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Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001) - Challenges to Authentic Art

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  • Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001) - Challenges to Authentic Art

    Enid’s artistic talent, and the opportunity she had to go to art school on a full scholarship lends the film a great tragic element. The film portrays going to art school as a way out of her unhappy life at home, and in the town as a whole. Just when it seems that Enid has no other options, having been alienated from her father and Maxine, and refusing to live with Rebecca, the opportunity for art school comes along, and the film seems to show that there is hope for Enid yet.

    But when Enid goes to turn in her application to Roberta Allsworth, her art teacher, nearing the end of the film, she is informed that she cannot go to the school because she has failed the class. When Enid goes to turn in her application, Roberta is working with two other students to create a full-face mask. Through this, the film subtly highlights the phoniness and falsity of the art teacher, and the creation of the mask serves as a metaphor for creating a false façade. The sculpting of the mask is juxtaposed with Enid’s earnestness and genuineness: she is seeking a meaningful life, a place where she will fit in and find others who share her artistic passions, as she goes in to turn in her application. Her arrival at the art studio forces Roberta to temporarily leave the mask-making and address Enid. This metaphorically suggests the way Enid, in her authenticity, forces her teacher to at least briefly leave her phoniness.

    Yet even when she has to look straight in Enid’s face and inform her that she cannot have the scholarship nor attend the school anymore, Roberta rejects responsibility saying “they made me do it, they made me fail you in the class” because of Enid’s apparently controversial Cook’s Chicken “found art” poster. The way Roberta curtly addresses Enid, and returns quickly to the mask-making (the student in the background having the mask-made comically moans, “I can’t breathe,” but which could be perhaps more seriously taken as a metaphor for the stifling, suffocating nature of phoniness and falsity) reveals her own shallowness and refusal to give the genuine Enid anymore time. The mask-making, although it occurs mostly in the background, and is only briefly shown, is surely significant; it could have been any sort of art project Roberta and a couple students were working on, but instead they are making a mask, representing shallowness, a false front – themes emphasized throughout the film.

    The tragic element of Enid’s being unable to attend the art school because she was failed in the class also leads to a painful questioning; in the end, the audience is left wondering whether art school could have been a place where she found acceptance, others as genuine and passionate as her – or whether she would have met the same shallowness and phoniness in the school as she encountered in her summer art class.

    Ironically the way in which Enid came to receive the scholarship offer is through her own parroting of someone else – Seymour – and her cynical attempt to tell Roberta what Enid knew she wanted to hear. Her Cook’s Chicken poster is both what leads Roberta to offer Enid the scholarship and the potential way out of her negative life, and what leads her to be definitively cut out from that option. The film reveals the deep shallowness of Roberta, as she praises Enid warmly in class for finally having created a meaningful work of art, and then later, only feebly protesting that the poster be kept up at the art gallery.

    The film focuses on the stereotypical outraged parents at the art gallery, showing an ambiguous group of angry parents complaining about the inappropriateness of the piece. It comments on the desire of people to conform – to rebel and challenge the status quo a little, but not too much. For Roberta’s star student in the art class, a girl who creates supposedly controversial sculptures reflecting feminist ideas, is not criticized at the art showing at all – indeed the film does not even momentarily show her art. This reflects the tendency of adults to allow a little rebellion – after all, they are “just teenagers” – but not to the extent of deep-seated criticism of the past that is represented by Enid’s painting. The film shows the parents angry and upset, their indignation feeding off of each other’s, as reacting that way just because it is proper for them to react as such. It is almost portrayed as an overreaction – there is too much denial, too much rejection – for perhaps these parents ate at that very restaurant back when it was called “Coon’s Chicken.”

    Until the end of the film, all of Enid’s art is rejected in one way or another. From the first day of the class, Roberta condemns Enid’s sketchbook as just something that’s a little “amusing,” and entirely lacking in meaning. Roberta, in her rejection of Enid’s work, entirely betrays her role of an educator, meant to encourage students in their growth and development, and is completely hypocritical in her dismissal and belittling of Enid.

    Even when Becky gives Seymour the sketchbook, he does not turn past the page on which Enid drew him sitting alone at the restaurant, until she goes and shows him the rest of the book. The film reveals how even the man who seems to understand Enid the past throughout the film, does have the same inclination towards shallowness, an inability to look farther into Enid’s art and understand her better.

