An artist's craft

Pablo Picasso as Popeye Retronaut

While I find Picasso's choice of words infelicitous, the basic idea is clear enough when he writes, “We all know that Art is not truth," he says. "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” I actually think the Spanish-language version of this statement is much better: "El arte es una mentira que nos acerca a la verdad." Art is a lie that draws us closer to the truth.

One way, among many, in which it can be said that art is a lie is the way in which it edits life. Artists take the raw data of life and re-arrange it. The manner in which artists re-arrange things and the ends to which these re-arrangements are made are as nearly infinite as the interests and capacities of human beings. If filmmakers were to chime in at this point, they might say, "Editing is everything." And while every constituent role in the production of a film, from writer to casting director to makeup artist, is involved in interpretive-editorial work, there are people's whose specific business it is to edit the whole picture, and I have nothing but immense respect for their work which, when done well, remains largely invisible to the viewer.

If you've been around sports and "college dudes" websites, you've probably run across Devin Graham's work. If you haven't, it can perhaps be explained as videography that combines extreme "hobbies," ridiculously cool-looking people, killer photography, exotic locations and musical selections that will get you jacked up. I usually feel an immediate need to abandon my day job and join a high-end, North Face wilderness club, whenever I watch these things.

But the deceptive thing about Graham's work is how breezy it all looks. How much of a brain do you really need to film your friends doing crazy stuff in gorgeous places? Not much, right? Track it to your favorite tunes and you've got yourself an easy YouTube winner. Let me show you a few "Devin Super Tramp" videos and then qualify my question with a final video. You'll likely need to bear with a few advertisements, but an artist has to make his money somehow. (Getting hired by Ford automobile company helps, but it's more rare than not.)

Alright. If you're not feeling drunk by now on super-coolness, then you've probably been watching these videos with the sound turned off. I mean, c'mon: bronzed bodies, irresistible smiles, perfectly timed high-fives, hot gear, athletic prowess, slo-mo awesomeness? It's c-o-o-l.

If you're feeling visually overwhelmed, then, well, you're probably over 40 years old; alternatively, you're feeling normal.

If you're feeling a little insecure, wondering whether you need to get an upgrade on your friends or whether you should take a real vacation in God's country--earth, land or sea, as the case may be--then you've properly been sucked into the artificial world of art.

If it seems impossible to you how 3 minutes and 47 seconds of seamless TOTAL HAPPINESS can feel either like the most desirable or the most depressing thing in the world, then you may have forgotten Picasso's words.

If you think what Graham does is totally easy or totally fake, then you might benefit from watching this last video. It's a journal of sorts where Graham talks about his process. Even if you think his artistic ambitions are bogus, he deserves respect for the apparently unpretentious way he's gone about his work for years. Only now is he reaping the fruit of many, many hours of honing his craft in the solitary space of his high school bedroom (see here and here for two interviews, from WIRED and Deseret News respectively). And since he went to BYU, I'm guessing he's got pretty decent parents. But that would be speculating and I'd rather you notice the distance from process to final product that we hear about in the video below.


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