We like you, James Franco. (Thank you for signing our copy of Going Rogue.) You are a handsome man and a good actor. But now we have to make fun of you for claiming your General Hospital appearance was art.
You all know James Franco started a run guest-starring on the ABC soap opera General Hospital last month. Like us, you were probably puzzled as to why a famous film actor was appearing on a daytime drama. James Franco is here to explain it to you in today's Wall Street Journal op-ed: "A Star, a Soap and the Meaning of Art: Why an appearance on 'General Hospital' qualifies as performance art.'" Which, OK, this would have been fine if the entire piece consisted of the words: "It doesn't."
Instead, Franco takes us on a trippy, po-mo journey into metaworld to argue that his appearance on General Hospital was a subversive piece of performance art. Franco begins his op-ed as a young naif wandering through paragraphs asking: "Is this art?"
I was recently treated to an early prototype of a dessert that Marina Abramović, the "grandmother of performance art," created with the pastry chef Dominique Ansel. It's a cylindrical pastry with a lychee center sprinkled over with chili powder and raw gold. I was instructed to kiss a napkin that had been printed with a square of gold powder that would transfer to my face before eating the dessert. This way the dessert would pass through a golden gateway before it was ingested. I did as told, then suggested to the chef that it needed more chili. Was this art?
This depends: were you standing naked in a bathtub holding a freshly-killed ox's heart while doing it? Art! Otherwise, Abramovic was just making a clumsy pass at you.
But, yeah, good question: What is art? And why did all the most attractive but least attainable girls in college study the history of it? Art, according to Prof. Franco, is disruptive. By starring in General Hospital:
I disrupted the audience's suspension of disbelief, because no matter how far I got into the character, I was going to be perceived as something that doesn't belong to the incredibly stylized world of soap operas. Everyone watching would see an actor they recognized, a real person in a made-up world. In performance art, the outcome is uncertain-and this was no exception. My hope was for people to ask themselves if soap operas are really that far from entertainment that is considered critically legitimate.
We will point the reader to another of Franco's performance art piece—er, films: 2006's Flyboys (Tomatometer: 33%). Like the General Hospital piece, Flyboys inspired us to question if that film was "really that far from entertainment that is considered critically legitimate." Well, we just saw The Road (Tomatometer: 72%) and, yeah, it was a much better movie.
Art also depends on context, according to James "Slavoj Zizek" Franco (Wall Street Journal, 2009):
As Ms. Abramović told me over our dessert tasting, performance art is all about context. "If you bake some bread in a museum space it becomes art, but if you do it at home you're a baker." Likewise, when I wear green makeup and fly across a rooftop in "Spider-Man 3," I'm working as an actor, but were I to do the same thing on the subway platform, a host of possibilities would open up... It would be about inserting myself in a familiar space in such a way that it becomes stranger than fiction, along the lines of what I'm doing on "General Hospital."
You're right, James Franco, it is all about context. For example, if the context of these sentences was an undergraduate art history paper then you would get an A+ and a smiley face. However, these sentences appear in the Wall Street Journal, which is a famous newspaper that relies on the quality of its content to attract readers and advertising dollars. Less quality = less newspapers. So, in the context of writing a terrible op-ed in a newspaper and thus endangering print publications everywhere, you are—how did Jon Stewart so eloquently put it?—hurting America.
With the question of "What is art" expertly shot down like so many German fighters in the 2006 film "Flyboys", Franco returns to meditate on his General Hospital stint:
After all of the Franco episodes are aired, my character's storyline will be advanced in a special episode filmed in a "legitimate" New York gallery. One more layer will be added to this already layer-heavy experiment. If all goes according to plan, it will definitely be weird. But is it art?
Holy crap, we just had a crazy thought: What if this editorial in the Wall Street Journal is also a piece of performance art meant to disrupt our preconceived notions of the Wall Street Journal's editorial standards? WAIT: Are... are we at this very moment just puppets in the Imaginarium of Dr. James Franco—trapped in an endless series of nested performance art pieces? Oh God. We need to ground ourselves using something that is absolutely not art. Does anyone have a copy of Whatever It Takes?
Is it art?