By Ethan Paxton
The national enthrallment with the modern entertainment medium may best be displayed in our culture’s fixation on the film and television industry, for the instantaneous accessibility of material goods such as these is a vital part of successful business today. Few cities host this booming industry more prominently than Los Angeles, so naturally an aspiring screenwriter such as myself had his interest peaked when a Jan Term opportunity down there was made known to me. My name is Ethan Paxton and I am a freshman at Whitworth University pursuing an English major with a Film and Visual Narrative minor. My fascination with these areas of study comes as a result of my desire to become a screenwriter, a dream held as a result of a lifelong appreciation of the artistic elements of good film. Unlike many of my peers or even my parents, I never watched a movie solely for the entertainment value it offered me. Rather, I sought to analyze it’s story, major themes, cinematography, dialogue, and all other elements that contribute to why people enjoy watching what they do. However, this trip revealed art to me in a way that surpassed my expectations and displayed how Los Angeles exists as a hub for more than just film and TV, but also all other kinds of art that occur on the west side of the United States.
I began to experience the city as soon as our plane descended far enough for me to see the expansive sprawl of Los Angeles, the buildings stretching deep inland from the ocean, weaving around and over hills, all interconnected by the tangle of highways, freeways, and streets. Though I have been to Southern California before, I had never been to Los Angeles until this trip, and despite my early presumptions, it was entirely unlike any other city I had ever been to. Prior to our arrival, Dr. Emerson had asked us to read part of a book called City of Quartzby Mike Davis, which provided a brief overview of important aspects of the city’s history and creation. One element that had been touched upon pretty heavily by Davis was the importance of the sun in the city’s creation, and for a western Washington native such as myself, feeling those first warm rays of sun beating on my face and heating up my jean-covered legs gave me the feeling that I had been transported to some unique paradise. Though “paradise” is a very naive way to describe Los Angeles, “unique” is remarkably accurate. The cultural melting pot of the city was apparent, and was showcased in the many collections of art we visited such as the Getty, LACMA, the Broad and Norton Simon, all of which housed a fascinating variety of art that allowed for them to all feel different than the one before.
One of the most interesting aspects of the city was also how prolific art was, for it was filling up every dull and empty part. Our street art tour of the Arts District taught me about the culture behind street art and how valuable it is to the city’s creative atmosphere. The sense of community that existed because of the common creative energy was very contagious and is showcased in the stylistic overlaps one can see when observing street art. There was also a multitude of architectural designs and sculptures, for even the buildings had an aesthetic that felt individual and creative. Watts Towers is an example of this, for it was this massive concrete sculpture decorated with bits of broken glass and ceramic that had been placed in the middle of a simple neighborhood. Beyond these detailed towers and structures that added vibrance to a basic area, this art further inspired creativity in the neighborhood. Across from the towers, the neighbors had actually decorated their concrete walls and fences with ceramic murals, and though this may seem simple enough, this is a prime example of the power of Los Angeles art. This is a city that brings out the artist in each individual, for all it takes is one piece to pop up, before inspiring others to create in their own way.
Of the multitude of experiences that we all had, my favorite places wer by far the Huntington Library, the art galleries and the Botanical Gardens. Leaving behind the bright lights of Hollywood Boulevard or the chaotic boardwalk along Venice Beach, the Huntington was the 206-acre property that I was wholly infatuated with. Since our guided tour of the grounds only briefly skimmed through the Huntington, I went back on my own about a week later to experience more fully everything that I had been so overwhelmed with. This second run through I had the chance to linger in spots I enjoyed, spend more time in the art galleries, and explore every beautiful part of the property. There was a certain peace present at the Huntington, a kind of peace that felt important and special because it is so rare in a society such as ours that is obsessed with progress and movement. This was a place where the beauty of art could be experienced apart from the rest of the outside world. For me, it was a simple paradise that afforded me a deep breath during the bustle of our travels.
Another powerful experience for me was the behind-the-scenes look at Warner Brothers Studio and The Voice. Though I did not know exactly what to expect going into the tour and viewing, the sensation I felt after experiencing the sets of these shows and movies was interesting and exciting yes, but also a little gross. It left a bad taste in my mouth, synonymous with a child discovering on Christmas Eve that Santa is really just their parents putting presents under the tree. I will never look at TV or movies the same, and though this has taken some getting used to, I don’t feel the magic is entirely gone. In fact, seeing behind-the-scenes gives me an even greater appreciation for the artistic process that producers of this kind of entertainment undergo. It is an artistic process unlike many others but gives me a newfound sensation when I experience a show or movie that affects me deeply.
As a whole, this experience has not only allowed my passion for the film industry to grow but has cultivated a curiosity and appreciation for all artistic forms and mediums, especially mediums that I had not had much chance to explore fully prior to this trip. Being back in Spokane has afforded me a chance to be more cognizant of the art that exists in this city, and to be more encouraging of my own artistic passions. Our trip consisted of a plethora of interesting visits, all of which in conjunction provided us with a positive, collective understanding of the city as a domain of the arts, a location which exists as a hub of people, culture, and ideas, ideas which can be best conveyed through the creative expression of each individual. Returning to school I now feel more educated but find so much more joy in any of my creative experiences because Los Angeles allowed me to appreciate the individuality of art much as I did when I was a younger child. It was a phenomenal experience and offered me teachings and memories that I will always remember.
Make sure you visit the Los Angeles Domain of the Arts’ blog to read more about their time away!