There's this Canadian business management guru named Henry Mintzberg. I came across something he apparently said or wrote last night at my son Whitaker's Junior ROTC awards ceremony (hats off to Whit for winning "Most Spirited" male cadet, second semester):
Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it.
I like this quote. One might imagine that it would play well in a military context. As I sat there with my wife, we immediately paraphrased it:
Art-making, like swimming, cannot be learned by writing about it.
Which I like even better than Mintzberg's original line. But I hesitate to apply it to my next motivational poster because 1) I'm not sure if it's actually true or not, and 2) the line itself, like swimming, may be all wet.
I have learned a great deal about making movies by actually making movies. Likewise, writing and thinking and talking about film (and in particular, great films) has helped, too. So I do think that the art critic can actually know some things about the art he writes about...just not enough about it. Likewise, the art-maker who eschews criticism hasn't learned enough.
But to the observation itself...beyond the metaphor...should one even be compelled to "learn" about his craft. Be that craft leadership, filmmaking, baseball, or parenting, should we even want to "learn" it...which ultimately implies mastery and objective, good-bad, criteria for the pursuit.
I mean, if all films are equally "good," what is the point in learning how to make them?
I come down on the side of real, objective, good-bad standards for art (and parenting). And I am consumed with mastery of those standards as they apply to film. This is why I only pursue work that promises to challenge and improve me as a filmmaker. This is why I do actually read and write and talk about films critically, as I also roll up my sleeves and make films as often and as consistently as I can.
So here goes, my aphorism of the day, as inspired by Henry Mintzberg and the Wade Hampton High School Junior ROTC:
Filmmaking is an art and craft that should be learned to be practiced well. The finest filmmakers actually make films. But they also read and write about them, too.
Gotta work on making that pithier.