Self-Aware Art
December 2, 2017 7:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of art that is self-aware, in any medium--painting, film, song, sculpture, performance, etc--anything that breaks the 4th wall, but in a way that isn't just a wink to the audience.

Examples could be:
Norman Rockwell - Triple Self-Portrait
Carly Simon - You're So Vain
Ferris Bueller's Day Off - Post credit scene

Others that would not qualify might be:
Last Action Hero, even thought the boy knows he's in a movie, he doesn't know he's in Last Action Hero.
Fall Out Boy - Bang The Doldrums, even thought the lyrics include "This is a love song in my own way", it doesn't really suggest for sure that it's referring to the song itself, or is core to the song's meaning.

posted by Pig Tail Orchestra to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is one of the fundamental characteristics of Deadpool
posted by Cogito at 7:38 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Newspaper Comic Strip
posted by moonmilk at 7:52 AM on December 2, 2017

Best answer: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Maybe some of the art in Harry Potter? Characters in the novels interact with painted art all the time... but not photographs... hmmm
posted by Drosera at 7:58 AM on December 2, 2017

Best answer: War with the Newts, by Karel Capek, includes a chapter where the author has a discussion with himself about readers’ reactions to the book he’s writing and its possible endings.
posted by bettafish at 8:11 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: self-reflexivity is a big thing in documentary film, so I've heard. The idea that the cameraman/director reveals himself as the storyteller in order to attempt to admit that his viewpoint is not objective.

One example I can think of is Freelancer on the Front Lines (it's about an independent journalist covering the Syrian civil war, made by the NFB in Canada) where you have the director often interacting with the film's main subject, being told where to stand in order to get out of danger, etc... and it shows the audience that the filmmaker is part of the unfolding scene rather than an omniscient observer.

Another example I can think of is the experimental film Leviathan in which a camera is placed at different locations on a fishing vessel....Spoiler alert, nothing happens in this movie, but the viewpoint is self-reflexive because as the camera gets sprayed by surf, submerged in water, bobs along with the waves, we see its perspective as subjective and we become aware of the physical shape and size of the camera as it is just as vulnerable to the elements as any of the figures in the story it is telling.
posted by winterportage at 8:19 AM on December 2, 2017

Best answer: Looney Tunes “Duck Amuck” (1953) is a great one.
Wikipedia article
Ending clip on YouTube
posted by D.Billy at 8:47 AM on December 2, 2017

Best answer: Velázquez's Las Meninas is a painting famous for its self-commentary about itself as a painting.
posted by dis_integration at 8:50 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This TV Tropes page might be helpful: Breaking the Fourth Wall.

Velázquez's Las Meninas does that.

This Wikipedia article has several examples: Self-reference. It had a link to this page: Recursive Science-Fiction (New England Science Fiction Association).

Another good search term is "metafiction".

It has being argued that all conceptual art is meta art, since it's not about something else (the "natural world," "a sentiment," "an idea") but about art itself. Sorry, right now I can't find references for that.

A lot of John Cage's music is about music , or music performance, relation among performers and between performers and audience, etc. Notably 4'33''.

Maybe look into rap music? It's a genre that uses self-reference in a lot of interesting ways. Others more knowleageble than me can give you examples. Here's a forum thread about that.

The great comic book The Artist by Hanna Haifisch is very meta. You can check excerpts on Vice, and here's a review.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 8:51 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I feel like the movie Adaptation is the film-version of that Normal Rockwell painting.
posted by windbox at 9:14 AM on December 2, 2017

Best answer: If you're ever feeling blue
Then write another song about your dream of horses
Write a song about your dream of horses
Call it Judy and the Dream of Horses
posted by rd45 at 9:23 AM on December 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also If On A Winter's Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino
posted by rd45 at 9:27 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I haven't read them all, but I believe Stephen King is a character in the Dark Tower books.
posted by cnc at 9:51 AM on December 2, 2017

Oh that reminds me of the first part of The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, which also features the author as a character (who if memory serves is writing a book very like the one that you're reading).
posted by rd45 at 10:12 AM on December 2, 2017

Best answer: The musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet Of 1812’s Prologue contains this bridge:

And this is all in your program
You are at the opera
You're gonna have to study up a little bit
If you wanna keep with the plot
'Cause it’s a complicated Russian novel
Everyone’s got nine different names
So look it up in your program
We’d appreciate it, thanks a lot

The musical Urinetown opens with a piece called “Too Much Exposition,” all about how they don’t want to give away too much too soon, and includes these lines:

It's kind of a mythical place, you understand.
A bad place.
A place you won't see until Act Two.
And then...? Well, let's just say it's filled
with symbolism and things like that.

