Portrait of a White Artist as a Black Artist
I read Sara Corbett’s “Portrait of an Artist as an Avatar” in The New York Times Magazine over break and thought it was pretty interesting. I like the way that a painting can become a literally immersive experience in Second Life. I like the part about the people who meet in Brooklyn to critique people’s Second Life art, because it seems like it really literalizes Joseph Beuys’ “everyone is an artist” thing. I think Harrell would probably like Second Life.
Then I talked to John about it and he pointed out a really obvious thing that I hadn’t thought about: this Jeff Lipsky guy essentially becomes black whenever he logs into Second Life. With the increasing prominence of avatars—as the article states, most kids probably don’t even think it’s weird to have an avatar—what does it mean for someone to be able to change their race with a click of the mouse?
You could think about it in a kind of Barack Obama, post-racial utopia kind of way, like, “Gee, isn’t this great? We can really be whoever we want now. Race doesn’t matter!” or you could think about it in a much more dystopic kind of way, like “What happened to being black? I guess it doesn’t exist anymore, since race doesn’t matter.” Exploring those two possibilities is something that I think William Pope.L would find interesting.
There’s a lot more racial stuff in this article than the writer really addresses directly, like how Lipsky started doing graffiti-inspired paintings once he started using this avatar, and how the black guy’s name is Filthy, and how his new black avatar got him famous after he couldn’t get famous as a white guy. I’m not a Pope.L expert like Eli and Alison, but this stuff all kind of reminds me of Pope.L’s Black Factory stuff. Unsurprisingly, The New York Times whitewashes (ha ha) all that antagonism, but I bet someone like Pope.L could really tease out all the racial tension that’s hidden at the heart of this story.