Ratatouille is the latest Disney Pixar extravaganza. It’s about a country rat who finds himself in the kitchen of a high-end Paris restaurant where he helps a floor-cleaning kid become a gourmet cook. It seems the rat has a nose for sophisticated flavours and, while filled with self-doubt, he’s able to engineer some amazing cookery. The film’s theme, “Anybody can cook, but it takes passion to become a great cook,” is refreshingly familiar.
Along with the DVD comes a remarkable interview with writer-director Brad Bird and Thomas Keller, a world-class cook who helped inspire the film. This short documentary explores the harmonics between cooking and film animation. It has valuable insights for all creative people.
Both Keller and Bird say you can’t force creative ideas. You build the creative environments that produce a creative state of mind. Both cook and film director aim at spontaneity. While the cook has half a dozen co-workers, the director has a complex army of writers, story-boarders, animators, musicians and sound people he must inspire on a daily basis for more than two years. “It’s a matter of coaching greatness out of people,” says Bird.
It’s all about commitment. Over and over you hear, “I love finding and exploring new tastes,” “I love copying animal movements,” “I love hitting new standards,” and “I love finding that extra something that makes it more engaging.” Bird admits he’s “enthusiastically demanding.”
What makes some of us better at our work than others? The answer lies not in over-control, or even trying to understand the mystery of the creative process. Each and every player needs to simply try to improve, a little bit here, a little bit there, as it comes. The secret is “tweak.” Further, in both the professional kitchen and the animation theatre there’s a sense of urgency. “Our films are never truly finished,” says Bird. “We just get to stop at our deadline.” Demanding connoisseurs wait in the dining room–just as kids wait at their folks’ plasma TV. These two remarkable art forms, one ancient, one new and beautifully revolutionary, both derive their energy from a sense of urgency. Painters can profit from Ratatouille.
PS: “I love my medium.” (Brad Bird)
Esoterica: Greatest of all is the principle of the outtake. Both filmmaker and cook constantly sample work in progress and remove to the cutting-room floor or the soup. Repetitious, no point of view, no advancement of plot, boring, tasteless, “doesn’t do anything for me,” and “not quite good enough” are a few of the reasons for losing stuff. Great creators get excited about deletion. “It’s not about perfection; it’s about the joy of striving.” (Thomas Keller)
The slow process behind a fast style
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
There was a time when the world was new and I was in the throws of learning this process called ART when I was under the impression that art was created in one stroke. A simple glob of paint added to just the right spot and voila you had it. Of course with time, practice and hundreds of yards of canvas later you come to the realization that it takes time, patience, scraping, wiping out, re-painting, tossing out and maybe a little burning to create a work of art. I no longer slave over the “right” stroke. When it happens as it does when one gains experience and facility over one’s tools and mind, it is magic. Those are the days when painting seems mystical and is created by some inner force completely unrelated to the artist. For years now I spend hours at under painting, re-drawing if needed, wiping off if necessary to re-apply paint that looks like it was the first stroke. I paint until it looks like I dashed it off in an hour. Keeping it fresh (looking) I’ve learned may take weeks, sometime months. I think less about mixing, technique, and just try and do better with each new painting.
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Learned vs. natural talent
by Gaye Adams, Sorrento, BC, Canada
Through the years I have had a lot of students and, as the lights go on, many of them show marked improvement in their work. Some so much so, that I get the sense that they will at some point eclipse me. I’m sure that many of them have. Then there are the students that seem to get caught in a back eddy. They only seem to be able to improve to a point (I’m speaking now about their ability to see color, light, tone, edges, etc). I always, always, tell them there is no escaping the easel time it takes to really get good at this stuff — even so, some only seem able to go so far. It’s like they are stuck. Is seeing like music? i.e., do some just have an artistic tin ear? When pursuing a music degree some years ago, in an ear training class, we were going through the exercise of singing intervals, one at a time, around the room, as the instructor would call out. A young violinist, after being called on, was unable to successfully duplicate any of the intervals being requested. My professor curtly said to him that not only was the violin the worst possible choice of instrument for him, but perhaps he should consider pursuing a business degree. It occurred to me that perhaps it was a mercy. He would be able with time, I’m sure, to develop his ear, but he would probably never be able to develop the perfect pitch that playing a violin requires.
