Artists have an unusual relationship with popular media; first of all, it’s kind of difficult to locate many artists in pop culture in the first place, a fact that I fully came to understand after searching for examples of artists in a number of sources. In movies and TV shows, artists are largely unpopular characters to be found; I had to dig deep and think somewhat abstractly before I came across some suitable characters for my argument. And when they are present in the media, they’re also very commonly portrayed as either eccentric weirdos, or lower class people.
Is this really an issue? I mean, artists really are often living life to their own beat.. Many artists don’t follow the conventional rules that our society has decided are the right ones all the time, and they often don’t make a ton of money. I know people like this in my real life, and I’m sure most other people do, too. I mean, I’m an Art student myself, so I’m familiar with the stereotype. So what’s the big deal? Why is it an issue to only ever portray artists like they’re the misfits in society, never the norm?
In popular media in the United States, I think there’s a bit of a chicken and the egg situation happening. It happens to all kinds groups of people, but I’m going to focus on the artists here for a moment. A lot of people in this world are only exposed to a large number of things exclusively through their television, or as of the last 20 years or so, their computer or smartphone. It’s somewhat reasonable, there’s not enough time or resources to experience everything first hand. It just can become an issue what that’s all they have to base their ideas and opinions on for all kinds of things, and people. It has very real consequences of how people perceive things in their lives. What I’m trying to get at here is that when they see the typical “starving artist” being portrayed in their favorite TV show, that stereotype can honestly change their impressions of people that they perceive as fitting in that box. Basically, if the TV is treating artists like poor weirdos, eventually that will come to pass and have an impact on the lives of real people.
Exhibit A: Titanic
The Titanic is an epic romance story released in the 1990s that focuses more on the lives of two passengers of the ship than the disaster itself. A wealthy upper class lady named Rose is due to be married off to someone of her status when she finds Jack. He’s one of the lower deck passengers, and he doesn’t have much money to his name. Jack is an artist, which is why he’s relevant here. We know this because Rose asks him to draw her “like one of his French girls”, which he does so gladly. The film depicts him as very skilled, drawing Rose with a level of dedication and intensity that really only belongs to a master of his craft (Also Leonardo Dicaprio does a great job with his acting in this scene, which helps a lot). Jack is also seen to very clever and an all around upstanding guy, but Rose’s family would never approve of him because he is both poor and an artist. Only the best noblemen for their darling daughter Rose. Surprisingly, this sentiment hasn’t really changed for a lot of people over the course of roughly 110 years, and a lot of parents wouldn’t be pleased if their daughter brought home an artist today. Living in Portland, it’s easy to forget that there’s such a stigma against those that are passionate for the arts because it’s such a progressive city that really supports its artists, but there are still plenty of people in this world that think it’s a complete waste of you time to invest in any kind of art related skill at all.
Basically, everyone but Rose discards Jack as being a worthless waste of space despite his numerous skills and generally likeable personality, all because he’s an artist and poor. I think part of the reason Rose falls for him because she knew his personality before his background, and not the other way around. Chances are, Rose would have ignored him too, has she known he was poor if the world in Titanic is anything like the real one. Then again, there was totally room for Jack on that board so who knows?
It’s hard to say what the causation/correlation relationship is between being poor and being an artist, but it’s definitely fair to say that they’re often found together in popular media.
Exhibit B: Edward Scissorhands
Edward scissorhands was a not-so-obvious choice for this project at first glance, because when I think of Edward Scissorhands, my first thought is “weird sort of Christmasy, sort of Halloweeny move about that guy with the scissorhands”. My second thought is “Yup, that’s a Tim Burton film”. ‘Artist’ was definitely not the first word that popped into my mind in any case. I quickly changed my mind when I gave it further consideration, though.
It’s a quirky movie about a really lonely scientist who lives in a mansion overlooking a small suburban town. Out of this loneliness the scientist comes up with the idea of creating a human being to fill that empty void in his life. Instead of doing it the old fashioned way, he literally creates a person with various machines, parts and pieces, and of course love. And so Edward was ‘born’. However, just before the scientist could finish Edward, he dies, leaving him with clumsy scissors for hands. Edward is found by a kindly middle age woman involved in a pyramid scheme from the suburban town below, and is takes him into her home. Eventually it’s discovered that Edward is greatly skilled at using his scissorhands to make things of beauty. He starts out with trimming hedges into amazing topiaries, and then graduated to doing pet grooming and hair styling on the women of the town.
I like this movie for this topic because both Edward and his creator can be considered to be artists. The scientist designed Edward and created him out of love, just as many artsits and graphic designers do with their own work. Edward is a more spontaneous kind of artist, and doesn’t seem to need to have much of a planning stage before he gets down to the creation. It’s almost like the scientist passed on his ability to create to Edward, and Edward is carrying out his legacy in his own way; Art creating art. It’s also noteworthy to mention that they were both very much outcasts in this strange fictional world. We didn’t learn much about him in the film, but the scientist clearly never fit into society, living on all by his lonesome in a great looming mansion, forced to create someone that would accept him. Edward is of course an outcast because he’s never been exposed to anything; everything is new and a bit scary to him. He almost comes from another world in the context of this suburban town. His personality heavily contrasts with the other people in this film as well. He’s depicted as a quiet, introspective individual who’s probably very sensitive and naive. I wouldn’t say these kinds of traits are associated with an artist, but I do think that they’re often associated with weird people which is telling.
I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but I’m also intrigued by how Edward’s scissorhands, the tools that he uses to make his art, are the very things that keep him from being able to get close to other people. Whenever he tries, he ends up hurting the people around him, or himself. It’s like the thing that allows him to be so successful and happy is also the thing that holds him back and the thing that makes others question his worth in the first place.
