As a poet who has lectured on the creative process, I am very aware that it is a phenomenon not easily explainable. What happens when a piece of art is created? Where does it come from? How does it evolve? It is nearly impossible to answer these questions analytically or come up with a logical, step-by-step process. In fact, these questions are only satisfactorily answered with another piece of art.
That is what director Steven Shainberg and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson have done in Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. This movie is not a biopic, but rather the translation of Arbus’ creative process into film. When we watch Arbus (Nicole Kidman) fall for her neighbor, Lionel (Robert Downey, Jr.), we are really watching the artist fall in love with her subject. What is art, after all, but an obsessive re-creation, or re-imagination, of that which we love? The icon-painters create out of a love for God. Poets worship language. Architects fall head over heels with the way light enters a building at a certain time of the day. Shainberg is equally infatuated with scenes—individual bricks of imagery and sound which he uses to build this movie. By eschewing a traditional plot-driven tactic, he has created scenes memorable for their visual and emotional effects.
But this is not an “emotional” movie. Emotion-dependent movies (think Beaches or Steel Magnolias) tend to encourage a self-centered reaction. That’s not Barbara Hershey or Julia Roberts dying on screen, that’s my best friend/mother/neighbor/little girl. This movie, however, encourages a loss of self. The lesson for artists is clear: by stepping out of our selves we can create with love a work both stunning and true.