Sunday, November 09, 2008

"Artists today think of everything they do as a work of art. It is important to forget about what you are doing - then a work of art may happen."



Master bedroom

The quote and paintings above were by Andrew Wyeth, an early 20th century American painter.

I was introduced to his work by my partner and soulmate Ali Mohammed, the Chairman Meritus of Leo Burnett Advertising, the agency I work for.

No person alive has been as encouraging of my work, both as an advertising writer and a filmmaker, as much as Ali. We've worked with each other for 25 years. More than a mentor, Ali is the older brother I never had.

I remember well the severe criticism I received after making my first feature-length film "Rabun":

"Your work is nothing more than television drama," said a bedraggled looking old film graduate once.

"Before coming to watch 'Rabun', I expected a tsunami movie experience. But it turns out that this amateurish piece of work is just a ripple," said a drama lecturer from a local institution.

"Yasmin is trapped in her own dreamworld of ideals," said many on Kakiseni and some local papers.

Ali, on the other hand, said, "You are expressing a feeling, Min. A totally personal feeling which you want to share with people. By looking at your work, I get a privileged glimpse into what dwells in your heart. And that is enough for me. Some people will want to put you down and engage themselves in extensive debate about what is 'wrong' or 'right' in what they refer to as 'art'. But my advice is for you to push on. Sooner or later, inshaallah, if you remain honest with your films, more and more people will come up to you and confess how your work has affected their personal lives and their feelings."

"I get letters from people about my work. The thing that pleases me most is that my work touches their feelings. In fact, they don't talk about the paintings. They end up telling me the story of their life or how their father died." - Andrew Wyeth

The reason I'm writing this is not to boast some sort of comeuppance to my detractors in the past. I don't even consider myself an artist, let alone one whose work comes anywhere near as good as Andrew Wyeth's. But I feel this is something I need to say to new, struggling filmmakers out there who, despite their best intentions, often find their work spat at by naysayers.

If you're honest with your work, feel free to come back to this posting to read what dear Ali said to me, all those years ago.

Follow your inner instincts. Because, as Mr.Wyeth himself once said, "If you clean it up, get analytical, all the subtle joy and emotion you felt in the first place goes flying out the window."

Today, after making about 50 television commercials and six feature-length films, after winning 11 international awards, I often feel like I don't know the first thing about filmmaking. But I know this much:

If your intentions are pure, if you apply your craft with a view to observe humanity and, ultimately, God himself, very often something powerful will surface. And the next thing you know, hordes of strangers from all around the world are stepping forward to tell you "the story of their life or how their father died."