High art, part deux

I’ve been seeing (and avoiding when possible) coverage of Tom Cruise’s image makeover. There was an NPR story yesterday morning, for example, that talked about how in the wake of his Scientology-fueled crazyfest, groups of Hollywood execs staged PR interventions so that he might see the light, and then shut up about it already.

(I like the way that last bit sounds, but I realize it doesn’t make sense. This is what happens when you’re a lazy self-editor.)

His meltdown was interesting for me because it helped me quantify a rampant dislike of him that dates back to my youth. I remember my sister finding him swoony in Top Gun. I couldn’t see anything appealing about him, full stop. Then, after years – decades – of churning out annoying but ignorable popcorn entertainment, he emerged fully as a person. The public courtship with La Holmes – an off-putting and squicky thing to witness – basically read to me as scenery-chewing performance art. What read as genuine was his faith in Scientology and attendant views on psychiatry and mental illness.

It’s the latter that makes my blood boil, and makes me believe that Tom Cruise doesn’t know anyone with a serious mental illness. Vitamins don’t make hallucinations go away, asshat.

Sometimes stars should be seen and not heard, which is no doubt what those Hollywood execs were telling him. And make no mistake: Tom Cruise is a star, not an actor. I’m reading Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up, written by indefatigable conservative Bob Colacello, who described an attempt to devil Jack Nicholson with the question of actor v. star in 1971. Nicholson was unperturbed by the question, because, theorized Colacello, he’s both (aside: do you still think that, Colacello?). But we’re all sympathetic protagonists of our own lives. Tom Cruise thinks he’s both, too. And his three Academy Award nominations prove it, right? Right?

Here’s the thing, though. Transcendent acting is high art. Consider Tilda Swinton, who brings an artist’s sensibility to her work. From an AV Club interview about the difference between projects she’s jointly developed with collaborating filmmakers and for-hire work:

…The Coen brothers film, the David Fincher films, the Narnia films—those are formed projects that come to me with very limited requirements of my time and energy. I take them on very playfully—and they’re things they have asked me to do, so they’ve obviously had the idea that I would be good, or I would be in some way useful to them to play those parts. They’re not things I would necessarily seek out.

Swinton – or SWINTON as the ladies of GoFugYourself would have it – is not really a star, she’s an artist who has accidentally taken on a few star-like attributes because her medium is more visible to the public than the average, say, painter’s.

So. Swinton = high art. Cruise = crap?

Le sigh. I dislike when people dog genre fiction, and here I find myself performing a similar exercise on an actor who works in that vein. Tom Cruise is a bajillionaire for a reason: people enjoy his movies. And there’s nothing wrong with that. My real issue with him (and with Orson Scott Card and with Nicholas Sparks and with Thomas Kinkaide, for that matter) is that he seems to have attained enough success that he’s become incapable of circumspection and has lost all self-awareness. And is there anything less attractive than that?

I guess if I have a point, it’s that no. That’s about as unattractive as you can get.


4 responses to “High art, part deux

  1. I don’t know about Nicholas Sparks. And from that link you had about Thomas Kinkaide, I can see that he is a major dick head. But from what I have read from Orson Scott Card, he seems grounded to me. I know he pushes a right wing political view, but from what of that I have read, he doesn’t descend in to utter narcissism.

  2. Yeah, you’re right about OSC…but he’s got a real inferiority complex about genre fiction vs. “literary” fiction that annoys me, esp. in his craft books (he has one on character & viewpoint and one on sci-fi/fantasy writing). Also, did you see that Amazon review I referenced in the previous entry?

  3. Yeah I read that amazon deal he did. If you noticed he got good feedback on the website for his post. I seem to remember some barb against florid language, but I can see where he is coming from.

    High art is a pretentious term in our day and age. In the past it was possible for an artist to perceptibly push the boundaries of expression. And to make something using skill that condensed meaning with subtlety and beauty. However the diversity of forms expands the canon to such breadth that the right no longer knows what the left is doing, and it becomes difficult to hold an authentic dialog with “the” culture.

    (btw, I am drunk, taking a food brake from a party)

    Anyway, I do think it is possible to construct a definition of high art, but there are two problems. First Art must get its value from life in the audience, if it only exists in the artist’s head, than it can’t hold any objective status. Which leads to the second problem, of what audience should be recognized as judge. The aristocratic tradition of “sophisticated” readers are a small group. shall we take there judgment to be final? The masses of men, they have the majority, and democracy would give them the vote, is that proper? Or, the future with a particularly exalted position, the historical perspective, will it weigh properly on the value of a piece?

    I am not sure if I even have a point here. But I feel that there are many definitions of Art, and many perspectives from which it can be judged. Instead of identifying with one, it would be best to play with each.

  4. I am unsure of the extent to which I ought to respond to your drunk post. You should come over for dinner. Thoughts?

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