For reasons that blur into motives, I have ended up getting a pretty good basic education in Art Criticism. I don’t mean art, I mean Art Criticism with capital letters and everything. For this reason, I can’t pass up an opportunity to comment on plastic model kits within the context of Art Criticism. You can shed real tears over it, but it’s happening right now. Resistance is futile.
Roy Lichtenstein created this painting which contains certain elements of comic book “art.”
He did more than one of these. In fact, he is considered a major artist and his most famous work is derived from comics. I’m interested in comics because I’m interested in nerd culture. Comics, before they became American pop culture, were nerd culture. Lichtenstein used that nerd culture to derive fine art.
He’s been called every name in the book for doing so and if you hate hate hate him you’re (at least) awake and breathing. You know who he is and what he did. If you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, then the rest of this post is probably going to fly over your head and you’ll feel mild discomfort, and probably resent what I’m trying to do here, just a little.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’m just being “pretentious.” Artists are accused of pretending to be artists about as often as they are accused of being artists. So that won’t fly.
All of this flows right into my position that plastic model kits are an art form, but when I take that position I have to face up to the fact that my art sends a troubling message that might tempt me to abandon the whole project and “just forget it.”
Not so fast. Once you open that delicate little china box marked “art” you can’t close it again. All you can do is pretend it’s not there, and that makes you look like an artist/chump instead of just a bad artist. To put it another way, if you try to deny doing art when you clearly are, you can risk being not only a bad artists but an incoherent dope who is also a bad artist.
When Lichtenstein did his paintings, he opened the door to the original comic book “artists” trying to copy him, in a bizarre turn-around that maketh the head to spin. In these sad cases, we can see that the originators of the comic books trying to create fine art that resembles the work of Roy Lichtenstein, and the result is just bad art. I won’t post a link because I don’t have one handy.
(This is a blog. I don’t hold myself to any standard of intellectual rigor as I do this. What I do here is mindless meandering, with a little technical instruction thrown in for flavor.)
The reason I’m going on about this is not to prove that building plastic model kits is a form of art. I can’t do that. What I am trying to do, and you should be helping me out on this, is to prevent plastic model kits from falling into the “X porn” hole and disappearing forever.
“Truck porn” and “car porn” and “clothing porn” and “shoe porn” are all things now. It’s not sexual. “Truck porn” is not about sex involving trucks. It’s about trucks. Just trucks. Putting the word “porn” next to it is a new development that is part of pop culture–it’s become a “meme.”
You like to look at photos of bridges? Welcome to bridge porn. How about seascapes? Welcome to seascape porn. Due to my involuntary education in Art Criticism, I’m qualified to explain what this is supposed to mean. Saying that pictures of “X” is “X porn” doesn’t mean that viewing them is dirty, or that you’re pretending, or that you’re getting a sick thrill out of it. It also DOES NOT mean that it is merely “derivative” because a photo is always derivative in that way and even a drawing is not purely abstract. So “porn” doesn’t mean “derivative.” Sorry.
What it means is– it’s not art. The word “porn” means “not art” in this context (the meme). So images of airplanes, if not art, become (by default) airplane porn. Yes, even models of airplanes can be dismissed as “airplane porn” by your bratty sister or husband or significant other. Pictures of models of airplanes become (shudder) “model airplane porn.”
So you can see the problem. If you have to choose, (and I believe we do) you can either be a porn producer or an artist, keeping in mind that producing “model airplane porn” is dangerously close to becoming art, for various technical reasons.
Which explains why so many internet-modelers own such elaborate photography gear.
It’s not so easy to transform our dangerously porn-y activities into dangerously arty ones. Attempts to produce comic-book fine art are laughable because the true fine art by Lichtenstein and others relies on the existence of the original comics. There is no way to get around the fact that Lichtenstein may not have been doing a parody, but he was doing something of that sort. Perhaps a homody? A homage filtered through the lens of a finer sensibility than what we normally see in the work of illustrators. It’s no sin to be an illustrator, just as it’s no sin to build a model for purely technical reasons…to provide a way for a client to visualize the finished product, to provide a way to train soldiers to identify aircraft, etc.
But it is just possible that making a model merely to “look at what we can’t afford” ( a definition of porn attributed to Joel Spolsky) is a sin. Let’s consider the following COMMANDMENT of GOD.
You are not to make for yourselves a carved image or any kind of representation of anything in heaven above, on the earth beneath or in the water below the shoreline.
This commandment is rapidly explained away as being about idolatry. Yes–that could be it. But when I read the plain meaning of the words it says NO CARVING. Hmmm. I admit that the traditional “reading” of this incorporates a lot of “commentary” and no one, usually, says that carving images is inherently wrong, but if you didn’t know all the history and you didn’t read the commentary…well.
I guess we’ll find out if it’s a big deal or not.
Oh, by the way. I can’t tell you what message my art sends. That’s what we in the Art Criticism world call a dumb question. The art… speaks for itself.
Incidentally, there an infinite number of ways to make fine art out of comic books. One way is to just make a comic book and change the way you look at it–because art isn’t in the object. It’s in the viewer.
The same thing applied to plastic model kits.