Love maintains motivation
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Your letter once again parallels thoughts that have been occurring to me lately. On the weekend I showed my daughters a portfolio of work from college, around 1978-1983. Most of the work was representational though the gesture paintings and drawings were more abstract, capturing the essence of the object or as my teacher then called the, “thingness.” What I realized was in this work that I saved was a visual representation of the love I had for the process and results. This work stood out because I was in a caring relationship with it, and as one teacher pointed out the object and lover become one. It reminded me why I was so drawn to creating and also reminding me of the magic it generates both visually and internally, as an inspiration and transformation of being. Without the love I think the work can become dull. The love gives the desire for fine attention to the work, caressing it just so. The idea of not forcing the creativity is also critical, allowing the lover as both inspiration and the work, to evolve as artist responds to it. Force is not sustainable in this kind of relationship. It seems to dry the well of creativity.
A critic speaks
by Sandra Jones, NJ, USA
The following is a juror’s quote printed in the brochure at an art show in Philadelphia, PA. What’s your take on it? “Honesty, Originality, and Necessity — these are the qualities I sought in choosing the work in this show. Of course, technical know-how played its part. Honesty is something you don’t hear a lot about when it comes to making art. First and foremost, it is what informs any work worth making. Originality is a given. Necessity is the inner fire that an artist needs to create work that is worthwhile. If the need to create is absent, if making art is a Sunday hobby, stop while you are ahead. You are a fake and worse, a cheat, first and foremost to yourself and second to anyone else who has the misfortune of encountering your “art.” What I rejected was either derivative, amateurish, or a waste of my time and yours, too, that would give even Thomas Kincaid pause.”
(RG note) Thanks, Sandra. Your critic might have noted that some pretty bad stuff comes out under the lofty ideals of Honesty, Originality, and Necessity. He or she might also have paused to reflect that every pro was once an amateur. Your critic is angry because of some previous unpleasant misfortune or personal disappointment. Your critic also needs to bathe more regularly.
Value of distant viewing
by Paul Edmund Herman, Arcos de la Frontera, Spain
My father, a figurative painter, used to say that the best portrait is that which captures no more than what allows one to recognize a friend walking down the street at 10 or 15 metres. This does not include, for instance, eyelashes, precise form of nostrils (indeed, he always insisted a well-painted portrait can just about do without noses altogether without anyone noticing) and certainly not hair which a pair of scissors or gust of wind can change without impeding in any way one’s ability to recognize the friend. My father needed a very large studio to get the distance from his subject he felt necessary so as not to be seduced by superfluous detail. By the same token (in reference to your letter: In praise of the squint) he taught me to squint when painting not only to avoid those same details but to cut out middle-tones, the better to judge relative values, i.e. so as not to be confused by an infinitely subtle range. I remember him saying as he got older how much better he thought his paintings were as his sight weakened. He only wore his glasses to look at a painting after, never during.
by Kim Connor, Winter Haven, FL, USA
There is a wonderful art supply store close by me that has several resident artists and they have a gallery, teach classes and they digitally copy your work and make prints for you and then offer ideas to help market your work further. The price, from what I understood is going to be about $25.00 for the photo and around $150.00 to get started making each print. They normally sell their prints for $250.00 and up. I told them that I am not an established, known artist and that I felt a little shy and afraid to put such a bold price tag on my work. They explained to me that if I start too low that it will be hard to raise prices later. And also that a higher price shows value and people will pay for it for the art piece that they want. What do you think?
