Sometimes there is a fine line between stupidity and brilliance. Most of the music and art that I admire touch both ends of the spectrum simultaneously, and the more weighted towards both extremes the work gets, the more exciting its visceral impact becomes. In my mind, composers like Gérard Grisey, Peter Ablinger, Matthias Spahlinger, and many others walk this line confidently, and I love their work because it edges so dangerously close to the abyss of ridiculousness. I’m sure all creative types have the occassional “this is so incredibly idiotic” thought cross their mind while working, and dare I say that when this happens, you’re probably on the right track.
To illustrate my point, allow me to divert your attention to a series of “paintings” by Abshalom Jac Lahav. Actually, the basis of this series of works are the luscious landscape paintings of Bob Ross. You know, the afroed guy with the soothing voice of encouragement who hosted The Joy of Painting on PBS. Lahav took small reproductions of Ross’s landscapes and painted waify little unicorns into the scenery, as well as dark gremlin-like demons usually hidden behind a tree or bush somewhere dangerously close by. These are not your typical fairytale unicorns. They’re disheveled, sad-looking, and completely unaware of their own peril, appearing unable to fend for themselves in their disproportionately challenging surroundings. They look as if they were sloppily rendered with White-Out, while they stare wistfully at beautiful chasms and waterfalls they will never manage to traverse. No words can capture how utterly stupid, yet compelling, these Lahav-vandalizations actually turned out. They’re absolutely brilliant.
Discovering these paintings prompted a new word to shorthand the stupid/brilliant-transcendence dichotomy: unicorny. At the last Hunter College open studios, an artist overheard Trevor and I discussing the level of unicorny evident in one of her canvasses. Needless to say, it took a while to explain to her what we were talking about, but in the end she took it as the compliment that it was intended as. Of course not all of her paintings were home runs, which perhaps is the price of walking a line so close to idiocy. You can shoot for unicorny, as I often do, but there’s a good chance that your work might ultimately end up landing in the stupid-zone. I think it’s worth the risk, don’t you?