Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pimping the "Losers"...

In the ultra-colorful documentary Beautiful Losers we are invited to dip into the free-flowing and melancholic waters of several well-established NY and LA "street" artists. It's an enjoyable ride if you don't stop to think or scratch the carefully crafted surfaces that dazzle us as we glide by. We hear the artist's stories, we experience their total absorption in their aesthetic worlds, we see shows (and skateboards) mounted, and we sense the connective tentacles of cool writhing beneath it all.

Mike Mills, Geoff McFetridge, Ed Templeton, Shepard Fairey, Barry McGee, among others show us how much they've "kept it real" despite all the fame and fortune and suckling at the teat of corporate America. Surely, they appear to be a genuinely humble bunch. It's hard to call them "losers" though. Wounded teens in adult bodies is more like it. They faithfully waive the now tattered Gen X banner: A willful and cartoony powerlessness.

What connects this posse is a sort of folksy innocence - a willingness to admit that they are not the smartest people in the room, and that they're just doing what makes them feel good. OK. But again, don't think too hard, lest these seductive delusions escape the hermetic bubble of this film and explode in your face like cans of spray paint left in the sun.

The will-to-innocence especially comes in handy when it comes to sugar-coating the mega-deals so many of these artists have struck with ad agencies, on behalf of mega-corporations, who appropriate their art, in order to better hawk sugar-water, sneakers, and other goods. It's cool - They're letting me do my thing... is the general consensus. "These ad people are like us, just grown up and doing grown up jobs." "They want to be cool and involved with art."

I don't know, at the end of the day, what Pepsi and Nike want is to earn money for their shareholders. If that involves tapping these artists' beloved aesthetic nectar, and slapping a logo somewhere in the frame (albeit "carefully" by someone with incredibly complicated eyeglasses and a fitted plaid shirt), well my friends, I still think we're wrapped up in a toxic process. I don't think the Beautiful Losers' joyous self-intoxication is a solution to the kind of viral wolf-in-sheep's-clothing manipulations the advertising industry uses to shout at us and take our money.

For me this aspect was impossible to shake, even though the film is quite entertaining and the talking heads throughout quite cuddly. Call me old fashioned, call me out of touch, call me Ishmael, but I'm going to keep drawing that line between art and commerce, even though it's been beautifully lost in so many communities. I have no problem with artists stepping over the fence - but pretending the fence doesn't exist does a disservice to us all.


Blogger d. chedwick said...

so I should not see this, right? It seems like it would depress me for many reasons, and one or two reasons is usually all I can handle.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Here in the 21st century the concern for authenticity and purity seems rather pale and petty.

7:07 AM  
Blogger PABLO GAZPACHOT said...

Wow Nick, I've passed through that hypnotic vortex. It's not a healthy one in my opinion. OR rather it's an important one to wrestle with and transcend. I know these words are slippery by definition - but beyond all the noise and all the juggling and all the post-modern hubbub there is something essential in you, no? At the end of the day an artist must dig within for authentic and pure messages. Of course they don't have to read as authentic and pure, but if the source is neither, than we're authorizing a disconnection from the creative core. You become a rudderless vessel for the fads/zietgeist of the day to abuse. Don't you see that there are forces at play trying to sell us the pale and petty nature of authenticity and purity? Come back to us Nick!


Pablo G.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Worry not Pablo, I have not lost my way! I'm just trying to find it. What I posted was the last sentence of a longer comment which I had edited for brevity (perhaps I should have kept the rest for context) Working as one of those people with complicated eyewear and fitted plaid shirts I get to see what usually gets passed off as 'Authenticity' on a daily basis. It's a bit like seeing how sausage is made. As a result I find myself looking increasingly away from my 'creative' job for satisfaction. But in doing so I've needed to acknowledge that the forces selling the petty and the pale are some of the same forces that are signing my paychecks. (does someone smell a career change?) You are right Pablo, this noise and hubbub are tough to get through. But beneath it all I do know that there is magic in being human. It's easy to acknowledge the unwavering band of light at the center of all of us, I'm just trying to live up to that knowledge.


1:06 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

It's a process.


1:08 PM  

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