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The Art of Making It documentary follows a number of artists, both famous and upcoming, as they navigate their careers in an increasingly commercialized and commodified industry. From diverse backgrounds across the United States, each has struggled to progress their careers against systemic obstacles. The subjects face high student debt, working in obscurity while trying to compete with high-profile artists, and other social and economic barriers to the fulfilling careers they imagine.
Alas, this documentary failed to take off for me because its subjects felt too remote and the issues bordered on cliché, having been tackled so many times. The narrative feels familiar and the filmmakers could have offered more of a solution to the problems at hand to make it feel more impactful.
The Art of Making It
Director: Kelcey Edwards
Release date: March 11, 2022 (SXSW)
Rating: Not yet rated
The film’s central thesis is that it aims to show the barriers to becoming a career artist in the United States in the current time, against the backdrop of issues including debt, elitism, and the obstacles of the COVID-19 pandemic. I felt that it aimed to represent talented artists who wanted to share their stories and hopes, while also laying bare their honest disillusionment with the system they are trying to progress in.
The artists profiled in this film are all worth naming: Felipe Baeza, Andrea Bowers, Lisa Corinne Davis, Sebastian ErraZuriz, Charles Gaines, César García-Alvarez, Marc Glimcher, Michael Govan, Jenna Gribbon, Hilde Lynn Helphenstein, Gordon Knox, Gisela McDaniel, Helen Molesworth, Anne Pasternak, and Chris Watts. It’s important to recognise that they’ve all offered their time and expertise to the film, yet spanning 15 subjects in just under 90 minutes means that we’re given little time for each subject individually. Instead, we have to see their stories as a collective, unified by the theme that they are under-funded and under-represented.
We often see these artists working in studios, offering their opinions at galleries, a few give interviews from home, and some conduct remote interviews over video calls as they were filming during the first COVID-19 lockdown. While the film did touch on important topics, I felt that the issues raised had little relevance to many people’s daily lives, so it was difficult to feel much of a connection to the film. Ironically, it seems the reason the film was produced was so that it could enable people to look at art as a necessary part of everyday life, but the ideological differences between the artists’ vision and that of a non-artist are where we have a disconnect.
After watching the film, I can commend any artist for making themselves vulnerable and dedicating their time and attention to their projects – including the director of this documentary. However, I feel that there was an emotional disconnect which meant that I didn’t engage with the subjects and that made it feel too exclusive. On the one hand, the film pokes fun at the hyper-critical, hyper-elitist art world. It introduces memes (the preferred medium of self-deprecating art students online) as the new mode of communication in these circles. There is also an amusing section that focuses on Hilde Lynn Helphenstein (aka Jerry Gogosian) and her quest to call out the ridiculousness of the art world following a life-changing illness that removed her from many art circles.
On the other hand, this documentary can only tell the stories of the people in the art world by bringing in a small, select group of people that exist within it, and therefore it can feel difficult to relate to their stories. While it’s offering us a perspective into the highly impregnable circle, it also serves to keep us out of it by showing us all the barriers facing artists and the stories of gallery closures.
On review, I think this film serves to represent individual artists well, perhaps even giving a platform to those who may not be well known yet. But rather than pointing out the flaws in government and criticizing elitist institutions, it could do more to offer members of the public a solution to these problems. Perhaps it could suggest that we visit galleries more often, that we support local artists and even credit them when we repost their work online. These small steps could do much more for artists and local economies than a collector or donor, so I think it would be good to look at people’s impact on an individual level to make it feel more relevant to a wider audience.