Just about every community of a certain size has its share of talented local artists. Certain cities have their artistic distinctions. Frisco is the place for painters & sculptors. NYC is the destination for stage actors. Austin & Nashville are the places to go to become country music stars. But it's Los Angeles that is the center of the American art world as a whole. Whether you're an actor, writer, painter, musician, or any other type of artist, Los Angeles calls you to come and hone your craft so you can share it with the world.
Yet the art world is a funny place. The most talented rarely rise to the top. This city is littered with thousands of extremely talented writers, actors, and every other type of artists, who will never be able to make a living off of their art. It's a brutally competitive scene, which winners are often the best at marketing themselves, and oftentimes, the luckiest.
Unfortunately, it's becoming harder to stay in Los Angeles for the years it takes most people to become exceptional at their craft. In the past, broke artists could live cheaply in massive old apartment complexes scattered throughout the city. Those days are long gone, and it puts even more pressure on artists, because their plausible window of success becomes evermore compressed.
I'm going to start taking the time to occasionally showcase some of the more talented people that I know that are in need of some promotion. Today, I'm going to mention a singer/songwriter that goes by the name Matty O. His first album Gullible's Travels is available on iTunes. He's an alternative/rock type of guy that is putting out some good stuff. Take a listen below to a track called Yuletide Lament, a Christmas song about Los Angeles that I think is rather exceptional. If you like it, please support him by purchasing his album.
I feel that far too many potentially great artists aren't getting the time needed to polish their craft to the point they're capable of reaching. I believe the best way to support them is to go to their local performances, purchase some of their early stuff. Help keep them sustained so they can grow to the point of maturation. It's a way to benefit more than the artists. It's a way to benefit the world.
I was sitting in a room at my dermatologist's office the other day, staring at this print hanging on the wall:
This is No. 3 (1967), by American Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko. Rothko is one of the more famous American painters of the 20th Century, and much of his work is very similar to the above painting (except with different colors). However, my true belief is that two or three rectangles in a frame aren't going to move most people in any meaningful way.
When one walks into an art museum, like The Getty Center or the LA County Museum of Art, patrons tend to spend a lot of time appreciating artists of the pre-modern era, and quickly walk past the modern abstract art. There's simply little connection between much of what is considered modern art, and just about every person outside of the art scene.
I don't mean to bag on artists like Rothko or Jackson Pollack. They certainly served an important purpose in the evolution of art. What I don't like, however, is the lack of post-WWII art on display in galleries that is not abstract in nature. There are tremendous painters out there that don't get the critical acclaim they deserve because their art lands outside of a movement that is in vogue by the art elite.
Here's a painting by Russian artist Vladimir Gusev which I quite like:
And there are many living artists, like Gusev, that produce terrific work, but it's just not the type of art that's appreciated by those who hang work in art museums. This is unfortunate, because if we only put the most cutting edge work in museums, we're missing out on what many would consider the best work of our time.
One of my favorite modern painters, one that actually does get some acclaim, is Jeremy Mann. His work is brilliant:
I hope that two hundred years from now, Mann's work is hanging in the Getty, and not something from our time that is two colorful triangles next to a circle.
There's a reason why so much of modern art doesn't resonate with most people. It doesn't give us enough information to feel what the artist was feeling when he or she painted it. There's not enough of an image there to move our emotions in a way that the artist clearly intended them to be moved. I can paint a hundred colorful rectangles stacked on top of each other, and it still doesn't give any more sense of emotion than just two of them.
Elites and critics of any genre of art tend to try to convince themselves, their peers, and the public, that somehow they understand the art in a deeper way than everyone else. Much of the time, however, it's just not true.
One more painting, this one from the 19th Century, by a talented (and prolific) painter by the name of Ivan Ayvazovsky. I include it because I love it so much, and I feel fortunate that it was painted before such paintings were turned away from museums because they were not abstract enough and held on to the true nature of art: an engaging narrative:
When you make a movie, like I did, and you pitch it to distributors, the first question they all ask is: "Who's in it?" The answer to that question is more important to distributors than genre. It's even more important than the story. In fact, distribution deals can be made before a single frame is shot, largely based on who is in the movie.
It's an interesting phenomenon. People tend to go to movies who have actors in them that they recognize. The level of recognition is more important than the ability to act. It's very odd to me. People don't buy books because there's a recognizable character on the cover. They don't buy video games because the main character is recognizable. But when it comes to movies, we better know the name of the main actors involved.
Whenever I watch a movie, it takes me awhile to fall into the characters—but it takes longer if I recognize the main actors. It's more difficult to dissolve into the story. If I see Leo Dicaprio on the screen, it takes my brain time to transition from: "Hey, that's Leo," to "That's an interesting character." Now, Leo is a terrific actor, so it doesn't take my brain long to get through that process. If it's a marginal actor, oftentimes I never buy them as the character.
