Jim Carrey’s Art

Jim Carrey, Painting

I read an article that claims “Jim Carrey’s art is yet more proof that Hollywood stars should avoid the canvas.”

You can read it yourself, if you like.  I found it to be unnecessarily nasty and bitter, written by a frustrated man named Jonathan Jones. Jones, of course, does not make art. How is it that non-artists and historians get to be art critics, when they have no particular talent for making new work?

Jones judges the work of people like Terry Pratchett before actually consuming their work:

Get real. Terry Pratchett is not a literary genius

If you’ve read Pratchett, you’ll understand. For me, this statement completely undermines Jones’ credibility as a critic (and it was a nasty thing to say after Pratchett’s death). Dismissing Carrey’s work without actually seeing it in person is ridiculous. I suspect Jones’ continuing value to The Guardian is his skill at writing click-bait. And, I suppose I’m contributing to that in my own small way by writing this. But, still, his article prompted me to pay attention to Mr. Carrey, and I’m glad for that.

A painting by Jim Carrey

I like Jim Carrey’s work, and think I’d like him as a person. He has range as an actor, and Dumb & Dumber was, to me, genuinely funny. I loved “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” But, I also love that Carrey is a practitioner of the Law of Attraction. He is sober. He practices Transcendental Meditation and, best of all, uses art making to combat depression. He shares these things with others, which is an act of generosity that our society needs.

A defense of Art-making

I’m about to think through my defense of Jim Carrey by working on the principle that there are two components to “art.”

First, there is a process by which the work is made. This is the artist’s side of the equation, and it’s mostly private. It is as important as the final work itself (and in performance, may actually BE the work itself). To the artist, this IS the important part. Then, there is the part that is consumed by the viewer. The viewer’s job is to find value in the work. This may come in the form of academic understanding – being able to trace a particular work back to references of preexisting work. It may come in the form of an emotional or aesthetic response. It may come in the form of commodification. This is the part where the non-art making critics and historians get their toehold. But both parts are important – not just critical opinions.

It may be that in the ~1% of the art world where art is valued primarily as a commodity, Carrey’s paintings aren’t sought after by certain collectors. That isn’t the point of good work, and, I think, it’s not the point of Carrey’s work. And Carrey may not fit neatly into an academic tradition of post-modernist art – who cares? That, also, is not the point.

The Guardian writer claims “The comic actor’s short film about his paintings is painful viewing, but he’s not the first star who has tried, and failed, to moonlight as an artist.”

For anyone that has experienced the healing power of creating something (and I hope that’s most of us), this video should be beautiful. Carrey talks about how he started painting amidst a broken heart, after his split from actress Jenny McCarthy in 2010 after five years of dating. This is the value of Jim Carrey’s art – he shows how we can all heal by creating something.

Carrey says “I think what makes someone an artist is they make models of their inner life. They make something physically come into being that is inspired by their emotions, or their needs, or what they feel the audience needs.” This speaks well to the artist side of the equation that I defined above. Carrey generously gives us a glimpse into his inner process (and an amazing studio) with this video – again, the artist side of the equation.

Jim Carrey molding a clay head on a wire armature.

What is “Success?”

I’m guessing that Carrey can sit in his studio and make work for the rest of his life, without ever having to concern himself with selling any of it. This obliterates Jones’ claim that he’s somehow a failure as an artist. Also, wasn’t he once one of the highest paid artists in Hollywood? Does that qualify as artistic failure? I can’t find his personal Website (if he has one), nor representation from any particular gallery. Carrey is free from constraints, and can pursue his visual work in a way few of us ever could. To express oneself entirely by one’s inner compass, with little to no accountability to the outside, is artistic freedom.

Carrey seems to be self taught (an added bonus), but he’s no Henry Darger. He has the resources to pursue his vocation, and it looks like he’s very disciplined in making the work.

Carrey also uses his drawing skill, and fame as a platform to stand up to the injustices of the Trump administration. Using one’s talents against bullies makes them a hero, period. Regardless of politics, one must admit he’s very proactive, productive and prolific. While we only see glimpses of a number of works, he clearly has skill and vision. I would like to see more of his work.

You know, the bottom line of all of this, whether it’s performance, or art, or sculpture, is love. We want to show ourselves, and have that be accepted.

This is true, in life, and in art. I’m grateful for this video, and the tiny glimpse into another artist’s studio life. A successful artist, at that.