The Mona Lisa is not just any painting. This masterpiece, which is on display at the Louvre, is recognized as one of history’s great art masterpieces. For centuries the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile has entranced those who have seen the painting. Who is she? What is she thinking? Her face stands out against the faint background behind her. The lighting, the colours used are all evidence of da Vinci’s genius.
His use of colour is even more impressive, in my own view, in another masterpiece The Last Supper in which the robes of the various disciples are painted in bright and vibrant colours.
Of course different artists use colour and light in different ways. Da Vinci’s style is different from the landscapes of John Constable which are, in their turn very distinct from the soft colourful impressions we see in a Monet. Picasso's use of colour is in a category by itself.
Each artistic genius has his or her own style and his or her own idea of what they want the viewer to experience. They have their inspiration, they imagine and plan it and then set about applying the paint to canvas so as to make their imagination real.
And yet though different, whether the work is by da Vinci, Constable, Monet, Picasso or any other artist, they all have one thing in common.
No one cares what the paint thinks.
This is because the beauty and effect of a painting is as a result of the genius and imagination of the artist. The paint is his or her tool.
The same must be said of actors. Actors act. What they do is not real. They memorize lines written for them by others, and perform those lines in scenes devised by the writers and directors. The words they utter must be done so as to comply with the vision of the director or the producer. If it fails to meet the requirements, it needs to be re-done as many times as it takes. These are called “re-takes”. Some actors are better than others, just as some paints and surfaces are better than others…a painting will look better on a canvas than on a cardboard box, for example.
When a painting is bad, we blame the artist, not the paint. Graffiti is the fault of the vandal, not the spray can or cement wall. So too with movies. When a movie is bad, generally it is the writer, director or producer who is to blame. The actor can truthfully say that he or she simply did as directed.
The same applies to home decoration. My dad was a house painter and I can testify that never once did he ask the paint what colour the trim should be. The drops never cleaned themselves (though I admit that when I try to do windows the paint seems to have a mind of its own) and satisfied customers never complimented the latex on a job well done.
Even the actor’s face as shown on the screen is not real, but the product of the genius of others. Make-up artists win Oscars for how they can make the actor appear, and whether they enhance the vision of the director. Compare Jack Nicholson as Col. Nathan Jessup and as The Joker...that is the vision of the director. The actor’s opinion of the make-up is irrelevant since their function is to advance the goals of the director. Their faces are the workspace of other artists (not to mention plastic surgeons).
As human beings, of course, actors are entitled to their opinions but when they traffic in their celebrity to try and enhance the credibility of their opinions, it is illegitimate. Indeed, their wealth and insulation from the real world make most of them singularly ill-suited to speak on the subjects about which they wish to speak. You would not ask Hal Linden to lecture on forensic investigation techniques just because he played Det. Barney Miller. Yet this is what Jessica Lange did when she testified before the US Congress about the problems in farming because she had played a farm wife in a movie.
Leonardo di Caprio has appointed himself some kind of environmentalist guru despite having no scientific background whatsoever. He speaks at conferences about climate change but goes to these conferences by flying to them on his private jet, and when on vacation relaxes on his giant yacht in the Mediterranean. He scolds us that we have to cut back on our consumption, while having a personal carbon footprint the size of a Sasquatch.
And there was Meryl Streep bravely attacking the yet to be inaugurated US President (imagine the courage it took to attack Donald Trump before a Hollywood audience). And even if it can be said she was emoting in defence of the disabled (she was not, of course-they were merely her foil) she did so while remaining silent about the young disabled Chicago teen whose torture for two days last week was broadcast on Facebook. And she did so while wearing a gown the cost of which would probably have paid for a year of physiotherapy for a platoon of injured Colombian soldiers or a ward of disabled children.
Actors who use their celebrity to traffic for political causes of the left or right need to learn something.
They are paint.
And no one cares what the paint thinks.