Learning to Think Critically in Art

I’ve been sending you a lot of messages about movies (and by extension art), I guess I’m just trying to find the best way of approaching these mediums. Game criticism and analysis is a lot more scientific in nature, but with movies, it’s difficult settling on an opinion because there are both compelling pieces both for and against a given work.

Film critique can be very analytical and precise. I learned a bit about it in college, and obviously you have Every Frame a Painting demonstrating it on youtube.
Like I heard this one story from my storytelling teacher, about how he had a student who dismissed 101 dalmatians, claiming it was simple, and you knew from the first scene that Cruella was going to steal those puppies. His counter was that yeah, because they beat you over the head with it by including all these different types of messaging about the type of person Cruella is.

First thing, you have a muted background, with Cruella’s car being bright red and driving like a madman, Perdita calls her, “that devil woman”, Roger indicates how he’s not willing to stand up to her directly by going into the attic to play music about her, the song mentions a spider and she’s framed in silhouette in the door like a spider. She doesn’t allow the door to be opened, but instead bursts in, then takes up residence in the rectangle near the center of the screen framed by the orange curtain, taking up the majority of the screen, only occasionally moving out of it to do things like snub her cigarette in Anita’s cupcake, or blow evil looking green smoke on the painting of the dalmatians. Cruella owns the scene, pushing everyone else out of it and making it extremely clear she’s going to do rude or evil shit to everyone.

These are all things that were carefully considered and set up in the shot, and that is in a way scientific. The rules of game design aren’t about telling people what kind of game to make, they’re about showing people the way to make the game they want the most interesting it can be, in a very similar way to designing shot compositions, or expressions of character in a film.

I don’t have any sort of metric or criteria as simple or unambiguous as depth for a film, that can be evaluated as close to objectively, but there’s a lot of stuff you can be precise about in conventional artistic criticism.

Just don’t ask me about music.

It’s like, who to listen to? I suppose you can settle on your own opinion, but there’s always that niggling thought that you might be wrong for whatever reason. But that w/e reason is always hard to pinpoint, because none of this stuff is fact or observable theory like in science or game criticism. So for someone who’s not particularly egotistical or narcissistic, and believes in rational thought and the scientific method, it’s maddening to approach film criticism.

Listen to what makes sense. I didn’t come into evaluating games with a scientific approach. I didn’t know what a scientific approach was. That’s something I had to find on my own through research, trial, and error. Believe in yourself and change your mind when appropriate. A lot of people say I’m close-minded, so of course they’re surprised when I change my mind or admit I’m wrong. I believe what I do because I think it’s the most appropriate thing to believe, and if I didn’t, then I’d believe something else. I know what it’s like to get caught in a state of cognitive dissonance, where I think I believe one thing, but I realize that it can’t really work that way. So I try to stay honest. Even if I seem attached to my beliefs, they’re things I’ve arrived at for a reason and I’m not against changing them to suit what’s true.

I learned the 12 fundamental principles of animation through Richard Williams’ book, The Animator’s Survival Kit, which is a really technical guide to how to animate in general. That, as well as a rejection of anime style and a desire to go realistic spurred on by Gone With the Blast Wave, drove me to learn a lot about how to draw. And they served as a basis for my investigations into games. There has to be fundamental principles of some kind for any sort of entertainment media, there has to be something that makes it tick that is common to the purpose of the media universally, and which iterates itself to suit genres within the media.

Good art criticism can recognize why something is put together the way it is, why it works to create the appeal that it does, when something fails to live up to that, and how it can achieve its goal, or adopt a goal that would lead to appeal.

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