Are There Two Types of Art? Ep. 57 – The Green Knight (2021) + Riley Green “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” (2020)

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In this episode, Carl King examines The Green Knight (2021) + Riley Green “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” (2020)

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I get a lot of philosophical questions here. And the question I get more than any other is: “Are most people stupid?” So this week, I’ll FINALLY answer that question. We’re going to examine the film The Green Knight, and then we’ll take a look at the OBVIOUSLY-related country masterpiece, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” by Riley GREEN. Here we go.   


I’m Carl King, and this is The Carl King Podcast, where EVERY WEEK, we learn about music, filmmaking, and creativity. If you like this show, head over to, and join for just $1 or $5 per month. 

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Quick shout-out to my music endorsements: Vienna Symphonic Library, Fractal Audio, Ernie Ball Strings, Toontrack, and Millennia Media. Now let’s get this episode Beginned! 


Just one Carl King The Creative Human Update, and then we will officially get beginned. 

I am back at work on my new Carl King SONG album. This past Friday I wrote and recorded a demo of a song called “The Good / Bad Song.” It’s SONG #4, and here is an excerpt from it. 

You can hear the entire demo, as well as demos for the other 3 songs, inside my Patreon. And now, let’s officially get BEGINNED. (Nothing happens.)


This episode is going to be a slightly different format. I usually feature 1 film and 1 piece of music. And this episode will also do that, but this time, I will use them as examples of what I think might be TWO DISTINCT TYPES OF ART. 

But first, an important philosophical question. 


Raise your hand if you believe most people are stupid. It’s OK, I probably can’t see you raising your hand. And I used to believe most people are stupid, by the way. 

It’s normal to think that. Oddly enough, from what I can tell, most people believe they are of ABOVE AVERAGE intelligence. Probably everyone I know believes that. And that’s puzzling. 

Or as George Carlin said, “Think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize, half of ‘em are stupider than that.”

Now Is it POSSIBLE… that there are two types of art? And that they are determined by the creator’s answer to that question: are most people stupid?

To avoid being too judgmental, instead of calling them Stupid Art and Smart Art, I’m going to refer to them as simply Type 1 and Type 2.

So here’s the premise we’ll work with, for the heck of it:If the creator believes the answer is YES, MOST PEOPLE ARE STUPID, they will make Type 1 Art. If the creator believes the answer is NO, MOST PEOPLE ARE NOT STUPID, they will make Type 2 Art. 

Of course, there are more than 2 types of art. Or maybe there are NO types of art. Setting up this false binary is purely an analytical exercise. I’m also going through this to understand the concept for myself. And it’s probably something I could have learned years ago, if I had taken a film studies or art appreciation class in college. 

Now, how am I going to determine if something is Type 1 or Type 2?

I’ve come up with 7 different dimensions to help classify them. 

Those 7 dimensions are:

1 – Surprise
2 – Abstraction
3 – Ambiguity
4 – Subtlety
5 – Non-Linearity
6 – Ironic Counterpoint
7 – What I am going to refer to as “Dimension 7” — because as far as I know, there’s no existing technical term for it. 

Imagine if each of these dimensions were a dial you could turn up or down. Theoretically, if you turned them all down, so that there was no surprise, no abstraction, no ambiguity, no subtlety, no non-linearity, no ironic counterpoint, and no patience — you’d have a Type 1. If you turn all the dials all the way up, you’d have a Type 2. 

Of course, these “dimensions” are subjective and personally relative terms. What one viewer might find Surprising, another viewer might NOT. It depends on their own tastes and previous experience. Still, I think the INTENT of the creator is what matters. 

Now these TYPES can apply to both music and film. And probably any art form. 

So let’s work our way through these dimensions. 


The first category / dimension is Surprise. 

I’m starting with this because I think it’s the most immediate to experience. How predictable is this film or piece of music? Does it surprise me? Was I expecting one thing and got another? Is this somehow different from anything I’ve experienced before? 

Of course, often it can take some time for the Surprise to happen. Maybe it’s halfway through the movie. Or maybe it’s the second song on the album. 

A surprise can also be good or bad, subjectively. As in, “I didn’t like that surprise twist” or “I was surprised by how much I didn’t like it.”

