At first, I was wary about the satirical-horror-comedy-art film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and John Malkovich that appeared on my Netflix que. Velvet Buzzsaw, directed by Dan Gilroy, has been stirring major hype since it was released earlier this spring. The movie follows a group of LA artists who get caught in a cycle of greed, narcissism, and the supernatural. After painter Ventril Dease dies, agent Josephina (Zawe Ashton) steals a collection of his paintings from his vacant apartment. With the help of her art world friends, she sells them to the public, only to reap the bearings as Dease’s malevolent spirit kills them off one by one. It is a classic slasher flick, complete with limb-tearing and death by walking sculpture. However, there is more to this movie than its overplayed death and destruction presents.
Velvet Buzzsaw, while hidden behind Hollywood horror, is a glimpse into what happens when profit overthrows passion. The movie got me thinking, as intended, but not so much about the satire. While the characters in Velvet Buzzsaw are ignorant and corrupt, they are still artists and art appreciators, hoping to make a living from their work and critique. As Pratt students, we are all hoping for the same thing. We want to be recognized and rewarded for what we create. We want to be successful in the careers we pursue. Though Velvet Buzzsaw portrays an extreme and malicious view of greed, it deals with concepts we will undoubtedly encounter in the future, like critique, publicity and profit. Those aspects are not unrealistic at all.
As an artist, I had a brief crisis about what I’m doing and why. Watching Gilroy’s characters lose sight of what art meant was hard to sit through. Is that what life is going to be like once I walk across that stage at graduation? Are commercialization and monetary success going to be the only things driving me to stay afloat? I thought to my own work and why I continue to make it in the first place. The real reasoning, however, soon became clear. For me, there is a passion that comes with writing that makes it all worthwhile. While I hope to make a career out of it one day, I don’t mind having to work to do so. The release of feeling and ideas through words are more valuable than any kind of compensation. After spending time around other artists, I recognize the mutual feeling. People paint and sculpt and film because it is what they are meant to do. That drive does not go away overnight.
The corrupt art scene in Velvet Buzzsaw is very real; however, it is not the majority. As students in a creative community, we go into art already expecting not to make much; we go into art because we have a passion that needs to be released and recognized. While making a living from one’s work is the goal, they are arbitrary aspects compared to the joys that come with creating in the first place. Velvet Buzzsaw represents everything that’s wrong with the art world. Real artists, however, know where their standards lie. As long as you never lose sight of the reason you’re creating, you will be just fine.
Image by Aliza Pelto