These reflections on the principles of art are not at all meant to be exhaustive. They are merely notes to a screenwriter acquaintance — which I thought I’d share with a wider audience — intended to spark interest in a deeper view of storytelling.
I believe some measure of ugliness is necessary to most stories. Stories cannot exist without conflict, and it’s hard to create conflict between two sides that are both perfectly good. So, in movies we need a measure of evil or wrong, and therefore of ugliness, even it’s only that relatively small ugliness which creates conflict in romantic comedies.
However, we must never lose sight of the fact that we are made for beauty. Plato taught that “Beauty is the splendour of the True”, and certainly no one will dispute that we are made for truth — we all seek happiness, and who can find true happiness in lies?
Being an aspect of truth, beauty is not a commodity for our souls; it’s air and food and light. It makes us healthy. Conversely, ugliness hurts and weakens the soul. Too much ugliness can seriously wound the soul, as you know from experience. It can even scar it beyond healing. Therefore, we don’t want to tell our audience a story that, in order to work, needs to inflict too much ugliness on them. That would defeat our purpose as storytellers, which is to entertain people into finding beauty and through it, truth.
So, why do we see so much unnecessary ugliness in stories nowadays? I’m convinced one of the reasons is a quest for originality gone wide astray.
Many people believe that art is an expression of the artist’s individuality. The view that the artist must forget his own ego to let truth shine through him — that’s not fashionable. So we are told we must be original, but instead of looking for the impersonal origin of truth, we try to find originality in what makes us different from others. And alas, too often what makes us different from others is whatever inner wound we suffer from. So in our quest for originality, we create things which are subjective instead of objective, abnormal instead of normal, ugly instead of beautiful. And that passes for art.
I am not an expert in the principles of art I am touching on, yet I must say these things as I can, because they are important, and because too few people are saying them nowadays.
But though few people defend these views now, for millennia they were the way of life for artists everywhere — artists who created objects of such intrinsic beauty that they have outlasted centuries and fashions, and speak to people of all places and times.
Paul the Apostle wrote that:
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
You will point out that the Apostle was not selling scripts to producers and audiences. You are right, he wasn’t. He was selling something even harder to sell — the truth. And he has been successfully selling it for twenty centuries. I guess at the end of the day the truth is the easiest thing to sell, if only we offer it to those who truly want it.
I’ll leave you with a warm greeting; with my sincere admiration and congratulations for the initiative, intelligence and persistence you put into your work; and with a fervent hope that you will make a career out of selling truth in the guise of beautiful stories.