Wednesday, June 09, 2010

"The artist is a shy genius who may well die very soon..."

Most fictional portrayals of the art world, whether in film, TV, or books, fall rather flat for me. It's not only that usually the author resorts to caricatures and grossly exaggerates their motivations and/or failings, but rather that they usually can't seem to resist piling all the sins of the art world into each and every scene. It's like some writing professor somewhere gave them an F if they didn't hit each item or category option on a checklist:
  • Ugly, pointless, over-thought artwork : check
  • Misanthropic or immoral artist : check
  • Sinister, greedy dealer : check
  • Clueless or pretentious collector : check
  • Salacious or nebbishy art critic: check
  • Obsequious or bored curator: check
  • Chorus of sycophantic fashion victims and wannabes : check
  • Banter that "inadvertently" reveals more interest in money than in art or the well-being other fellow human beings: check
And it's not just the completeness of the writer's mixing in each and every cliche, but the seeming unawareness that they've overdone it that makes me sigh.

I normally attribute such cartoony portrayals to the writer's lack of familiarity with the art world, something easily researched away, IMO. This is made all the more obvious to me when I see a portrayal that hits home (even one using cliches) because the writer varies the checklist somewhat, giving at least a few of the characters some integrity.

Or maybe the writing students simply heard their professor wrong. Maybe the checklist was never intended for serious fiction...but rather for parody. Indeed, the only really convincing portrayals I find of the art world seem to be the funny ones. Of course, a good sprinkling of real insights (you know, those nuggets of wisdom brought about only by researching or knowing one's subject) are still needed to make the work ring true, as Jim Kempner demonstrates in his hilarious series "The Madness of Art" (there are some new episodes up now...don't miss 'em).

Another pitch-perfect parody was emailed to me recently by the artist (and my friend) Doreen McCarthy (who has some great work in one of my favorite group exhibitions up at the moment at the Lower East Side's Allegra LaViola Gallery). It's hard to top French & Saunders when it comes to lampooning the excesses of just about anything, but they really excel when it comes to the art world. Enjoy:

Labels: art world, humor


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm LOVING that they've got a (repro of) Vanessa Bell's Studland Beach behind the desk...


6/09/2010 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous marc said...

Horse's Mouth was my favorite art book and movie..I suppose the cliches about an artist's temprament where there, but I mostly recall kick-ass writing and acting. I am mildly curious about how the Bravo reality art show will portray people in the arts. Reality tv has its' way making people look vulnerable and stupid.

6/09/2010 11:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's the vicar of dibley.

6/09/2010 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Caio Fernandes said...

yes , it is all a cliche , the writers over react . i always laugh the way actors do painters in action too . show me one painter that paint like the way actors do in front of the canvasses with all the dramaticity and body gestuality

but how much ?

i am in this world for 11 years and didn't see so much diference .
maybe the fact it afects you is a good example they aren't so far fron reality .

6/09/2010 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Michael Brown said...


6/09/2010 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Will said...

I think this group does a pretty spot on satire of the art world while still celebrating the spectacle (my friends work with them, full disclosure):

6/09/2010 02:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Julian said...

I feel the art world is still too secretive and serious for the film, tv and even book producers to work with. It doesn't provide enough of the juicy public scandals or understandable drama for them to translate. It's either not ripe or is too ripe for parody. It has been cultured as a source of entertainment outside of the stereotypes and archetypes that we usually see. The most in depth looks are in the few films like Rembrandt, Picasso, Van Gogh, Munch, Pollock, Basquiat and the other Warhol flicks. These particular films reflect popular fame in western society. They are reduced to drugs/boozing, women, race, fame etc.. (pop) and the farther back you go, the films are about morality, war, poverty and social order. There are random scenes in flicks such as 500 Days of Summer (2009), where the budding romantic couple goes to a gallery, stares at some gold poop, looks at each other and says "do you want to see a movie"? The writer is telling us that art is not an entertaining past time that the average American likes (or should like). Another is the recent "Untitled." which is an funny group of anecdotes and cliches re-spun for a few laughs. Then there is Art School Confidential (2006) that is a horrendous over simplification of what art students do or think about during their time at school. It reduces the fear of rejection, and desire for instant fame to bullshitting and the extremes one must take to get famous, as seen by the main character that must steal the identity and art of a serial killer just to get recognition and the girl.
Asking for the entertainment industry and the writers that are part of it to create substance to match or do justice to the work artists and art professionals take so seriously is asking too much I think. Just enjoy the mind numbing pussy footed jokes and spirit crushing reality tv (bravo...) and make due with the characitures that rival popeye, olive, brutis and that other villan that ties women to train tracks. Documentaries are always better anyway.

And now one for the collectors -

6/09/2010 10:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Randall Anderson said...

Horse's Mouth - great movie. I've watched it many times. And books? - John Berger's A Painter of our Time. I know, they are both rather romantic, but they always make me feel like art counts. But the popular media, books, film, etc. only falls into cliche because that's oddly enough the way it appears most of the time. And Jim's Madness of Art definitely drives it home that even from the inside the cliches are too true. I have read Berger's book countless times. I think it's very accurate and gets at the conflict between the artist as creator and the artist as citizen. They are often not compatible.

6/09/2010 11:50:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

For films somewhat, and for tv especially, it's not the writers' lack of lack of familiarity with the art world (which no doubt does exist) that's responsible for what you see on the screen.

The checklists of cliches are provided by their employers. They're writing for a dumb fictional audience fabricated from Nielsen ratings and other sorts of demographic analysis by highly-paid analysts who know as little about actual human viewers as they do about the art world. Which doesn't much matter, because their job isn't to create good stories, but to provide convincing charts and graphs to highly paid network executives who use them to persuade highly-paid advertisers to sponsor their shows. It all kind of works, if you don't pay too much attention to the shows themselves.

I've known a number of cops, lawyers and doctors, and none of them are anything like their tv counterparts. So it's not like the art world is being singled out for cartoony portrayal.

6/10/2010 02:36:00 AM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...


you make me fall from my chair
laughing so hard

I just saw the first episode of the Bravo new show about
artist blah bla blah...

I was an extra for the first episode. I'm glad they cut me of. the only two scenes I glimpse my blurry self, I look so fat, I think they're using the camera 2 on me,,, not fare ;)

thank you

6/10/2010 07:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Deschanel said...

I liked the Scorcese segment of "New York Stories", where nick Nolte plays a rather tortured, heavy-drinking painter. It's a cliché for sure, but the scenes where he's painting (I think to the sound of "Like A Rolling Stone") do get at the "flow" of intense creativity, being absorbed in the moment.

6/12/2010 03:07:00 PM  

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