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An Exploration of the Nature of Art and the Artistic Temperament
Though it is a documentary, The Woodmans is itself a piece of art. Like much art, it asks and suggests more questions than it answers. The first question might be: is this a film about art or a film about human psychology? Or maybe it is about how the two are connected?
The Woodman family had four members, all of whom are/were dedicated to art, not just as an avocation, but as a way of life. The daughter, Francesca, committed suicide at a young age. Much of the film centers of her surviving family's perceptions of her life, her art, and what might have contributed to her suicide.
In the end, each viewer can take what they want from this film.
As a discussion of art, it touches on many common themes, especially the value or curse of art as self-expression. Does it have value simply because it allows the artist to express himself? Does affirmation from others make art more valuable? Does it have a therapeutic value? Francesca's mother says she stopped creating for a period after her suicide. When she resumed creating, was it a resumption of life? Or was the creation the impetus to go on living? She says that "art is about memory." Of course it can be much more than that.
Of course we must ask if art is about introspection, self-examination, self-indulgence, all of these? It can direct one's focus inward or outward. The father comments on the "fragile" and "vulnerable" nature of the artist. Is that due to the artistic temperament? Or the product of seeking affirmation from others?
He also observes that there may be a "psychic risk" of being an artist. This seems to be one of the central themes of the movie.
But perhaps Francesca's art (and her behavior) might have been a clue to what many will see as clinical depression. Are some drawn to her art because of her (flawed) vision, like they might be to Van Gogh's?
Whatever messages or questions one takes from this film, it does ask you to consider the nature of grieving and carrying on. And it might make one consider others in their own lives who have been or might have been victims of their own internal demons.
It also makes a statement about the temporal nature of life and the longevity of art.
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