I was sitting on my porch the other day, chatting with a friend. He’s a wicked smart photographer, and has had a good bit of success, including a Guggenheim Fellowship. The ideas were flying rather quickly as we sat, rocking in our rocking chairs, killing black and red ants as they explored my territory. (They’re aggressive, and they bite, so they had it coming.)
He’d just returned from forty days roaming the hinterlands of Dick Cheney’s Wyoming, and was hungry for conversation, like a Jew who’s fasted after dropping a Torah. Mostly I listened, because he likes to talk. At some point, we reached the subject of artistic intent, which is guaranteed to rile up anyone/everyone.
My friend was an environmental activist for many years, and makes art for the noblest of intentions. He’s either trying to save the planet, or make us realize we’re all doomed. I haven’t decided yet. Regardless, he comes from a long line of artists who want to make the world a better place. The serious guys.
I mentioned that, though I occasionally vacillate, I mostly believe that no one reason for making art is inherently better than another. It’s the moral relativism argument, grafted onto an art conversation. He smiled, (or was it a smirk?) and said, sure, that’s the politically correct thing to say.
“But do you really believe that,” he asked?
I paused, and then said yes. I do. I’ve seen enough interesting art, over the years, that came from infantile experimentation, or anarchic rebellion, to believe that it’s not only the serious strivers who get to make the good stuff. Sometimes, great (or provocative) art can come from hedonistic, nihilistic nitwits, whether we like it or not.
This week’s book is a great example of the phenomenon. “I Love You, Stupid,” is a very thick book filled with Polaroid photographs (and video stills) taken by the now deceased art star Dash Snow. Before I say anything else, I’ll admit that the pictures you’ll see below will likely offend your better sensibilities. They’re meant to, and they succeed.
Mr. Snow was famous before he died, as he came from a line of very important people in the art world. (The de Menils.) I didn’t know this, nor had I seen his work while he was alive. I do remember him dying, but only because I must have heard third hand that some junkie art dude overdosed. That was the extent of my knowledge, though perhaps you know more than that.
The book contains a very well-written opening essay by Glenn O’Brien, of GQ and Andy Warhol circle fame. Great stuff, really. It will make you excited to make art, for sure, and also prejudice you towards liking the images that follow. He’s extremely persuasive, and also forthright in countering any rich-kid bias you might have. (Basically, he presents Mr. Snow as a 21st Century Shaman.)
Once you’re fired up and ready to go, you get to see countless photographs of all the bad stuff you’re not supposed to do. There is tons of sex, drugs, blood, semen, graffiti, partying, homelessness, vomit, and more sex. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every penis included in this book, I could…well…buy the book. Fortunately, all the bad behavior reeks of genuine effort. (Must be all the smack and coke.)
A little while back, I wrote about Mike Brodie’s book “A Period of Juvenile Prosperity,” and was a bit cynical about his intentions. Great project, but I could see his mind whirring as he realized how perfectly his photographs would deliver what people wanted. It wasn’t that he didn’t seem serious about his frisky lifestyle choice, (freight train hopping,) only that the concurrent calculation was also evident. This book obviates those concerns. This mayhem feels real, like it doesn’t care whether we’re there to look or not.
I’m not saying this art is brilliant. (It’s not.) Nor that you should like it. (You probably won’t.) But I’m pretty sure Dash Snow wasn’t trying to be bad. He just was. And darkness walks upon the Earth, whether we like it or not. So art that captures that essence is valuable. Every bit as valuable as the art that tries to improve upon our faulty existence on this spinning blue orb.
Bottom Line: A nihilistic, voyeuristic, bad boy thrill ride
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