Posted August 28, 2011 by William Dunmyer in Feature Article

Little Dogmas

When artistic people approach age 30, their views typically start to harden. The 20s are about exploring and figuring out what you believe, trying on new ideas the way one tries on different shirts. You attempt to see the world from different perspectives. Everything is questioned; nothing is believed.

But as you start to come to conclusions, you develop little dogmas. You take sides and dig your heels in. You become a bit of an ideologue. Your adult identity begins to take shape based on the dogmas you hold. You become a partisan of this or that ideological position or this or that artistic approach.

Usually a handful of artworks play a major role in determining your artistic sensibilities, and these become your touchstones, your holy relics.

As you go through your 30s, you measure new art against these touchstones to assess value. If a new work of art imitates your holy relic, then it is good. If it does not, then it is bad. Artistic criticism becomes a form of worship of one’s holy relics, and in a sense a form of self-worship.

You begin resisting change. The only things of value are things that retain the qualities of your sacred cows. To be good, artwork has to resemble the art you favored around age 30 – the artwork that helped you define your adult self.


This started to happen to me as I approached 30. But I noticed it before the process completed, and I struggled mightily against it. I was determined to resist the formation of my own little dogmas. I would take positions of course, but I would not let my views harden to the point where I could not question them. Every position would remain tentative. I also wanted to keep growing with the world, instead of be frozen in the era of my youth. (Postmodern philosophy, I must admit, helped me figure out this approach.)

One could say that this is a defining characteristic in my cinematic sensibility. Many critics seem to prefer the films that came out when they were young. They go to see new movies, but they seem always to be disappointed by them. They keep comparing new movies to the films they loved as a young intellectual (their holy relics) and being disappointed.

My cinema passion, on the other hand, centers on the new. I certainly still love to watch the films of yesterday, especially the films I fell in love with when I was in the all-important formative years from 18-25. But my passion really comes alive when I see a film that was just made, with the smell of newness all over it. I crave art that surprises me and shows me a new way to look at the world – films that reinvent cinema for a new century.

This is by no means a cult of youth, however. Younger people tend to produce art with more originality. But this is not because they’re young; it’s because their minds are open. And those minds can stay open. A mind doesn’t have to start closing at 30.

Look at Pedro Almodovar. He burst on the scene in the 1980s with ferocious originality, reaching something of a zenith with “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988). The danger he faced after that was embalming himself, producing endless copies of “Women on the Verge.”

Instead he stayed open, looking at the world in new ways and coming up with yet more artistic breakthroughs. I remember being startled while watching “Talk to Her” (2002), stunned by its originality.

Here was a filmmaker in his 50s who could have become a worshipped relic but instead continued to take risks and recreate himself again and again. “Talk to Her” was like no other film ever made. It had the kind of deep newness you typically only see in the films of talented twentysomethings. For a middle-aged, well-established director to keep growing inspired me to the depths. Pedro Almodovar is a model for how artistic souls can age without becoming frozen.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.