I don't remember exactly what her response was to that, but it was something to the effect that no, what she had been creating for all those years wasn't art, it was commerce. Now she wanted to be an artist. She wanted to make art. I looked at her closely. I could see it in her face. She wanted to make art. Maybe she even wanted to starve. How could I make her understand that what she had been doing was art, whether or not it had been commissioned, appeared in magazines or on album covers or posters or advertising. I suddenly realized that she didn't know she was already an artist and that she didn't need to wear a smock or beret or exhibit in Chelsea to enhance her status as one.
I think I actually heard her say "I want to be an artist."
"Please, Lynn, you're better than that!" Did I actually say that? Do you know what kind of people artists are? They are snobs and degenerates. Worse, sometimes they are thieves. Do you remember when Richard Prince re-photographed your photographs? You demanded that he cease and desist! And he did! And now you want to be one of those. The appropriated becomes the appropriator! O tempora! O mores!
Of course I knew where she was coming from. I've seen it before. Perfectly successful, even brilliant people, not happy doing what they are doing so fantastically well, and deciding that they want to be an artist, a serious artist. Serious. Seriously.
I knew what Lynn wanted. She wanted to confuse people like an artist does. She wanted people to wonder what it all meant. (Little does she know how much she confuses me already. She makes Gertrude Stein seem like Dave Barry.) Lynn is already at a fine art level of confusion, especially conversationally, but she wasn't satisfied with that. No, she wanted to be more confusing. As in inscrutable, mysterious, deep. Ambiguous.
She wanted to make things that weren't immediately obvious. Like, "Hey, that's a great picture of Sting." She found the quantity of doubt created by her pictures insufficient. Like "How did you make Tom Petty look so handsome." Or "How did you get Bruce Springsteen to take his pants off?" She wanted "What the hell is this?" She wanted to be interpreted. No, worse, she wanted to need interpretation.
Although I consider portraiture to be an entirely valid art form, even when it's photographic portraiture, I can understand why somebody who does it would think it wasn't art. It wasn't officially art until, um, about thirty years ago.
Partially because its link with commerce caused it to be seen as a form of illustration. But also, hey, you can understand it. Which goes against the grain of modernism. And often photographic portraiture is not an end in itself but a tool in selling a record or a CD or a tour or a book. Art is supposed to be beyond that. It is not supposed to occupy a supporting role. Personally I like an art work that you can open a can of beer with, but to each his or her own when it comes to art.
But my argument was, Lynn, you are an artist. Already. You're one of the very best at what you do. You made me look even more handsome than I really am. Your work doesn't need to be interpreted because it is interpretive. You interpret the people who stand or sit or lie or gyrate in front of your camera. You make images that capture the personality and in doing so transcend and even alter it. Yes, what you do is art.
She wouldn't listen. She had a problem. She wanted to be inscrutable. So she continued to make more strange pictures of herself as mannequins in bizarre scenarios and send them to me.
Listen, you're photographing yourself as all these different characters?
"Well Cindy Sherman already did that."
"But this is different!"
"Well, I'm not Cindy Sherman!"
Touche! I hadn't thought of that. Wounded by the obvious, I relented.
"What do you think of these?" she said, presenting another formidable batch some months later.
"It's arty" I said. She perked up. "Interesting," I said. I had her on the hook. "But I still think that your portraits are art." Her face changed. I could see that line of reasoning wasn't working. I tried another tack.
"It looks too much like store windows," I said. Little knowing it was actually made from store windows.
She was undeterred. But she had never explained the process to me; she had never told me the work was appropriated, as artists would say, from store window displays. I thought that she was going out and renting or buying mannequins and raiding all the places the window dressers go and haunting antique shops and prop houses and actually building all this stuff herself. I thought she was unbelievably energetic. Also maybe a little nuts. What do I know about Photoshop? At any rate, when it came to this work, I couldn't or didn't put 2 and 2 together.
"Why don't you go back to your portraits?" They're so good. You don't know what you've got there. It really is art. It will be looked at in a thousand years.