Exhibit C: Grace and Frankie
This is a comedy show that aired on Netflix a few years ago. A rough synopsis would be that two elderly women who aren’t fond of each other due to a personality clash end up living with each other after their husbands declare that they’re gay, and that they’re marrying one another. Grace is a stuck up prim and proper type who used to own a major beauty product company, while Frankie is the embodiment of the classic kooky art teacher stereotype. Some qualifying examples include:
- Has her own art studio in the house
- Teaches ex-cons how to paint
- Smokes an obscene amount of weed
- Has a sizable collection of penis shaped vases
- Likes to “go with the flow”
- Wears a lot of loose tie-dye clothing
- Wears chunky gemstone jewelry
- And many others
Grace and Frankie get the idea to create their own company at some point, and it quickly becomes evident that Grace is going to be the one who calls the shots. If Frankie even tries, she’s immediately shut down because her ideas are too weird, or she’s too weird in the first place. Her main contribution to the business was the initial idea in the first place, and the art on the packaging of the product, and after that she was more or less ignored.
She is also shown to be unable to stick to something; she’s a vegetarian,but sometimes eats meat and constantly eats junk food. Part of that is the fact that she’s also representing the stoner stereotype, but that’s another stereotype that is often seen in association with artists as well.
So what about Art Movies? Don’t movies that explore the fabulous lives of artists like Van Gogh and Caravaggio show them in a favorable light? The answer is yes, they absolutely do, but it kind of doesn’t count. First of all, these people are only put on a pedestal today. They weren’t always the historical figures that we seem them as now. In their own time, they were seen as just as eccentric and weird as any other not very well known artist of today. Second of all, these movies are hugely embellished and over emphasized, but they’re still based on the lives of real people, while I’m focusing on fictional artists. And thirdly, most people don’t watch art movies. They’re usually kind of weird and not all that consumer friendly, sort of an acquired taste. Basically, they’re not really “pop culture” at that point, so I don’t really think that a movie that idealizes an artist like Van Gogh is really saying anything about society.
So, are artists receiving the short end of the stick in media? Kind of. The vast majority of examples of artists on TV right now are mostly cast aside as weird people who don’t abide by the normal societal rules. It matters a lot to me because I’m living that life; I’m paying a lot of money, and I’m spending a ridiculous amount of time dedicated to becoming a better artist. I want to hone my craft, I want to become better and I want to be able to identify as an artist without feeling shameful or guilty because it’s a “waste of my time”. Despite having two other minors in more “sensible” fields, I’ve still had people tell me I’m wasting my effort on such a useless degree. I want other artists to feel like it isn’t a stupid decision follow their passion if they feel like they have to willpower to make it work.
If we only ever see strange weird people being artists in our media, that’s the only thing that’s ever going to happen. I understand fully they there are outcast artists, but they certainly aren’t all going to fit in that mold, contrary to how we’re seeing them now on TV. Art is important; creativity is vital to a functional society. If we want to have a social environment that fosters a positive relationship with creative people, then yeah, this kind of representation needs to change, or at least have a bit more diversity.
Throughout the course of this class, I learned a few things about myself, the most prominent of which is the fact that I don’t tend to agree with the majority of the opinions that I would read from my classmates. At least about the articles we would read in the given week, anyway. We read “The News is Bad For You” by Rolf Dobelli and when I read it I was pretty unenthused by the author’s opinion that we should stop consuming altogether and the world would be a better place (paraphrasing, but that honestly was the jist that I got). However, I was surprised that a lot of my classmates were totally on board. “The article “News is Bad For You” was actually my favorite article to read in this weeks texts. This is mostly because I definitely reside with the words written in this article- and I’ve said those things my whole life. News is DEPRESSING. News causes unnecessary anxiety. News, for the most part, focuses on the wrong part of the information being shared. We’re so quick to believe every word we see in the news, and we often get emotions while watching the news that we don’t or shouldn’t need to feel about certain situations. We get scared to fly in a plane because of the Malaysia plane going missing, we get scared to do a marathon in case a terrorist bombs it, etc. Unnecessary fear spoon fed to us by the news.” – week 6. Where I saw a loss of agency and empathy, they saw an opportunity to escape the more depressing side of being caught up in the news. It was an interesting experience to be at such polar ends of the spectrum, especially because I’m certainly not the most up to date person in the world.
The second thing I learned was just how under represented artists are in media! I know I already discussed it in the meat of the post above, but I really did have a hard time finding examples, especially from the library’s resources. My initial plan was to also include a section on the differences between male and female artists in popular media, but I couldn’t find a large enough sample to make any kind of conclusive deductions with what I had.
Overall, I had a better experience than I initially thought I would have, and I really found myself fully engaged in writing my weekly blog posts and reading the articles (even if I didn’t agree with them… maybe especially if I didn’t agree with them). Before this class, I was very turned off by online courses, and now I’ll definitely be giving more of them a try in my college career.
Art Imitates Art, Steve Chagollan, Variety, Jan 8, 2001, Vol.381(7), p.S8, https://search.library.pdx.edu/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=TN_gale_ofa70428727&context=PC&vid=PSU&search_scope=all&tab=default_tab&lang=en_US
Art in the Movies, Jim Gaylord, https://artinthemovies.wordpress.com/
Edward Scissorhands – Tim Burton – 2005
Grace and Frankie – Netflix (Firm),, et al. Grace and Frankie. Santa Monica, CA: Lionsgate, 2016.
TITANIC 1999 – James Cameron – United States Titanic. (1999). [DVD] United States: James Cameron.