Another wild story about George Zimmerman is surfacing. Back in July, Zimmerman was acquitted on a charge of second-degree murder and manslaughter for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin. So, what could be the new controversy surrounding Zimmerman: another speeding ticket or domestic violence charge? Not exactly. Apparently Zimmerman has been trying his hand at painting, and he’s listed one of his works on Ebay. In doing so, he’s revealed the nature of the art world’s odd affinity for gossip and controversy.
With four days to to go, Zimmerman’s heavily textured, monochromatic blue painting with “GOD ONE NATION with LIBERTY and JUSTICE FOR ALL” printed onto it has bids up to $100,000 and growing rapidly. While President George W. Bush paints dogs and golf courses, Zimmerman creates an image that plays into the spectacle of his situation and relies upon politics to propel him.
Curiously, Zimmerman seems to be tapping into the public as his own marketing system in a way that would certainly inspire jealousy for most contemporary artists. Admittedly, Zimmerman has primarily evoked contemptuous responses, but all publicity is good publicity when Zimmerman’s first painting is projected to sell for multiple thousands of dollars, and all he had to do was put it on Ebay without any marketing. As Ebay bids tend to explode rapidly toward the end of auctions, Zimmerman’s price is likely to multiply.
While artists certainly shouldn’t follow Zimmerman’s model to selling artwork for extravagant prices, it is important to note how he’s exploited the nature of art collection today. The interest is less in imagery and more in the discussion surrounding the work. Zimmerman has no professional training, nor has he worked his way through the art system with residencies, collectors, and journalists. Rather, he’s coming out of nowhere by abusing his odd, controversial position in American culture in order to make a wave. Indeed, visual art today is more about the spectacle than it is about theory or ideas. Critical theorists and psychoanalysts may define this spectacle as jouissance, the Lacanian notion of orgasm in art. Jouissance is that moment when you see something, it clicks in your mind, and an odd state of pleasure and confusion ensues. Contemporary art brings this jouissance out of the image and into the discussion. That is, because the public hears juicy gossip about George Zimmerman all over Twitter, they value the artwork for it’s ironically controversial attraction rather than its imagery.
What does Zimmerman have to say? He claims that his artwork is therapeutic: “First hand painted artwork by me, George Zimmerman. Everyone has been asking what I have been doing with myself. I found a creative, way to express myself, my emotions and the symbols that represent my experiences. My art work allows me to reflect, providing a therapeutic outlet and allows me to remain indoors 🙂 I hope you enjoy owning this piece as much as I enjoyed creating it. Your friend, George Zimmerman.” Feel free to make your own judgment, but the work is certainly selling.
Bottom line: George Zimmerman’s artwork is valued significantly higher than the majority of trained and respected artists because he creates a whole lot of political hoopla. While many see him as a racist or murderer, he’s poised to make a pretty penny on a mediocre painting because of the odd dynamic of valuing gossip in our contemporary society.
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