Head film buff guru Erik Wenzel reporting
Art School Confidential is based on a four-page story Daniel Clowes did in his comic Eightball. Most of the jokes were used in the movie Ghost World, based on his graphic novel of the same name. ASC, Like Ghost World is the work of Clowes and Terry Zwigoff (the director of the David Lynch produced Crumb).
I went to art school, I am an artist, I enjoyed it, it was fun. Like all portrayals of the art world and artists, there are inaccuracies and holes. This is fine; all popular depictions are riddled with errors. Think about the accuracy of movies and TV shows about cops, doctors or war.
It is a pretty flat movie with 2-dimensional characters. ASC lays on sarcasm so thick it’s almost sincere. And to follow the quote from Ghost World: ASC is so sarcastic it’s sincere and gone back to sarcasm. This is strangely apropos as that is very much a characteristic of work made in art school, and popular art star art.
But ASC also does have grains of truth. John Malkovich’s character, one of the few that the audience might care about, lectures the protagonist on the difference between selling out and actually working on your art. It ends in a joke because it took him 25 years to “get” triangles, but the point is still valid. Making lots of money and being an art star don’t make you a great artist. Just like fame and fortune don’t make you a great actor, they make you a celebrity.
What bothered me most is that one art school character was conspicuously absent from the ruthless parody: the comic artist. There are always cartoonists, and the number is only growing, at art school. Clowes and Zwigoff spared themselves from critique. That is kind of lame.
The character of the successful art star coming back to be an asshole to the students and dismiss faculty as losers was indeed very mean. It seems like the character is Clowes just fantasizing about going back to Pratt and telling everyone off. It’s not clear if the shitty art the star does was set decorated intentionally that way. Or if they think that is what successful contemporary art looks like. Most likely it is just based on the Bad Boy painting that was so popular in the 80s when Clowes was studying at in Brooklyn.
I was just by Pratt in March, and that part of town is just about as bombed out as the fictional Strathmore depicts it. And where did that imaginary school name come from? Why Strathmore art supplies of course! Notice all the extras carrying the trademark sketchpads.
And finally, the best chuckle was to see Artforum review the movie in the film section of its current issue. Artists definitely need to be able to laugh at themselves. Art School Confidential, while at times mindless ludite teasing, is good humor for the art crowd. If only Clowes and Zwigoff could have turned aimed that attitude at themselves as well.
The nifty Art School Confidential website
Art or Idiocy?s earlier indepth post