The Artist as Player in “Girls” & “The Golden Girls”

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“Women can be so silly. They think because you are an artist, you must also be a great lover,” says Laszlo Gregorian (Tony Jay), a fictional Hungarian artist portrayed in the TV sit-com “The Golden Girls” (1987). In fact, that’s what Blanche, Dorothy and Rose are all counting on when they begin competing for his attention. Laszlo invites the three ladies to pose nude for him in his studio in preparation for a new sculpture commissioned by a local museum. However, each of them believes she is his only muse, and conflict arises when the truth comes out.

Though no sex actually takes place between Laszlo and his subjects, the experience is clearly a very sexual one for the three friends. The women are spellbound by his worldliness and sophistication (he’s from Europe), and his adoration of their physiques appeals to their vanity and makes them feel desirable.

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He also flatters them with his words, praising Dorothy’s strength and character, Blanche’s sensuality and Rose’s softness. He even goes so far as to give each of them a key to his studio. Through Laszlo, not only do they see the chance to be immortalized in a “classic work of art,” but also the possibility of romance with a “world famous artist.”

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Laszlo is so involved with his creative process (and himself) that he is either unaware of their advances or doesn’t care. And unfortunately for them, he cannot return their affections because he is gay, a detail he fails to make clear until his sculpture is finished and he no longer needs them.

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Helping to keep the artist/heartbreaker stereotype alive today is Booth Jonathan (Jorma Taccone) from the HBO series “Girls” (2013). The creation of writer/actor/director Lena Dunham (daughter of artists Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons), he is probably based on people Ms. Dunham has actually known in the New York art world. Booth is the kind of cocky, womanizing hipster who sleeps with his dealer and hates the High Line.

His persona is nothing new, reminiscent of Adam Coleman Howard’s character in “Slaves of New York” or Steve Buscemi’s role in “New York Stories,” both from 1989.  These bad boy art stars exploit their successes to get what they want from others, usually with little consequence. Indeed, Booth’s misogynistic behavior is constantly rewarded. Even after locking the star-struck Marnie (Allison Williams) inside one of his video-sculptures against her will, she later praises him for his talent and then has creepy sex with him. “I’m a man,” he tells her, “and I know how to do things.”

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It isn’t long before Marnie believes Booth is her boyfriend, but she is actually falling in love with what he represents to her. Having been fired from her gallery job and turned down for another, she is struggling with her own identity. She wants to be a part of his artist’s aura, perhaps seeing Booth as a window back into that world, and to its higher echelons.

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Like actors, artists have public personas, and their audiences often mistake these for the genuine, private self. Just as Blanche, Dorothy and Rose have done, Marnie projects an identity that isn’t really there. When it later becomes clear that Booth was just using her, he evades any blame for his role in the situation by throwing a tantrum about how “no one even knows me” and “everyone just uses me for what I represent to them.” No doubt, there’s another admirer in line to be the next victim of his abuse.

In the end, it seems there is always an ulterior motive beneath the artist’s apparent allure. Transparency is not one of the traits we desire in them — as with art, itself, we prefer our artists to be mysterious and unobtainable. Otherwise, we get bored and lose interest. So perhaps the asshole behavior we scorn is not only perpetuated by the media’s typecasting, but celebrated. Luckily for us, there will always be another asshole willing to oblige.

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