The Most Important Thing I Learned About Art I Learned from a Children’s Movie

Recently, it seems like some of the most profound life lessons come from children’s movies. Toy Story 3 teaches us how to embrace the future without forgetting the past. Fantastic Mr. Fox is about family and learning who you are. Up is about how to experience life and find the adventure in the everyday.

I watched Ratatouille for the first time a few months ago and while it’s an adorable story about a rat who is an incredible chef, it also taught me something more. I’m already on record for being an adoring fan and sharing what it taught me about criticism but it taught me the purpose of art.

There is a scene towards the end of the movie where Remy, our rat-chef protagonist, must cook for the feared food critic Anton Ego. Remy chooses to make ratatouille, a simple dish and strange choice to serve your biggest critic. When Anton takes his first bite, the entire staff waits in fear for his response. That bite takes Anton Ego back to his childhood when his mother would make him ratatouille. It made him feel something.

It was in that moment that is all made sense to me. This is why we do what we do. It’s not to show off skills or to produce a slick piece of work. You can’t put metrics on art. You can’t force it through data. People are illogical and emotional beings. The most important works of art are those that connect with the audience on a deeper level. It moves them and changes them. “Sometimes the truth of a thing is not so much in the think of it,” said Stanley Kubrick, “but in the feel of it.”

Connect with your audience. Move them. It’s not enough to just present them with something pretty and well constructed. You need to make them feel.

In many ways the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and theirselves to our judgement. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read, but the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

But there are times when a critic truly risks something. And that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night I experienced something new. An extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core.

In the past, I have made no secret of my distain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto “Anyone can cook,” but I realize only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.

Leave it to a Pixar film—an animated movie, a cartoon—to get me thinking about the relationship between artist and critic and even more, the content that fills this blog. Because in many ways, that’s what I do here. Somewhere along the way I’ve taken on the role of the critic—linking to someone else’s work but offering my thoughts on it.

Who do I think I am? Does having a blog that a lot of people read everyday somehow give me permission to offer up my critique of another artist’s work? “Does everything need to be dissected?” Frank Chimero asked in a recent post on his blog, “Doesn’t dissecting kill things that used to be alive?” The first time I read those words I nearly leapt out of my seat in excitement. I ran downstairs to find someone to share it with because it so deeply resonated with how I feel.

Is that how I want to spend my time—sitting around dissecting everyone else’s art? Killing things that used to be alive? That’s easy to do. Like Anton Ego states: the critic risks little. A critic thinks she somehow sits above the rest of us. A critic doesn’t have to do something new. A critic doesn’t face the resistance. A critic doesn’t have to worry about a little voice in his head telling him no one will like his work.

I’ve gotten too comfortable in the role of the critic. I find myself all too often dissecting the media I come across perhaps erasing it of what made it beautiful in the first place. So I feel like this blog is changing. I need to remind myself I’m an artist first, not a critic. I want to spend my time creating my own meaningful body of work instead, pushing forward, seeking the new instead of critiquing the brave few who are already doing it. I still want to share the things I find that make me excited but I don’t want that to be the focus. I want to start producing and sharing more original content again. I want to be friends with the new.

Anyone can have a blog critiquing and dissecting other people’s work. But work I produce, that can’t be found anywhere else. And that’s what makes this blog mine. 

A great behind the scenes look at Pixar’s latest short Day & Night. I saw Toy Story 3 yesterday and Day & Night played before it and it was just brilliant. So, so good.

So was Toy Story.

Wired has a great piece on what went into making Pixar’s Toy Story 3. You could really substitute any Pixar film in here as from what I understand, they follow a typical pattern. I’ve been fascinated with Pixar’s creative process for some time now and their ability to continually produce smash hits is mind boggling.

Wired has a great piece on what went into making Pixar’s Toy Story 3. You could really substitute any Pixar film in here as from what I understand, they follow a typical pattern. I’ve been fascinated with Pixar’s creative process for some time now and their ability to continually produce smash hits is mind boggling.