A film example would be Barbarian. Spoiler alert: about 43 minutes in, there is SUCH a shocking turn and tonal shift that I had to immediately hit PAUSE. I said to myself out loud, “what the F!?” I sat there for a moment on my couch, shocked, then had to rewind. I almost felt like I had hallucinated it. 

STRUCTURE in film is a good department for surprises. If a filmmaker knows what they’re doing, there’s no need to adhere to a traditional 3-act structure. It can be severely warped into its own unique shape. White Noise starring Adam Driver is a great example of BEGINNING with 3-act structure and then abruptly abandoning it. 

A musical example of Surprise, for me, was Fredrik Thordendal’s Special Defects, with Morgan Agren on drums. In the late 90s, INK19 magazine sent me a box of metal albums to possibly review. I wore headphones, and went from CD to CD, putting them in for 30 seconds each, unimpressed. It all sounded the same. 

But the moment I heard that Special Defects music, I was beside myself. I had never heard anything like it. I thought: who is this DRUMMER and how is he DOING THAT? I had not heard Meshuggah at that point. So playing those sorts of rhythms was new to me. 

The element of surprise is what excited me most about the live Mr. Bungle shows on the Disco Volante tour. I attended 3 consecutive shows in different states, and each night it was totally different. It was NOT a typical rock n roll concert. 

It was impossible to know what was going to happen next. Would they leave the stage after only one speed metal song? And come back and play the same song, again? Would they stand on stage for several minutes doing nothing, as the audience screamed at them to play something? Would they launch into a straight-up rendition of a Loverboy song? The only other live band who surprised me to that degree was Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. 

Do you like Surprise? How MUCH surprise?Can a film or piece of music be TOO surprising to enjoy? Maybe. Maybe we need some amount of Predictability to make the Surprise work. Just like comedy requires base reality for it to work against. 

In general, a film that is predictable, with little element of surprise, tends to be Type 1. 


Number two is ABSTRACTION. This second dimension is probably more important than the first. And it contains some sub-categories. 

Is the primary focus of the music or the film Concrete or Abstract? Is it about some plain-old THING we can point to, or something less tangible, like an IDEA? 

Another version of this would be: is it Literal or Symbolic?For instance, is that Van Halen song really about a guy who is hungry for some Poundcake? Is it literal? Or is Poundcake symbolic for something else? We don’t know yet. 

Here’s another way symbolism can work. In the film NOPE by Jordan Peele, there are two parallel stories happening. One is the “macro” story of a horse-trainer, OTIS, and his investigation of a UFO. And the other is the “micro” story of Gordy the chimp. On the literal level, they are completely unrelated. But the story of Gordy the Chimp is SYMBOLIC: it reflects the meaning of the UFO story. 

So that story WITHIN the story contains clues. As hermetic magic people would way, The Microcosm corresponds to the Macrocosm. That’s the power of abstraction in film — we watch one story in order to understand the other. Rather than having it overtly EXPLAINED to us. 

Another way to look at this is Physical vs. Psychological. Is the film about physical objects? For instance, is it about a good guy chasing a bad guy who stole the money? Because that’s very video game or sports-like. In that case, we’re not supposed to be concerned about how the characters are feeling inside, we only care if they achieve their goal, complete the mission, and WIN. 

Or is the primary focus INTERNAL, about a character’s psychology? As Mark Borchardt would say, is it about adults with grown-up problems, or is it about people flying through the sky? 

And is the DIALOGUE literal? Do the characters go around saying everything they think? Do they “talk the plot?” Like, “Hurry, we need to get the ship’s thrusters back online before the planet explodes!” 

Or is the dialogue ABSTRACT? For example, what does Frank Booth in Blue Velvet mean, when he says “Now it’s dark?” It’s definitely not literal. It seems to me that it’s something personal, maybe ritualistic and linked to his personal trauma. But even if we’ll never know, it’s a powerful emotional line. 


The third dimension is Ambiguity.  

Have you ever watched a movie, and at the end you aren’t sure what happened? Did the hero die or is he still alive? Or listened to a song, and been unsure what exactly the lyrics are about? Or tried to figure out the key of a song, and it could theoretically be in one key, but also another? 

