MUBI brings you a great new film every day.  Start your 7-day free trial today!
All Topics  »

Why Should We Have Great Art That is Largely Unpopluar to the Masses?

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

That’s sort of the question that came up in the recent thread on public financing of movies. I never got around to addressing the issue, but I felt it’s worth discussing. From what I recall, some people made the argument that the market—that is, large numbers of people—should ultimately determine which films are made. So, if only a handful of individuals want to see certain type of films (or art)—and these numbers are insufficient to provide the necessary financial support—then these films shouldn’t be made. (I apologize I’m not paraphrasing the argument accurately.) This raises the larger issue of the value of art—when only small group of individuals are interested in it. Why should we have great art that is largely unpopular (to the masses)? I’m assuming that most of us here highly value films that aren’t popular to mainstream viewers. How would we respond to this question?

joey Noodles

over 1 year ago

People may create ‘high art’ for personal reasons, something that is close to them, they may not make it for the masses to see but to get something out. That is what Taxi Driver originally was I believe.

House 0f Leaves

-moderator-
over 1 year ago

We should respond like this, “Shut up, masses!”

For the most part, the masses do decide which films get made, and they are mostly fast-food products. If they really had their say there would be no distribution of non-English films in this country because they “don’t go to movies to read.” So I’m glad that there at least remain some production companies willing to finance and distribute films that have no chance of reaching the masses.

joey Noodles

over 1 year ago

haha, I was introducing my Dad to Lovefilm (he was unimpressed) and scrolling through the films on offer my Dad turned to me and said: ‘Joe, just goes to show how much shit comes out, eh?’

Arlene Weiss

over 1 year ago

I am admittedly wierd. I love cheese, schlock, B films, geek films, blockbuster hit films and just about every genre there is in cinema.

BUT I also love silent films, foreign films, art house & indie films, documentaries, the kind of films no one sees, festival lovers’ tastemaker films, cult films, films that fail miserably…..from the time I was like 5 years old. Be afraid, be very afraid! LOL!

The Blind Owl

over 1 year ago

Let the masses chase away monsters with their pitchforks, or whatever it is they do.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

@Joey

I guess I’m asking for compelling reasons why we should have art that is largely unpopular. If very few people are interested enough to see/experience said art, why have it?

@HoL

*We should respond like this, “Shut up, masses!”

The king of compassion, you’re not. And you’re not setting a good example for Joey, man. ;)

joey Noodles

over 1 year ago

^ :/ It’s not a care home is it

joey Noodles

over 1 year ago

;)

Brad S.

over 1 year ago

Its just like food. Chocolate cake is wonderful, but if that’s all you eat, you’re not being healthy. Gotta include food with nutrients for a balanced diet and films with substance for a full appreciation of what cinema can offer.

Scottie Ferguso​n

over 1 year ago

It’s because, thankfully, there are enough of us out there who are interested in things that the masses aren’t. Hopefully that doesn’t change.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

@Lights

Let the masses chase away monsters with their pitchforks, or whatever it is they do.

You and HoL need to be sent to the principal. ;) Seriously, don’t you guys think that this type of art has value—even for those who initially don’t have an interest in it? I’m assuming you believe it has value to the larger society in some way, too? If you’re just not interested in articulating answers to these questions, OK, I understand, but I think there is value to winning over some of those in the masses to our side—if not for our sake, for the artists who make this type of art.

House 0f Leaves

-moderator-
over 1 year ago

Jazz: Haha! Hey, I’m the guy on this site who champions Buckaroo Banzai! It’s not like I’m saying we have to cut out the mainstream, I’m just happy the mainstream hasn’t cut out the art-house.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

@Joey

^ :/ It’s not a care home is it

That’s not a dig at my age, is it young man?

@Brad

Its just like food. Chocolate cake is wonderful, but if that’s all you eat, you’re not being healthy. Gotta include food with nutrients for a balanced diet and films with substance for a full appreciation of what cinema can offer.

