Friday, October 8, 2010

It's crap, but is it art?

A lot of my friends have been to see Exit Through the Gift Shop this week. I didn't go, largely because I'm not a fan of Banksy, or street art in general, but also because I decided to go to a different art show that evening, which I thoroughly enjoyed. After hearing their reports of the film, I'm really glad I didn't go. I think I'd have hated it.

This is nothing to do with the quality of the film. I haven't seen it, so I can't, and won't, comment. It's about the subject matter. It would have made me very angry, and I'd have left the cinema seething. I'm not sure if that was the emotional response they were after.

From what I can tell, the movie goes like this. A guy, Thierry Guetta, decides to make a movie about street art. Guetta shows his footage to Banksy, who tells him it's absolutely terrible, and suggests that he should try his hand at painting instead, while he (Banksy), despite having no film experience, will edit the footage into something watchable and finish the movie. So Guetta goes off and makes a load of equally terrible art, hires a warehouse in LA, and tells everyone that Banksy told him to be an artist. He hypes it like crazy, and suddenly his stuff is cool and he's an instant millionaire and the darling of the LA art set. The film ends with an embarrassed Banksy saying "I used to think anyone could do art. Now, I don't think like that."

Now, it's very likely that this wasn't a genuine documentary. I'd guess that Banksy set the whole thing up, just to take the piss out of the art world. Either way, though, the message of the film is the same.

Being a successful artist has nothing at all to do with talent. You can be absolutely terrible, but if you have the support of someone famous, you too can get rich and famous. People will buy your art, not because they like it, or even because they think it's cool, but because they think that other people will think they're cool for having it.

Even if it's another spectacular hoax, it's an insult to every talented, hard-working artist I know who's trying to get noticed. Don't bother going to art school, kids. Don't bother perfecting your craft. Don't even try to be original. Just do any old shit and get someone cool to back you, and you'll have people fighting over your work. It's Malcolm MacLaren and the Sex Pistols all over again.

No, that's nothing new, I know that. It's always been that way, and I'm not in the least surprised. But I wouldn't have enjoyed sitting in a cinema for an hour and a half having it rubbed in my face that talent is completely worthless, and the only thing that counts is having a Banksy on your side.

Don't let me stop you watching it. All my friends loved it. It was certainly thought-provoking, even without having seen it. But given that I spend much of my life trying to promote talented artists, the film's message is not one I personally want to hear.


Overman said...

Forgive me if my handling of the phrase is inept, I am not British...

But I'm not sure he was so much trying to take the piss out of the art world (i.e. encompassing all artists) so much as he was looking to take the piss out of the art establishment - which is absolutely guilty of the sins this movie highlights. For me, it drew a stark comparison between what an artist actually is, and what "being an artist" has become as far as pop culture goes.

The same is true in music, or at least it was when there was a stable music establishment, the existence thereof I've begun to truly doubt.

Anyway, Matt, I think if it ends up on Netflix streaming and you've got a night to kill, you'll be surprised at the degree to which the film seems to be agitated by many of the same things that you, a lover and supporter of real artists, find agitating.

Now, whether the statement of the film NEEDED to be said, that's another story. After all, as you said, anyone who's been paying attention already knows such things happen.

But I found the film a well made, humorous, and entertaining look at some eccentric personalities. And faux or not, it ends up being a surprisingly informative documentary on the street art movement, too.

If it's really the film it claims to be, then it's interesting. But if it was engineered, then it's bloody* brilliant.

* Again, pardon my non-British wielding.

Kate Fosk and Michael R. Joyce said...

I remember being really surprised to find that kids buy the latest games to make themselves look cool to their friends..I know it ought to seem obvious but the idea of buying a game and never playing it (or only playing it enough to make conversation about it in the playground) seemed like an alien concept in our household.
I think it's realistic though; have you seen the movie?; do you know about the latest cool art?. These things are more to do with social standing than art.
We're stuck with it as producers, but as consumers we have more choices.-Kate

Matt Kelland said...

Phil - yeah, I do mean the art establishment, not regular artists. All those people who are involved in the commercial side of art they dislike, because they think it makes them look cool / cultured / smart or are only in it for the investment.

I'm sure I'll get to it on Netflix at some point.

Kate - a phrase that's stuck in my mind from a book I'm reading (and will blog about later when I've digested it): "being producers, even in a small way, makes people more savvy consumers, and perhaps takes them out of the realm of the consumer altogether and transforms them into something else".