I've been off for a week, so I did get a chance to see the new Borrowers animated film by Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, which is also known as THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY. It was cute in the way all his films effect you with a sense of purity for things that are childlike and innocent. It wasn't as imaginative in style or animation as some of his other films. My guess is that kids will be mildly interested. It would have been better if the love story between Arrietty and Sho was more intense and the villainous Haru was more diabolical. But don't take my word for it, the film was a huge hit in Japan and has been seriously praised for its music and animation. I thought these last two were consistent with the other films, but the story just wasn't that interesting. My guess is that Miyazaki is just another material object of consumer celebrity that needs to be washed down like gelatinous breakfast cereal to match his worldwide success with PONYO. Anyway, I'm not fooled. It's a mediocre film without the powerful effect you would get from SPIRIITED AWAY or PRINCESS MONONOKE.
Speaking of watered down breakfast cereal, my brother did get me another Murakami book for Christmas this year--the ever-popular 1Q84. Like Miyazaki, I believe Murakami is now the "in-thing" to read by people who want to pretend they are avid readers because he has received so much high praise--much in the same way people carry a David Foster Wallace book around or have it on their shelves. It's strange to me that such strange writers would generate so much interest. Both writers are a bit too conventional in their literary posturing for me to be captivated longer than a few pages, but it seems like lots of people like these types of super author books. I would rather read something more aligned with popular culture, like a James Bond book--or flip it and reverse it and get a poetry book like SLEEPING WITH THE DICTIONARY--but it may be that the super author is the key to the literary market. If we look at trends in Hollywood--where stars end up receiving a higher value for their artistic work because of a history in the public eye, such as George Clooney--his work in THE DESCENDANTS will be rewarded with a politically correct Oscar--it makes sense that Murakami, Miyazaki, and even David Foster Wallace, would have their works filtered by the kind and steady gaze that accompanies fame.
Literary branding, like star branding, is a business, and it will be done to dupe the masses. This is not to say that the writers or directors I've mentioned are not talented, or that their books are not appealing. I am simply singling out the lack of appeal for myself, and that a large part of the reader or viewership for these artists is created by the public's interest in creating icons. And, finally, and I suppose this is becoming the theme of this post, the fact that something is popular or famous intones with it a sense of hungry consumerism for more of the original, so consumers can either claim an identity by association or simply "pass"--as in "passing"--with the deemed appropriate products: cue a mental picture of a 1950s American suburb for historical reference.
The new millennia seems to be about how one can brand themselves and create a user friendly identity that is digestible, but does not go down as blandly as some of the commercial music of the 80's might have. Artists need to maintain a certain "hipness"--or replace this for any other term: rebelliousness, otherness, etc.--that instills a sense that the buyer is not being "sold" a mass product. Likewise, the trendy consumer must also navigate a world of commercial products and choose to acquire products based on occupation, or the likelihood that association with such products will help the consumer improve his or her occupation, or that the consumer will simply afford more financial freedom to buy more products--and this is the clincher--attain the true desire of any commercial association for the consumer: getting laid, either physically, financially, or spiritually, so that one is "laid out" or has become the recipient of some uber-minded false reality of completeness, like how enlightenment--as if there was such a thing--or a touchdown bring a state of repose momentarily for our consumer consciousness.
A film that reflects this circle of incompleteness rather well is Abbas Kiarostami's CERTIFIED COPY. Although the film begins with a premise on whether a certified copy is as good as an original from an art/commerce perspective, it shifts this concept onto how a relationship could or could not meet this ideal. Like Kiarostami's earlier films that play with the idea of reality, we are never given a clear line in which to digest the film. We are simply offered the possibility that the couple who interact in the film could potentially be or not be acting as a married couple, or that they are simply acting in this fashion to "act out" the ideas they discuss about originality--or that the film could be an intense meta-play on relationships and reflect the director's idea that his art of using Juliet Binoche and William Shimell to pretend to be a married couple is as good as if it really happened. The latter is my guess, but it really doesn't make the film any easier to understand, and, in all, it is an intellectual head game intentionally missing a few pages to activate participation into the question of its purpose and make the audience question reality and the fragility of relationships. The point is made elegantly, but this is not a film for people to watch and expect a satisfying experience at the cinema. This is for people who like to be fed a cinema that is artistically experimental for the sake of being experimental without being offered any answers but more confusion. But don't take my word for it, this film has had positive accolade from the jurors at the Cannes movie festival!!
So with shittier and shittier things being picked up by the populace, it makes me wonder whether things that are given an intellectual spin by the branding machine are, in fact, popular because they offer consumers an opportunity to be seen as intellectual themselves, or is it a different idea altogether: could commercial products that have an intellectual spin be spun as more intellectual in an effort by the governing bodies of discretion--the Cannes jurors, the New York Times, etc.--out of a fear that if we identify things as popular that are seen as less than intellectually sound that this would drive down the value of the governing bodies to tell consumers what is appealing from the onset? Could it be that if we actually lined up consumer sales with what was both mildly interesting and popular, that our critics would be discussing the latest romance novel or a good horror film, rather than paying so much attention to pseudo-intellectual art?
I wonder if that's why something like Mr. Brainwash is even more relevant in today's artistic culture and to our discussion. Here we have an artist who commercially produces a digestible art that is even more digestible given the success of his documentary EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP. His pieces are created by a team of designers who construct to order Mr. Brainwash's fancies. One of his more recent pieces at ART SHOW 2011 in Los Angeles includes a portrait of Benjamin Franklin with headphones on, while a real stereo is placed on a table in front of the portrait. This is a simple arrangement, and upon close examination, the painting is not done with any specific skill. The art lies in the arrangement and defacement of what is not thought to be "hip." Historical figures would never listen to music, so isn't that otherworldly to see such a spectacle. And that's at the heart of this artist: each of his pieces reflect a more digestible version of the truth purveyed by other artist's of the 20th Century, and they are then remixed to ownership and as a product by Mr. Brainwash.
The truth of the matter is that Mr. Brainwash has very little artistic talent. His concepts are creative manipulations similar to a tee shirt salesman coming up with designs that will look good on a tee shirt, but which are presented in a large scale and on display from the guise of his fame and association/manipulation in his work of other artists, such as Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat. In fact, much of his current work is a large bite off the other artists depicted in EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey. In truth, his five minutes our due to be up any moment now. The only question will be if the media machine will spin him long enough in a dryer to create an icon, or will he just be an outdated Shrinky-dink in the next decade. My bet is on the latter, but don't take my word for it--his art show in Los Angeles was a huge success!!
So what is going on? Why all this shit for sale? When will we have a legitimate artist again? Will it continue like this?
Unfortunately, the ideas of fame and art have become intertwined and muddied in our reality driven era. It will be difficult to tell what holds merit or is simply being offered up as a "product" in the future. That is part of the appeal of Mr. Brainwash--everything he does is about offering the product. Everything is a concept. He doesn't need to paint a perfect picture or show other measures of talent. His talents are dictated by how effectively he is able to remix other works and market himself simultaneously. Such is the reality of today's art world. Which offers up the year's final questions: What will be the new art? Where will it be sold? What will be its effect? And will anyone care?
Kenneth Godsmith's "Uncreative Writing" delves into some of these questions. I will discuss his book, Momus (videos below), and fame--my favorite topic--in a bit.