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Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001)- Art by Way of Coat Hangers and Tea Cups

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  • Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001)- Art by Way of Coat Hangers and Tea Cups

    The art teacher Roberta Allsworth asks engaging questions of Enid regarding her Ďfound art objectí. The scene in which Roberta begins to reason and look deeper at this statement piece (the Coons Chicken Poster) offers us a glimpse at what the film may think about art. It is important for teachers and educators not to let students simply state a claim (or produce an art work) without the ability to back up their meaning and explanation. Allsworth engages Enid in just this, she asks Enid to explain why this art shouldnít be viewed as simply racist. As Enid explains Seymourís explanation for the changing of logos for this company, we are confronted with a potential truth. There is value to Ms. Allworthís reaction to this work (even though Enid essentially took it from Seymour). What I found curious about Allsworth, was her reaction to Enidís art before the Coonís Chicken poster. Why do Enidís expressive cartoon and graphics lack authenticity, but a (poorly constructed) coat hanger sculpture does? It seems to me that Allsworth seeks provocative and political art that only aims to make a statement, rather appreciate art that contains subtleties and craftsmanship.


    This art class and the statements made about society within it, are important to note within the realm of this Ghost World. It seems the only other character that has an appreciation for art is Seymour. His fascination with Blues music is something that sets him apart from the rest of the characters. Yet he is depicted as a looser that has no life. He has a boring corporate job, canít seem to get a girlfriend, and when he does, she finds ways to change him (the blue jeans). Even within his house, the things that give him joy and fulfillment (records and memorabilia) are kept in a small dark room. This could be viewed as a suppression of his artistic engagement. The Ghost World around him does not understand what to make of this traditional blues appreciation. The worldís only connection to the blues is one of phonies and remakes, sung by iced-tipped white kids. Seymaur states that he has lost even an interest in political issues of race after working for the corporate company, "I sort of lost interest when I started working for themĒ. I see Enidís fascination with Seymour to have something to do with the artistic engagement they both share. Enid sees Seymour as a possibility model, someone she sees a little bit of herself within. But it is no wonder Enid doesnít end up finding fulfillment in this world when Seymour fails to fully commit to this art of music. Thus Enid is left to abandon a life due to lack of fulfillment and authenticity.


    Roberta, as an educator also doesnít seem to know how to grapple with art in a dynamic way. She teaches and reinforces any sort of provocative statement made through art, but canít seem to appreciate the subtle artistic expression that Enid holds within her notebook. These doodles and cartoons are not considered Ďartí in Robertaís case. This to me seems phony. That maybe Allsworth isnít such an intelligent, well-read art teacher herself and lacks authenticity too. She may have the ability to remark on jaded political sculptures, but in unable to interact and engage with subtle statements regarding life, societal roles and love (all things I saw depicted in Enidís Journal). Allsworth offers Enid a scholarship to an art school, but not based on artistic ability and skill, but on provocative found object art that ultimately has nothing to do with Enid. This is another example of how Roberta Allsworth sits among the phony individuals in the Ghost World. Seymour seems to be a transitional phony, still has a toe in the puddle of artistic fulfillment and authenticity. What are we to make of Enidís role as an artist and human in this society? How do other characters view art and the value of it? Is Roberta Allsworth a phony, or does she have valuable artistic intent and knowledge? Are there other areas of inauthenticity in the film I havenít touched on?


  • #2
    So often we see people mistaken the appreciation of art for the appreciation of contexts, or in your words, “statements”. It is controversial whether one can go on without the other but I fully agree with your perspectives. I think so many times we see arts lose its own value because of the so-called “lack of statement”. However, this begs the question whether art, as an independent approach of expression, can truly be understood without the appropriation of meaning. Afterall, doesn’t all art strive for the expression of some sort of meaning?

    Enid’s art and her own self resembles each other: her respect for art is not rationalized, by rationalization I mean she does not need to find reasons to appreciate art. Similarly, she does not seek for other’s approval as a reason to be herself. In that sense, I think Enid lives up to her own standards and is not afraid of expressing them. However, this true-to-self attitude indeed brings difficulties, I believe the ending shows a sense of sorrow struggle for artists like Enid.

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    • #3
      I believe that Allsworth merely fails to realize that meaning behind Enidís artwork because Allsworth canít seem to make any connection to her students. Allsworth does not understand the artwork that Enid draws because Allsworth only appreciates art that serves as a political message because most of the adults in the film have simply given up on their individual dreams. We see people like Seymour who hate his own interests and pleasures or Norman who seems to be doing nothing more than waiting for his life to end. I believe that the film tries to comment on the idea that people no longer become concerned with individualism when we become adults, throughout the film, Enid is one of the only people who resists the idea of fitting into society because she sees how fruitless it all is. Seymour gave up on whatever dreams he had and now he is a self-loathing loner who hangs on to the idea that life for him might have been better at some point. With this being said Seymour actually tries to keep on living, while Norman just sits at a bus station all day and night while waiting for the bus to take him away.

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      • #4
        I feel that the art class in this movie translates an idea that in Ghost World we need to understand how to hide our mind and stay away from the authenticity to actually fit in with the adult world. Therefore, Roberta Allsworth as a ďmatureĒ person is constantly pursuing the meaning under the art. She wants artworks that politically aggressive and provocative but present not so conspicuous. Accordingly, Allsworth of teaching is more likely a way to help teenagers to enter the adult world: hiding their real thought under a giant ambiguous meaning accumulate. In this world, Enid is not welcome because she points out the shadow in peopleís mind which adults tried so hard to bury. You also mentioned that Roberta lack of ability to catch a subtle meaning of artwork. I agree with your idea because as I mention before adult tend to cover their actual thoughts by obscuring their ideas thus the subtle part of their intention is losing.
        I consider that Allsworth as a figure fits well with the adult world is a contradictory figure to Seymour. Give up is the solution Seymour came up after his fail . Allsworth does the completely opposite way that losing herself in the adult reality.