The title song has the company singing that the audience can’t get their money back, while they tear tickets into pieces. The final lyric is “That was our show!”

The TV show Arrested Development’s ongoing conceit is that the narrator is talking directly to the viewer, often contradicting what the characters say in the show, so there is a layer of complete self-awareness/fourth-wall breaking there.

If you’re including the song “You’re So Vain,” you can also include Elton John’s “Your Song.”

I’m not certain if this fits the criteria for you, but Luigi Pirandello’s Absurdist play, Six Characters in Search Of An Author, is about a director and actors trying to rehearse a play by Luigi Pirandello when six Characters (Father, Daughter-in-Law, etc.) come to beg that the Director and the Actors perform their story instead, but ultimately discover that actors and directors and plays can never be entirely truthful or accurate.
posted by tzikeh at 10:25 AM on December 2, 2017

Best answer: David Foster Wallace's "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" (the giant novella at the back of Girl with Curious Hair) is a strange attempt to go meta-metafiction, leaping off from the single-meta metafictional work of John Barth in the same way that Barth leapt off from modernist fiction. It is not entirely successful, in the same way that you can't quite see a 3D rendering of a 4D hypercube, but the attempt is fascinating.

Lots of videogames do this. The Stanley Parable is a short one that you might enjoy.
posted by Polycarp at 10:37 AM on December 2, 2017

Best answer: Oh, and the movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has LOTS of this.

(Using “character” instead of names just in case anyone gets inspired to view this I don’t want to spoil anything)

One main character (X) says:

“Anyway, by now you may wonder how I wound up here. Or, maybe not. Maybe you wonder how Silly Putty picks shit up from comic books. The point is, I don't see another goddamn narrator, so pipe down.”

At the climax of the movie, X says:

“And you? How 'bout it, filmgoer? Have you solved the case of the - the dead people in L.A.? Times Square audiences, please don't shout at the screen, and stop picking at that, it'll just get worse.”

Two characters have this exchange:

Y: What are you doing?
X: I'm just trying to wrap up the movie, and leave people with a message.
Y: Oh, I've got a message for you. Get your feet off my fucking desk.
X: Sorry.
X: I work for Y now, obviously.
Y: [places his hand over X’s mouth] And stop narrating.

Y ends the movie by saying:

“Thanks for coming, please stay for the end credits, if you're wondering who the best boy is, it's somebody's nephew, um, don't forget to validate your parking, and to all you good people in the Midwest, sorry we said fuck so much.”
posted by tzikeh at 10:40 AM on December 2, 2017

Best answer: Sorry to keep commenting; I'll just jot down a list after this comment and post when it's sufficiently full.

The song "Shalott" by Emilie Autumn is the story of the Lady of Shalott, in first person, from the Lady's point of view, and includes this verse:

Her cracked into / a million bits
And she cried out / So the story fits
But then I could have guessed it /all along
'Cause now some drama queen is gonna / write a song for me

I think that counts.

Also I should have linked to videos and stuff for my other comments:

Shalott by Emilie Autumn

Too Much Exposition (excerpt) / "Run, Freedom, Run" from Urinetown

Prologue/Andrey Isn't Here (Great Comet opening)
posted by tzikeh at 11:57 AM on December 2, 2017

Best answer: Ceci n'est pas une pipe.
posted by Admiral Viceroy at 12:00 PM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

All of Modernism. Just look up modernist artists.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:37 PM on December 2, 2017

Best answer: Louis Owens (.) does one of my favorite versions of this in Dark River (a super underappreciated novel that just gets more and more painful with every passing American year). I don't want to ruin it for anyone, but at a certain point around the climax, the protagonists become self-aware in a very upsetting, very joyous way.
posted by desert outpost at 8:47 PM on December 2, 2017

The Truman Show
posted by effluvia at 10:48 AM on December 3, 2017

Best answer: "Boy, if life were only like this" (Woody Allen pulls Marshall McLuhan out of the scenery to prove a point in "Annie Hall".)

Tom Robbins takes time out from the narrative of "Still Life With Woodpecker" to discourse about the typewriter he is using to write the novel. He writes the final chapter in longhand to spite his typewriter.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:40 PM on December 4, 2017

Response by poster: These are all great examples, thanks. I especially like tzikeh's musicals' lyrics! Thanks!

Also, I forgot to mention, the Fall Out Boy album itself fits this because of how it opens:

Yeah, what you critics said would never happen
We dedicate this album to anybody people said couldn't make it
To the fans that held us down 'til everybody came around
Welcome, it's here!

and closes with.

Now press repeat.
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 7:44 AM on December 9, 2017

Spaceballs breaks the fourth wall, with bonus references to Abbot & Costello, and The Smiths.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:19 AM on February 19, 2018

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