Balancing Art with Artist Intent

As people who watch films, listen to music, and read books, we are constant consumers of art. As students and critical thinkers, we not only consume, but analyze this art. Something that I’ve noticed is that when critiquing a film, I often wonder about intent.

Instead of only analyzing my reaction to a scene, I’ll wonder if my reaction was intended by the filmmaker, and whether or not that matters. An example of this is Chiraq: I had a poor reaction to the film at first, especially to the way Lee seemed to be depicting gender relations / roles within communities of color. If Lee’s intent was to provoke an adverse reaction in order to get his audience to think critically about black communities, then one could argue that the film succeeded. However, if this wasn’t Lee’s intent, our opinion on the film changes.

This is interesting because an director’s intent can only be seen indirectly, unless they communicate it outside of the film. I feel that for Lee’s film’s especially, it is hard to tell which of my reactions were intended, and which were not. Therefore, as viewers I feel like we often have to choose whether or not to take the perceived intent into account, or not.

I’ve noticed this in works other than Lee’s. For example, a season or two ago in Game of Thrones, there was an episode that contained a scene of sexual assault. Viewers were taken by surprise because it was starkly out of character for the perpetrator given his previous arc. The next episode, the two characters carried on, interacting with each other as they had before the incident, and the show runners later stated that they never meant the scene to be read as sexual assault. In these cases, do we as the audience go along with what we’ve seen? Or what we know the artist intent to be?

One thought on “Balancing Art with Artist Intent”

  1. Another idea that arose for me while reading this post was how Lee often exploits places and identities in films to get his point across or to invoke certain emotions in the consumer. More specifically thinking about the roles that women play in his films and how he upholds and perpetuates the stereotypes of women of color in his films instead of creating more ground breaking a typical women of color characters. Some say spike is a sell out for this. Do you think spike is selling out in this aspect?


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