As the marketing budgets of films have grown (oftentimes larger than the production budgets), having a marketable actor has become even more important. This is not necessarily a good thing in my book. There are thousands upon thousands of terrific actors out there that never get their big break because being recognizable is more important than having acting talent.
There is one genre of film, however, that isn't built upon who is starring in the film: horror. The crux of any horror marketing campaign is story concept and shots that are truly frightening. The film itself is actually judged and marketed on what it set out to do: scare the audience. If it can't do that, regardless of who is starring in it, it will be difficult to sell. If it can, the film will essentially sell itself. That's one of the reasons why the next film I'm looking to develop is a horror flick. They can be shot relatively cheaply, and you don't have to attach an expensive name to it. Not going the horror route was probably my biggest mistake with my first film.
I watched a movie yesterday (to remain nameless) that had a stellar A-list cast, was based off a terrific concept, and yet still fell flat as hell. It was a box office bomb. The problem was that the script was either under or overworked, and that the direction was less than stellar.
This brings me to my point. The powers that be at studios focus heavily on what they feel comfortable with, which is everything post-story creation. Looking at the general quality of movies released, it's obvious that the main decision makers aren't great storytellers and can't tell what narratives are going to resonate with audiences and which ones won't. What they can do (if they don't spend too much time hacking apart the script) is hire a hot actor.
Business + Art is always tricky. With the model that exists, it's amazing that any great movies get made at all. Not surprisingly, many of the best films released today are either based off of successful novels or are made by directors who have complete artistic control. They still take recognizability into consideration, but they're savvy enough to understand story at a deeper level than most studio or distribution execs. Typical, directors who have complete control, like Christopher Nolan, even take the time to hire actors who can act.
After doing some recent Los Angeles exploring, I thought I'd write a post about must-see LA art museums.
I'm sure you've heard of The Getty Center, and all its hype. Well, the $1.9 billion center that opened in 1997 is well worth the visit. Located right off the 405 Freeway, The Getty has become a prominent part of LA's landscape. Its architecture is impressive (over 1.2M square feet of travertine was used in its construction). Yet, the real beauty is on the inside.
Some of the most renowned pieces at The Getty are Van Gogh's Irises, Rembrandt's An Old Man in Military Costume, and Portrait of an Halberdier by Pontormo:
There are countless wonderful pieces of art at The Getty, and as is par for the course with major art museums, several pieces that are old but that aren't really that impressive. My favorite piece is The Grand Canal in Venice from Palazzo Flangini to Campo San Marcuola by the very talented Canaletto:
I love this pieces' compositions and incredible detail. You have to stand before it to truly appreciate it. Grand Canal alone is worth the price of admission (which is free, except for parking).
The Getty Villa is The Getty Center's older, smaller cousin. The 64-acre facility is located right off the ocean on Pacific Coast highway. While it doesn't have the enormity of the larger Getty, The Villa has all of its charm, and then some.
All of the really old stuff—we're talking around 7,000 BC to 500 AD—is at the Villa. There's a tremendous amount of Bronze work there, and wine jugs. I can't imagine how much wine was drank back in the day, but it must have been a significant amount.
There's a couple of tours at The Villa you should take as well: agriculture and architecture. Like the Getty, it's free except for parking and lunch.
The Norton Simon Museum, just off the 134 Freeway in Pasadena, is another exceptional place to visit. Some of their noted pieces are Rembrandt's Self Portrait , Van Gogh's Portrait of the Artist's Mother, and a beautiful Canaletto, The Piazzetta, Venice, Looking North:
The grounds around The Norton Simon are beautiful as well. It's a pleasant afternoon visit for any art lover.
Last but not least, is the sizable Los Angeles County Museum of Art, otherwise known as LACMA. The art on display runs the gamut from Asian, to African, to European, from ancient to contemporary. There's a large display of Picasso's. several Warhol's, Degas's, Rembrandt's, etc., but none of these are my favorite.
There's a gem at LACMA, one from a slightly lesser known artist, but someone I feel pushed art in a Pablo Picasso style in his same era. Here's my favorite LACMA piece, the incredible Landscape, circa 1913/1914 by pioneer Neo-Impressionist Jean Metzinger:
Needless to say, there's an incredible amount of art on display in Los Angeles. If you're visiting the area, or if you're a Los Angeleño who hasn't gotten to the local art museums yet, please do. You'll be impressed.
Especially if you're a writer. The magnificent collection of works in this city will inspire you! Soak them up as much as you can.