Who is The Most Famous Artist ? Contributing to a Discussion on Meaning in Art

March 16, 2016

People kind of never seem to reach a point of agreement when it comes to what is, and what is not a piece of art. The relevance of anyone’s opinion aside - the fact that we’re still talking about it does say a lot, but perhaps it says more about us, than about art. There is this common belief that people just desperately need for things to mean something, and obviously they apply these expectations to art as well. Once it stopped being descriptive, realistic or beautiful, it started to lack purpose, and that became a problem. With the intent to find a meaning in art, people construct their own parameters and methods, in order to evaluate it. Consequently, it seems that, nowadays, the public opinion is (more or less) divided into two groups – those who believe in arts and crafts, and those who believe in arts and guts.

Let’s take a look at an example that started the whole thing. As a protagonist of Dada, about a hundred years ago, Duchamp started using his mind, instead of his skills, to create art. After the introduction of ready-made, it was finally clear that there is, after all, a difference between a craftsman and a philosopher, a thinker, or maybe even a prankster, if you want. But where does that leave art? As a result of art’s revolution, this strange brave world of contemporary art started acting as an autonomous occurrence, maybe even something close to a living being. This being of art, this person, has so many faces today, that we really don’t know how to define it, or even how to approach it. It does, however, reach out to us. Today, people of all professions, everywhere, seem to have this need to react to it.

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Matty Mo and Mr Brainwash, shopping at the Flea Market in LA

Matty Mo - The Most Famous Artist

So, now that we’re mentioning the matter of arts and guts, let’s take some time to refer to the person who calls himself The Most Famous Artist (The MFA). Matty Mo was the founder of a potentially successful advertising company, however the whole thing eventually ended up badly. After being filmed in an awkward naked/drunk situation in India in 2013, he basically unintentionally killed his own business. Nevertheless, Matty certainly found a way to fight his way to the top, once again. Or perhaps it’s better to say – to Instagram his way to the top. The Most Famous Artist, which is the alias of Matty Mo, managed to gain an impressive amount of followers on Instagram in a short period of time (around 114 000 in 2 years). The cause and the purpose of this audience building is his new business – selling art, but not in a very conventional way. In short, Matty Mo finds paintings, which already exist (usually at the flea market), and then adds something to them, or paints something over their surface, which gives them this glitchy, trendy appeal. And, surprisingly, this worn out technique still works. Due to some miraculous circumstances, or possibly because of Matty’s extraordinary talent for attracting attention, these Tumblr-like paintings actually sell. The other thing Matty does quite successfully is he creates murals, which consist of some basic stencils, mostly words. They look good as selfie-backgrounds (he literally made a selfie wall in San Francisco which was "the-most-Instagrammed wall"), or just operate on a highly visual, simple level, which gets to the Internet generation. But is there anything else to them?

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The MFA - Signature Series

Appropriation Is Nothing New

What are we actually talking about here? Appropriation of other people’s work is not something you should be surprised about, if you’ve been paying any attention to the events from the 20th and the 21st century. Just take a look at Richard Prince’s works, and you’ll get the point. Or simply remind yourselves of Pop Art, for example. In a more refined manner of speaking, we could refer to Nicolas Bourriaud and say that artists could choose to act like DJs, and that in the end, everything is just post-production. But what makes this particular case interesting is the fact that, after all that’s been said and done, there is still someone who repeats the patterns from the past with such great success, using the means of today’s popular culture, and actually calling it a thing. The Most Famous Artist, whose name is a pretentious appropriation to begin with, not only uses other people’s works to make his own, he also uses this method of appropriating other people’s works – which has also been done in the past. Even if the whole point is to build an image of an icon who plays on both sides of art and pop culture, Andy Warhol has already been there. Basically, everything that he does, was more or less already done by someone else. So what is so special about Matty Mo?

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The MFA - Dipped Old Jew, Guy Hepner virtual environment

Art and/or Marketing

First of all, the main difference between Matty's work and almost any other artist's is the sequence of events. Matty, in the essence of his being, is not an artist (and that he often points out, himself). He is a marketing entrepreneur. Therefore, it’s only a matter of coincidence that his most successful project today is – himself! The Most Famous Artist didn't start his career the usual way, probably because his "career" is perhaps just an artsy term for a life-long project (or a short-term fling, we'll see). Most people have their style developed, or some work done before they decide to share it online, but in Matty's case, going viral was the whole point, from the beginning. He anticipated his title of the most famous artist, before becoming one. While using the benefits of the Internet and making the best of it, he also found a perfect formula for success. He found a way to get to people, one which is considerably easy and difficult at the same time, but is, without a doubt, contemporary; and he cleverly used art, as a vague category that everyone wants to define in their own way. When you take the whole story into account, probably the most fascinating thing, that actually evokes compassion and interest, is his honesty. Everybody knows about the incident in India, everybody knows that he's not really an artist but carelessly calls himself The Most Famous Artist, and in the end, at least a half of everybody loves it.

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The MFA - Selfie Wall, San Francisco

What's In There for Art?

Apparently, one of the main questions here is whether the works made by The Most Famous Artist deserve to be categorized and treated as art. There is, perhaps, an even better question though: can it be that the society is still stuck in the maze of that art-not art debate? Hopefully, the project made by The Most Famous Artist has a potential to somehow put this agony to an end, at least for a while. In the end, The MFA project is, undoubtedly, great internet marketing - and good for him. But what matters is how art gains from his input. What certainly is different is the reality of this project, when all the masks fall off, in terms of what this naive approach to art (not art as business, but art as art) offers to discipline itself. In an interview for BuzzFeed (you can check out the video below), Matty Mo said that "making art is not hard, and that people just think it is. Everyone from a poet to a mathematician can interpret an image, and the more images out there with positive and interesting messages, the more interesting the world becomes". If The Most Famous Artist's energy is really so pure and almost infantile, then probably nothing bad can come out of it. But more importantly, something new can happen, something ignorant of all the burdens of overthinking and history. Regardless of his right to make business from art, or to base his work on the Internet, what he gives the world in return is the only thing that should really matter. And what that is, exactly - I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Editors’ Tip: Nicolas Bourriaud - Postproduction

Postproduction. Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World is an essay written by the French writer and curator Nicolas Bourriaud. The author discusses how, since the early nineties, an ever increasing number of artworks have been created on the basis of preexisting works; more and more artists interpret, reproduce, re-exhibit, or use works made by others or available cultural products. This art of postproduction seems to respond to the proliferating chaos of global culture in the information age, which is characterized by an increase in the supply of works and the art world’s annexation of forms ignored or disdained until now.

Featured image: The Most Famous Artist - Not Not Art, via Instagram. All images used for illustrative purposes only.

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