"You're already great at something. Why change? It would be like Eric Clapton giving up the guitar for the banjo!"
"What a great idea!" she said. I was defeated. And come to think of it the idea of Eric Clapton playing the banjo was pretty interesting.
Anyway, she wasn't buying it. For her that portraiture, that extraordinary body of images that was her life's work, well that was another life. A job. The past. These self-mutations were the future. They were Art. Capital A. She wanted to have an art opening. Probably in Chelsea. With white wine. And collectors. And probably to get auctioned and a write up in Artforum and Art in America. She was probably out shopping for a garret in Williamsburg. Of course she would fit right in there with her nutty bicycle, her infectious charm and her prodigious eccentricity. But why? Why bother?
What's wrong with these people who want to sell their stuff in galleries. Don't they understand? For one thing, don't they understand that its better to have your work enjoyed by millions than snapped up by nine collectors, who will rotate it from the gallery outside their coat closet and the archival storage facility that they rent where they keep the Koons and the Warhol and the Salle. That world is no picnic. It is filled with the most un-fun people imaginable. Unspeakably dull, dreary people for whom convolution is a sport. They have studied dullness. They have created an impenetrable language that they use to recognize one another and to bedazzle and hypnotize their marks. And the people of the art world (which does not really include most artists the art world is the organization that surrounds the artists,) hate originality. It's the kiss of death for the dealer who discourage it in their artists, whom they encourage to imitate themselves. Dealers hate it if the work doesn't all look the same. It's harder to sell. Artists are trained to develop a trademark style. Which is only one reason why most artists are for the birds. For every true original, for every groundbreaker, for every John Currin and Jeff Koons there are ten thousand, well, I'm not even going to dignify them with a name. Schmucks.
My friend Laurie Rosenwald, who is a great commercial artist, hates art more than anyone I know. She says that whenever she goes into a fancy gallery she just thinks "What a great doorknob!" Or "What wonderful lighting". Because generally the art she sees there stinks. It's easy and unchallenging and unfunny and unsexy. And you know what, she's right. Lynn, why go there? If you want to be more like an artist then don't just do portraits of rock stars, throw some poets in. And I don't mean Patti Smith, I mean like Taylor Mead. Or do a show of the graduate degreed bimbos who sit at the art gallery desks in their Manolo Blahniks who provide atmosphere for and throw attitude at the folks who patronize these hushed white cubes.
But you know what? I couldn't stop Lynn. I thought: Maybe if I got her a beret and a smock that would be enough. But I knew that would only make it worse. She already lives in a loft. And in a dream home in Colorado! Once you want to be a fine artist it's sort of like having Lyme disease. It will never really go away all the way. At best you just become asymptomatic.
And boy was she symptomatic. I'm getting JPEGS at 4AM! Thank God we don't fax anymore. She is totally hooked. She can't stop. And I realized: there is no way that this is not going to be a book, a show, a series of shows, an installation, a performance, a movement probably, if she has her way. So I gave up. I wouldn't fight it. But the funny thing is that because I was the one who tried to dissuade her from ever doing this at all, she thinks I must be the perfect person to consult on it. Who better to see the weakness in the work than someone who was totally against you doing it?
I mean, you can't argue with that logic. And so it begins. Which ones do you like? Okay which ones do you hate the least? Okay which ones do you really, really hate? Why?
Well, by this time don't tell Lynn but I'm actually sort of getting into these pictures. They're amazing. How does she do it? Where does she get all these ideas? The energy? Where does she get all the stuff? Did she buy a prop house? I still didn't know how she was doing it. I thought all this stuff was actually all coming out of her head, so I was impressed and maybe a little scared by just how sick this puppy was! I mean who thinks up all this stuff? She could be running the set department at MGM under Irving Thalberg, or the Macy's display department. Worldwide. I was starting to be majorly impressed by the sheer scale of this narcissist fantasia, the scope and ambition of this dementia.
