You know, I just watched Exit Through The Gift Shop this past weekend and today when I sat down to write I was gonna kind of expound on my theories about sincerity, specifically in terms of someone who creates art. It seems like something that people find to be particularly important for some reason. Sincerity, it could even be said, can completely validate or invalidate someone’s whole canon in some people’s eyes, regardless of final product. This makes sense when it’s, say a senator who puts out legislation opposing gay marriage on moral grounds but secretly has gay sex with rentboys (or fucks around on his wife, which, it seems, is a greater perversion of the idea of marriage than making it all about wangs…) but not so much when it’s a guy who’s just making something to dance to or to hang on the wall. It kind of seems like the sincerity behind something’s not the issue. The issue is how the piece resonates with the spectator/listener/consumer…right?
Well, no. That’s not how it works at all. As it turns out, we need the people that are creating our art to believe in it 100%, and kind of live it. Otherwise, it’s often argued, the whole thing is ‘fake.’ This seems kind of irrelevant. My friend Tony is a chef. He (supposedly) makes great tasting food. Now, he won’t cook for me for several reasons, most of them having to do with us living across the country from each other and me being a turd that doesn’t go visit him or eat at his restaurants. But if he did cook for me, I think I’d tend to judge the food on presentation and taste, not so much his personal attitude. For example, let’s say he hates salmon. If I order salmon and he makes it and it’s good, is that a betrayal of the sincerity of his art? Of course not. He can hate it and do it well and I can enjoy it, and nary the twain shall meet, bro.
With visual and auditory art, this is different. The main reason this is the case is because artists in general tend to think of what they do as vastly more important than it is, and they tend to be passionate and there’s very little in terms of objective measuring that can be used to evaluate art, and so someone’s commitment, training and unique vision (or lack thereof in all three cases) tend to be given a ton of weight. This is true for music and sculpture and movies and everything in between. WHY you do something is absolutely as important as what you do, and in the case of the judgment of the untalented but passionate (99% of people creating things) it’s often MORE important somehow.
Now, in Exit Through The Gift Shop, there were several competing threads focused on the quest for sincerity. The big one obviously was the motivation of one of the artists in the movie, who it could be said was highly derivative and commercially motivated and generally a bit of a poser (I hate this word a LOT, by the way), but there’s also the question of the sincerity of the whole piece. Were all these artists who they claimed they were? Was the whole thing a sham? Is the ‘subpar’ art really created by one of the other artists? Is everyone in on it together? Is the whole thing (as they say in Britain) a pisstake? Is this just levels of highly sincere, Kaufman-esque insider tomfoolery designed to further insulate the true genius of art from the turdlike minds that enjoy it?
Eh…you gotta figure the answer is yes. That movie is pretty smug. But there’s more to it than that. The thing is, these two competing notions of sincerity are completely opposite. On one hand, we’ve got the desire to believe that our art is made because of a sincere need to create and not because people want to fool you into liking something that comes from a place of self-aggrandizement (fame, money, etc) but on the other hand, if this whole thing is a smug joke, then it’s nothing but self-aggrandizement at the expense of the audience, yet somehow that’s more palatable, perhaps because just seeing that potential outcome lets viewers pretend that they’re in on the joke…maybe. Who can say? The whole thing is weird.
The funny thing is that once things become overtly sincere, they cease to be great art. This is almost always true (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a zillion more times before I die, Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice is a monument to this notion and it’s something that everyone who wants to create ANYTHING should read). Want a recent example? How about this: Did you watch Eminem’s weird bro-love Dr. Dre worship-a-thon on the Grammys? That shit was highly, highly wack.
Sure, Eminem loves Dre. Dre made a bunch of Em’s favorite records and gave him a career. He’s his mentor and hero and friend. That’s quite a bond. BUT, when Eminem goes out there with a look on his face like he’s in a Mexican standoff, furiously rhyming about why he’s only there because he owes everything to dre, it’s painful. It’s terribly painful. Because it’s embarrassing and dorky and schmaltzy and overwrought and uh…well, it’s too sincere.
See, Eminem made his name by saying things that no one else would say, or at least that’s how he clearly sees it if his self aggrandizing rhymes are to be believed. However, somewhere between the Marshall Mathers LP and now, he traded in his ‘honesty’ and replaced it with ‘sincerity’ which is not nearly as cool. Sincerity, apparently, is cool only in terms of motivation, but in terms of actual output it totally sucks.
This is why it’s such a weird kind of paradox to praise an artist’s sincerity. If they are really, truly sincere, then they’re not very good, but if they’re not, they’re manipulators or something…I mean, it bears mentioning that the very word ‘art’ shares a root with ‘artifice’ and ‘artificial’ and uh…I don’t know, man. This is making me dizzy.
How bout this: in closing, the internet makes art and artistry kind of lame because it enables us to really see who the creators are as people, and that rarely goes well. That shit poisons enjoyment…it doesn’t really work the other way. You don’t tend to find people who say shit like “I thought this guy’s book sucked til I saw his facebook page and now I love it.” It’s a joykiller, this glut of too much information. It gives people too many things to potentially dismiss. And that sucks. I mean, everyone that makes stuff isn’t as totally ball meltingly kick ass as me, people. And that’s a real shame.