I get what you’re saying, but I expect one of the masses to shrug as they don’t see food and art in the same way (i.e., art isn’t essential for living).

@HoL

Jazz: Haha! Hey, I’m the guy on this site who champions Buckaroo Banzai!

Dude, is that the best you can do to establish your mainstream cred? That’s a cult movie!

It’s not like I’m saying we have to cut out the mainstream.

Right, but you’re not really helping in winning over people to our side, are you?

House 0f Leaves

-moderator-
over 1 year ago

“Right, but you’re not really helping in winning over people to our side, are you?”

But I’m not talking to any of those people. They don’t visit this site. They’re on Badass Digest and Aint it Cool. I’m talking to you and the people who make the decisions that support art-house film production and distribution.

“Dude, is that the best you can do to establish your mainstream cred? That’s a cult movie!”

Okay, Die Hard then, or Hunt for Red October.

joey Noodles

over 1 year ago

I have no idea how old you are Jazz! Of course it is not!

Brad S.

over 1 year ago

>>I expect one of the masses to shrug as they don’t see food and art in the same way (i.e., art isn’t essential for living).<<

Right. Film is not important to these people. They view it as a distraction or way to pass the time. That’s exactly why great art should NOT cater to the masses.

Matt Parks

over 1 year ago

People are too caught up in the sensual music to dig the artifice of eternity, man.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

@Joey

  • I have no idea how old you are Jazz! Of course it is not!*

Oh, OK. I didn’t really get your response. (I wasn’t being really serious, either. Sorry, I forget the ;) And I’m also pretty old, too. Dang, I could very well be older than your father.)

@Brad

That’s exactly why great art should NOT cater to the masses.

But can we justify this type of art—preserving it and making more of it—when so many people aren’t interested?

@Matt

People are too caught up in the sensual music to dig the artifice of eternity, man.

The Dude?

Matt Parks

over 1 year ago

Yeats + the Dude

Brad S.

over 1 year ago

>>But can we justify this type of art—preserving it and making more of it—when so many people aren’t interested?<<

What’s so important about their interest?

Matt Parks

over 1 year ago

“But can we justify this type of art—preserving it and making more of it—when so many people aren’t interested”

If it’s still around 2500 years later or so (like, say, Homeric poetry), I would say that we can. It’s a marathon, Jazz (keeping with things Greek), not a sprint.

Rock and Bull

over 1 year ago

So that we can feel smarter and better than everyone.

MICHAEL

over 1 year ago

It’s possible for common sense to be wrong. It’s possible for the majority to be wrong. Fringe ideas might be better than the common ones. These can spread and lift the general level of ____ (rationality/knowledge/open-mindedness/….).

This is looking at art as communicated ideas.

Juan Perez

over 1 year ago

Godard, Fellini, Bergman, Antonioni, etc., were quite popular in the 1960’s and 70’s and they did have an “established” market for their films. I get the impression that back then, the general audience was more eager to watch different, non- mainstream movies, and not only your typical James Bond film. The problem with art-films is that most movie-goers associate them with boredom, and i don’t blame them in the least because i’ve had a difficult time watching some Fellini, Resnais and Antonioni masterpieces. But then again, the ideal situation is that high-art films become popular, which is possible as Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, Chaplin, de Sica and sometimes Truffaut have shown.

The Blind Owl

over 1 year ago

Forgive me Jazz, I was being deliberately cantankerous. : )

But I think the subject is too broad to really get a handle on, even hypothetically.

My immediate feeling is this: if we only make films that appeal to the masses, then we turn films into nothing more than disposable consumer products with no lasting legacy. The masses are fickle and care only for entertainment. The history of film is littered with titles that were hugely successful on release, but discarded or rejected only a few years later. The opposite is also true; some films take a little longer to find their audience, but that’s all part of the adventure (IMO).

What I love about ‘cinema’ is the variety of it. I like to discover different films, genres, cultures and techniques. It doesn’t matter to me if a film is made for a specific audience or made to satisfy the creative whims of an individual director; I like having the choice of what to see and what not to see.

