Is Filmmaking Art? Let the Debate Begin...

'Mr. Turner'
'Mr. Turner'Credit: Sony Pictures Classic
We write, direct, edit, and produce, but does that make us artists? 

I remember being in film school and one of my professors calling what we were pursuing the "perfect marriage of art and commerce." If you want to work in Hollywood, you're going to be attempting to make something beautiful and artistic that, hopefully, many people pay money to enjoy. I've built my career around that very notion, moving here to tell stories that I think will connect in people's hearts and at the box office. 

I'm not sure what the general public thinks, but when I wrote this article, I took a quick survey of my friends working in the industry and they all agreed: filmmaking is art. 

Some of them were pissed that I poked them with such a question. Others were flabbergasted that people could go to the movies or turn on HBO Max and watch a movie and not consider it art. 

But then I ran across his video from Dan Mace and it got me thinking...when does shooting something go from just footage to something artistic? 

Watch this video, and then let's talk after the jump. 

Is Filmmaking Art? Let the Debate Begin...

First and foremost, I want to say that this should not be up for debate. What filmmakers do in and outside of Hollywood are definitely artistic pieces. Even the most heavily studio influenced movies, like Star Wars, Marvel adaptations, and Fast and Furious are artistic endeavors that seek to elicit a response from an audience the way an Andrew Wyeth painting might. 

The same goes for television. Even though there are shows that might look ugly or maybe you don't like their format, they're still using the visual medium to provoke a response. They still want to engage with our emotions and take us on a journey.  

All stories told in a visual medium for audience response is art.  

But do we grant the same regard to a YouTuber who is not working in the cinematic sense? What about television commercials that might be beautiful to look at but are geared to specifically sell us something? Are they art as well? 

What About Commerce? 

Here's where the question gets tricky. As I mentioned in the opening, we have a bit of a conundrum here. See, filmmaking has always brought money and visual style together. Like the painters during the Renaissance, sometimes you need a wealthy backer to get your art to the screen. 

That works in movies, in travel videos, and even in YouTube prank videos.

You have to find a way to balance their wishes with the way you want the audience to feel. 

For me, if you shot and edited it, that makes it art. 

A Deep Definition of Art 

According to the great Wikipedia, art is defined as "a diverse range of human activities involving the creation of visual, auditory or performing artifacts, which express the creator's imagination, conceptual ideas, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power."

I believe film and filmmaking is our most powerful art form—in any sense of the word. I think YouTube has actually democratized art and changed it for this new century. The ability to shoot footage on our phones and edit on our laptops has changed who can express what at every level. One of the things I'm most proud about on No Film School is our dedication to the continued democratization of that art form, through our free guides and message boards.  

But so many people are making so many videos, is there a point when art stops? 

So What's Filmmaking but Not Art? 

After going over the ways I thought art worked and digging through the strictest definitions of modern art, I decided that in my opinion, stock footage would be a form of filmmaking that was not art. See, the very idea of stock footage is to shoot things for other people to use to make art.

Stock footage is shot to be manipulated by artists later. Even though you need to use filmmaking tools to make it look pretty, and even though you use techniques like pans, dollies, drones, and cranes to get some to capture these shots, they, in and of themselves, have no artistic value. They're like beautiful colors of paint or quality brushes begging to be used in an interesting way. 

I also would include training videos here. If you are training someone to do something with your video, your intent is not to be engaging, but to teach. Therefore, a TV show like a cooking show or a fire drill video you have to watch at work is not art either. 

But yes, there are lots of exceptions to these rules—that's why we are debating. 

For me, that's how I separate the different types of filmmaking and artistic endeavors. Let me know what you think in the comments!      

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2 Comments

Yes.

Fun debate. Thank you.

January 7, 2021 at 1:37PM

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David Patrick Raines
Actor/Writer/Director
204

Anytime that you can "shape or interpret" reality, to make it appear to others the way you see it in yours minds eye... that is art.

January 10, 2021 at 2:15AM

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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
1566