Harrison Middleton University

HMU Film Series

HMU Film Series

We’re excited that you’ve joined the conversation! At HMU, we want to continue the great authors’ conversations in a contemporary context, and this blog will help us do that. We look back to Aristotle and the early philosophers who used reason and discourse to gain wisdom and now we endeavor to do the same every day.


March 17, 2023

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

“[P]erhaps art is not, we might speculate, in the product itself, nor necessarily in the process, but in the impulse.” – Brian Christian from The Most Human Human

HMU recently wrapped up the Winter Film Series, which focused on the great idea of art. Discussions centered around three films: Black Swan (2010, directed by Darren Aronofsky), The Piano (1993, directed by Jane Campion), and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019, directed by Céline Sciamma). As expected, HMU Tutor Gary Schoepfel selected excellent films for discussion and also asked intriguing questions.

To begin each session, we focused on several quotes about the nature of art. Each quote concentrated on such things as: the artist as an original source, or the idea that art is a form of concealment, or the difference between artist and subject, etc. For example, perhaps artists desire deep exploration of an idea. Then, if the artist intends to communicate their exploration, how do they achieve this? How might the artist recreate a subject using their own experience, and then be able to transmit their personal experience to others? What does art communicate: emotion, the artist’s feelings about a topic, the subject itself, or something else? How might art communicate?

These questions fall in line with one of the quotes used for discussion:

“Well   if you make a painting of a violin and you leave out the violin someone will inevitably call it ugly. But if is the absence of the violin that makes it a painting of a violin   then something interesting has been accomplished. A violin is just a violin unless it becomes a feeling and if you paint it it becomes a feeling too   it ceases to be a thing then    a painting is never the thing that it is a painting of    it is a feeling about that thing    and so a painting of a violin without a violin in it can still be a painting of a violin and even a good one   it may not be traditional but it is true none the less” (Marty Martin from his play Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein).

In other words, emotion must be represented in a way that the artist deems fit, even if it seems nonsensical at first glance.

For instance, in Black Swan the ballerina, Nina, literally learns to lose control as she becomes the black swan. Nina’s technically proficient dancing has not reached the height of art that the instructor wants because she does not understand expressions of the dark and mysterious. The film indicates that mastering technique is only the first step toward artistry, true art begins with interpretation, not just skill. In achieving her goal Nina unfortunately loses herself, which indicates that sometimes pursuit of artistic truth may also consume the artist.

In The Piano, however, Ada uses sign language and piano-playing to communicate. This film centers on how art can communicate (or miscommunicate) when language fails. Normally stiff and reserved, Ada’s passion is visible when playing piano. She loosens and flows, passionately connected to and listening to the music. The physical changes in her body represent a form of communication, which affects everyone around her differently. Some claim that her music is unnatural, perhaps because she shows too much emotion. Whatever can be said about music, however, it clearly speaks to everyone in the film, which indicates a universal appreciation of music.

The final film in our series, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, involved a female portrait painter. It explores the difference between actually seeing your subject and merely looking at it. Sight involves intimacy and knowledge. The film’s rich colors and textures make it feel as if the audience is also in the painting. Characters slowly evolve, literally drawing the portraits of women whose surface shows only control. The film implies that true vision, true insight, is philosophical and not merely aesthetic. It delves into topics of desire, love, passion, femininity, loneliness, longing, art, equality and much more.

Taken as a whole, these films allow one to enter the world of art from three different perspectives. Quotes added depth to each discussion. Though we received and discussed several, only a few are provided below. Thanks to Gary Schoepfel for leading and also to the whole group for such excellent participation. Check the HMU events page for information on upcoming events. Our events are available to students, staff, friends, and public.

Art Quotes:

“Genius (1) is a talent for procuding that for which no definite rule can be given, and not an aptitude in the way of cleverness for what can be learned according to some rule; and…consequently originality must be its primary property. (2) Since there may also be original nonsense, its products must at the same time be models, that is, be exemplary; and consequently, though not themselves derived from imitation, they must serve that purpose for others, that is, as a standard or rule of estimating…Where an author owes a product to his genius, he does not himself know how the ideas for it have entered into his head, nor has he it in his power to invent the like at pleasure, or methodically, and communicate the same to others in such precepts as would put them in a position to produce similar products.” – Immanuel Kant

“Every kind of art is beautiful, as all life is beautiful, and for much the same reason: that it embodies sentience, from the most elementary sense of vitality, individual being and continuity, to the full expansion of human perception, human love and hate, triumph and misery, enlightenment, wisdom.” – Susanne Langer

“The effect of the work of art upon the person who enjoys it is an experience different in kind from any experience not art. It may be formed out of one emotion, or may be a combination of several; and various feelings, inhering for the writer in particular words or phrases or images, may be added to compose the final result. Or great poetry may be made without the direct use of any emotion whatever: composed out of feelings solely…It is not the ‘greatness,’ the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the fusion takes place, that counts.” – T. S. Eliot

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