  • #2
    When Enid first gets the offer of the art scholarship I logically thought that this would be her escape. She would finally be able to escape this place and do something that she truly cares about. I naively thought that would be the end of the film. However, the director, Terry Zwigoff, shows us our naivety when Enid’s offer at the art academy is unjustly revoked. However, if we think about it the offer was never truly an escape. Enid only got the offer because she was starting to conform and appeasing her art teacher. If she had continued being authentic with her art she never would have gotten this “opportunity”. Also by revoking her offer Zwigoff shows that there is no escape in this world. The falsehood is everywhere and even her art her one talent will not take her away from her sadness. In a world that is already so false it makes sense that art would also be false. Art and humanity have long been intertwined and humans have made art since their inception. As humanity adapts art adapts and as such the art of this time has adapted with this current population. The only art we really see in the movie are the random and extreme projects in the art class. The only “true” piece of art, the Coon’s Cook poster, gets rejected because that level of truth is no longer allowed in this world.

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    • #3
      I wholeheartedly agree with your interpretation of Roberta’s motivations related to Enid’s scholarship. The art teacher completely contradicts herself after she has the opportunity to prove the phony curriculum she has been teaching all summer. Constantly, she talks to the students about creating art that is important and has a deeper, not so superficial, meaning. If she actually stood for what she taught she would have fought for Enid and her artistic ability. When confronted by the art fair manager, Mrs. Allsworth completely caves to outside pressure and conform with the popular, and somewhat wrong opinion allowing them to take down the work that she said earlier was moving and artistically important. She is obviously just as insincere as all of the other characters in the movie; she just tries to hide it more than anyone else.

      I find it difficult to not conclusively say that Enid would not have enjoyed art school. It seems to me that an art institution would employ the same fake ideals as everyone else in the town. In fact, something like an art school would take what Enid appreciates about drawing, spontaneity and personal expression. Traditional art school is used as an industrial tool to prepare employees for the type of job she early said she was trying to avoid after graduation.

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      • #4
        I somewhat disagree with the thought that Enid not being able to get the offer to art school was tragic for her character. As many others in our class said, Enid only got that scholarship was because she started to conform to what society wanted her to, in that she was now making what everyone else thought was more “meaningful” art. Would going to art school really be any better? She would probably still get told that her sketches and drawings weren’t good and that she needs to try and create “deeper” and more “meaningful” art. I think the film is showing that getting turned away from art school as more of a blessing in disguise. Yes, she did have to end it all, because she wanted to stay authentic, but it seemed to me that, that was her main goal in life. She would have had to conform eventually to get through art school and then make a living as a artist. She probably wouldn’t be able to actually do the art she likes doing, she would have to make art that everybody else likes, to be successful in what’s she’s passionate about. I think she realizes this herself near the end of the film when she sees Norman get on the bus. She then understands that she can still be true to herself and her beliefs, but she just can’t be apart of the world in which she lives to accomplish it.

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        • #5
          Mask-making seems emblematic of the entire process and aim high school, an attempt to force a certain lifestyle-presentation onto an often unwilling host. I’m unsure that there is any hope presented to Enid through the entire art class, including the scholarship, as it was offered on false pretence.
          I disagree that Seymour failing to look past the first drawing of himself is a criticism of his appreciation for art, rather, I see it as an expression of Seymour’s humanity. So often, Seymour allows himself to be pushed around, manipulated, and cajoled by Enid. The hurt he feels when he sees the real view of him that Enid had when they first met is enough to shatter the veneer of trust they has cultivated. This is, in fact, an affirmation of the power of Enid’s drawings, albeit in a negative light.

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          • #6
            Roberta Allsworth with her lack of authenticity was one of the more frustrating characters in the film for me, because she as an art teacher was close to the opposite of what I’ve come to think of as a good art teacher. Creative expression through passion and acute interest without being tied to one’s own subject is what in my opinion the film presents as a non -ghost-like life. Every character in the movie lacks this sort of living to some respect. Even Seymour, who has passion and acute interest and is portrayed as a real person who can break out of his own subjective haze is simply a collector, which I believe the film depicts as his downfall of personhood in its lack of creativity.

