“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” ― Pablo Picasso
Earlier this month, I was downtown Austin, Texas after spending a weekend at SXSW. Our panel presented on Monday, but my flight was scheduled for Tuesday. The timing provided plenty of opportunity to explore new experiences. I decided to go see the SXSW Film Festival premiere of The Retrieval by Director/Screenwriter, Chris Eska.
The film was set on the outskirts of the Civil War. And the story centers on a young boy who is sent north by a bounty hunter gang to retrieve a wanted man. The story was captivating, fascinating, and timeless. I enjoyed being thoroughly drawn into it.
As a writer, I found even more delight in the Q&A session with the writer/director following the film. Hearing how the story came together in his mind brought such wonder to me. He discussed the moment when the idea was conceived, his decision to set the story during the Civil War, the debate about which ending to use, and what he referred to as “the most beautiful portrayal of true love he could imagine.” Hearing the artist recount the creation of the story and the production of it on a limited budget brought with it greater appreciation for both the story and the art of film.
Last week, I sat next to John Bucher in a hotel meeting room in St. Louis. The afternoon before, John had shared with me a copy of his group’s new graphic novel, The High Cost of Happily Ever After written by Jim Krueger containing the artwork of Zach Brunner.
I had read a few comic books when I was a kid, but never did get into the hobby. In fact, I hadn’t picked up a comic book in over 20 years. I was even a bit hesitant to have one handed to me. But I’m a big fan of John and committed to reading it. Again, upon entering the story, I was drawn into its representation of commitment, love, and sacrifice. I found it to be a fairy tale for people who no longer believe in them (and for those who do).
The following day, I asked John to further explain to me the art form of graphic novels and comic books. He helped me understand the choice of poetry, dialogue, and specific words that were employed. He explained the use of 6-panel pages and 1-panel pages and the different emotions they hoped to stir through them. We talked risk, reward, and art. And I began to appreciate for the first time the beauty and intentionality of telling stories through this incredibly impressive form of art.
Last December, the New York Times published an interview with Jerry Seinfeld on the art of writing jokes. The specific joke he recounts writing is a story about discovering pop-tarts as a breakfast food… and as he admits, two years is a long time to spend writing a joke about breakfast food.
But I found his process of writing and fine-tuning the joke to be nothing short of true artistic genius. In the interview, Jerry discusses writing out the joke longhand with a pen and legal-sized paper. He discusses the strategy of set-up, timing, and laugh lines. At one point, he even recounts limiting the number of syllables in a transition so he can get to a punch-line quicker. It was fascinating to watch the creative process take place. Throughout the interview, I began to appreciate even more the art of stand-up comedy and the joy it can bring to our world. People, do indeed, love to laugh.
Looking back, I am thankful to have enjoyed three specific, unrelated conversations that have introduced me in greater detail to new forms of art. Through each of them, I have been reminded there is great beauty and appreciation still to be discovered in our world. And sometimes, the quickest way to find it, is to open our mind, heart, and soul to new expressions of art.