Sylvester Stallone Answers A Thought Experiment

Yesterday I found this link about Sylvester Stallone “opening up” about his painting hobby on the excellent LA Times Culture Monster Blog.  The above is an example of his work.

Now here’s my thought experiment. What if you took an average teenager who had angsty teenage beliefs about painting, then gave them loads of money and free time to work on this art without exposure to the outside world. 40 years later, will they have developed into a worthwhile artist?

In Stallone’s case I think we can answer definitively, “Not really.” Analysis below.

Stallone says “I find that the more unhappy you are, the more confused you are, the better your art is…. Happy art, it just doesn’t seem to work for me.” (Every quote related to that article is best read with his near incomprehensible muttering in mind).

Mr. Stallone! You deep and powerful soul. I imagine cries of anguish as you attack the canvas with your palette knife, Rambo style. Perhaps letting forth a sob as the brush smushes itself in a pool of overbright yellow…

But what if there were more forms of art than just “Happy” or “Unhappy?” Silly question I realize, but what if there were questions of concept, skill and history involved. What if aesthetics were only tangentially related to whatever emotion accompanied their creation? Is that possible?

After decades pursuing a craft, aren’t these questions you’d hope someone would begin to focus on- love and attention to the field itself instead of just using it as an expensive and self-involved form of mood ring?

Maybe I ask too much. Maybe the two aren’t mutually exclusive and  a gradually more nuanced understanding of the language and means of the craft itself can supplement the teenage conception of art.  Why don’t we check Sly’s paintings to see!

Here are more photos from the daily mail article:

I’d rate each of these and the piece at the top as “could be worse.” His sense of color isn’t terrible. While he doesn’t bother to mix his own hues much, he has a clear affinity for the Red-Yellow-Green combination, which is always safe.  He also seems to understand enough to use muted colors in the background to set up the brighter highlights in the foreground.

Formally speaking, these are complete train wrecks. The piece I posted at the top is the best of the lot in that it is at least somewhat engaging, but everything else falls firmly into the self-pitying self-representation trap that most 16-year-old emo kids fall into. The forms do not speak to interesting figuration through either competent execution or a form of deconstruction that provides any insight. We are supposed to believe they are emotionally infused because of the busy layers behind them and the style that I suppose is meant to be “childlike.” The difference being that children TRY to do well when they paint like this (or when their parents do).

Those flourishes of color and busy layers in the backgrounds are the closest thing to a saving grace these things have, but they are also potentially the result of having enough money and time to randomly pepper large canvases with pigment until you get something somewhat interesting. Admittedly, having the eye to understand when you’ve reach the point of “something somewhat interesting” is its own form of skill, but Stallone’s inclusion of lame formal elements atop the background shows he either lacks this skill- or else lacks any confidence in it, in which case to my mind you lack that skill.

The ultimate proof of this is the decision to include this piece in the show:

Everything here has been stripped down to the most bare inessentiasl of crappy rendering and played out emotiveness. A simple plaque reading “I’m in in a brick cage of EMOTION” (apologies Ron Burgundy) would be more sincere. This painting isn’t just awful, it knows it’s awful and inexplicably believes that to be its strength.


To conclude my thought experiment from 600 words ago, I think the angsty teenage philosophy that art  must express darkness will unavoidably stand in the way of creating successful work.  The angst imposed into the foreground of the art dooms whatever advantages money and experience might have given the artist to start with.  At which point the works becomemore  about the person’s flawed mental processing than the actual aesthetic accomplishment- that is, it can only succeed as a form of “Outsider Art.”

And I think that is the only possible explanation why this crap is hanging in a gallery and “super collector” Steve Wynn (best known for his Las Vegas casinos) paid $90,000 for 2 of these things.  Stallone is a sideshow whose misconceptions of art have become a tragedy more powerful than anything actually included in his art itself. 

Any other explanation might drive me to despair about the state of the art world in this country.



8 Responses to “Sylvester Stallone Answers A Thought Experiment”

  1. i could not agree more. it reminds me of the large number of skater punk freshmen and anime chicks in school that did virtually the same work each year lamenting “its just my style….you don’t understand me” and rejecting any criticism and advice because as freshem they already knew everything….their mamas said it was good and that should be enough to make it in the art world…right?

    • It’s the Van Gogh effect. As kids we’re taught about Van Gogh, shown his paintings, that he was disturbed andnobody liked his work until he died. Therefore kids draw a causal relationship. He’s great BECAUSE he was disturbed and nobody liked his work. So art becomes entirely about the artist instead of the art, and the more you reject criticism the more legitimate you must be…

      Yet somehow everybody who mistakenly believes this kind of thing always ends up making art that looks the same. The more a person believes that art’s value arises magically from some intrinsic place within them, the less they will actually work at it, thus personalizing their relationship with it and ending up with something original.

  2. word up. i wrote a paper once about the double edge sword of modern art. my favorite art is “modern” conceptual however it opened the flood gates where people said” i can can do that crap” thus the posers were introduced. granted anyone can create art but you have to know something. great art doesn’t have to be well drafted/rendered, powerfully cerebral, etc… all at the same time but it should have at least 1 characteristic of merit….i’m rambling now so i’ll just stop here

  3. must clarify so i don’t sound so elitist. i think art can be created by anyone for cathartic reasons etc… but not everyone that applies paint to a canvas should be considered an artist. i think its a label too loosely used, after all most everyone has the capacity to use a hammer but doing so doesn’t make one a carpenter

    • You elitest jerk! I think the modern art thing is a good point. There were bad artists before, but a well established regime made it easy to cast them into darkness. But now we do such a poor job teaching people how to view art that galleries and museums have to resort to celebrities (see the Shaq curated show or the Tim Burton “retrospective” in NY) to trick people into them. It worries me.

  4. Right on, JD.

    Something tells me there’s not one painting Stallone hasn’t taken a razor to out of pure disgust.

  5. was it $90,000? I read $40,000. I have to calculate how much that increases my self-pity.

  6. […] problem is, he made the exact opposite mistake Sylvester Stallone did. In his desire to craft a positive story filled with good intentions, he seems to have completely […]

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