“Art Is Hard!” Bryan K. Says…
Can somebody toss this man a Pulitzer Peace Prize for insight of the century?
Now I’ll admit that it’s more than a little unfair to isolate a three-word exclamation out of it’s extremely large context, but this stood out above and beyond anything stated in the entire post (yes, even more than a long-awaited opinion on M. Night Shyamalan’s disastrous adaptation of his and Michael Dante DiMartino’s original show). It’s really a testament to either Konietzko’s obliviousness or his egotism that his response to a whitewashing concern is a colossal rant on the intricacies of color theory.
I’m not saying I necessarily disagree with the sentimental. Of course “art is hard!” As an aspiring animator, I know all too well the trials that Mr. Konietzko and Mr. DiMartino go through. And if merely generating moving images weren’t enough, their hardships are multiplied by 100 because they choose to produce high quality work within the stifling limitations of television animation. Certainly they’ve worked their asses off, and it shows in the final product: The Legend of Korra is quite possibly the most beautiful and professional-looking animated show I’ve ever seen in my life. So much so that I can almost sympathize with Mr. Konietzko on the general fandom: after all the blood, sweat, tears and years he sacrificed for this show, this is the thanks he gets? Why can’t the fandom appreciate the incredible amount of work that goes into this show?
Well, that’s the thing about the creative process: for the most part, no one cares.
The average audience member—despite being slightly more savvy about film production these days—does not care about the extreme labors that go into the making of even their favorite films. It’s not out of spite, that’s just not what they’re interested in. When watching a film, they’re not marveling over the pristine crystal-clear quality of the latest HD camera or the intricate art direction as values in and of themselves.
Instead, their response boils down to: 1) does this film affect me? 2) do I like the way it affects me? (And, if they’re particularly inquisitive: 3) why?)
The most successful art has always been able to shape its tangible features to provide a psychological experience for the audience. The least successful art merely displays tangible features that provides little more than mere skill, if that. (Naturally, this can get pretty subjective. I once had a friend who was flabbergasted that I couldn’t see the heavenly beauty of David Gilmour’s guitar playing, while I was equally astonished that the simplistic genius of the Rolling Stones failed to move him.)
You can be a filmmaker whose movie has the latest state-of-the art special effects; you can be a guitarist who can play one-hundred notes a second; you can be an Oxford-educated writer who just finished a first novel. These are all worthy, skillful, personal accomplishments. But if nothing you do can generate a positive emotional/intellectual response from your respective audience, then you have failed. (“Positive” in the loosest sense. Grave of the Fireflies generated a positive response from me, but I’m never going to watch that film again.)
What’s so fascinating about Korra is that it’s a state-of-the-art marvel that manages to generate the most negative emotional response possible. It’s a work of art whose skillfully handled tangible features (ex. The animation, the music, the colors, etc.) are at the service of an ideological mess of a script. The result is a Rorshach Test of a show: you see what you want to see, not necessarily what is there.
Let’s use the finale as an example. When Korra gets her Bending back from Aang, most people were joyful to the point of tears. Certainly, the show aimed for that effect, and if you want to see this as a happy, well-earned ending, it works that way. But probe a little deeper, and you’re bound to have a few questions.
For instance, how is it that the most powerful person in the world—who happened to be a woman—got her power taken away from by a man, and then has it given back to her by another man? Why wasn’t she allowed to build herself back up into a better person and then find her own way to get back her powers? Why didn’t we ever get a true moment where Korra put her head up and decided to deal with her current situation directly? Why did the solution to her problem literally have to come to her instead of her seeking it out for herself?
There’s not a single adequate answer to any of these questions, which indicates either carelessness or negligence. In spite of Mr. Konietzko’s self-proclaimed reputation as a jerk, I highly doubt he and Mr. DiMartino would be this thoughtless on purpose. In fact, my knee-jerk reaction to his color theory rant was, “Good Golly, no wonder they didn’t have time to fix the scripts! They were too busy making sure the dimples on every character’s butt was the right skin tone!”
So, yes, Mr. Konietzko. Art is hard. Even within the confines of the entertainment industry, it is an essentially thankless endeavor that satisfies an urge that most people couldn’t possibly understand; your attempts to educate them on the creative and physically struggles can only do so much to answer the question of why you even bother. As an audience member, I am indifferent to your trails. As a fellow artist, I have no use for your whiny, self-righteous ignorance.
As Werner Herzog once said, “Quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you have to, but stop whining and get back to work.”
Better yet, as you once said, regarding you and Mr. DiMartino, “We have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Deal with it!
P.S. In regards to the image that started this whole mess, I saw it when it was first posted, and I figured the washed-out colors were the result of either the lighting situation in the scene or the quality of the camera phone. As a person of color (God, I hate that term…), I found the concern genuine, but the reaction overblown. I’m not even sure Mr. Konietzko and Mr. DiMartino truly understand the power they have right now…