why we make art
half journal post, half review of an animated short film
I watched a screening of all oscar-nominated animated short films a few weekends ago, and wow that was nice. one of them was Ice Merchants, and I’m kind of obsessed with that movie. the visuals were so beautiful. the story really gripped me. it was showing a life of routine, of comfort, but also a life of love? and coziness? and just like, the tenuousness of existence? all of which are things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: home, routine, loving what you do, and how fragile all of those things are in the face of a violent and cold universe.
Ice Merchants is about a father and a son who live in a house that’s like, attached to the side of a cliff, and they seem to be miles up in the sky. being so high up, it’s really cold, and this allows them to freeze water, and every day they bring the frozen water—a bunch of ice cubes—down to the city where they exchange the ice cubes for money. and they get all the way down by parachute. they do this same thing every day. jump down by parachute, sell the ice, come back up via this lift contraption thing, and then pour a bucket of water into their ice container so that it freezes again by the next day.
the kid in the story has a little swing. and the swing protrudes out, so when he’s swinging, the literal city is miles under him. what a captivating image. it got me thinking a little. like, that kid is used to being on a swing that is miles in the sky. the kid is not particularly afraid because this is just what he knows. he has never had trouble with the swing or being so high up, his body has not learned any reason to be worried.
aren’t we the exact same way? none of us realize how tenuous our existence is. if we had a clear idea of how many dangers there are lurking in the shadows, how high up in the sky we are, we would also be scared all the time. some of us really are scared all the time. but that’s not the way to function! you can see that the kid gets by totally fine without being constantly frozen in fear! there’s a wisdom in willful ignorance of all the possible ways things could go wrong.
the story had me thinking about why we make art in the first place. we make it to capture our world, to make sense of it in some way, and to give that piece of the world to each other. we want to make sense of what we experience and share it. this is a deeply human activity. art is a kind of mirror of the world.
but when making art, we don’t necessarily want to be as accurate as possible. well, we do want to be “accurate”, but not necessarily in the default way people interpret the word “accurate”. the drawing of the kid swinging above the city is an “accurate” portrayal of the tenuousness of existence in a way that saying “oh man our existence is so tenuous haha” never will be. it’s more true to the feeling itself. it evokes the real feeling.
in science and philosophy we chase after a slightly different kind of accuracy but I think it’s fundamentally the same thing: they’re all attempts to grapple with the world, to capture it, to share it with others. the most distinctively human impulse is the impulse to consume and create culture. I know it sounds abstract but I really do think this is why I read textbooks and write poems and doodle on index cards. it is an act of love. I want to capture what I see and feel—the beauty of it, the joy of it, but also the pain and the sadness of it—and I want to share that with you, I want you to experience what I’m experiencing. I want to bottle up the world and give it to you to keep.
PS you can watch Ice Merchants here, I hope you enjoy it and I hope it wins the oscar tonight lol
PPS speaking of art and creativity, I’m hosting a virtual salon on ~ creative blocks ~ with my brilliant writer friends Isabel (@isabelunraveled) and Sherry (@SchrodingrsBrat), would love to have you there! thursday evening, tickets here :)
Yesss. This resonates a lot. Especially as I've been thinking about how creating art is also about cultivating freedom....and challenging the idea that there are right or wrong ways to be.
Related: Stephen King in his writing memoir talks about how we shouldn't obsess over finding the right words when writing, because human communication is wrought with grammatical flaws and no one speaks with perfectly punctuated sentences. Art is a reflection of life, and the intricacies that make it so rich
I really loved this short film, thank you for sharing!