            Enid’s suicide to me is the film presenting a case where such an act is to a respect understandable, but not justified, as pathways towards living, the art school in Enid’s case, are always present. Your analysis of the scene where Enid tries to accept the scholarship was very interesting. To me Roberta’s mask was present throughout the movie to a certain extent, and I agree that this scene is another not so subtle highlight of her inability to inspire true creativity, but rather just what she accepts to be creativity. Her working on a mask with students, in my opinion, presents her phoniness, but also overtly shows that she helps her students create masks, both physically and for their identities. The interaction between Roberta and Enid when she leaves the mask making to speak with Enid about her inability to help portrays her in her deepest phoniness, rather than as Enid forcing her out of it for a moment, just to return after the conversation. A great teacher would not let intense circumstances such as Enid’s necessary failure of the class derail her passion for a student so easily. What I was looking for from Roberta was some fight on Enid’s behalf. Roberta, in referencing my opinion of a ghost-like life, meets the criteria as she’s creative, but only for her own subjective interests and lacks passion for those of others.

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            • #7
              While it is a tragedy that Enid is unable to go to art school because she failed the class, I would argue that it was her own fault. She felt frustrated in her art class because her art was being labeled as comedic while other people’s inane art was being praised because of the symbolism that the art teacher imagined them having. By referencing feminism or the unequal social classes, the project would be immediately regarded with favor by the teacher who clearly could not recognize Enid’s true talent. Enid grew frustrated with the class and decided to use Seymour's poster as a piece of “found art”, just to see what reaction the teacher might have to the piece’s blatant racism. The teacher is enamored by the poster and Enid’s explanation and gives it high praise. In doing this however, Enid becomes what she loathes the most, a “phony” person. The betrayal of her own principals leeds to her downfall as the outrage over the showing of the piece leeds to her failure in the class, thus denying her the opportunity to go to art school.

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              • #8
                Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001)

                This piece was written extremely well and I entirely agree with the discussion of the mask. The sculpting of the mask on the students face proves the idea that everyone is wearing a disguise creating a society of fake and superficial people who refuse to deal with their real persona. As S.Carey mentions, Enid’s questions about the art school “forces her teacher to at least briefly leave her phoniness,” yet Roberta turns right back to the mask as soon as Enid begins to challenge her authenticity and reasons for why she can’t attend the school. As the student in the background struggles to breathe with the mask stuck to his face, our vision of shallowness and trivial pursuit of life is simply reiterated as we constantly see people conforming and putting new masks on to fit in with the latest reality of society. Furthermore, I again concur with S.Carey’s statement that this “could be perhaps more seriously taken as a metaphor for the stifling, suffocating nature of phoniness and falsity.” Later in S.Carey’s argument, she writes, “Her Cook’s Chicken poster is both what leads Roberta to offer Enid the scholarship and the potential way out of her negative life, and what leads her to be definitively cut out from that option.” I agree, but would also argue that Enid was heading towards a breakout from this humdrum like of phoniness until she borrowed the Cook’s Chicken painting from Seymour, rather than creating her own piece. Granted this was “found art” that she felt expressed her feelings towards society in a way she felt suitable, yet she wanted to gain the attention of Roberta, which lead her to compromise herself and her true beliefs during that time. She herself sacrificed authenticity to be noticed and seen in the class with a controversial example of Cook’s Chicken. In a way, her own hatred towards phoniness lashed back at her and gave her a taste of her own medicine of that rejection. I wonder if the art scholarship would have followed through had she won this praise with a piece of her own.

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                • #9
                  I really enjoy the idea of meaning that’s been presented with the concept of mask-making. I also agree with you in saying I that the art school scholarship would be Enid’s way out. Then, I consider what sort of pretentious people exist there and how it may be more to Enid’s life. I also considered the failing of class to indicate that Enid would not receive her “Authentic” high school diploma thus leaving her in the perpetual world of high school. This causes her to become more dissatisfied with her status and, I feel, equally paramounts to the mask making and “not being able to breathe”. How dare she be exiled back to this high school status after her attempts of leaving behind the more inauthentic place in her world.
                  The art show also presses at the issue of how many people find what is authentic to be insulting or discomforting. We are not as willing to accept the ideas of others if they contradict our own.

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                  • #10
                    I think you're definitely on to something regarding the way authenticity plays a role in providing choices to Enid. Its almost as if the film is saying that authenticity is impossible, or at least irreconcilable with acceptance. Conformity allows all of the 'ghosts' the peace of mind that they're future seems set, whether or not it actually is. Conformity at least lends them some sense of purpose, whether it is genuine security is beside the point, because at least they think they're happy.

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