experimental – is it?

filmmaker stan brakhage

Questioning the term, “experimental”, as in expermiental music, photography, or films. Is it really “experimental” if the artists’ work is skilled, completely intentional, and s/he has particular results in mind for their efforts?

Or maybe “experimental” is a term meant more for those who experience the art, describing their impression of it?

I think of the filmmaker Stan Brakhage, whose groundbreaking vision quietly but surely influenced everyone from Scorsese to Matt Stone and Trey Parker. (And, no surprise that his fellow highschool classmates were “experimental” composers Morton Subotnick and James Tenney…)

When Stan adhered all of those hundreds of little moth wings to celluloid, then shot light through them and filmed the magical, fluttering results – didn’t he know why he was doing it, and more or less what the results would be? So then why is the film described as, “experimental”?

He did know, and audiences experiencing the resulting “Mothlight” (1963) and many of Stan’s earlier films were derisive. “Experimental” seemed to come about as a way to describe art that didn’t provide some of the traditional external trappings and contextual understanding for the art: narrative, programmatic or linear structure, etc.

It’s an interesting thing, the term “experimental” as applied to art. Thoughts?

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