the little swindlers that could


August 20th, 2012

The Little Swindlers that Could

It was only appropriate that pop art came along.
Considering the art movements that had taken shape over more than half of a century, perhaps it had all become too confusing.

When the average person is asked what they consider art, their responses remind me of a line from a Woody Allen film entitled Small Time Crooks, about a married couple suddenly thrust from lower to upper class. When the wife is asked by a visiting snob as to which artists interest her, she replies "Uh, Rembrandt. Picasso. Michelangelo. You know, the boys."
Sophisticates and experts tend to value such artists as well, but the challenge that had come to exist before pop art was based on what new heights of sophistication and expertise would be worth hanging in galleries. In an environment where revolutions can be allowed, it is considerably difficult for those that have the control to choose them.
So forget about the classics. The challenge of deciding what is modern or contemporary is a perpetual one. Van Gogh was as appreciated in the 1920's as he was in the fifties, give or take.
But, dammit, it's the fifies? Where else is there to go?
The unwittingly brilliant answer for this was to go nowhere.

For example, Warhol's career had begun in the commercial arts, a crowd frowned upon as whores by the more serious coven, nothing so glamorous; what certain circles would call gay for pay.
Due to this, his explosion into the mainstream of the artworld (and subsequent perversion of it) was attributed to his skills as a graphic artist. The indecisiveness of those seeking the next best thing had reached such a high fever pitch that he had seen a weak spot, and he had therefore taken full advantage of it.
Where eccentricity for the sake of purpose had been celebrated before, Warhol's celebration was of mundanity for the sake of eccentricity. His multiple prints of any particular image is an indicative celebration of carelessness set to one concerted image, and it put him right on the map.
His career is almost entirely based on something thrown together for something-thrown-together's sake.
But after all, it's art. And if the person responsible for making it isn't making much of anything, what is there to argue with or argue against?
He was a swindler, and the best of swindlers must be clever.
Take his films, collectively as deep and meaningful as a group of guys hanging out and blowing each other on a couch, which is a lot like his film, called (wait for it) Couch.
It also harkens back to Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, a double album of utterly senseless feedback that people have come out of the woodwork claiming to 'get'. It's touted off by sympathizers as a 'fuck you' to his industry, but serves more as a 'fuck you' to everybody.
Anyone who had bought Lou Reed's album upon release and had considered it acceptible enough to not send back (aside from being kept out of novelty) was a moron. By that measure, anyone who has paid a massive amount of money for a Warhol painting was simply not in on the joke. And neither of them had shrugged off such arrogant stunts with any sense of conscience.
Warhol alone seemed to be someone intent on tearing artistic ambition down to not giving much of a shit one way or the other. Not giving a full and finished shit about the individual pieces that you make is a surefire way of being prolific. And prolific he was.
No artist before had made it so successfully clear that you can get away with anything that you like if you could make others believe that it didn't matter, which is why he got away with it in such unprecendented fashion.
And every artist after that has pursued the same route has felt the screw turning more uselessly as the threads give out.

Pop art has always come across as a mix between colorful inspiration and good old-fashioned laziness, and in no particular order. I think of all of the teenaged girls that I grew up around with bits of magazines cut out and collaged along the walls of their beds, and wishing that I had taken pictures for a collective coffee table book. To them it was only an expression of self-identity, but in the right hands and with the right audience it could be seen as a profound comment on the human condition. It would only be fair to mention that nothing about a teenager's room is interesting, and scientifically it's worse. At best, it's half as curious as a murder scene, a lighter version of the serial killer's lair as seen in forensic science thrillers.
What is worrisome is that there is an exhibit of girl-wall collages out there somewhere, one that is being pondered by an interested audience in search of a deeper meaning.
And to this day, you can encounter an exhibit made solely of neon painted rock idols or a varying collection of wrought iron crucifixes, publicised in ways that qualify kitsch where it shouldn't be. It stinks of someone who has skill and nothing to do with it, and the price is often heavy, yet just affordable enough to not see it for the fraud that it is and get tired of it.
But for the few better artists of this type, the iconography comes second. They are not building their work onto what comes after they've printed Colonel Sanders onto canvas. However dangerous original conception may be, the pop art movement is finally played out enough that the danger will finally be the artist's own responsibility. The internet meme is a significant sign of its demise, and it can't come soon enough.
Once and for all hopefully, or at least until we go back to being full of our own personal selves.