(RG note) Thanks, Kim. I’m a believer that beginners ought to offer work at as low a price and they can stand, and build from there. Even an advance of ten percent a year can compound substantially. With a low, low price to start with, if the work is any good, people will sense a bargain, and you have a chance of selling out. People tend to want things that have perceived quality and sell out.
Corruption of today’s art?
by Hans Werner, Australia
The infiltration of computer and machine operators in to the world of brushes and chemical compounds is corrupting today’s art. These people generally lack the experience and knowledge to express themselves in any other way — no drawing skills, no sense of perspective, and no need for academic training, just the computer and its associated machinery are providing a cheap way to muscle into the arts. With the advent and development of photography, it remained in its own category among the arts, so must we as Artists, incorporate now this computer generated imagery as well? If we do, it must be known and labeled as such. It is the Art dealer’s responsibility to do so, as the general public cannot see the distinction, and are hoodwinked into purchasing something which is made by a machine! I label my work: “This Artwork has been made through original inspiration and with traditional materials, no mechanical or digital methods have been used in its creation.” Artists should feel free to use my slogan.
(RG note) Thanks, Hans. On the other hand, digital painting can be an accelerated learning device. All artists are not clunky when using cutting edge methodology. Some are positively brilliant. Take a look at Concept Art or Eatpoo if you don’t believe me. Yep, Eatpoo.
by Doane, Carmel by the Sea, CA, USA
I started painting outside full time several months ago and am really having problems with light. When I was younger I don’t remember it being that big a problem. I was living in Oregon at the time which was overcast most of the time, filtered light, the ideal plein air lighting. If it is a bright day, or even worse, if I am painting looking toward a really bright scene such as water with reflections, and my painting is in the shade, it is totally misleading and almost impossible to paint. If I paint with the painting in sun, the darks look much lighter and colors are thrown off, although it is better then the former situation. I’ve ordered a translucent white umbrella and am hoping it will help my problem. But we have a lot of sea wind here so I may not be able to use it very much, any comments?
Food art self-destructs
by M. J. Morris, London, UK
The construct of food is an art form in itelf that has the quality of deconstructing, either gastronomically or by deterioration. In this sense it is remarkably similar to some of the fugitive art installations that begin a process of decay as soon as made. I’m also glad you have legitimized food art as a high calling, as decoration and in matters of taste, just because people need to consume it three times a day does not mean it is unimportant in the greater scheme of things. Many cooks are great artists and commit themselves to tweaking perfection over and over.
by Corrie Scott, Hastings, Christ Church, Barbados
For me another movie that stimulates the creative juices is Walt Disney’s Fantasia. Made over 50 years ago, it is still amazing today. What they came up with was so before its time. When I am about to open a show the following day and cannot sleep for fear and excitement, I tend to watch this movie as it reminds me of the creative madness and joy that resides in my brain. I loved Ratatouille for this and also for the hope and faith that flows through it like a positive magic wand, that even though there are times our creative side falters, something comes along ( in this case a rat) and ignites that enthusiasm again.
Self-discovery through imagination
by Scharolette Chappell, Auburn Hills, MI, USA
The past 5 years working with nature and becoming one with nature leads me still on this journey that seems almost universal among artists, most easily described as self-discovery. We all seem to agree to stay true to one’s self by creating from the inner place of the heart with passion. Imagination is the key to unlock any door and especially the one to your own heart where the divine idea waits.
Developing a series
by Carol Barber, Gainesville, FL, USA
I am always trying to improve on the next piece. I feel my current work is too whimsical or does not have enough form or has too much solid form. I believe this is keeping me from developing a series. I have my lofty intentions written down and have decided on a particular way of working after experimentation and my experience painting. I feel I must choose something and stick to it even though I can find faults with it. I am afraid being formulaic will kill the magic but after four years of a disjointed body of work I feel I must try a different approach. I believe that this is the best way to follow now, instead of thinking the next painting will be the one.
oil painting, 8 x 10 inches
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Enjoy the past comments below for Ratatouille…