pushing boundaries

young artists fighting old restrictions

The 2008 black Volvo S40 sputtered to a standstill as our film crew hovered anxiously in front of the cemetery gates on a dark Sunday evening.

“Come on, not now. Please, we just need a few more takes,” I pleaded, coaxing the car while I repeatedly shoved the keys into the ignition, attempting to will the battery back to life with sheer determination and aggressive wrist flourishes. In a final wheeze of betrayal, the car growled and abruptly fell silent, leaving a director, two actors, two camerapersons, and a production assistant with expressions of confusion and annoyance. Their eyes bored into me through the front windshield, hoping that I would work my producer magic and figure out a genius plan to fix everything.

As a general life rule, I attempt to maintain a “no worries, I can handle anything” sort of demeanor, but as I surveyed the scene 20 minutes after the Volvo’s demise, it seemed that the universe, and, now, the local police, were plotting to overthrow my tranquil temperament. With our caput car, two cop cars with blinding red and blue fluorescent admonishments, a gigantic Triple-A tow truck, and the cemetery guard’s Suburban, my laidback outlook was on the verge of shattering.

Meanwhile, my motley film crew awkwardly crowded the area with purposely-plastered innocence on their faces. My director removed himself from the immediate scene of conflict and stood near a tree texting. One actor assumed the role of self-appointed savior and dutifully walked around the scene nodding without actually doing anything, while the other actor ignored the situation entirely, preferring to fiddle with his laptop. The rest of the crew alternated between chuckling at the ridiculousness at hand and attempting to hide the shovels and bags of mulch (our props for a later shoot) from the cemetery worker’s field of vision. Clearly, things were already sketchy enough.

After politely conversing with the policewoman about silly car batteries and “how winters ‘round here will get ya,” I watched the two cop cars blessedly leave the cemetery driveway with the tow truck and Suburban following close behind.

Without a reprimand or a demand to explain why we were potentially illegally outside of a private cemetery late at night, we quickly left and decided to finish shooting another night. This incident, although mostly funny to me now, brought to light certain limitations young artists have.

Young artists are constantly striving for creativity, originality, and something substantial on which we can label our names in big, bold lettering. We are taught that pushing boundaries equates to true genius and that recklessness is positive, abandon is appreciated, and boldness is treasured.

Combine that perspective with the burning quest for adolescent and young-adult identity, and we have a bunch of young people searching for beauty, validation, and self-expression through sculptures of rearranged trash can lids covering a police station window to represent the decaying nature of morality within the penal system, or an indie short with a series of images from past genocides paired with a child’s hand continuously pouring out a glass of clear water to express the futility of violence.

As the need for self-actualization through art rises, so do the limitations surrounding young artists. Our limitations involved a lack of knowledge about the correlation between car headlights and battery life and the legal restraints of filming on locations containing people’s deceased relatives. However, on a broader scope, many young artists face other limitations on the creation of art, including inexperience, a lack of familial and outward support, minimal financial security, the legal system, and an overwhelming sense of obscurity. How do we push abstract artistic boundaries and pursue our art when we are constrained by these societal limitations?

My best guess, as a student filmmaker and avid thinker, in the boundaries vs. limitations quandary would be to strike a balance. Pushing boundaries solely for the sake of boundary pushing seems silly, but discovering new artistic methods and ideas has merit. Maybe aiming for the avant-garde while simultaneously avoiding arrest (unless that happens to be a part of an elaborate performance art), may be the best option for exploratory young artists.

Understanding limitations and working within them or knowing when it is necessary to push past them can allow for a clearer artistic vision and further the quality of our art. On our next film shoot, I will personally see to it that the police are not called on us and we do not have any more cars offing themselves during filming while we still strive for new excellence through cinematography.

Delving into these societal constraints, questioning them, and creating art within them or merely being aware of the reasons and consequences of breaking them can be more effective than setting the world ablaze solely for the sake of seeing flames.

Or, alternatively, just remember not to keep your car headlights on for hours as your lead actors yell at each other beside cemetery gates in the dead of night.