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  • Bianca Vinther

The Message of the The Nightmare Before Christmas for visual artists

What is the fundamental message of The Nightmare Before Christmas by American filmmaker Tim Burton?

Christmas tree decoration in form of Jack Skellington

There are different interpretations of this remarkable movie based on how one perceives and understands the plot and individual facts. Here's my key to the fundamental message of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

A little preamble

Perception is not impartial. We see a complex mix of who we are, what we have learned, and what we want to see. Like the author of the article "Things as they are" published in 1831 in the London-based newspaper The Atlas wrote:

We cannot see things as they are, for we are compelled by a necessity of nature to see things as we are. We never can get rid of ourselves.”

If you want to learn more about visual perception in art and the secret behind seeing vs. looking and observing, read my blog posts "Art and the perception of reality" and "The key difference between looking, observing and seeing in visual arts".

The Nightmare before Christmas: the plot & my comments

Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King from Halloween Town, falls into a swirling vortex that sucks him into Christmas Town, where he had never been before.

A completely clueless Jack doesn't understand the meaning of Christmas. He cannot grasp why things are so different there than in his hometown.

He returns to Halloween Town and wrestles intensively with Christmas for a while, until he gets what he believes to be a clue to decoding the meaning of it.

"What's this? What's this? There's colour everywhere! What's this? There are white things in the air! What's this? " (Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas)

In fact, Jack cannot see beyond the end of his nose, therefore he misinterprets everything, and takes over Christmas together with his followers. Christmas becomes a nightmare, a second version of Halloween.

Jack is confronted with a different version of the world, which he cannot grasp. Because he is a prisoner of his own perception of reality. He tries in vain to decode Christmas, pretty much like in a hamster wheel. Because the mind is incapable of seeing beyond its own limits, he looks for an answer in rationality, which proves to be misleading.

But Sally, who is secretly in love with Jack, can see the truth. She understands his misinterpretation and helps him see, so he can save Christmas in the end. Because Sally is the artist who sees through and beyond personal and cultural limitations. She doesn’t see only for herself but can make others see, too.

There’s a happy end to this story: Sally and Jack unite in love. The power of the heart prevails over the obstacles of rationality. The heart is the seeing organ par excellence. With it we can "gaze into the stars" as Jack tells Sally.

The Nightmare Before Christmas: the message for visual artists

Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas shows the role of perception in the making of reality and the extent to which the limits of vision can impact human relationships. But it also illustrates the power of inner transformation and, ultimately, the capacity of the heart to distinguish between truth and appearances, which confirms that

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

I’m firmly convinced that conscious seeing can help you unlearn the conventional ways and change your perspective on things. If you change the way you see and you start seeing differently, the world around you will change, too! As a consequence, creativity will be unlocked and artist block overcome.

Merry Christmas!

🦇 "Kidnap the Sandy Claws, beat him with a stick. Lock him up for ninety years, see what makes him tick." (The Nightmare Before Christmas) 🦇

Thank you for reading till the end. If you’ve got something to add, please comment on this blog post below, drop me an e-mail or pm me on Instagram @the_pointless_artist. I'd love to hear from you!

Via The Pointless Artist Blog and The pointless Artist Podcast, I support the creative energy of life and the artists who contribute to transforming this world into a freer, kinder, more inclusive, caring, transparent, and compassionate place to live. I firmly believe in the passion for art, the importance of sharing knowledge and experiences, and the power of personal stories to bring us together.


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Recognise your pointlessness and keep creating!

From Denmark with love,

Bianca Vinther


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