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Chris Matthews poses for a photo at the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.
Chris Matthews: Inspiring language learners at home and abroad
By Anna Kuntz, Senior Staff Writer • April 22, 2024
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Chris Matthews poses for a photo at the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.
Chris Matthews: Inspiring language learners at home and abroad
By Anna Kuntz, Senior Staff Writer • April 22, 2024
The best cafés to caffeinate and cram for finals
By Irene Castillo, Senior Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Mimesis | ‘Whiplash’: A Life in Art

Is commitment the death of inspiration? Or does dedication birth creativity?
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Nicholas Cassano | Staff Illustrator

The obsessed artist trope is one of my all-time favorites, especially in film. Seeing a character delve into the darkest parts of their psyche is shockingly cathartic for an anxious perfectionist such as myself. However, tragedy stamps most of these films with a familiarity that often dulls the ending into a predictable lesson that unwavering devotion to one’s craft is futile.

Alternatively, “Whiplash” is a morally ambiguous commentary on the stress and suffering required for success. It asks the viewer to come to their own conclusions about Andrew Neiman, a first-year at a prestigious music conservatory in New York. He loves drumming and his participation in the program reflects his talent.

The movie opens with Andrew playing on his own. The revered jazz musician, Terence Fletcher, suddenly appears in the room to watch Andrew play. Andrew feels the pressure to impress the legendary figure. Immediately, the tension rises. Fletcher is introduced as a role-model figure, whose personality is limited to his artistic abilities and awards. The scene ends in confusion — Fletcher leaves Andrew to wonder if his musical talent is good enough.

Allow me a moment to say, the visual reflection of self-consciousness in the dark, green-ish room is reminiscent of my own experience with performance. A relaxed moment with your craft is easily disrupted by the presence of a more experienced figure. Your attention turns to garnering approval rather than internal fulfillment. You wonder if you could’ve done better, if that one mistake was the difference between a callback and a dismissal, if you are even meant to be in a position to have these thoughts at all.

Andrew does end up in Fletcher’s jazz band, but the drummer’s personal life and passion dwindles and fades in the background. In the pursuit of Fletcher’s good graces, he loses all sense of self. 

I’ve wondered if my own decline into approval-chasing was just as conscious. Andrew seems to float along with the current. He’s unaware that losing his girlfriend, fighting with his family and running on foot to a competition won’t conjure Fletcher’s good side. 

But Andrew didn’t just run to a competition — he ran from a car accident. He ran on bloodied legs, drummed with broken fingers and had nothing to show for it but dismissal by Fletcher for his poor performance.

Dedication to one’s own detriment is common in many performance-based areas. Spending hours unpaid, unnoticed, unappreciated. It’s exhausting and dehumanizing to pour oneself into a beloved form of expression, only to reap a meager reward.

I found myself on the edge of my seat during the final minutes of runtime. Andrew was expelled for retaliation, Fletcher was fired for abusive instruction. The two meet on even terms in a jazz club and Fletcher invites Andrew to play for him again. He reveals that his harsh teaching is an attempt to spur a creative epiphany out of spite and Andrew fell short.

Presenting Fletcher as honest-intentioned and flawed is indicative of the lengths a student will go to impress their teacher. Success is only one perfect attempt away. Their abuse is worth the off-chance of a job well done. It’s an exhausting way to live, but so very common.

The movie concludes with Andrew finally disobeying Fletcher. Did Fletcher’s abuse finally make a true artist out of Andrew? Or was Andrew’s spiteful success a tragedy in itself?

I’ve been there, stuck between exhaustion and perfectionism. He “won.” He fulfilled Fletcher’s teaching philosophy and its strange power trip. He played the perfect set. But his performance stemmed from resentment. Honest effort fell by the wayside to the pitfalls of affirmation-seeking.

It’s not shown whether Andrew keeps playing or gives up drumming for good. I think this choice was both frustrating and validating. Music is a part of him, but his relationship to the process is wildly unhealthy and based in anger. Many individuals in his position drift in and out of interest, but the deep desire to love their hobby remains. 

It’s okay to put the instrument, paintbrush and racket down. There is no shortage of time to enjoy your passion on your own terms. One cannot achieve contentment stemming from wild-eyed and bloodied desire. 

Fletcher is beyond a representation of “the bad instructor” — he is also the embodiment of the stress that follows from high expectations. It is better to disappoint your idols than betray yourself. Even if that means tackling and cursing them in front of an audience, at least according to Andrew.

About the Contributor
Chloe Woodruff, Staff Writer
Chloe is an English Writing and Philosophy major with a love-hate relationship with reading. Ironically, she primarily blogs about literature and narratives across mediums.  Write to her at  or check out her Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/chlobees