An example of ambiguity in film is the ending of American Psycho. Did Patrick Bateman only IMAGINE murdering all those people? Is THAT delusion what made him a Psycho? Or is someone cleaning up after him, keeping him out of trouble? 

On the other hand, we understand the ending of Star Wars: A New Hope. It’s CLEAR. The story is over. The good guys won. There’s no confusion, and there’s not even a need for a sequel. 

Ambiguous song lyrics might SEEM like they’re the norm. Because in general, it’s easier to find lyrics that “don’t make sense” than lyrics that do. But there’s a difference between plain-old not making sense, and being ambiguous. If something is ambiguous it’s more like: “I know this song MUST be about either A or B, but I’m not exactly sure which.” 

Or maybe the songwriter is CLEAR about the subject but NOT their moral viewpoint on it. Are they possibly being sarcastic? Or roleplaying? Frank Zappa got in a lot of trouble for this. Sometimes the creator’s intent is unclear.

Musical notes can be ambiguous, too. When I was analyzing The Holy Filament by Mr. Bungle, I was trying to sort out those jazz chords. And I was WAY in over my head. I’m still not sure how Trevor Dunn categorizes those harmonies, in his own musical vocabulary. 

What is YOUR favorite ambiguous film, and how much Clarity do YOU need in a film or music?


The fourth dimension is Subtlety. 

Does the audience need to be hit over the head with every bit of information? Is the writer or the director afraid they might not be understood? Or do they leave it up to the audience to notice things ON THEIR OWN? 

Do we really need a closeup on the gun? With a sign next to it that says GUN? When a robot character turns evil, do their eyes need to turn red? Or can their evil actions tell us what we need to know?

Is showing something on the screen enough, or does a character need to notice it out loud? What if the guy in The Godfather were to scream: “Agh! There’s a horse’s head in my bed!” That would be unnecessary, and would weaken the scene. It’s how a cheap B-movie would handle the material. 

On a personal note, my biggest obstacle to enjoying TV shows is the amount of spoken exposition. I don’t need characters telling me what I’m seeing. I’m not looking the other way. I don’t need an Audio Description track. 


Fifth dimension, we’ve got Non-Linearity. 

Does a story need to be told in the order in which it originally occurred? No, because plenty of films are non-linear. We might start in the future, then flashback to the past before working our way forward again. 

But Non-Linearity also means allowing the audience fill in the gaps. To make leaps of intuition. 

Because of this, information can be omitted. From scene to scene, YEARS might pass. There doesn’t NEED to be a title on the screen to indicate the passing of time. Like “5 YEARS LATER.” Or a frame story or VoiceOver explaining it. The audience can probably figure it out. Because the character has aged and now has a child.

Even on the most basic level, our minds do this “stitching” when we see any two shots in sequence. For example consider THESE two shots:

Shot 1 – Closeup: A rock SMASHES through a glass window. 

Shot 2 – Wide: A kid turns and runs away down the street. 

Our minds create CAUSALITY. After this, therefore because of this. We automatically interpret it as: the KID threw the rock. We invent a story. But there’s actually no evidence that Shot 2: the kid running away down the street had anything to do with Shot 1: a rock smashing through a glass window. They could be two completely different events. 

In filmmaking we can PUSH this to its limit. But is there a limit?   At what point does the viewer become confused? We don’t know yet. 

Pushing the limits of non-linearity is a big deal in Type 2. 


Up next, Number 6, we have Ironic Counterpoint. 

This is where we juxtapose two things… that seem like they shouldn’t go together. Because they’re sort of opposite, like Death Metal and Rainbows. 

So in a film, the composer might score a violent scene with slow, pretty music. 

For example, Watchmen directed by Zack Snyder. In the opening scene, a murder takes place, and they used the jazz ballad “Unforgettable” performed by Nat King Cole. I doubt that was the first time that trick was used, but it’s the first time I noticed it happening. 

Also, in that scene, the drop of blood onto the Comedian’s “smiley face” pin, is symbolic of the doomsday clock closely approaching midnight. Which is shown on television earlier in that scene. And that smiley face imagery is also an ironic counterpoint to such a dark story.  

