Television loves to make a mockery of the art world and the people who call it home. The caricature of the over-the-top, highbrow yet wafty fancy-pants usually to be found dressed head-to-toe in black, with some kind of ridiculous accessory is well-trodden ground. In a word: pretentious. But not without nuance… how does a struggling art student vary from a professional critic [in our experience: not very much], and are any of these stereotypes really realistic?
We break down some of the most memorable on-screen depictions and––with the help of a very scientific and complex Darklight Art formula that you wouldn’t understand––rate for realness, out of a possible five stars [or palettes actually 🎨]. Enjoy!
THE ESTABLISHED PROFESSIONAL: Aleksandr Petrovsky, Sex and the City
Aleksandr is the sexy, older Russian artist who lives in an enormous loft full of sharp edges and smart gadgets [like an espresso maker], wears turtle-neck jumpers, speaks French, has intellectual friends and a chic ex-wife, takes Carrie on a late night date to a spoof Marina Abramović show, and is personal friends with Oscar de la Renta. Look at him! He reads Artforum for heaven’s sake!
Carrie and the gals––and much of the fanbase––view Petrovsky as pretentious and narcissistic, by dint of his artistic nature, but all I see is a misunderstood romantic. If men like this exist, I don’t know them. He is lauded as both artist and womanizer, but still wrestles with imposter syndrome [bless him] and can sometimes fall into the all-too-real trope of tortured genius. But, I’m hard pressed to think of a living, non-fictional, top-of-his-career artist who is quite so sexy, so his realness rating––alas––stays low.
Realness rating 🎨🎨
THE ART SCHOOL GRADUATE: Max, Broad City
Abby’s art school roommate Max is sooooo avant-garde it looks genuinely painful. Her outfit is INSANE; a constricting armour of black with metal hardware and shoes that are hardly functional. Yet she’s the epitome of style over substance: her work is mediocre and dull, and her opinions on art are almost meaningless. ‘So surreal, but at the same time… so real.’
Whilst most of the people I went to art school with were just really smart, fun, interesting people who didn’t have time to put on shoes they couldn’t walk in because that was time that could be spent in the library, there were plenty of folk who looked the part but did you give you the sense there wasn’t much happening between the ears. Definitely real, but fortunately a minority.
Realness rating 🎨🎨🎨
THE COLLECTOR-CUM-CRITIC: Frank aka Ongo Gablogian, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Not gunna lie, I don’t watch this show, but was shown this clip in the course of research for this article and it’s so funny and accurate I might have to get into it.
The structured yet frizzy bleach blonde hair do, thick-rimmed specs and inevitable turtle-neck, not to mention the affected, gushy ‘this is everrrrrrrything’, is the quintessence of how the art world is perceived to those ‘on the outside’ [therein lies the problem]. And to be fair, yeah, this person exists. And thank god they do because would life be boring without a few eccentrics here and there.
Having said that, art critics are generally––with a few exceptions––properly intelligent people, more bookish than fashion. Rather than a critic, I think that this portrayal more accurately describes the type of person who would turn up to the opening of an envelope if the drinks were free, waltzes in, spends under four seconds looking at the art, gushes something nonsensical, drinks their way through the gratis prosecco, then fucks off. And you know what, good for them.
Realness rating 🎨
THE GALLERIST WITH PERFORMANCE ARTIST TENDENCIES: Alice Banks, Only Murders in the Building
On first glance, Alice, played by model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne, screaaaaaaams New York artist-socialite. The undercut, the model’s-own wardrobe, the British accent which, whilst totally authentic always sounds incredibly out of place in American sitcoms. Not to mention her fashunnn artist collective who follow in tow, complimenting her perfectly eccentric visionary aesthetic.
But beneath the surface, her character plays on a sadder stereotype: an insecure artist from a working-class background trying to make it in the big city art scene. Using the people around her as material for her next show: the lines between life and art too blurred to create any meaningful connections.
Realness rating 🎨🎨🎨🎨
THE GUY YOU ALWAYS OVERHEAR IN A GALLERY, USUALLY TALKING TO A WOMAN WHO DOESN’T CARE IF HE LIVES OR DIES: Cam, Modern Family
Arguably the realest of the bunch: aren’t we all just tryna fake it till we make it? Cam has his own pretensions there’s no doubt about that, but when it comes to art he feels out of his depth and so puts on a bit of a show of knowledge he’s learnt specifically for the purpose of looking cultured.
Making yourself look like a wanker in an attempt to ward off imposter syndrome is unfortunately very real, and feeling like you don’t belong is surely the signature dish for everyone who makes their way into the art world.
A man loudly spouting facts in a gallery to show how smart and cultured he is? A tale as old as time.
Realness rating 🎨🎨🎨🎨🎨