Art and Ebert
Today we lost film critic Roger Ebert. Even seeing myself type those words seems quite odd to me, a product of our times perhaps, in that film and television now play such a significant role in our lives and our culture. Just this evening I was bantering with a friend on Facebook, as I commented on a selfie he shot while at the dentist, him looking the spitting image of the Terminator character in the film of the same name. We traded lines from the film back and forth, fodder from my long train ride home.
But while it may be easy to dismiss film as a superfluous first world time-waster, and might seem odd honoring a film critic, it seems this moment warrants an extra pause of thought. Roger Ebert brought something to film—this contemporary medium of art—that, at its best, serves as an art form that is a brilliant reflection of our humanity (and at its worst it’s an embarrassing waste of time and money, not to mention demeaning to humanity.) Then again, what art form doesn’t represent both these extremes?
I’m probably an odd one to be writing about film or film critics, as I’m not one to see every movie that comes out, and rarely watch television these days. I write about Mr. Ebert’s passing though because, in our culture, he represented an influential voice of observation, study and reason in what has become one of the most powerful art forms humanity has every wielded. And in western culture, film has arguably become one of the most influential forms of art. And by art, I mean forms of expression of what it means to be human, a tool for communicating the human condition at it’s best and at its worst, at its peak and valleys, its triumphs and tragedies. And in that form, Mr. Ebert was arguably one of the most influential voices not only in communicating what is good and bad (at best, a subjective exercise), but perhaps more importantly guiding us in how we ought to engage this most prolific and powerful medium of art.
After some time now of pursuing, exploring, and experiencing art, I have come to realize that it bears the power and potential to bring humanity together in ways possible through no other means. The writer Ernst Fischer reasoned that one of the great possibilities of art is to show us our connection to a greater human reality, one that we all belong to, or at least want to belong to. Through great art we can relate to the human condition in ways nothing else can deliver. At its best, film has become one of the most powerful mediums of art in our culture. It’s important though that engaging this form of art—as in every form—doesn’t devolve into a passive activity, one in which we seek it only for escape. Rather, great art should provoke us to action, to change us, to move us forward. When executed well, it surely can do this as few other things can.
Having sherpas like Ebert to guide us, even at times carry us through the process of learning how to view this medium of art is important, more than many of us know. I’m certain those close to Mr. Ebert feel a great loss in his passing. Like anyone truly influential though, his passing represents a loss to the rest of us. I only hope other talented individuals will step into the gap created in his absence, guides that continue to show us the way through this and all other forms of art. I truly believe our humanity depends on it.