Monday, January 29, 2007

Is it a painting? Or a car?

Over the years, I've developed my own theory about art and working on art. It seems to apply to a wide range of other things as well, so here it is.

Whenever you're about to work on a project, how much do you care for it? If you absolutely adore it, and would work on it for free, it's a painting. A painting is special. It's your baby. You have to shelter it as it grows, help it refine itself over time. When it's complete, it can either stay with you forever, or it can go out into the world. You know it needs to go out and be seen by others, but you hold onto it for a little while because after pouring months or even years of yourself into it, it's hard to let it go. You don't want to see your baby fall down in the cruel world outside. But you know it must go, so you put it in a gallery show. Someone else sees the value in it and wants to give you $4,000 to show your painting at a museum. You want to spit in their face—how could any price tag be attached to your unique art, your hours of tireless effort? Yet you understand that giving your painting to a museum would let it be seen by others—which could mean they'll experience the painting's story as vividly as you experienced it during its creation—so you think about it. Then another person comes along and offers $8,000... although what he'll do with your painting is unclear. You get the impression that this "private art collector" only wants your painting to use as part of his own painting collage. Worse, he might even destroy your painting and, if he owned it, that would be his right. You sell your painting to the museum for $4,000 and never look back.

If the project you work on is less than fun, something that you must drag yourself to work on, that project is a car. Its primary purpose is functional, not aesthetic. You use it to get to work and back. You forget to clean it as often as you should. Your windshield gets nicked and you leave the glass ring there for months until you eventually replace the windshield. If your car ever got totalled, you could easily replace it with another. When it's time to upgrade, you accept the highest bidder for your old car and don't care what the new owners do with it. When you buy a new car, you choose one that saves you the most money and keeps your self-respect intact.

Every project you do for yourself starts as a painting, and usually every project you do for others ends up being a car. Sometimes they may entice you into thinking their car is a painting by giving you part-ownership, and sometimes it works. Frequently, they only want you to be a passenger, not an art enthusiast, but the clever ones get everyone to think the project is a painting.

Essentially, it's about ownership: it's the difference between owning a home and renting a home. Homeowners care about their house, whereas tenants? Not so much.

When I write a screenplay, I work under the belief that it's a painting. I have to. It's the only thing that keeps me going. Should someone want to buy it when it's done, I have to shift my mindset into seeing my script as a car because once they buy that script, it's theirs. They can chop it up, add a stupid ending, dumb down the dialog... and I can't say shit about it. They own it and I don't. It's a car. I'm cool with that.

Knowing if you're working on a painting or a car will prevent much frustration and anguish. My delusion is seeing everything I work on as a painting when it simply ain't so. Another day will pass when I realize I'm actually driving to work rather than relayering a fruit with deep reds. When that happens, I break out my paints and decorate the dashboard. If I have to live in a Skoda for a while, at least it's going to look nice!

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