Initially my idea for this comic included a more traditional “child’s hand drawing of a turkey”, but that seemed like a waste of a panel. Then, as I was sketching out a real turkey (off which to model the pseudo-Cubist image) I realized that they’re pretty remarkable in terms of detail and texture. Thus did I re-imagine all.
Ok, so bear with me.
A long time ago, when I was interning at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, I watched the movie F for Fake as part of the House’s larger preparations for an event we were putting on. The film – Orson Welles’ last major production (aside, of course, from his voicing of Unicron in original The Transformers movie) – is an investigation of the thin line between “real art” and chicanery: it’s thesis is, more or less, that there is no such line. All art is pretending. All pretending is art.
(And theft is art: that’s important too.)
Welles includes a rather masterful scene (which I will not describe at length because, really, you should just go watch the movie) focussed around Pablo Picasso, and remembering that scene recently got me to thinking.
Picasso, like most geniuses, is usually described singularly: as if Picasso born in any era would have re-imagined art in precisely the way that we know him to have done. All the modernists have this achingly hip aura about them, like they were the First and Only Unique Vision, Unique Art #1. And the thing is, I like a lot of modernists: I’m being such a jerk here, and very categorical. But I think there is a tendency in our cultural mythology to act as though artistic movements and geniuses exist in a vacuum, or blast away the value of everything that came before them.
This belies the essential role of influence in art, which for some reason is what I’m stuck on today. We all cheat, we steal, we pretend, we lie, we are inspired, we connect. Picasso helped transform “the artist’s” inner catalogue of lenses through which to see the world – their basic set of forms through which to rebuild it. But he didn’t do this alone: Impressionism and realism and still-life and sacred art and cave paintings and god knows what else came before him and made their mark. Brâncuşi and Modigliani and Giacometti worked alongside him, branching out from a similar starting point in different directions.
Welles’s point (or at least, the one I’m going to attach to him here) is that we can’t even dismiss the fakers and thieves from our cattle-call of artistic influence. They are mischief-makers no less than Picasso, just because their mischief is sometimes at Picasso’s expense.
Now, I don’t know who I’m arguing against. Maybe no one. But I think that the genealogy of thought is important: we transform what we have. The egg is able to become the turkey only because it was once the egg.
Which is all to say I’m grateful that the world is so complex, bizarre, and ever-turning. Because there’s always something new to see and re-see.
And I’m also grateful for Orson Welles. Happy weird Thanksgiving.