Death of the Artist: A Look at Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw (spoilers)

Velvet Buzzsaw.

It did not seem a title of a potential horror movie, nor a movie about the art world. But here we are. A sexual slang as a label for horror. Somehow it does seem fitting, considering the teeth the movie’s intent has. Before we go on, allow me to say:

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

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The basics are this: Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal) plays a bisexual art critic whose object of his affection, Josephina (Zawe Ashton), is a slightly down on her luck art gallery assistant who wants nothing more to be something. Rhodora (Rene Russo) is the gallery owner who hangs on every interpretation and critique of new art that Morf delivers. Piers (John Malkovich) is a drying up, sobered artist who is blocked and Coco (Natalia Dyer) is a midwest girl who made the mistake of moving to LA.

When Josephina’s neighbor ends up dead, she discovers his art and steals it. Josephina turns around and sells the art, keeping quiet on how she came about it. Here is the root of the movie. The death of the artist. The theft of art. The price of art. This begins the slow devolution of sanity of all involved.

What Gilroy intends with this plot is to not only create a horror movie in an environment which is foreign to the horror realm but make the audience question their connection to art and the artist. Each of the characters portrayed profit off of art in various ways. Morf is the height of art opinion and can ruin careers. Rhodora monetizes art, as does her competitor, Jon Dondon (Tom Sturridge), who has a habit of stealing artists. Gretchen (Toni Collette) shoves the art of her artists down people’s throats and doesn’t give them a chance to determine value. Basically, they all see art as money.

So art decided to see people as inspiration for murder.

The correlation is fantastically acute. These characters have moved beyond the appreciation and adoration of art into the quicksand of consumerism. They were shallow to the intent and emotion of art. Now the thoughts drifted to whether the light was right to draw in the most gallery visitors, or how many hits they could get on Instagram with their latest installation. No one cares about the neighbor who died in the hall with no family. Just find the latest and newest in art to be the best. To make that money.

Throughout the entire movie, there was little appreciation for the blood, sweat and tears that go into the art. Even more so, there is little consideration for the artist themselves. Piers languishes and is underutilized, which is quite disappointing because Malkovich is always a delight on screen, but his lack of presence reinforces the notion that artists don’t matter. The scene with Jon and Piers discussing his next installation is quite telling. Jon stares at one painting, commenting that it was similar to Piers’ earlier work. Then he asks where the rest is. Piers grows quiet. This was it because the artist has dried up much like his acrylic in their tubes. The draining of the artist to continuously create for the sole purpose of making money depletes the mind of any substantial creativity. Piers standing in the middle of a basketball court silent proves this. He can make baskets, but he can no longer make art.

Gilroy dares us to think what is the value of art, and see how art has been monetized to the point of near murderous rage. Why do we not consider the intention of art anymore? Why are we more concerned with demonstrating our wealth by purchasing art, just to highlight how much we have?  And what of the artists? Do they not matter? Sadly, this is not a new invention. Art, throughout history, has been used to establish power and prestige among the upper class.  Little is paid to the idea of the message of the art or the artist who has devoted much of themselves to its inception.

Every creator struggles with this duality. They want the recognization and appreciation for their work, but in order to achieve that appreciation and adoration, they have to sell out, which, in the end, means the work is now external to them and not theirs anymore. Once it is separate, the attempt at appreciation has expired. To achieve success, a compromise must be made, but in this world, the compromise is you giving everything and getting little in return.

The idea of art taking back the artist’s wishes (in this case, the neighbor demanding his art be destroyed and never sold, which did not happen) reminds us there is an artist to consider beyond the chosen medium and the thought, as a creator myself, is renewing. It is giving power back to the makers, the designers, the architects of creation. The ones who are free, by the end of the movie, are the artists who initially saw the spectacular nature of the art and wanted to relish it. Those who were inspired by it. They are the ones who recognize the artist and their passion in the paint and want to celebrate it, study it, honor it.

They are the models we should follow. Respect the art. Honor the artist. Promote them both. The horror here is not the art killing people, but people killing the artist and, by extension, the art for sheer profit.

 

 

Until next time…


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