In February of 2016, when I placed in YoungArts, a national arts competition, I met a guy who vied for my short stories.
He was a science-fiction writer, one who had been published in “The Best American Short Stories.” He had said he loved my pieces because of the gritty, authentic style I wrote with. He said my writing gave him Bret Easton Ellis vibes — in other words, I had reached the peak of my career.
Nevertheless, after the thrill of YoungArts settled, there was one particular thing I felt an uneasy guilt about. I had identified so much with these other young artists, but when I looked ten or twenty years in the future, I wasn’t still writing fiction. The closest I’ve come back to creative writing is with my position as an arts and entertainment critic at The Daily Californian. It’s given me an opportunity to write and be involved in the arts, but at an arm’s distance. My favorite part is that I’m not only expected, but encouraged to dish out my opinions. This position has given me my high horse to sit on. And while I’m up here, I often find myself hunched behind my computer, wearing one of my favorite shirts.
A Supreme shirt.
The pinnacle of the self-indulgent, luxury HYPEBEAST culture.
But before the HYPEBEAST and before Supreme, there was Barbara Kruger — an artist known for her large-scale black, white and red graphic art with bold Helvetica texts splashed across the front. Her terse style of writing appealed to the crassness that the sci-fi writer had seen in my own work. Even though I have stopped writing, the inkjet-printed Barbara Kruger piece that I keep pinned on my bulletin board reminds me of the voice that I once had.
In 2013 — almost two decades after Kruger began producing work — the company Supreme filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against an eBay shop for allegedly selling knock-offs of the brand’s logo. The writers at “Complex” found some humor in the irony of all this and reached out to Kruger, whose work explicitly inspired Supreme.
She sent “Complex” back a screenshot of a Word document written in her italicized Helvetica Bold:
“What a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers. I make my work about this kind of sadly foolish farce. I’m waiting for all of them to sue me for copyright infringement.
Despite the tomfoolery and infringement, Kruger has stood behind her vision.
And yet here I am, behind my computer wearing my Supreme shirt that I haven’t washed since spring break, realizing the irony of all of this. I wanted to be a writer in this department for so long. I wanted to come back to writing, but whenever I sit down to write reviews, I still can’t help but feel a tinge of guilt. A guilt that isn’t too far from the one that I had felt after leaving YoungArts.
I’m not creating art anymore. The people who created the movies, films and galleries I review are doing what I never had the boldness to do — pursue their art away from the guards of an arts community. Although I don’t regret following the UC Berkeley path, there is a part of me that is still ashamed of leaving my art in the past. I think a part of that resurfaces whenever I sit down to make these critiques.
As much as I want to be able to stand on my soapbox and pick out all the redundancies and tropes in other people’s art, I can’t seem to be able to articulate the scathing reviews I want to write. I can’t find it in me to write these words and still feel justified even after they’ve made it to print.
But I think that’s where my problem lies. I’m looking to make critiques in a world that’s like Barbara Kruger — one that’s black and white. But the world isn’t like that. I think I’m being foolish when I look to create something with complete originality, void of hypocrisy.
This world is full of copied art, forgotten artists and stolen logos. And despite whether or not they’re published, this world is also full of entitled critics. Although I look to Kruger as this poignant, authentic artist, even she isn’t exempt from a little copyright infringement here and there.
Someone else created Helvetica. Hell, someone else created black and white photography.
So I think when I look at myself as Annalise: a critic, I have to stop seeing the girl who wanted to be an artist. I need to see someone who appreciates art, which can’t be done without being a hypocrite.
Annalise Kamegawa writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on a life of shifting artistic identities. Contact her at [email protected].