On the unspoken value of Art

as revealed in Richard Pryor’s film Bustin’ Loose

A few weeks ago while sleepily watching a late night broadcast of Richard Pryor’s less-than-brilliant 1981 flick Bustin’ Loose I was surprised to be presented with a truth about Art. It struck me that Art is of tremendous, nay immeasurable, value to our society for a totally unintuitive reason.

Now when I say I was “presented” with this truth, I mean it quite literally. It was not the totality of the film, which despite its craptacularness, allowed me to somehow glean a deeper, hidden, message. No. Nothing so romantic. It was laid-out bare in a specific scene.

In it Pryor is approached by a young asian girl who up until recently had been a child prostitute. She shows him a drawing she’s done, which is completely without artistic merit of any kind, and then proceeds to proposition him. Pryor is appalled and tells her so. He then, and this is the important part, explains that rather than shopping her ass around she ought to focus on her Art, saying something to the effect of, “you’ve got real talent!”

It struck me while watching this scene just how valuable the subjectiveness of Art can be to those of us who are without any kind of useful skill, without talent, without passion, without goals, and ultimately without anything tangible to offer society.

With only a few words of encouragement the confused and aimless among us can grab hold of a pencil and set off into the murky, subjective land of Art. No matter how untalented, unskilled, and unimaginative even the most dispassionate belief in our own artistic merits can keep us afloat.

Art school can safely shuttle us through the college years. The half decade or so after can be fueled on the resultant fumes until we begin, finally, mercifully, to disperse and settle into our menial jobs as barristas, book store employees, museum security guards, bartenders, and graphic designers. Positions in which, though completely untalented in any way, we can never the less contribute, however slightly, to our society. 

The world of Art can forever after serve as a buoy for our self-image. When asked, over Irish car bombs at the local dive-bar, “What do you do?” we can spare ourselves the pain of saying, “I sweep the floor at a hair salon” and say instead with a tortured, far-off look, “I’m an artist.”

So you see the great uncommented upon value of Art is as a haven for the vast amount of aimless among us who might otherwise clog the rivers with their corpses. 

A brass plaque should be placed over the entrance of every art school in the country which reads something to the effect of:

Give us your tiresome, your passionless, your huddled and talentless masses and we will usher them safely to the far shore of their crushing mid-life crisis.

I like to imagine another scene, perhaps on the cutting room floor, in which a virginal little asian girl approaches Pryor with a heart-wrenchingly beautiful picture, and he looks at it and says: “Girl, you’ve got real talent, now get out there and sell that ass!” But I guess that’s a different blog post all together.