The existential value of the work of art, as a declaration about being, cannot be extracted from the adherent signals alone (its symbolism), nor from the self-signals alone (the medium). The self-signals taken alone prove only existence; adherent signals taken in isolation prove only the presence of meaning . . .
Recent movements in artistic practice stress self-signals alone, as in abstract expressionism; conversely, recent art scholarship has stressed adherent signals alone, as in iconography . . .
George Kubler (1962)footnote1
Movies can be located on a scale, abstract expressionism to absolute naturalism. The one, composed of self-signals alone, has as subject the medium itself. The other stresses content above form, technique only as a means—adherent signals predominate. Hollywood movies come near to this end of the scale, one reason for traditional contempt— ‘. . . the misguided efforts of the present-day film which imitates more or less successfully the pictorial composition of the old easel painting, its monocular vision and its picturesque settings.’ (Moholy-Nagy, 1965)footnote2
Moholy-Nagy held an extreme view, though one still worth recalling . . .
‘Like all other means of expression, the film with its characteristic visual, perceptional elements appeals directly to the senses. This is the basic departure of abstract motion pictures. The development of the category of film will increase in importance if the means are found necessary for its appeal. The same is true of the direct psychophysical response to color without any naturalistic theme. It is safe to predict for the film an increasing use of pure colors as in non-objective paintings. The recognition of this trend and its possibilities is essential if we are to find a healthy escape from the present deluge of trashy colored motion pictures.’
Any defence of the Hollywood movie in this context would stress necessarily a contrary naturalist aesthetic as the aesthetic of the cinema. It would be forced as well, as against ‘pure’ film, to attend to ‘meaning’ in thematic and narrative elements.