Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mashed Potatoes

Watched Close Encounter of the Third Kind last night, and was shocked by its elegance and adroitness.  It's one of those movies that was built to last, and the pleasure of watching it starts from scene one and never lets up until the final flotilla of UFOs graces the skies above Devil's Tower.  What really is inspiring, though, outside of the whole sci-fi Utopian bliss, is the outsider art narrative involved.  A crew of souls who have witnessed UFOs in the flesh become overnight aesthetes, and their unending drive to create is what churns the movie's narrative forward.  Richard Dreyfuss' Roy Neary is the major case in point here.  An electrical lineman from Muncie, Indiana, he becomes so obsessed after his initial close encounter that he uses whatever material is at hand (from mashed potatoes to dirt from his backyard) to produce a monumental sculpture in his suburban living room in tribute to where he has to go.  He is a visionary by accident, and yet his burning need to make something out of whatever he has in his vicinity is inspiring in a way most documentary and fictional depictions of outsider (or insider for that matter) artists aren't.  His thoughts in being creative are not connected to museums, fame, or even self improvement.  His need to make something comes from his need to figure shit out, and even then the "figuring shit out" part takes a backseat to that simple, guttural urge to turn his home and his life into an art project his family, neighors, and even he himself just can't understand. 
That dedication reminds me of Simon Rodia's Watts Towers, Henry Darger's Realms of the Unreal, and Raymond Thunder-Sky's Destruction/Construction vortex.  Roy does not have his eye on the prize, other than trying to figure out how to get what it inside his head outside of it.  There's no relinquishing that need outside of searching for chicken wire and shrubbery in his backyard to complete his masterpiece.
When he stumbles on the connection between what he could not not himself from doing, and the origin of his quest, in a TV news report, there's not a lot of fanfare or messing around.  He pursues the next phase.  The function of his art was to get somewhere outside of what art can do.  I think that's truly one of the best descriptions of "outsider art" and just plain old "art."  You have to make something so you can escape it, and then find what you are truly after.