Another example of ironic counterpoint. They Might Be Giants have a song — which is more of a collage of short songs — called Fingertips. And in one of those short songs, John Linnell calmly sings the lyrics, “I’m having a heart attack.” 

And it is ironic because it’s the OPPOSITE of our expectations. 

Ironic Counterpoint is a good sign of a Type 2 work of art. 


And last, number 7… Dimension 7. 

I couldn’t come up with a proper term for this, and Dimension 7 is kind of funny. 

Dimension 7 is a measure of SPEED, but also DURATION.

On the extreme end, it’s when a scene is CONSPICUOUSLY SLOW and PAINFULLY LONG. But we also LIKE IT. It’s when the art becomes self-aware and says: “You’re going to sit through this.” We know it’s happening. But it’s done so expertly, it’s rewarding.  

That’s right… instead of the industry standard of RUSHING through a story, cutting everything to be as efficient and short as possible, why not do the opposite? Even a shoe-leather scene, IF the filmmaker leans into it, can be a powerful stylistic choice. 

A perfect example of that would be the Jacques Tati film PlayTime from 1967. A film that exaggerates the absurdity of people walking down long corridors, fumbling with electronic buttons, and a guy named Monsieur Hulot (Hoo-low) being lost and confused. 

2001 is another popular film with awkwardly long, slow scenes. But filmmakers, especially screenwriters have a learned, intense fear of the audience getting bored. We say, “when in doubt, cut it out.” But going in the opposite direction is how Type 2 films get made. 

And what about in music? Not that long ago, popular songs had instrumental intros, interludes, and extended solos. For example, Boston’s song “Long Time” actually had an ALMOST 3-minute instrumental intro, which I remember hearing on the radio in its entirety. Just that intro… is longer than many of the songs currently at the top of the Apple Music Charts.

An extreme form of Dimension 7 in music is minimalist composers. Their music is repetitious but slowly morphs over time. It requires patience to appreciate. Or when Mr. Bungle would stand on stage for 10 minutes doing nothing, as everyone yelled at them to play something. Well, maybe that’s an example of a long REST. If you have a favorite example of Dimension 7, let me know. 

NOW that we’ve covered all 7 dimensions, let’s use them to analyze this week’s EXAMPLES.


We’re starting with a film, THE GREEN KNIGHT, screenwritered and directored by David Lowery. Right off the bat, The “Green Knight” in this film is not LITERALLY Green, or doesn’t appear to be in the first part of the film. He’s more BROWN, and  made out of plants. So Green here is not a COLOR, it’s Symbolic of Nature. But the title The Green Knight might also be referring to the protagonist, who is an INEXPERIENCED knight. 

So that’s some Symbolism and Ambiguity right there in the film’s title, as it relates to the characters. Which one of them is The Green Knight? Are they both “Green” in their own way?

Spoiler alert, this film is Type 2. 

Had a more literal filmmaker been in charge, making a Type 1 version, the main character would have been a knight with glowing green armor and sword. And he’d obviously be on a quest to defeat his nemesis The Purple Knight. 

Even the movie poster and thumbnail have NO GREEN on them. Instead, they used the colors blood red and a dark yellow.

The film opens with a single shot, slowly pushing in on a character sitting on a throne. There’s white daylight blasting in through openings in the ceiling. 

A crown floats down from the air towards his head, while a creepy voice WHISPERS:

“Look, see a world. That holds more wonders than any since the Earth was born. And of all who reigned over, none had renown like the boy who pulled sword from stone. But this is not that king. Nor is this his song.”

And BOOM, the guy’s HEAD bursts into flames! Well, that’s a SURPRISE.  

The camera keeps pushing in, then tilts up into darkness. 

“Let me tell you instead a new tale. I’ll lay it down as I’ve heard it told. Its letters sent, its history pressed, of an adventure brave and bold. Forever set, in heart, in stone, like all great myths of old.”

And the camera tilts up to an opening in the ceiling, now revealing the night sky. This is a VERY ABSTRACT “Once Upon A Time” opening. The first two times I watched this film, I was so captured by the visuals I didn’t even listen to anything the whispering voice said. Without subtitles, the voice is a bit too garbled to understand.

