Tribeca Film: Art and Craft

Hollywood has made me come to expect movies about art forgers to be all intrigue, romance, and fast paced, nail biting excitement. Art and Craft is a documentary about an art forger that is pretty much the opposite of these expectations. Mark Landis lives in a small apartment he once occupied with his now deceased mother. He obsessively takes in tv (and alcohol). He goes to doctors appointments to check in on his wavering mental health. He paints and draws. He dresses up like a priest and nonchalantly donates his forgeries of minor masterpieces to small, unsuspecting museums. There is no money changing hands. No fireworks. I guess there are mild aliases and a costume, but a priest's collar isn't all that much of a costume. At most there is a small time museum worker who has become consumed by bringing the dastardly forger to justice. But his ire is more sad than thrilling, he loses his job and even his very, very young daughter is wary of his obsession. Landis' motivations are unclear (or nonexistent?) but it seems that he enjoys, and is good at, making art and that by gifting these works he is able to have a controlled, positive human interaction- like a blip of a rehearsed tv spot- that his reclusive tendencies can manage.

Art and Craft follows around this man and his lonely existence while quietly & constantly balancing looming issues such as mental illness, responsibility, justice, humanism, societal structure, and more but, where it becomes most interesting, is the ways it looks at our current value system of creativity. The art world continues to prop up "vital" visual art, often distilling it in terms of money & rarity, the importance of a work is increasingly based on market analysis instead of skill.  Hazy artspeak runs rampant as a means to justify what makes an artist worthwhile,  the elusive (and unquantifiable) aura nearly a thing of the past. What makes art good or bad? How do we choose to canonize particular artists? If Landis' work is passing as the work of well regarded painters then why isn't he a well regarded painter? Who decides artist's place on the continuum of "fine art" and "crafty art." The questions that Art and Craft raise are, of course, rhetorical mirroring the mild manner of the subject and shying away from any real stance on anything, it is an exploration not an expose. 

On the fringes of the art world Landis continues to make his well executed classics even after widespread knowledge of his innocuous deceit, while also gaining critical acclaim for his contemporary "performance" art of lies...he is an artist unknowingly confronting the art market and making people look twice at what their eyes and brain believe and feel. What will Landis be remembered for and why? Will he be another creative casualty? Will he ever make a living from his uncanny abilities? Art and Craft is a thoughtful film about the nature of truth and beauty and, like Landis, it is a muted, soft spoken creation that will leave you riddled with questions.

 

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