Sunday, May 23, 2010


A few weeks ago, I saw "Exit Through the Gift Shop," a film by reclusive British street artist Banksy. I'm about as unhip as they come regarding street artist culture, but I have to say, the film is one of the most thought-provoking pieces about art and artists that I've come across in quite some time. It begins, ostensibly, as a peek into the forbidden and secretive world of prominent street artists through the (obsessed) eyes of a dogged film-maker, who shoots tape after tape of these intrepid folks as they teeter at the bases of billboards and rooftops, pasting up large faces and mysterious down-the-rabbithole images.

Then, the film takes an unexpected turn, and becomes about the obsessed film-maker. He (Thierry Guetty) moves from chronicler of the artistic process (albeit, a chronicler who can't cohesively express what his chronicling has meant) to co-opting the artistic process of those he has followed. Banksy, a true artist and provocateur, winsomely turns the camera around to witness his acolyte becoming appropriator, as Guetty the film-maker commodifies the very art he has adored.

Among the many things the film questions, I think one of them is sincerity and appreciation. In our market culture, does a measure of appreciation eventually lead to callow and empty repetition? Is there a wringer a "real" artist must travel through in order to prove his/her authenticity? "Exit Through the Gift Shop" light-heartedly suggests a yes to this question, and I appreciated the way the film-maker flipped the script and made me probe these ideas, and the others things that fall between getting one's art up/out there and reaping profit/influence/imitators. Also, it made me feel a modicum cooler. For like an hour.

Continuing on the theme of obsession, I am obsessed with Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder at the moment. I expect I will have more to say on the book when I have finished it and my thoughts have cohered a bit more, but I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone with an interest in the Romantic period, the history of scientific experimentation, or mad, obsessed people who succeed in changing the world. A.K.A. I cannot recommend it highly enough to everyone.