they leave me permanently changed, forever incapable of going back to the old, stupid way I was thinking. If my ego were more fragile I suppose I might not like them as much. Fortunately, my egomania allows me to be completely schooled while still considering myself the smartest person in the room. Anyway, I bring it up because I was fortunate enough to have one of these moments last night.
Warren Ellis, who has the single best take on Batman I’ve ever read, is one of my favorite writers. Like most great writers, he sees and understands things in a way that very few people do which, really, is a polite way of saying he’s a bit tweaked (something I consider to be a good thing). Like several thousand other people, I subscribe to his mailing list and last night I was reading an email from him about his new weekly column. In that email he wrote this:
“We’re deathly afraid of that stabbing word ‘pretentious,’ the word that students use to curse each other’s ambition. It’s a young person’s word, a shortcut-to-thinking word.
I’m a big fan of pretension. It means ‘an aspiration or intention that may or may not reach fulfillment.’ It doesn’t mean failing upward. It means trying to exceed your grasp. Which is how things grow.”
And there you have it. Now, I’m hardly going to start cheering the next time I encounter pretentious art, but that’s not the point. The point is that I shouldn’t mock it. Not because the work is somehow deserving of recognition for no reason other than because it’s part of an ongoing process to create truly great art, but because people who make art should be encouraged to keep doing it. Movies, poetry, sculpture, music, or whatever, it all boils down to one undeniable fact: We wouldn’t have any great art if the people who made it hadn’t first made a whole shitload of bad art. The only proof that statement requires is the early work of John Sayles. It’s no accident that “Piranha” came before “Men With Guns” (Unless he was that good a writer right out of the gate, in which case he’s a huge dick for writing “Piranha”.).
So, there it is. Nothing that doesn’t occur to most first-year art students, I suppose, but somewhere along the way we forget I forgot that the world really doesn’t need any more negativity.
I’m still totally going to rip apart shitty movies though, it’s too much fun. But now I’ll know I’m doing the wrong thing and I think that makes all the difference.