Representation is Hard Work

Filed under: creativity, art, work

Recently a statement by the director/screenwriter of Godless (a ‘feminist’ Western) caught my eye as he was explaining his placement of women in the plot:

“I worked hard for them [women] to save themselves. The army doesn’t come; they have to fend for themselves.”
   — Scott Frank (Director of Godless)

Often people comment on art as if representing against the status-quo is simply a matter of choice - forgetting the skill required to not break the spell of an art work as it represents something outside the norm. I’ve often seen friends applaud ‘representation’ and I have to kind of nod and smile in a politically correct fashion even if I think the ‘representation’ was detrimental for the art.

I’m not of those people who specifically look for ‘representation in art’ though it stands out to me when done right. But what I recognize more now with creativity, whether it’s directing or writing a poem, is that ‘representation’ of non-status quo requires work - hard(er) work. You have to pull it off. It’s not just about choosing a girl to play the traditional man role or replacing a western concept with something ‘ethnically relatable’ - it isn't just a creative decision, it’s a creative act.

In Godless, 'representation' worked, and it worked well. It turned an otherwise standard Western into something engaging, magnificent, and wildly more interesting (imo). There was no force, no spell was broken. I watched wondering how the plot would resolve itself and in the universe Frank had created, it felt easy to swallow. This is also part of the 'representation' paradox - the artist works harder to make it seem like the plot came about easier to him/her.

The self-referential interpretation of Inception is a helpful analogy here:

On why the dream world created by Ariadne is collapsing

Dom Cobb: "Cause my subconscious feels that someone else is creating this world. The more you change things, the quicker the projections start to converge on you."

Ariadne: "Converge?"

Dom Cobb: "They sense the foreign nature of the dreamer. They attack like white blood cells fighting an infection."

Cobb advises the artist to be careful with risky plot devices (i.e. 'Representation'), if the audience senses that something is off, something forced or inconsistent with their intuition, they can turn nasty - the entire dream world will collapse into ruins.

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