I like the idea that everyone can find their own cinema; that anyone can create their own idea of what cinema is from the films that they engage with, subjectively speaking. If we take away that variety – that choice – then it becomes something based solely on popularity, which is fleeting and ultimately superficial. It would also deny the potential audience the possibility for discovery and exploration, to learn and to grow, while also denying filmmakers with limited commercial appeal the opportunity to express themselves creatively.

Jirin

over 1 year ago

Honestly I think there’s a difference here between what the general public wants, and what it’s easy to get the general public to pay to see.

What the public really wants is movies like Godfather. Shawshank Redemption. Pulp Fiction. Toy Story. Star Wars. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Epic, stylized, smart, but based on memorable characters and one liners, narrative, and not in any way confusing. Those are the ones that top the sites like IMDB and Rate Your Music.

Those are the ones they want to spend their money on, but before they see them they perceive them as more of a risk. They might love them or hate them. Whereas a new Spiderman film they have a frame of reference and feel that worst case scenario, they connect with it on sole basis of the known source material.

The films being made now are not what the public wants, they are the ones that are least of a risk.

I feel like so long as a film has enough of an interest to make back the investment, it should get made. It doesn’t have anything to do with the majority, it’s about being able to make the film entirely with voluntary contributions.

James·

over 1 year ago

@ JAZZALOHA

You say, “[W]hy should [we] have art that is largely unpopular[?]”

I disagree. It is not largely unpopular. Some of it is largely obscure, and perhaps, one might argue that some of it is largely misunderstood or understood only partially, but it is not as if people are making a conscious decision to denigrate certain art. The inverse of this argument should also be considered. The economics of the motion picture industry do not indicate popularity. Plenty of unpopular films produce at the box office. Many people see films and don’t like what they see, or if pressed, would freely admit that, though they may have enjoyed their experience, their opinion of what they saw is nevertheless low. Many people blind buy blu rays/DVDs for any number of reasons not related to their estimation of the films they are purchasing.

To touch on what I think you mean by initiating this discussion, I would say that I think many people distrust art. They’ve been told that their opinion is always valid (read: “never wrong”), and they feel this gives them license to reject anything. And they are (often) fantastically ignorant— not only of film but visual arts, history, music, psychology, philosophy, literature, and on and on.

Perhaps many people feel betrayed by modernism and postmodernism. Perhaps many people are caught up in their lives. Perhaps many people feel threatened by the challenges of art. Perhaps many people are dismissive. Perhaps, perhaps, ad infinitum.

The value of art is somewhat mysterious— it can be analyzed and evaluated by structuralism, post-structuralism, and/or dozens of other modes of thought. It can move us viscerally, intellectually, emotionally, etc. Our relationship with it can evolve and devolve over time. No one has a crystal ball. No one can say, “This has value/no value to future peoples of the world!” Since space doesn’t seem to be an issue, let’s hang on to as much of it as we can.

Jirin

over 1 year ago

@James

I think it’s more the majority of people use films as entertainment intended to relax, and don’t find it relaxing if they have to intellectually analyze what they viewed. Then they overreact against the art because they feel (Sometimes justifiably) that folks who like art consider them morons for not liking or understanding it.

- -

over 1 year ago

“The masses” aren’t people, it’s a mentality. As a human- an individual- you can choose to fall in line with that mentality. But it’s not something you are born into….I don’t believe it’s just “cultured smart people vs stupid people”.

I’ve shown some foreign films to my people I know who usually don’t watch anything but mainstream films. I’ve seen someone like this weep over the subtlety of Late Spring or the harshness of Au Hasard Balthazar…I think a lot of people don’t realize the kinds of movies they’d love because they’re too afraid to invest the time needed to give films like that a chance.

The “high” function of art is not supposed to be entertainment. It’s supposed to give people what they NEED, not what they want…I think this makes a lot of people uncomfortable and even offended, so they blow it off.

In any case, artists will find a way to express what they feel they need to, regardless if large numbers of people want to see it.