Randy Morris

Celebrity art refers to paintings or artworks done by celebrities who are not visual artists, that is, by actors, presidents, or musicians. President Bush recently joined this club with 50 or so paintings of his dogs, one of himself in the bathtub, and another in the shower. His personal painting trainer declared that in the end we would remember him as one of the most important artists of our era (I paraphrase). After finding electronic images of some of the dog pictures and the bathing paintings, I could not resist the satirical works shown here. Don suggested that I include ten more for submission to MOCA as a series, which I have completed over the last several weeks using electronic images of work from some prominent and some recent celebrity artists.

My pieces are commentary on celebrity art works in the public domain, done with only cursory knowledge of the artists, and are intended as satire of the social phenomenon of celebrity art, rather than critiques on the personalities of the artists. This batch of celebrity artists lacks the unusual talent and obsessive discipline needed to rise above mediocrity in visual art, as expected for such historically rare successful crossovers. Celebrity art owes its popularity to the desire for mementos which feed the allure of celebrity, that add tangibility to fantasies of fame and fortune.

That visual art attracts crossover artists, and that the public accepts them as credible, are evidence for the decline in its vitality. The modern dogmas that contemporary artists must "experiment" and define new abstracted visual languages divorced from direct referents in life have led to the near extinction of plastic form (solid, three dimensional form) in deep space, as an element of "serious" drawing except when allied with photographic imagery. Such impoverishment reduces visual vocabulary, and the more "abstract" art becomes the greater the reduction. Ironically, this makes it hard for the modern artist to fulfill the expected role as a rebel who fights the triviality and hypocrisies of modern commercialized life. Though such academic restriction of modern art saps its vitality, perhaps the popularity of photography and the movies has inevitably sealed its death as a vital art. We now enjoy serious art in museums, just as we enjoy classical music by going to the symphony.

The ease of creation of abstract and primitive art, and the ease of using modern photography, add to the popularity of visual art for crossover. How hard is it to mimic Basquiat's imagery? The clichéd comment that "My five year old, or a chimpanzee, could have done that painting," had to be refuted by a recent study that found that 60 percent of people preferred the work of recognized abstract artists over both children's art and drawings by chimpanzees. However, when you tour the Vatican and look up after squeezing into the Sistine Chapel, you don't hear anyone, let alone 40 percent of the crowd, say things like, "My five year old could have done that," or "A monkey could have done that," or "I find the imagery unconvincingly real," or "Michelangelo should have taken more risks," or even "President Bush could have painted this."

Randy Morris' AutoGallery exhibit