Book

ART HISTORY FOR FILMMAKERS

Fairchild Books, Bloomsbury Press 2016 link

“Filmmaking does not exist in an artistic vacuum, and Art History for Filmmakers is a phenomenal book that explores how filmmakers can use the visual arts …” Kira Cook, Editor’s Picks Cinema Thread Magazine | Issue 1 | Winter 2016-17

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“The ancient desire of man to make likenesses of his environment found a new satisfaction when he became able to reproduce movement.”

Rudolph Arnhem  “The thoughts that made the picture move” (1933) essay  in Film As Art, 1957. University of California press

 

Art History For Filmmakers introduces film, and the craft of filmmaking, to the world of visual art. Too often the history of cinema, like much of the language of cinema, comes out of the history of literature. This is surely because since cinema’s earliest days literary adaptation has provided the movies with stories. And so we use literary terms like metaphor, metonymy, synedoche and so on to describe visual things.

 

But there is another way of looking at film, and that is through its relationship with the visual arts, mainly painting,  the oldest of the art forms. The Lascaux cave paintings attest to the earliest human history creation of visual narratives. Cinema is just the fullest realization that that aim to date.

 

So how can we look at cinema within the visual arts? One approach is art history, but traditional histories of art do not discuss cinema. In fact, most books about visual art never talk about cinema at all. Art history can be a hermetic discipline, with quite rigid ideas about what is in and what is not in.

 

Fortunately, the study of cinema is not so bound. From the earliest times, there have been serious and critics who discussed cinema’s relationship to the visual arts.  However, before the student, or the new filmmaker, can embark on using art as a way to visualize a film they want to make, or understand a film they have seen,  they need a brief, yet thorough introduction to the history of art. Most art histories are difficult to use, simply because they are not written in such a way as to be useful to the filmmaker. The categories are often obscure, the techniques discussed are arcane to filmmaking, and the linear approach can be tedious and confusing. Art History For Filmmakers proposes a radical approach to the subject, combining the following:

 

  • An introduction to the key moments in the development of the Western painting and how these became part of the Western visual culture from which cinema emerges;
  • A consideration of painting as representative of different genres, such as horror, sex, violence, realism, fantasy, and so on and how the images in these paintings connect with cinema;

 

The book avoids a cinema-history or film theory approach, and represents art history as a repository of images which are all simultaneously available to the contemporary filmmaker. The book is little concerned with discussing story or character, and is more focused on cinema and visual language and how this is used to drive the story but also to establish mood, atmosphere and style.

 

The book also provides a practical guide to how paintings can be used by filmmakers: to establish period detail, to teach composition, color theory or lighting, to “plug-in” to archetypes present in visual culture and to enrich a filmmaker’s visual language.

 

Film direction, cinematography and production design are all examined here,  under the sobriquet “filmmaking.”  A selection of easy but instructive exercises are suggested in the text, which can be carried out singly or in small teams.

 

Part history book, part manual, part reflection on cinema as a contribution to visual culture,  Art History For Filmmakers should be of use to film students of all specializations, art students seeking to get into filmmaking or production design, and practicing filmmakers who are seeking inspiration from other art forms to visualize their stories.

 

[if you read the book, please feel free to comment or message me]