Tuesday, April 5, 2016

I Know Nothing About Robert Mapplethorpe's Private Life. (Sure, I've Heard Some Things...)

What good is becoming a rich and famous artist if you can't use that fame to open doors for other artists?

It's a mistake to think that you know about people's lives because you saw a documentary about them. Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures makes it seem that Robert Mapplethorpe was extremely self-centered, to the point of being appalled at the very idea that someone else's artistic career could have been furthered by their association with him.

We don't know about other people's lives. Not through the media, we don't. I got a pang when I noticed in the end credits of The Dark Knight that it was written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. (Christopher Nolan directed the film, in case you're not up-to-date on extremely-famous movie directors.) I assumed, correctly, that Christopher and Jonathan are brothers. I've learned that they've worked together on several projects. The pang I got when I saw that credit was one of envy. I thought; How wonderful it must be to work with your brother. I know little about the mechanical engineering and corporate executive work my brother does, and he knows doodly-squat about anything to do with the arts or philosophy, and seems determined to stay that way forever.

But I have no way of knowing how wonderful or awful it is to be either one of the Nolan brothers or how pleasant or miserable it is to work with the other one. I know that my own brother and I are not close, that's all I know.

Then last night I watched Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, and learned how Robert Mapplethorpe's younger brother Edward worked for him, developing his photographs, and that when Edward was about to show some pictures of his own, Robert got very upset, talked about Edward "riding his coattails," and talked him into changing his name to Edward Maxey. And how Robert met a young man and made him his lover and model, until others also began to be interested in using him as a model, at which point he quickly went, in Robert's view, from a lover and model to a "hanger-on," and their relationship ended. Robert seemed like a monster, like a very nasty, profoundly ungenerous person.

That's how it looked in the documentary. And that also matches some of the media buzz, during his lifetime and since, about how selfish Robert was. Then again, the brother and the lover/model were both interviewed for the film, while Robert Mapplethorpe has been dead since 1989, and so was unavailable to tell his side of things. If I had known Robert Mapplethorpe, and if I also knew Edward, and this model and other of Robert's models, and some of the artists of various genres who were close to Robert, and if I knew Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, who directed Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, then, perhaps, I would feel qualified to tell you whether the film got Robert Mapplethorpe exactly right, or completely wrong, or somewhere in between. My first thought after having watched the documentary last night was the first sentence in this blog post: "What good is becoming a rich and famous artist if you can't use that fame to open doors for other artists?" My second thought is: for all I know, Robert Mapplethorpe did open many of those doors, and maybe his brother Edward and that model really were just two of the hangers-on.

I don't know. It was just a movie made by people I'd never heard of. Maybe they're exactly right. I don't know.

I'd like to think that when I become rich and famous -- any day now -- I'll use my fame in order to help some deserving talented people who're working in obscurity as I have been up until now. But I don't know what it'll be like to be rich and famous, and I don't know what I'll do when I am. And I don't know what public opinions of my private life will circulate.

So why did I write this blog post? Maybe because even if Robert Mapplethorpe was every bit as much of a big meanie as Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures portrays him to have been (I have no reason to think that Bailey and Barbato are incompetent or devious or duped. None at all.), he still wrote a will dedicating his fortune to creating a foundation which promotes the recognition of photography as an art form and funds AIDS research. And because I find some of his photographs beautiful.

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