What is style?

I miss the sort of stable relationship I used to have with nihilsentimentalgia. I love it here, but doing a doctorate has managed to mess with everything that’s dear to me. My closest family is still tolerating the commitment-turned-obsession, but I myself am close to reaching the point of not being able to hear me thinking about authenticity. In the near future, I may develop a sort of repulsion strategy towards everyone who speaks about authenticity. I know this aversion is necessary, at first, for then I’m sure I will remember why doing this doctorate was important and how it helped put me on the right track towards authentic being (or so I like to believe).

Because the thesis proposes an aesthetic register for an authentic doing of art, there’s a lot of thinking about the aesthetic values, qualities or elements, whatever one might call it. The other day, I ended up discussing the meaning of style with my tutor. Because I resist seeing style in a positive way, my tutor tried to explain why it is a sign of artistic maturity and technical achievement, but bad examples of style-as-value keep coming to mind.

If we understand style as the creation of an original and singular strategic approach to all that goes into an art work – matter, content, materials, gesture, etc. – we will see it in a positive way. Image-makers aim at creating a language that they’ll be recognized for and that is, I guess, their style. But it often happens that authors get fooled in that process. Sometimes they think they reached their style to soon and they fall back on what’s easy and comfortable to them, ceasing to potentiate what is essencial about the making of art. Sometimes they think style is the highest value of a work of art (as many aesthetes do), and then the works fail to potentiate the new. Of course this is complex, but here I am simplifying it after having seen another bad example of style.

I see it happen with directors a lot. In one movie they excel at the strategies applied to visual story telling and then they keep repeating it, failing to let each movie have its own inner dynamics, its own life, its own matter. For the purpose of this post, I’ll just choose the last work that left me with such an impression about the meaning of style: The Neon Demon, by Nicolas Winding Refn. The reason for having watched this work is quite clear, its name is Drive, NWR hypnotic movie that brings the 80’s aesthetics into contemporary storytelling. So I admit there were expectations, even if I couldn’t bare 10 minutes of the movie that followed Drive: Only God Forgives. I figured that he had made bad choices, trying to ride the successful wave of Drive, but that by now he had found “his voice”.

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Well I guess there’s no clear answer. His voice may be in Drive as in The Neon Demon, and he clearly has a style, but some other elements that make Drive a good work fail to be present in his latest attempt at art. The neon, the vibrancy of the colors, the obsessive focus on auratic characters, the costumes that match the walls,  the seductive nature of the timid gestures of the bodily creatures depicted, the dynamics that arise from the silent tone of the seductiveness played by the characters and the cool vibe of the music that accompanies them, the pauses – the constant pauses – reminiscent of some 80’s music videos (the Modern Talking vibe),* the eulogy of the grotesque, the promotion of a sort of virginal beauty and more. This is, as far as I see it, part of NWR style and if this is style, then this strategic approach is the mark of an inauthentic doing, meaning: the mark of an approach to art that is not truthful and sincere, that puts the work at the service of some external purpose, and not their inner dynamics.

The Neon Demon is a gratuitous work, made with poor taste. It lacks originality, in the sense that is misses the mark of the authors singularity, that which is his own. The movie is the sum of clichés about the gluttonous hunger that surrounds the beauty industry, but then (as if that wasn’t bad enough), NWR tried to put a kitsch spin on it, make it a parody, with girls eating girls and regurgitating  eyeballs, making a symbolic turn with the repetition of mirrors and geometric figures that just hasn’t got the place. Can any work of art be supported by the numerous circular metaphors it is supposed to entail? What is the meaning of those regurgitated eyes, I wonder? Are they the mark of a parody? Are they the sign of guilt? Or are they just difficult to digest ?

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