The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Role of the Artist

           Within the last week, I read an interview of Jake Gyllenhall.  He said his father had always told him that the job of an artist was to "disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed."

           That idea really struck a chord. 

          Many of the books and paintings and films I have fallen in love with have shaken me.  They have left me with my mouth gaping open, in amazement or shock or perhaps anguish.

           One of my all-time favorite novels is Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted.  It is certainly disturbing--not for the weak-kneed, especially one of the earlier "stories" entitled "Guts."  But the premise of the book is mind-boggling:  a group of people go to a 3-month writing retreat where they are isolated from any outside contact.  All the writers are hiding in some way, and they soon find out that unless they start doing things to each other, they will never churn out any decent writing.

photo by F. Sigorski--Part One

         I think of pieces of music like "Strange Fruit."  It was meant to sicken, disgust, and enrage. 

photo of Billie Holiday by "My camera'" My camera! My Kingdom for a camera!"

         I think of movies like Into the Wild.  The end was so slammingly sad...

         I think of songs like "Crazy" by Brett Dennen.  It makes me bounce around when everything else fails...
         How have books and films and music "disturbed" you?  How has art comforted you?


  1. Oh, love this. I don't have a favorite book, but the most significant one in my life without question is Lord of the Flies. I read it in high school, and before then I didn't know about symbolism. I was amazed. It was like suddenly being able to see a brand new color in the world that I hadn't known about before. So many possibilities. Of course it's a very disturbing book but beautiful, too. And it eventually got me to major in English. Which might also be disturbing....

  2. My favorite book is, I Know This Much is True; it's a page turner. I also liked Grace Eventually by Anne Lamott

  3. Wally Lamb is the author of I Know This Much is True.

  4. Right off the top of my head, I'd have to say the movie that disturbed me the most was Easy Rider. I saw it my senior year in high school. I was very much a "good girl" and so although I didn't approve of the lifestyles of the Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper characters, I was shocked, disturbed, angered, etc. by the senseless killing of them at the end of the movie. (obviously! Or I wouldn't still think about it all these years later!)

  5. That quote by JG is new to me. Interesting! It is odd how things touch us, and at different times in our lives. As a kid, I was haunted by a black & white movie called "The Brain that Wouldn't Die." I had nightmares for weeks; as an adult, slasher films bother me on every level. I cannot watch them. Books? As a kid -- Flowers for Algernon, and Go Ask Alice, the classic cautionary tale for teens back in the '70s. As an adult, Sophie's Choice knocked me flat. To have to choose between one's children, knowing you are marking one for death, is incomprehensible. Nightmare time. My heart aches and breaks whenever I think of that movie.

  6. Lisa--"Flowers for Algernon" was one of my favorite as a "tween" and your mention of "Go Ask Alice" brought back a flood of memories, too,

    "Sophie's Choice" IS heart-wrenching. How could someone survive after making that decision?

  7. The JG quote is interesting. Art is really about transporting, so it would make sense to take one from point A (comfort or being disturbed) to point B (being disturbed or comfortable). I loved Into the Wild (enjoyed the movie more than the book; James Franco's performance was awesome). And Brett Dennen? I first heard him on the radio singing a post-Katrina song that was so heartfelt. I'm glad he's out there saying what needs to be said.

  8. I am a huge fan of Chuck Palahniuk and guts gave me the chills... I read it out loud to my husband and he made me stop... then I read the epilogue and everything made sense. His books are the ones that had shaken me the most (survivor, haunted, choke). Movies? oh so many! The most recent was The Lovely Bones (in to the wild was great as well) Songs? I put a spell on you (Nina Simone has THE voice for that).

  9. Tammy--I loved Lord of the Flies, too. Quite disturbing.

    Linda--I read Lamb's first book (the title is eluding me right now). He very convincingly gets into the head of women.

    Katie--I only know Crazy by Brett Dennen, but from what you said, I need to check him out in depth.

    OJ--I loved Choke too. How can one person write such twisted pieces? I agree about the epilogue for Haunted...You read it, and cannot believe that stuff is true. Truth IS stranger than fiction.


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