Hero & Villain Archetypes in Film: The Artist

Hero & Villain Archetypes in Film: The Artist

A Chapter by Keaton S. Ziem

Analysis of specific character archetypes in film, citing examples. In this case; we examine The Artist.




“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them!” Malvolio; Twelfth Night.


“Lennon said, ‘I’m an artist. You give me a f*****g tuba, I’ll get you something out of it.’”

Costello, The Departed.


The Artist is a person who either sets his or her will to actively create art, or does so effortlessly, without trying. The Artist often specializes in a specific field of creation and expression with varying degrees of success. For instance, an Artist may be regarded as a genius in their specific field (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Amadeus), or in contrast, might be struggling with their craft (Craig Schwartz, Being John Malkovich). Sometimes The Artist can be redeemed by their talent (David Helfgott, Shine) or alternately cursed by it (Jackson Pollock, Pollock). The Artist’s life is dictated by the pursuit or application of artistic expression and often the art itself holds the lesson that The Artist must learn.


Artists in Film:


Many films depict The Artist through the format of a biopic, as in Pollock; written, directed and starring Ed Harris. Yet some Artists in cinema are completely fictionalized and range anywhere from the prodigy (Mozart in Amadeus) to ‘starving artist’ types (Christian in Moulin Rouge). The Artist tends to be an outsider due to the special talents that he or she has; as in Immortal Beloved where Beethoven’s brilliance, combined with the cruel irony of his deafness, is the source of his bitterness and alienates him from the world he seeks to enlighten with his music. This is the duality of The Artist’s plight; the art itself fuels the character’s catharsis and retribution to the point where one cannot be easily distinguished from the other (as in Pollock). The Artist often pays for his or her ideals with their mental sanity and physical wellbeing; yet, if they reach their goal, The Artist has much to gain.


Examples of Artists in Film:


Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) in Being John Malkovich (1999): Craig is not in the most popular field of the creative arts, but clearly qualifies as a puppeteer, and not without his fair share of talent in the field even if his puppets and the stories he immerses them in are questionable. He struggles with his art and being “understood”, like many artists do. Yet, its Craig’s self-deprecating need to be “understood” that makes living vicariously through John Malkovich so appealing,  illustrating that it’s Craig’s ‘artistic’ behavior that fuels the conundrum he must confront, and ultimately fails to overcome.


Andy Kaufman (Jim Carrey) in Man on the Moon (1999): Andy Kaufman resented his ‘comedian’ moniker. His career was spent trying to eliminate it’s usage in regards to him. Andy was an entertainer first and foremost; considering himself something of an artist of emotions. Yet it becomes increasingly clear that Andy will risk much in his pursuit of achieving the ultimate emotional high; for his benefit as much as for the benefit of his audience (or victim, as the case may be).  Man on the Moon is the story of a savant who is single-mindedly dedicated to his craft to the point of outlandish obsession.


Ritchie Valens (Lou Diamond Phillips) in La Bamba (1987): Ritchie Valens fits the traditional role of artist in La Bamba: he has an unrelenting love for the guitar and a passion for his art. We follow his rags-to-riches story, chronicling his ascent to stardom that ultimately leads Ritchie to his death in an airplane crash. Ritchie’s story is the tale of an artist who has fame thrown at him so fast that it’s easy to see how difficult and dangerous it can be to keep up with an artist’s stardom.

© 2011 Keaton S. Ziem

My Review

Would you like to review this Chapter?
Login | Register

Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Added on October 2, 2011
Last Updated on October 2, 2011
Tags: film, filmmaking, scripts, screenwriting, screenplays, the artists, character, archetypes, heroes, villains, cinema, movies, analysis, examples, artists in film


Keaton S. Ziem
Keaton S. Ziem

Los Angeles, CA

I was raised in a cabin in one of the largest Ponderosa Pine forests in the continental United States. I had nothing to do with the amount of trees that grew there. I am an only child with two brot.. more..