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        • #5
          I agree that Roberta seems phony to start. Her automatic rejection of Enidís comics and her love for anything that seems to have any semblance of political meaning are pretty typical of an art teacher. Furthermore, she has very little artwork on the walls at the beginning of the class, and the room is painted beige and boring, which is strange for someone so committed to art. Roberta herself seems to take pride in her strange and extreme appearance, but seems pretty boring as a person.

          On the other end, by the end of the film, Roberta is one of the few people who offers an escape to Enid, with the prospect of art school, which you didnít discuss. The commentary that Roberta pushes Enid to bring to her ďfound artĒ does eventually strike such extreme discourse that it is removed and placed in the newspapers, and Enid has the possibility of attending art school (before she is failed). Roberta seems genuinely sorry, and saddened, by the fact that she has been forced to fail Enid. Roberta also stands up for Enid at the art show, requesting that she be given a voice before her personal work is removed from the show. Roberta is actually only one of the adults in the film who seems to think very much about Enidís future, and offer her a path that Enid takes interest in.

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          • #6
            Very excellent analysis of the artist aspect in the film, here are my opinions to the questions that you have raised. In terms of Enidís role as an artist, I feel that her journal perfectly resembles what she could ever offer to the ghost world. All of the other instances we see of Enid participating in artistry is when she buys a record off Seymour that she listens to constantly, and that in turn influences her mood and possibly drawings of Seymour and this new found love of blues. She also grabs the Cookís Chicken sign from Seymour, however this move was only made to appease the one-mindedness of Roberta. In terms of Roberta being a phony, I would have to disagree with you. She doesnít outright reject the work of Enid and others, she just holds found art and political statements in a higher artistic regard, and a mindset like that is indeed controversial, but that in no way indicates that Roberta is a failed or unintelligent educator and artist in her own right. She even defends Enidís found art piece in the museum to the very end, knowing that the capabilities of Enid as a full well rounded artist needed to be heard in this unartistic world. I feel that Rebecca is the most inauthentic aspect in this film, she starts off by just following the whims of Enid and nodding along to her ideas, to getting a job and renting an apartment, becoming utterly devoid of sympathy for Enid and in a sense becoming a ghost herself. Seymourís girlfriend could also be seen as being this sort of inauthentic being. Many of her actions in the film are to suppress Seymour himself, like buying him the blue jeans or giving Seymour some very ugly apartment decorations that really brought his record room down a few pegs in terms of authenticity and its striking appeal. I also feel that Roberta used to be someone like Enid, and just like Seymour wanted to help guide Enid to a better minded outlook of the ghost world, in order to allow her to continue to make art and maybe mold the world into something different and better.

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            • #7
              Thank you for your responses and answers to my questions. I think is it important that a few of you brought up the fact that Allsworth does in fact offer Enid a scholarship. This says something about how she views Enid and itís true that Allsworth defends Enidís work at the art show. At first glance, I too thought Allsworth was the only character that understood and supported Enid by way of art and creativity. But then I had to question of the validity in that. What about Enidís art was Allsworth commending? What about Enidís initial assignments and creations? Was Enid receiving this scholarship due to her talent and artistic ability? Or was she gaining recognition for a political work that came from an outside source? To adjust my language, it seems that maybe Allsworth isnít a phony herself, but that this gesture and opportunity given to Enid was phony. That providing Enid an opportunity to begin a life full of authenticity was based off a phony reason. I donít deny that Enid (and Seymourís) take on what the Coonís Chicken poster says about racism in todayís culture has validity. But Allsworth refused to take Enidís other art pieces for what they were. She did not recognize Enid talent.

              Ghost World forces us to see that far too many people literally live their entire lives without any authentic experiences. And that even when given opportunities, people resort to self-indulgence and ignore potential for growth. I view art as a way for many to access self-awareness and develop skills to think critically about the world around them. This entire film consists of the opposite. It seems that besides Seymour, Rebecca and Enid, no one is truly questioning what sort of lives they are leading. Enid is provided the opportunity to understand and engage in art through school, but isnít appreciated for the right reasons. She is praised for a stolen idea and not her artistic ability and skill. Enid has no direction and the only potential adult in the film that could have, was Allsworth. But even with an art scholarship, she couldnít guide Enid to recognize her true skills as an artist. Enid is left without direction and guidance and resorts to an abandonment of the world.

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              • #8
                I really like what you said about artistic engagement in society and I agree that the teacher suppresses genuine art by placing value on their explanations rather than quality. The movieís remarks on the art teacher versus Seymour is an interesting way to think about our societies values and really shows how inauthenticity is in many cases expected. For example how Seymour is considered weird for his genuine appreciation and knowledge of blues music Ė while Enid, who has similar beliefs about authenticity, enjoys his company, it is made clear that other people would rather listen to their white-washed blasphemy that makes them feel better about themselves. This is the same for the art teacher; she is not truly attempting to understand the art, or like you said ďthe subtleties and craftsmanshipĒ, but rather relying on the studentís interpretations and throwing her own beliefs on top. To answer your question, yes, I think the art teacher is a phony. While she may genuinely be trying to inspire meaning in art, she is completely neglecting Enidís genuine interpretations to pretend she is a more sophisticated teacher than she really is.

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