But which ones do I hate? Mmmm. the black and white ones. Get rid of them! (Think of answer. Quick.) Umm. They look sort of retro.
Oooh, she liked it when I said that. Why did I say I hated the black and white ones? I can't even remember. It was just an eye thing. They looked retro? I guess. Or too much like fake film stills and she's Lynn Goldsmith not Cindy Sherman? Whatever. The color ones, even the ones with old-fashioned elements have a contemporary feel somewhere between Harry-Potter-world and Koonsworld. You can't be as weird or garish or gnarly in black and white.
And then one day I read Lynn's surprisingly enlightening explanation of how this body of work was conceived and executed and I felt both impressed and really, really dumb. How did I not know? Am I a bad listener? Am I burned out? ADD? Anyway, now, I know that she actually had all of these anonymous collaborators I have even more respect for the work! She's come a long way from that day that she yelled at Barbara Gladstone for my friend Richard swiping her images. (And now, in retrospect, she's flattered. Even regretful.)
Anybody who can use a lot of work for free has got it going on, as far as I'm concerned and Lynn was appropriating up a storm. And by this time I was really getting into the scale of this project. Lynn as a princess, Lynn as a fashion model. Lynn as goddess. Lynn as a witch. Lynn as Mrs. Thurston Howell. Who knew that through all of those years of shooting stars like Roger Daltry and James Taylor and Bono, that she didn 't actually want to just hang out with them, she wanted to be them. She actually wanted to be in all the pictures! She wanted to the Anh Duong of photography. Or the young, female, thin, clothed John Coplans,.
Well, actually I did have a clue. Because I had witnessed her creation of the very ambitious alter ego Will Powers, back in the eighties. Lynn was semi-secretly Will Powers. Will Powers was a character. Will was part Lynn, but also not Lynn. Will was a sort of nom de disco, a proxy persona who was a pop music Tony Robbins. Will made an album of self-help songs called Dancing For Mental Health. The record that was astonishingly ambitious and produced on a very high level. Lynn got musicians like Nile Rogers, Sting, Steve Winwood, Todd Rundgren, Carly Simon, Sly and Robbie, Ian Hunter , Meatloaf and Michael Jackson to appear on it. Not to mention really Hollywood big stars like Warren Beatty, Mary Beth Hurt, Mark Hamill and Glen Close
I should have known. Once she puts her mind to it, it's scary.
So now Lynn, who has spent her adult life creating iconic potent images of the most powerful performers on earth, has turned her lens on herself. Well actually inside herself. Inside her head. And it turns out her head is actually located, at night, in department store windows.
I'm not surprised anymore. I'm impressed. Awed. She has really dug deep and assembled a saga of weird dream scenarios with enough post-Freudian twists and kinks to satisfy the most rabid explicator, the most fraught interpreter, the most detail-oriented critic, the most anal analyst, the most obsessive compulsive obsessive compulsive...
Really this print space should probably be occupied by an art critic suggesting what it might all mean. Lynn says that she asked me if I knew Peter Plagens and I said, "You don't need him, I'll write it." Maybe I was wrong, because frankly I don't have the nerve to go there, to conjecture what these elaborate scenarios of self might really mean. I mean to do that would be like answering questions like "What does Mah Jongg mean?" Or "What does Central America mean?" Or "What's the meaning of snickerdoodles?" And as any artist's psychiatrist knows, some questions are better unanswered.
The closest thing I can come up with is that this book is a real show. Yes, Lynn, it's a real Art show of real Art by a real Artist. But it's also sort of like Battlestar Galactica. Or Watts Towers. It's not just what it means but how it means. And it's about the sheer wattage of psychic electricity here. It's how a photographer managed to photograph the entire contents of her subconscious mind and make it look like Christmas is coming. Black Friday is early this year. Like around Halloween.
Anyway I am now really glad I didn't talk her out of making these pictures. God knows what she would have done instead if I had. Imagine all that psychic energy being trapped with no outlet. It probably would have been a job for Ghostbusters, or even Jack Bauer.