Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fellow Arists: Francesca Eastwood and the Birkin Bag

(image copyright Tyler Sheilds)
I'm sure that, at this point, everyone has heard how 19 year-old Francesca Eastwood took a $100k Birkin bag and destroyed it in the name of art.  If you haven't, 19 year-old Francesca Eastwood took a $100k Birkin bag and destroyed it in the name of art. 

Yes, THAT "Eastwood."  Francesca is the daughter of actor-director Clint Eastwood.  That said, let's be perfectly honest: no other 19 year-old artist would ever have the funds to obtain such an extravagantly-priced item, only to 1.) take a chainsaw to it and 2.) then light it on fire.  But Francesca clearly had the connections and thereby had the means.

Say what you will about Francesca's decision to artistically waste $100k.  She purchased that Birkin bag and it was thereby her right to do whatever she wanted with it, right?  Plenty of people would disagree: according to TMZ, Francesca has received "death threats" (okay, that's too extreme for any situation) and plenty more negative reaction from the general public for her artistic decision:

"Sources close to Francesca tell us ... the 19-year-old said she knew people would be shocked, but never expected this level of hatred. We're told she's been telling friends ... people just don't understand art."
(, 28-May-12)
All Birkin-burning aside, that last part is what I have trouble with. 

When you become an artist, it is because you are utilizing your ability to create.  That's it.  There's no guarantee that your work is going to be any good and there's no guarantee that anyone is going to understand your creative intentions the same way.  In fact, as much as you might have a particular message you are trying to convey, this is a blunder that many artists - especially young artists - make:

You can not control your audience's perception and it is not up to the artist to decide how the audience will interpret their work.

In this particular case, the viewer's reaction was not up to Francesca Eastwood, and she committed what I think is a very severe faux pas: reacting by insinuating that "people just don't understand art."

No, actually, people get art.  In fact, people LOVE art.  It's why this abstract communication concept has survived since man first began conveying his feelings on cave walls:

CAVEMAN 1: Look, I paint self on wall!  I kill wooly mammoth!  I great hunter!
CAVEMAN 2: Why you make penis so big?  Your penis not that big.
CAVEMAN 1: Is metaphor!
CAVEMAN 2: Yeah, is metaphor for how you wish you had big penis.
CAVEMAN 1: Gragh!  You just don't understand art!

If I had to venture a very specific guess, Eastwood was making some statement about society's overbearing and wasteful attachments to useless material goods.  And she made that statement in a way that she intended to be shocking and controversial in order to get people to take notice.  Something like that, right?

The problem is, that's an exceedingly easy statement to make when you have an extra $100k lying around, which is more than double what the average person living in the United States takes home in a year.  And it's that fact which severely detracts from your art's creation process.  The creation process is just as important - if not more important than - the final result. 

It's clear that Francesca understands the idea behind creation process.  The series of bag-destroying photos show it being captured on film.  But perhaps she doesn't quite understand the depth of the process: it starts with you as an artist, the materials you are able to acquire, et cetera.

To be perfectly clear, I really do enjoy the photo series and I'm interested in following Francesca as an artist.  I think this series is stimulating and interesting.  There's nothing special to me about the candid-instagram-style photography, but the shots are still kinda cool and the subject matter is stirring.  I have no problem with Eastwood purchasing a $100k bag and then obliterating it: that bag was going to cost $100k whether someone lit it on fire or whether someone stuffed their Yorkshire-Terrier-poop-machine in it as they walked down Rodeo Ave.  If anything, I think it shows that this 19 year-old celebuspawn has an understanding over the ridiculousness of how much that bag cost for the purpose it's supposed to serve.

My problem is with her reaction to her audience's reaction.  It's an easy cop-out to react to criticism by saying, "Meh!  You just don't get it."  People DO understand art.  Sometimes it's just the artist who doesn't understand that people have the right to think your art sucks.

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