Arti valorem. It’s a directive, a suggestion, an ideal, something we should all encourage. It’s Latin (according to Google translate) for value art.
Two recent bits of pop culture that struck this chord in me this year were the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! and the….uh….SAG Awards acceptance speech delivered by the cast of Stranger Things. (I know, right?) Let’s start with Hail, Caesar!, a film that I thought was subtly brilliant in its cultural commentary and hilarious in its subtleties.
In the scene featured below, George Clooney’s character — a bona fide movie star named Baird Whitlock (think Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments) — has become disillusioned with the motion picture business. Here he scoffs at the suggestion that the movies he’s been making for years actually have any “artistic value.” He’s promptly put in his place [and repeatedly, hilariously slapped in the face] by Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix, who tells him, adamantly:
“Just like the director does what he does – and the writer and the script girl and the guy who claps the slate – you’re gonna do it because the picture has worth and you have worth if you serve the picture. And you’re never gonna forget that again.”
The film revolves around Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin) trying to clean up other people’s ridiculous messes, all while being courted for a job that would have him making bombs and airplanes instead of movies, a job that would make him a lot more money. But in the end, Eddie chooses to go on serving, in his own way, the inherent value he sees in the art of motion pictures, despite the disheveled and chaotic lives of all the folks involved in making them.
The picture has worth, and you have worth if you serve the picture. It was a message I didn’t quite see coming. And it came, as I said above, in a subtly brilliant way. Also, this scene is so. freaking. funny.
While much of what comes out of Hollywood these days seems to fit snuggly in the category of escapism, even something that feels purely escapist at first glance can have a lot of substance simmering beneath the surface. This was the case, I found, with Netflix’s surprise hit Stranger Things.
The show was a fantastic throwback to everything 1980s. When it won the award for Outstanding Performance in an Ensemble in a Drama Series at the 23rd Annual SAG Awards back in January, one of the show’s lead actors delivered an acceptance speech that gave me chills and moved me to view the show in a whole new light, to think more deeply about the ideas at the heart of the entertainment. The speech is a rousing, impassioned battle cry insisting that art has value and that artists have a purpose: to cultivate a more empathetic and understanding society.
Read this excerpt and then watch + listen to it below:
“This award from you, who take your craft seriously and earnestly believe, like me, that great acting can change the world, is a call to arms from our fellow craftsmen and women to go deeper and, through our art, to battle against fear, self-centeredness, and exclusivity of our predominantly narcissistic culture and, through our craft, to cultivate a more empathetic and understanding society by revealing intimate truths that serve as a forceful reminder to folks that when they feel broken and afraid and tired, they are not alone. We are united in that we are all human beings and we are all together on this horrible, painful, joyous, exciting, and mysterious ride that is being alive. Now, as we act in the continuing narrative of Stranger Things, we 1983 mid-westerners will repel bullies. We will shelter freaks and outcasts, those who have no homes. We will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters. And when we are at a loss amidst the hypocrisy and the casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will, as per Chief Jim Hopper, punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the meek and the disenfranchised and the marginalized. And we will do it all with soul, with heart, and with joy. We thank you for this responsibility. Thank you.”
Art has value. Value it.