Thursday, August 10, 2006

Jhonen Vasquez Fans Suck

A lot of art is well-loved because it appears ground-breaking, rebellious, and counter-culture. And that pretty much sums up its artistic value; past that, there’s not really all that much to it.

On the other hand, anything that’s popular is despised in artistic circles. Critics see it as selling out, tripe, and basically vanilla. In essence, if something is popular it has to have absolutely no artistic value.

If you want to see my point, track down your local liberal or art paper or magazine, and read the reviews, and chart the star ratings (or whatever they use) against how much it took to make the film. The trend is that the more money it took to make the movie, the fewer whatevers it gets; conversely, the less money it took to make it, the more whatevers it gets. Foreign and independent movies tend to get the most whatevers, but potential blockbusters rarely get more a number of them. An Adam Sandler movie will never get four stars, regardless of how much fun the movie is.

Jhonen Vasquez is a great artist not because of his edgy artistic style (whatever that means), but because he has fun doing what we all want to do: He takes those things that we deal with everyday and want to see die in the most painful way possible. That’s what makes his art Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comics so much fun to read. He despises his fans, and it’s not hard to see why. They see that he is making fun of popular culture and the corporate mentality, and that there is a lot of blood, but they just don’t get the actual joke. By concentrating on the “gothiness” they just don’t get the point.

Consider Warhol’s Campbell soup can. He wasn’t trying to make an ironic point, in that an artist can make art out of anything, but rather that there is a lot more art out there than we are aware of. Consider the can in and of itself: It’s an attractive can, and when you see it you have a definite feeling of comfort, mainly because the product is associated with fond memories (in my case, grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell’s tomato soup). This isn’t to endorse Campbell’s, but rather point out that there is some artistic merit to the product (this is an art AND marketing blog, after all).

The thing to consider here is that a true artist doesn’t care about whether or not your art sells. The point is whether or not you get you point across. A Campbell’s soup can definitely gets its point across: We have a product that we think is good for you. On the other hand, a lot of independent films don’t; they’re too busy celebrating that they are making a movie and tend to forget things like characters and plot. Oops, but look at us!

Sorry, but I’d rather have my art represent something than just do it. Tomato soup is actually filling. Not all art films have much more than pretty pictures; nothing to fulfill you there. Art doesn’t have to be dark, boring or cheap; it can be light, exciting and expensive. Artists rebel against authority when they are young; why do they do nothing but listen to them when they get older. Why do critics hold so much sway when it comes to defining art?

Can you be a fan of both Toby Keith and the Dixie Chicks?

[I am disrupting your normal blog for personal opinion. All I’m going to say is that it’s my blog and I’ll whine if I want to.]

I like country music. You can dance to it, and that there is usually an actual story makes the writer in me really happy. Also, I like that the chorus can change meaning each time in some songs.

However, a lot was made of the extreme positions of Toby Keith and the Dixie Chicks. Basically, one of the Dixie Chicks said that she was embarrassed that President Bush was from Texas, the same state she was from. The Dixie Chicks came under a lot of fire because, well, it was just after 9/11 and that was a bad time to say anything bad about America. Conversely, Keith came out with a song that was, well, extremely patriotic and was best known for suggesting the placement of a certain piece of footwear. Keith’s popularity soared (he had a number of great songs, but a lot of people shared his feelings at the time).

The catch is that I agreed with both. Keith’s song is a great patriotic song; it’s a great bar song, and you occasionally need a song that kicks butt. It was a song that was a product of its time, and a song that expressed the feelings of the people at the time; isn’t an artist supposed to go with their emotions at the time, no matter where it leads them (except for illegal or immoral areas)? At the same time, isn’t part of being American the ability to say anything you want to (provided it doesn’t kill anyone), especially something bad about the president? After all, no one should be above criticism. Period.

[Yeah, yeah; I was for the war; I was getting a bit tired of Saddam doing the “No, I don’t have WMD’s! Wait, I do! Just kidding, I don’t! Wait, I do!“ thing…If you, as a leader, feel the need to tick off people just to buoy your approval rating among your clique while your actions cause those under your leadership to die, then someone needs to come in and kick your butt. I have changed sides, but that’s more because of my dislike for how it’s being handled than for anything else. I’m weird that way…]

Now, it’s a few years later and the Dixie Chicks have released a new album. Because it has a song on it that describes how they feel (“Not Ready to Make Nice”), so of course the whole is coming back. Now, I appreciate how they feel (they have no reason to apologize and shouldn’t feel obligated to do so), but I’m disliking the tone I’m seeing in some of the reviews; too many critics are keeping in mind the original problem, but are putting a current spin on it (basically, that they were correct to take the stance they did).

The issue is that it’s fine to discuss why a particular event is important to a song; I do see that as important, especially when the event is extremely relevant to the song in question. But…to put your own personal spin on it is just ridiculous. When I read a review, I don’t want to know what the critic’s politics are; I want to know if the item being reviewed is worth buying. If you spend most of your review telling me how brave they were or why they shouldn’t have cancelled tours or why you think their reasons are suspect, then you aren’t really reviewing

If you want to insert your personal opinions, fine; just put the review in the opinion section but not in the review section. Don’t waste my time wile you slam or praise something that is only peripherally pertinent to the actual review; discuss the meaning behind things, sure, but not your personal opinions of whether or not you think the item’s artistic merit should be based on your interpretation of actions that didn’t happen in or on the item. You may think it was a worthy stance, but that it was cowardice to cancel concerts, but I don’t care.

I just want to know if I should put down $20 on a piece of plastic or if I should buy more art supplies, not get some diatribe about the on how correct it was say something bad about the president or wrong it is to express your patriotism. But that’s just me…