Sunday, June 22, 2008

Angelina Might Need to Rethink That

The world's most famous mommy, Angelina Jolie, has stepped on a few maternal toes, including mine, with her remarks in Vanity Fair about why the children of actors often become actors. It's not about nepotism, she claimed:
Artists raise their kids differently...We communicate to the point where we probably annoy our children. We have art around the house, we have books, we go to plays, we talk. Our focus is art and painting and dress-up and singing. It's what we love. So I think you can see how artists in some way raise other artists.

Whatever. I'm not here to join the indignant mob of non-acting parents who resent the sugggestion that they are not cultured enough to surround their children with books and music and art, and who are not artistically-minded enough to actually talk to their children. Nor do I care whether she wants to own up to Hollywood nepotism.

But what does intrigue me is that Angelina considers what she does for a living to be Art--and that, of course, makes me wonder: Is acting an art? or is it a craft? Does it depend on the production? What is Art? Is it different from Craft? Is blogging an art? Am I an artist?

This definition of art from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is comprehensive and academic; the further I read in this article, the more I realized my own ignorance of philosophy and philosophical argument. For example, this little bit made me giggle:

Grasped perceptually, artworks present only an appearance of an appearance of what is really real.

I don't think Plato was aiming for housewife humor when he discussed the definition of art in his Republic.

This Wikipedia article discussing the philosophical concept of art is closer to my intellectual grasp. It covers various attempts to define art, as the Stanford article does, but with fewer syllables. It also covers the relationship between utility and art, and classification disputes--which is exactly where Angelina's comments bring us.

I don't know whether acting is art or not. I suspect that sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. This crafty blogger articulately suggests that art and craft cannot be separated, but that they are "specific aspects of all creative work." Craft, she suggests, has more to do with learned technique, whereas the emphasis of art is personal expression.

I'll give AJ credit for a certain amount of artistry in her field. But I submit that there is a continuum of artsiness, and all of us fall on the continuum somewhere. I don't buy the snobbish dichotomy that Angie posits between artists and non-artists. And I think its supremely arrogant to claim parenting superiority based on what you do for a living--especially when your success is due in large part to genetics.

It's acting, darling. Acting is somewhere on the artistic continuum, for sure--but let's be real. It's not writing Moby Dick. It's not painting the Sistine chapel, or sculpting The Thinker. So it's a stretch to presume that because you're an actor, you raise your kids differently than the rest of us.

OK, I guess I am joining the mob after all. Huh. I didn't see that coming.


Terri B. said...

Love the quote from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy!

E. Peevie said...

Thanks. I thought it was great, too.

corduroy said...

ooh..this is good. Is acting art? I think art is whatever our culture defines as art.

This reminds me of something I often recall from a favorite prof of mine who's specialty was literary criticism. He had a dictum that went something like this: Meaning is determined by usage.

He was talking about how to determine the meaning of a word used in a text.

I know this seems too simple but it's SO simple it's overlooked. He was trying to teach us to determine the meaning of a particular word from a piece of literature you can rely on - in fact the ONLY thing you can rely on is - how the author used it elsewhere (and/or how it was used in other contemporaneous literature).

We quickly learned the meaning of a word could change over time.

And we got in trouble for always relying on a lexicon to find the meaning! (But the good lexicons always based meaning supplied by usage stats.)

So yesterday's entry reminds me of that. Whatever we call art is art. Not necessarily what the big heavy books call it. And E Peevie just as you discovered (like all good stories come full circle) you defined art with the same authority as AJ did!

I just watched Pride and Prejudice (the 2006 version) last night and was struck with Donald Sutherland's and Judi Dench's performances. Talk about artists...those two are true living artists if I may be so bold to say!

E. Peevie said...


Re: meaning and usage: You will love Language Log ( if you haven't already started loving it.

corduroy said...

Hey thanks, that is a great site! I think I may enjoy reading the Bushism entries the most - despite what the guy said...highlighting Bushisms may be akin to making wheelchair jokes of FDR. Nah. Making fun of Bush's speech just seems like the right thing to do!)

nicole said...

I was discussing this with my sister. She had a great point . . maybe being an actor/artist (as she thinks of herself) puts her so out of normal life, she has no clue what real people actually do. That her self centerdness makes her unaware of how the rest of us live. Maybe to an extent, in her world, what she does is art. I know it doesn't make her a better parent.

E. Peevie said...

Out of touch is right. Not so much because of her job--there are plenty of actors, musicians, artists that are not out of touch with real life for most people--but because of her money and lifestyle.

That said, I'm hoping that some of the commentary trickles back to her and she gains a little awareness of her own isolated-ness and, well, lack of awareness of how real people live.

corduroy said...

okay...I actually went back and read the VF article. Here's what I don't get, granted I know very little about her.

How is she self centered (any more than the rest of us)?

And right, I imagine the fame and fortune that this woman has achieved would cause anyone to be "out of touch" with the rest us peasants.

For the heck of it, I googlged "angelina jolie charity" and it seems just the opposite of one thing said. It appears she's using her money and lifestyle (read fame) for almost seems she's doing this to stay "in touch" with reality. Or what other motive could it be?

Maybe you meant she is simply out of touch with parenting...which you can't knock her too much for that. I feel like I'm out of touch with parenting about 6:00am to 7:00pm on a daily basis!

E. Peevie said...

Corduroy--I can't speak to the self-centeredness issue, but as far as AJ's out-of-touchness goes, what I'm referring to is that she's out of touch with how most non-bazillionaire parents in the US parent their children.

We DO make sure they have books and art and music as part of their normal lives, whether we make our living as "artists" or not. It's out of touch of her not to know that.

I'm totally not dissing her as a philanthropist and good will ambassador around issues of third world poverty. She obviously does try to use her fame and fortune to make a difference in that arena, and God bless her for that.