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Shaming Jim Carrey's artistic pursuits is wrong


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Just a couple of weeks ago, Jim Carrey released a mini-documentary about his artistic journey in the last six years. ‘I Needed Color’ is a reference to a bleak and depressing day in New York, which sparked his longing for vibrant colours. 

The six-minute long video sees Carrey in his art studio and features a number of stunningly colourful paintings, as well as a handful of sculptures. We are told that he took up painting, despite having sketched as a child, for the first time some years ago as a way to heal a broken heart.

The recent upload to Vimeo has made his art the subject of many articles these past few weeks, most of them providing a positive, even encouraging, response. However, this has not been the case for all. 

The Guardian writer Jonathan Jones chose to write a piece, ‘Jim Carrey’s art is yet more proof that Hollywood stars should avoid the canvas’, in which he slated the comic actor’s artistic endeavours, stating that “he is an astonishingly bad painter and sculptor… [the video] of his artistic efforts makes for painful viewing”. Going even further, he accused actors-turned-artists of lacking soul, stating that these attempts at art can only be regarded as a “horrible delusion that encourages the worst kind of unexpressive, oddly impersonal pretentiousness”.

Carrey’s venture into painting and sculpture was likely prompted by a relapse in his well-documented battle with depression, particularly in the last few years, that followed the suicide of his ex-girlfriend Cathriona White. Her death was blamed on Carrey by White’s estranged husband, and later her mother in a wrongful-death lawsuit. Hinting at some of his art’s darker emotional groundings, Carrey states in the documentary that painting “frees me. Free from the future, free from the past, free from regret."

Thence by extension, it is the actor’s usage of art as therapy for his mental health, a medium that has established medical merit, that is being shamed by Jonathan Jones. Humiliating or dismissing Carrey’s art, therefore, contributes to an already toxic culture of shaming mental illness sufferers, and delegitimizing an exploration of one’s depression via the senses. It can, and often is, a way for depressives to work through and eventually exorcise their own negative thoughts and destructive impulses in artistic ways.

Whilst ignoring the obvious fact that art is always subjective, and therefore can hardly be described as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, contrary to The Guardian’s article, there can also be no place for people to take on negativity without cause. It is an uncalled for, and, frankly, useless commentary to shame anyone’s efforts at artistic expression.  

Not everyone has to personally enjoy an artist’s work. One should always express their opinions regarding this art, and that should never be an issue, for art is a comprehensive platform over which to discuss a host of social, political, and economic issues - including mental health. Issues arise when people start shaming an artist for their work. It is neither positive nor constructive and thus is simply revolting behaviour.

If a journalist comments on art and implies the work is objectively bad, they place their subjective view as fact. They place themselves at the head of artistic critique and transform any attempt at analysis into a reflection of their own sensibilities, rather than the work itself. This is also why it is erroneous to call an artist’s art “astonishingly bad” since it does not even attempt an exploration beyond the critic’s direct, personal reaction to the work. It also ignores any positive response, of which there has been much for Carrey’s painting, that is evidence the art resonated with individuals, and that its expression was of benefit to the artist themselves.  

As Jim Carrey very appropriately and simply explained in ‘I Needed Color’, “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.” He continues, “Artwork has to be servicing, you know, it’s like you’re servicing your subconscious and in time, you’re doing something that someone’s going to relate to, hopefully."

Overall, then, the truth is that one writer’s opinion does not matter. Nonetheless, it is immensely frustrating to see someone write so negatively of another’s vulnerability, of their attempt at self-expression in the hopes that it may find an echo with someone else out there in the world. 

Art is and always has been subjective, but that cannot allow blatant shaming to be disguised as artistic engagement.

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