• Carly Tagen-Dye

Buzzsaw and Breakdowns: A Look at Why We Create


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 esteemed 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 face the bloody consequences 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.

While its meaning remains hidden behind Hollywood horror, Velvet Buzzsawis a glimpse into what happens when profit overthrows passion. The movie, insanely, got me thinking, but not so much about the satire. While the laughably pretentious characters 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 Buzzsawportrays an extreme and malicious view of this, it deals with concepts we will undoubtedly encounter in the future. The real horror lies in the fact that those parts aren't unrealistic at all.

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 we walk across that stage at graduation? Are commercialization and monetary success going to be the only things driving us to stay afloat? I thought to my own work—my short stories and novel excerpts—and why I continue to make them in the first place. For me, there is a passion in writing that makes it worth the work. The release of feeling and ideas through words are more valuable than any kind of compensation. After spending time around other artists around campus, I recognize the mutual feeling. People paint and sculpt and film because it's what they are meant to do. That drive doesn't go away overnight.

The corrupt art scene in Velvet Buzzsaw is very real; however, it can be avoided. As students in a creative community, we go into our concentrations 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 catharsis that come with creating in the first place. Velvet Buzzsaw represents everything that’s wrong with the art world beyond Pratt's gates. We're learning, now, to recognize where our standards lie.

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Image by Aliza Pelto