I just saw “Untitled” with Adam Goldberg (love him) in which he plays an avant-garde composer trying to be taken seriously or at least as seriously as he takes himself. His brother is the commercial artist whose paintings are a hit in hotels and doctors offices. It is difficult not to have an opinion about the angles of this movie, be they to stir up the “What is art?” conversation, or the “To what extent does an artist sell his soul to be a commercial success?” one. I don’t know the answer to the latter question. Maybe ask Bob Dylan about his new Christmas album or Yoko Ono about her landing John Lennon as her marketing platform. Both of them will deny having commercial interests at all, because to really be considered as a genuine artistic talent one has to at least feign to care more about their art than whether the masses ‘get’ what they are doing. The minute one bows to what the public will buy or swallow and lets public consumption dictate what he will create, he becomes not an artist in the organic sense but a slave or a dancing monkey. Who knows, maybe Bobby Zimmerman the Minnesotan of Russian Jew descent decided to come back to Christmas (a second time) and it is a genuine release of where he’s at with the whole Christianity thing (again.) I think it is obvious beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bob Dylan is a true artist – poet and musician, so we’ll let him slide a few times. For every artist who is the real article, there are several others who are hangers-on and posers dripping with pretension. Ahem…..hachoo-Yoko……excuse me. Allergies again.
In the movie, Madeleine is an art gallery owner who adores all things pretentious and has an equally nauseating argument for why it is valid. The commercial artist brother who keeps her gallery afloat financially whines to her that his goal is just to be taken seriously as an artist. “Being an artist is a gift, not a goal.”, she retorts. Snap, girl. Safe to say she emasculated his sense of self and every thing he ever imagined himself to be in one fell swoop, but in a way it’s true.
I was at a gallery showing several years ago and talking to a friend of mine who was a student at the Academy of Art Institute. Someone in her class (who doubtless thought he was a great artist) decided to buy a blank canvas at the Utrecht art supply store. He went to the right party and mingled with the right people and pushed his ‘art’ giving it the title of ‘Nothingness.’ He sold this blank canvas that he paid $40 for for $10,000 at a gallery showing. I shit you not. That someone would buy into such nonsense and put down $10,000 for a vapid experience is the definition of insanity. This person was not affected in any way by this art, he was affected by the idea of art. Where does one draw the line? What is art and what isn’t?
I don’t think this is something that requires writing a doctoral thesis to answer. It’s quite simple. Art is supposed to move, heal, inspire and effect the masses in some way, not serve as a vehicle for pretension or condescension. Art is something visceral that inspires and stirs. If the audience or viewer has to expend effort to grasp or comprehend the experience, it is probably not worth their time as it misses the whole point. The moment art becomes something cerebral and cold that wanna-be artists on the fringe are hanging out in coffeehouses spending 3 hours dissecting, it is moot.
My brother once shared his opinion on what defines something as a good gift or not. If you find yourself giving someone the gift and explaining it to them, what it is for, and why or how they could use it, it’s probably a crap gift. I believe the same litmus test should be used for the legitimacy of art and whether it can stand on its own. Art should penetrate the gut and effect a response. It shouldn’t cause confusion and chaos. We have enough chaos and confusion in the world without adding to it. Harmony, beauty, inspiration, angst, pain and oh yeah, that beauty thing again. The aformentioned ideas need no explanation – we know them when we see them. Such is art. You start talking to me about the existential meaning of the art performance of a monkey stepping in paint, walking across the canvas and taking a shit on Tuesday at 4:15pm on the gallery at the corner of W. 24th, three days after the full moon, you’ve lost me. I would at least have respect for someone dancing in this world to admit that they’re just playing along in the ‘game.’ If someone is stupid enough to infuse something meaningless and empty with meaning and pay me $10,000 you better believe I”m going to take his money. That kind of mentality is at least one step up from pretentious posers – he makes no qualms about capitalizing on people’s insatiable need to pretend to understand something not understandable.
So I suppose there is a lot of grey area in terms of what ‘art’ is. Did this movie make it into that definition? Absolutely. It’s a hilarious satire that makes you think. I didn’t have to sit around waxing on about the meaning of it – it penetrated my gut and effected a response right away and it made fun of the art that doesn’t.
As far as Bob Dylan and Yoko Ono are concerned, well, Bobby has always been ok in my book. He has more than enough credit built up to take a mis-step towards commercialism every now and again. He doesn’t need the commercialism bandwagon, he might choose it every now and again. Yoko? Well, her audience is the audience that wants to believe they understand something that the masses don’t. She’s selling them not art but the opportunity to bask in pretension. It’s facade. It is said that art is truth and beauty, if that be so, then facade cannot be considered art. Unless, of course, you admit that the facade is just that and you want to sit around in a coffeehouse talking about the meaning behind the facade. Lost yet? Yeah, me too. I’m going to stick with Bob Dylan, Brahms, and Peter Paul Reubens and avoid all of the circuitous million-dollar conversations.
As far as seeing the movie though? Do it.