Film: Beauty is Embarrassing
Director: Neil Berkeley
?When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.?
Hunter S. Thompson
How Bad Parenting Makes Good Artists
Wayne White’s dad was a hometown hero in their small Chattanooga neighbourhood back in the ?70s ?loads of charm, a star athlete, and really popular. But he was deeply ashamed of his long-haired, non-athletic, artistic teenaged son.
He made no secret of his disgust. Every look and every word directed at Wayne spoke of revulsion and disappointment.
Years later, after Wayne had attained a phenomenally successful career as an art director, illustrator, puppeteer, and artist and had met and married his amazing artist soul-mate and had two artistic children, his father became quite proud of him. Now he brags him up every chance he gets.
A Lingering Shame
But Wayne’s character and even his unique aesthetic were formed in response to his father’s rejection during a crucial developmental stage in his adolescence. It made him struggle with self-esteem, even during his successful career creating the set for PeeWee’s Playhouse and later Beakman’s World and doing art direction for music videos by Peter Gabriel and The Smashing Pumpkins.
If you look at what conditions it takes to nurture a great artist, you’d have to thank Wayne’s dad for being such a jerk back in the day. Why? Because a sense of rejection is one of the most powerful tools an artist can own.
Artists like Beethoven, Rilke, Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, and Sylvia Plath all grew up with a sense of deprivation, a belief that they were unloved and unwanted?whether or not they were actually rejected.
I can only speculate as to why rejection drives us to make art. Maybe It’s because this rejection makes us want to prove ourselves, or maybe It’s because rejection breeds in us the sense of tragedy that compels us to manufacture alternate worlds. This may doom some artists on a personal level, but their pain becomes our salvation when they morph it into beautiful things that inform culture and inspire us to stretch our hearts and minds.
Southern Fried Creative Stimulation
Wayne’s mom was a lot nicer than his dad, but a debilitating car accident that left her with a brain injury threw the family out of kilter for a while and added to Wayne’s sense of abandonment. He now attributes his sense of taste to her strange collection of found objects, the kind you often see cluttering front porches on drives along American country roads. Her finds included a very perverse-looking ceramic clown and large wooden letters spelling out witty Southern maxims.
But Is It Really Avant Garde?
Some might argue that a discussion of Wayne White’s work has no place in a column about the avant garde. This is because the avant garde is normally expected to be highbrow, art so highfalutin? that ordinary people just don’t get it. But the really avant garde thing about White’s work is that he throws all that out the window and produces avant garde art That’s undeniably lowbrow.
Embracing the Shame
His wonderful statement??Beauty is Embarrassing??speaks of the sense of shame we sometimes feel in the presence of beauty as well as the shame the artist feels for devoting his life to trying to produce it. Joyfully embracing shame is what he seems to be doing by running marathons with every creative idea that enters his mind.
His latest stroke of genius is buying up those huge ghastly landscapes one finds at thrift sales and incorporating huge block letter text messages into the picture, messages with art-mocking slogans like ?HOT-SHOTS AND KNOW-IT-ALLS,? ?HE WAS DRUNK AND MAMA WENT AND GOT HIM,? and ?JUST A PICTURE SHUNNED BY SCHOLARS NOW IT COSTS TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS.? He takes pains to make it look like the letters were actually constructed on the landscape (imagine the ?Hollywood? sign), sometimes including clever touches like beer cans nestled into the corner to signify a tired workman after a long day of constructing massive letters.
Is It Art?
Jacque Maritain said that in order to be art, a work must be delightful, significant, and rational. Whereas White’s work might score low in the rational category, it wins top marks for being delightful and significant.
Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.