Art.

Last weekend I saw the move Exit Through The Gift Shop and I feel a need to talk about it. First of all, it’s an excellent documentary. It got great reviews and is well-worth watching, and it’s streaming right now on Netflix, so go see it. That being said, I was infuriated by the last third or so of it. Here’s the basic plot summary (don’t read this next paragraph if you want the film to be a surprise):

There are street artists. No one has ever documented their actions. There is a crazy French vintage-clothing-store-owner named Thierry (Terry) living in Los Angeles who is obsessed with videotaping everything. His cousin is Space Invader, a well-known street artist. Thierry films his actions and is introduced to other street artists, including Shepherd Fairey. Shepherd introduces Thierry to Bansky, the most famous street artist ever. Other stuff happens. In order to edit Thierry’s heaps of footage of both Banksy and other street artists into a film without Thierry being involved, Bansky tells Thierry to make some art and have a small show, basically to get him out of Bansky’s hair. Here’s where I start to fill with rage. Thierry, who has no artistic training or skill or experience, rents a gigantic building in L.A. and hires a massive staff to make his “art”. He is clearly crazy, his artwork is utter pointless crap, but he understands hype, so he hypes the hell out of his show. When his show opens, tons of people show up, people who are desperate to be “cool”, Thierry sells all his crap art and rakes in a million dollars. Jessica bursts into flames. The end.

Here’s the deal, people. Artists aren’t the people who come up with the ideas, okay? We all come up with ideas, all the time. Good ones, dumb ones, weird ones, etc. “What if blah blah was a blah blah blah?” The artists are the people who pluck ideas, theirs or others, out of the ether and make them into something we can see and touch and feel. They are inspired by something and the make something in the hopes that you will feel the same way they do about that thing. I’ll give you an example from my own life. I worked with a guy named Jd at BBDO, and he mentioned to me that every time he went to a new job, shortly after he started everyone else was fired, a whole new staff was hired and everything started anew. Apparently this seemed to happen every time he switched jobs. It was a joke with him and his friends that he was like Kali, the Hindu God of Destruction and Rebirth. I thought that was a funny idea, so I made a ink drawing of him as Kali.

I did not have the idea. I heard it, I liked it, I executed it. Who’s the artist in this situation, Jd or me? So when you (and when I say “you”, I mean you, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst) hire a big ole staff and you wander in and say, “Wouldn’t it be cool to cover a skull with diamonds?” or “I think a giant sculpture of a balloon animal would be neat,” and then you leave the building while your staff actually makes the thing and you touch nothing, but then you go and take credit for all the work, that doesn’t make you an artist. That makes you a hype machine. Your staff is the artist. And I hate you.

By the way, I love the skull covered with diamonds and the giant balloon dog. That’s not the point.

Leave a Reply