Is there a meaningful distinction to be drawn between exercising the imagination and just making up a bunch of stuff? When it comes to children at play, probably not: the pleasure of inventiveness matters more than the quality of the particular inventions. But children’s entertainment, made by grown-ups at great expense in anticipation of even greater profit, is another matter. The difference between inspired creation and frantic pretending is the difference between magic and mediocrity, between art and junk, or to cite a conveniently available example, between “Toy Story 3” and “Despicable Me"
The implication here is that inspired creation and ‘art’, are not, at least in the case of Toy Story 3, incompatible with making a profit ( see my take on this: Is Advertising Art? here). I suppose the moral of this story is that even if the first motivation is to make money, if artists are employed and directed to just ‘invent, play, and have fun,’ then the result is closer to real ‘art.’ than if they weren’t given free reign.
In fact, this motivation question lingered over me as I toured Pop Life, currently on display at the National Gallery of Canada. Did Warhol, his progeny – and their factories – do what they did simply to poke fun at how foolish collectors are? How mercenary, philistine our culture is? How wrapped up in seeking status, and blind to the presence or absence of true genius or talent? If so, the ‘movement’ makes a valid, invitingly ironic statement. If however the real motive, the real intent, was simply to self-aggrandize and make money, then the whole thing is a sham. Of course the truth lies in between. Somewhere, I’d say, a lot closer to the latter than the former.
Not to say Koons, Murakami, Hirst et al aren’t geniuses of a kind. They’re brilliant marketers, self-promoters, entrepreneurs. Unmatched in the art of exploiting the stupidity and greed of the moneyed classes.Or as Andy Warhol once put it "Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art."
Oh, and the original title of ‘Pop Life‘? ‘Sold Out‘, but one of the featured artists insisted it be changed.