Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Faking it as an artist

Do you think life as an artist seems glamorous and cool? Do you enjoy doing drugs when you are working? Or perhaps the mere mention of the word "work" makes you feel uneasy? Why not try being an artist? It is not as hard as it seems.

The brilliant documentary Exit through the Gift Shop illustrates my point very well. The story is about a wannabe graffiti artist who captures the acts of famous taggers with a camera as they are out in the streets, and then decides he wants to be an artist too, and puts on a giant exhibition in Los Angeles.

As you can see in the movie, there is a formula to creating pieces of art, although no one explicitly talks about it. It has very little to do with hard work and perfecting your skills, and much more to do with finding unusual ways to show common items, finding something provocative to say, and standing by your "art" with a straight face. Connections in the art world obviously helps as well, and a flair for extracting and describing obscure meaning from dead mundane objects.

Pay for a tour at a big gallery and you'll see what I mean. Try to count the number of times the host inserts his own interpretation of the art piece, when no meaning can really be found. "The artist chose to paint a ladder in the background, as to provide an escape from his life at this pressing time." I'm sure that if this "artist" had heard the nonsense, he would have had a good laugh. "It is a friggin' ladder, get over it".

I used to mingle in the artist community a lot in my early days, so I know the types intimately, and how art is commonly produced. Here is the formula:

  • First you have to convince yourself that you have something to say that is important for other people to listen to, even if you have never really lived or seen anything of value. A great deal of pain in your life or feelings of injustice certainly help. What the actual message is does not matter, just your zeal to have it in the face of others.
  • Then you pick any random common object and imagine what it would look like in a different light: smaller, bigger, in a different color, inside, outside, inside-out, upside-down, in a different material, heavier, lighter, in a different context, burning, freezing, alive, dead, anthropomorphized, without feelings, with symbols on it, cut into pieces, glued together, welded, crushed, squeezed, stabbed, etc. You get the point.
  • Now you spice up the idea by connecting it with a sensitive subject or controversy: sex, sexism, pornography, the Holocaust, poverty, the Middle East, racism, Islamophobia, profanity, immoral behavior in general, conspiracy theory, global warming, globalization, exploitation, cruelty to animals, genetically modified organisms, pollution, violence and gore, world peace, etc. You do this by adding more objects to the art piece.
  • Construct the art piece and at the same time create the back-story, the official reason for why this art piece exists, i.e. the message. 
  • Convincingly tell the back-story with a straight face at your art exhibition. This is the hardest part, but with practice and a little bit of success in earlier exhibitions you will eventually make yourself believe that those stories really are true. Tell a lie enough times and it becomes your identity.

An ideal art piece connects the viewer with as many controversial subjects as possible, but is deliberately ambiguous and open to interpretation, optimally taking both sides of a topic at the same time. The art lover gets a feeling of being smart if he mentally "cracked the code" of a piece of art, and then suddenly feels that it "talks to him" and that it "has meaning", even though there was nothing there to begin with. Compare with the lyrics to famous songs like Hotel California and Stairway to Heaven, where there is no meaning, but still a strong illusion of meaning.

Let me make a few examples and you'll see what I mean. After each description is the back story in italics. These I just came up with in a few minutes, and I wasn't on drugs or even had a beer, so imagine what you can do after a bit of practice and high on shrooms.

  • A child's toy action-figure with loaded weapons sitting on the stick in an over-sized closed bird cage, the door painted black like in prison. - Do you want violence to run amok, or do you want to cage it? 
  • 50 dildos painted in green, standing up and glued to a square of synthetic lawn, with red color (blood) running down from their tops onto the lawn. - Raping the rain forest - are you doing your part?
  • A dark ages style cannon painted in gold, loaded with a human baby, pointed to be fired on a big Middle Eastern city and a person in Jewish/Palestinian clothes (pick any side) lighting the fuse. - Are you on the right side of the conflict?
  • The Monopoly man enlarged to human size, with a giant saw in his hand, cutting a naked woman in half at the waist, blood spurting. - The patriarchy only want half a woman, because that's how much pay they think we are worth.
  • R2-D2 in a life-size replica, standing next to a naked male mannequin doll with golden robot-like hands and feet like C-3PO, and with a body that is painted in four different colors: black/African legs, brown/Latin waist, yellow/Asian chest and white/European head. - Unlike robots, humans only come in one race.
  • A miniature world-globe floating in an oversized beer glass, half full, with a polar bear pissing in the glass. - Global warming. Get drunk and try to forget it, but eventually it will stink for you too.

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