The 2019/20 film “Awards Season” voting is now over, so I thought I’d state my biggest pet peeve about the process. We tend to give awards based on how difficult we think it would be for us to have created the work in question, rather than how difficult it would be for a highly skilled person in the relevant craft to have done the work. I’ll say it another way: There are lots of painters who are skilled enough to accurately reproduce what they see. That is pure technique at a high level, but it isn’t as rare as most people think. What is truly rare is technique that produces an image that is deeply evocative, that raises interesting questions, that compels us to take it in again and again because we get something at least a little different from it each time we experience it. That is technique becoming art, and it represents a level of “difficulty” a notch higher than top notch craftsmanship does.
I think we’re all familiar with the painting above on the left. The painter possessed a high level of craft, but he was driven to do something unexpected with it. The painting on the right represents a high level of technique, but it isn’t one you would look at more than once unless the guy was somebody you knew.
When I hear Oscar voters, for example, saying things like “Wow, that job must have been so difficult, it’s definitely Oscar-worthy,” I wince. It’s all difficult. But surely we don’t hand out Oscars as if they were for high dives in the Olympics, or for 50K road races. The Oscars should be for something richer than endurance, more ground-breaking than mere technical virtuosity.
We should be giving awards to imagination rather than technical prowess. I’m not suggesting that the only real art is abstract or weird, but I am suggesting that it has to be something in addition to simply difficult.