And those spoken words don’t really tell us anything useful. It does reference King Arthur, without saying his name, and then says this isn’t a movie about him. So it’s not direct exposition. It’s tonal. It establishes an atmosphere. And that is the SUBTLETY dimension at work. 

The Type 1 version would have started with a voiceover, “There once was a Knight of the Round Table named Sir Gawain.” Probably a montage, starting with a battle scene with a title like “1152 AD, England.” There would be blood everywhere, swords going in and out of people. The VoiceOver would tell us a bunch of facts. 

But instead, we get 60 seconds of SURREALISM. A crown floating down from the air, day turning to night, a dude’s head bursting into flames? Definitely Type 2. 

There’s a scene where Gawain sets out on a journey to meet The Green Knight. And for a full 90 seconds, there’s a continuous shot of him riding a horse calmly down a path. The city in the background. Some little kids playfully chase after him. A farmer with some sheep crosses the road. And that’s it. In film years, 90 seconds is a VERY long time. No music. Just ambient sounds. Wind. The horse’s feet on the path. We are in Dimension 7. 

And the camera seems to be riding on a wagon, because at one point it hits a pothole in the dirt and rocks back and forth. If this were a Type 1 style, this scene would have been shot with a helicopter or drone. There would be epic, heroic music playing, as the horse races across the landscape. 

But no, he’s just plodding along. It’s conspicuous and uncomfortable.

Let’s look at some SYMBOLISM. 

You might notice that CIRCLES show up throughout this film. The crown is circular, the background on the puppet show is circular, the round table is obviously circular. The time period of a full year from Christmas Day to Christmas Day is circular as the Earth goes around the sun. Or maybe in those days as the Sun went around the Earth. We don’t know yet.  

There’s a more SUBTLE use of the Symbolic Circle in a scene where Gawain gets robbed by some bandits. He’s tied up and left on the ground to die alone in the woods. He puts his head down and seems to give up. 

The camera slowly pans to the right. Clockwise. It slowly pans so far around, it comes full circle. Gawain is now a skeleton. Covered in bugs. 

It pans back around to the left again, slowly, counter-clockwise. And comes back around to show he is back to normal and alive. Is the rotating of the camera SYMBOLIC of the turning of the clock, fast-forwarding in time? That’s the Symbolism dimension. When it reverses, returning us back to the present, there is frantic, dissonant horror music. I think it represented him imagining his fate, and he struggles to break free of the ropes. 

The whole scene takes 2 minutes. Which again, in film years, is a long time. There’s the extreme of Dimension 7 again. 

There’s definitely some Non-Linearity happening towards the end of the film. Gawain finally meets The Green Knight and awaits his own beheading. But he panics and flees. Gawain returns home and eventually becomes King. He has a child, gets married, and the movie appears to be wrapping up. 

But after 13 minutes of this ending, Gawain snaps out of it. None of that last sequence happened. It was all a fantasy, and he’s still there on his hands and knees, waiting to get his head chopped off by The Green Knight. He finally says: “I’m Ready Now.” The Green Knight, who now DOES appear to be actually kind of Green, kneels down and puts his hand on Gawain’s face and says: “Well, done, my brave knight. And now. Off with your head.” And for the first time, The Green Knight SMILES. 

And there’s a DING! Ending title card. The Green Knight. It’s the AMBIGUITY Dimension again. The first two times I watched this film, I assumed The Green Knight let Gawain live, and this whole adventure was to teach him an important lesson about HONOR. But now I’m not so sure. 

Because there’s a post-credit scene where a little girl picks up the crown and puts it on her head. Which makes me wonder, does that mean Gawain really DID die? Because at the end of that earlier hallucinatory sequence, his head fell off. 

Unfortunately, the only element of Type 2 Art I couldn’t locate in this film was Ironic Counterpoint. So if you happened to notice some, LET ME KNOW. 

The Featured Review, by Gordon-11 on IMDB says this:

“Didn’t Understand It. I thought the story was slow and confusing. I didn’t understand what happened in the film at all.”

According to Wikipedia, the film’s budget was $15 million, and its box office was $20 million. So it only made $5 million dollars. For comparison, Spiderman No Way Home, released that same year, made 1 BILLION, 722 MILLION. 

