Beautiful Losers

Beautiful Losers (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Aaron Rose
viewed: 12/18/09

This documentary covers the art and aesthetics of a group of non-professional DIY-inspired artists who evolved their work from shared influences of graffiti, punk, skateboarding, and other stuff and developed through into commercial success and influential status.  This group doesn’t seem to have had such a “name” but centered around a New York storefront/studio/party pad in the 1990’s, but has been termed retroactively after a final show together titled “Beautiful Losers”.

Included in this group are Shepard Fairey, Mark Gonzales, Margaret Kilgallen, Mike Mills, Barry McGee, Phil Frost, Chris Johanson, Harmony Korine, and Ed Templeton, among others.  Frankly, I was familiar with Barry McGee from local work that he had done, and I’m familiar with filmmaker Harmony Korine.  Many of us are familiar with Shepard Fairey, if not by name, then with his Andre the Giant “OBEY” posters and most pervassively, his Obama “HOPE” icon.

The story of these artists is that they very much evolved from nothing, not all of them attended art school it seems, but developed their work initially through graffiti and none of them seemed to aspire to or believe in being able to support themselves as artists.  But as their work became recognized, commercial contracts and bigger art shows have taken them into the mainstream.  And some of them are more comfortable with it than others.

The discussion is both historical and aesthetic.  And some of the folks are more intelligent-sounding and less egocentric.  It’s an interesting phenomenon that I’ve come to learn about hipster artists (maybe just hipsters) but that they all think that they are representative of idealism and rebellion, which masks their egotism, even in self-deprecation.  And some of these guys seem like total assholes.  Harmony Korine, unsurprisingly, seems the biggest pretentious quack of them all.

And I don’t mean to judge their art by saying this.  I think of it akin to idiot-savantism or something.  Just because you have a skill or a vision or an ability to do something interesting, beautiful, or even profound, it doesn’t necessarily make you a well-rounded individual.

But I’m going off a bit on my own personal thing here.  Others of these artists are relatively interesting and the movement itself, I guess, hasn’t yet achieved its historical perspective to know whether any of these people will be considered “significant” in the future, through the lens of history and influence.

Their work is interesting, the way that they play off of Pop Art and postering, propaganda and cartoons.  The aesthetics grow throughout their duration, and they all become more polished and more professional.

While I found this documentary somewhat informative and interesting, I didn’t find it to be particularly profound.  It’s nicely constructed, but the subject matter, like I’ve suggested, is questionable in its significance.  I mean, who is to say that other artists not directly associated with this group were not as important or interesting or innovative or influential?  I suppose if I was more vested in the “art world” I might know, and I know that I have some friends who probably have keener insights.  Still, it is what it is.

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