NEA Arts Magazine

Drowned in the Arts

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Rocket, 2010, by James Franco. Photo courtesy AIR, Art International Radio and the Clocktower Gallery.

James Franco has been extremely busy of late. In addition to a solid acting career (with two movies out currently, Howl and 127 Hours), he recently has had a solo exhibition at AIR’s Clocktower Gallery in NYC of his films, drawings, photographs, and sculptures; directed and produced a documentary about Saturday Night Live; and had his first book of short stories, Palo Alto, published. He is also a PhD student at Yale University and attending the Rhode Island School of Design. I’m tired just writing all that, much less doing it all.

The NEA had a chance to ask Franco a few questions, via e-mail, related to the topic of the latest issue of NEA Arts, creativity. Here is what he had to say.

NEA: What drives you to work across multiple disciplines, rather than choosing to focus on just one, or even two?

JAMES FRANCO: I think that I am drawn to a specific kind of subject matter: formative experiences, childhood, sexuality, gender literature, Americana, poetry, film, Hollywood.  I try to examine these subjects through different genres and mediums because it allows for different approaches and perspectives.  The different disciplines inform each other and give each other energy.  Translation and adaptation, ekphrasis and appropriation blend and redefine the boundaries of each medium.

NEA: As we’ve been interviewing people about creativity, two words that continue to appear are “failure” and “collaboration.” How do these terms fit into your creative process?

FRANCO: I don’t worry about failure as much anymore because so much of my work is about exploration.  If I am exploring an idea then the idea of failure doesn’t mean as much.  I can make films where I put a lot of time and energy into the technical side of things and one might say that they are more “successful,” but I feel just as strongly about some low-tech projects I’ve done that depend on their crudeness for effect.  I don’t see one kind of project as more successful or one as a failure, just different kinds of approaches which give a viewer different kinds of experiences.

Collaboration is very important to me.  I am inspired by people I work with.  I come from a film background, which is very collaborative.  I have tried to take that kind of approach into everything I do whether it is directing, writing, or art.  I am very fortunate to be able to work with some of my favorite actors, artists, and writers so I get to collaborate with the best, and they pull the best out of me.

NEA: You’re enrolled in several higher education fine arts programs—what does the education environment provide to your creative life?

FRANCO: I thrive in academic environments.  I am around smart and creative people who are interested in all the things I am interested in.  I love being pushed to study more than I can handle, being drowned in literature, art, and film.  Really there is nothing better.