I enjoyed this film even more the second time I watched it, and even “more more” after analyzing it. I gave it 5/5 stars and a little heart, on Letterboxd. 


Now let’s examine our MUSICAL example: a song called “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” by Riley Green. That’s right, an artist with the word GREEN in his name. And aside from that, it couldn’t be further from The Green Knight. 

But before I start analyzing it in terms of the 7 Dimensions… I want to make the disclaimer right away: I don’t think this song is bad. It’s purely a Type 1 work of art. And that’s exactly what its audience wants.

So let’s look at the 7 Dimensions. 

First of all, there is not one thing Surprising about this song and its music video. It is 100% predictable. There’s no twist. The creators knew exactly what it would be and who they were making it for.

The musical notes are Unambiguous. Because the chords are entirely diatonic to D Major. There’s no chromaticism and no modulation. It’s all in 4/4 at 76 BPM. It’s consonant and impossible to misunderstand. 

The instrumentation is standard country rock. Even his voice has the perfect TWANG to it.  

I watched the music video, which has a GREEN tint applied to it, and his truck is… also green. Someone must have thought: well, his last name is Green, wouldn’t that be clever to make things in the video green? So there’s definitely no Ironic Counterpoint. 

The lyrics are 100% Literal, and contain no Symbolism. There is no room for interpretation. 

Here are the chorus lyrics: 

“How would anybody’s daddy get around? To mend the fences and feed the cows, Where the hell would a small town girl climb up? If it wasn’t for trucks.”

So we’ve got Daddy, fences, cows, small town girl, and most importantly the entire song title is stated at the end of the chorus. Which is a good technique for a Type 1 pop music. 

He goes on to mention: beer, deer (as in murdering animals), God, Tennessee, the patriotic month of July, a bucket seat, old dogs, Merle Haggard, and even a specific brand name of trucks. I suspect these lyrics were assembled from a list of Country Music Nouns, with minimal connective tissue. It’s pretty much a list of physical objects, like a shopping list for Country People. 

The bridge lyrics don’t bring us to a new level of understanding like bridges tend to do, and it’s totally possible that its lyrics are a paid product placement.

Of course, the subject of the song, Trucks, is Physical, rather than Psychological. 

There is nothing left to the imagination. There’s nothing Subtle, and nothing Non-Linear. There are no conceptual gaps that the listener must cross. The producers have made it as easy to consume this song as possible. 

And there’s no exploration of Dimension 7 because this song is only 3 minutes 17 seconds. The expected length for the genre. 

But that’s OKAY! Because it’s exactly as it was intended to be. It’s a specific product for a specific audience. The comments on the YouTube video reveal they hit the bullseye, because the audience sees THEMSELVES in Riley Green. Those listeners have the same model of truck, the same old dog, the drink the same beer. They praise Riley Green for being REAL. 

It’s got 10 million views on YouTube and the album of the same name is RIAA Certified Gold which means it sold at least 500,000 copies since its release. I don’t know how many dollars that adds up to, but in the world of music, that’s pretty successful. 

So what he and his producers have ENGINEERED is a connection with a MASS audience. And that’s the power of Type 1 art. 

As you can see, I don’t believe Type 2 is strictly better than Type 1. And I enjoy a lot of Type 1. Do I prefer Type 2? A lot of times, yes. But that’s just my own totally subjective personal taste. Because I like Surprise, Abstraction, Ambiguity, Subtlety, Non-Linearity, Ironic Counterpoint, and of course, Dimension 7. 


OK, that’s the end of this Episode of the Carl King Podcast. Remember to subscribe on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, or anywhere else you listen to these dang podcasts. 

And if you like this show, support the creation of more episodes by joining my Patreon for $1 or $5 a month. That’s Patreon Dot Com Slash Carl King. Or send a tip through PayPal or Venmo to username CarlKingdom.

And as always, special thank you to my $51 a month Patrons, at the special Illusionist level, Chewbode and Hank Howard III. And thank you to ALL of the Very Good Friends of Carl King for listening, and as I always say: I’m not ready. Okay. Now I’m ready. 

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