Death of Art
I’m drinking a glass of wine in a gallery and nothing means anything. There is work from 100 different artists up on the walls. The gallery is selling a recently published book of influential artists from North Brooklyn in full color. It’s going for $60 and it’s worth it. I’m in it. I don’t care. I’m getting another glass of wine now and scanning the room just to feel something. Just to make sure there’s nobody I missed saying hello to.
This everyday anxiety of those of us trying to make it—almost making it—never really going to make it—is flawlessly illustrated in Chris Campanioni’s Death of Art, published by C&R Press. It’s not common that you read a collection of poetry or a novel that describes so well your soul and its search for significance. The soul that is sexy enough to be plastered across a billboard over the BQE, but smart enough to be published in The New Yorker. A soul so drenched in culture it doesn’t know what’s permanent or fleeting, just that it needs to be part of it. A soul that almost feels guilty for indulging and not getting creative work done on a Saturday night, and then subsequently regretful for staying in when you could have been out “making connections.” Campanioni, both a recipient of higher education and a prior soap opera star with perfectly defined muscles, fits the role and has lived the life to make such a novel come to fruition. It’s sexy. It’s smart. It’s dark. It’s real. The concept begins early on in the book and continues throughout like a punch to the face (or the gallery wall).
Get rich. Live life to the fullest. Set the world on fire.
Do everything, all the time. Which might also be my own personal motto, but not in 1995, because I was only nine years old then.
Infinite highways. Palm trees swaying toward tonight except tonight is always already happening. Tonight is eternal.
On the way to the F train, earlier, I’d passed one of those religious proselytizers, speaking in a megaphone and brandishing a sign that read
ARE YOU IN CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE?
I could never tell if these grand questions were rhetorical, or if they were actually meant to be answered and I thought about asking the woman with the megaphone, but I was too much in a hurry, and anyway, all she really wanted was my name on a list. My name, e-mail, telephone number. Hopefully, the three-digit code on my credit card.
I am thinking about all of this while cutting out my face and exchanging small talk about Los Angeles, New York City, the vague cumulus-clouded Midwest, where Erin grew up, and what it takes to make it as an artist. What it takes to make art.
The catharsis one feels moving through a life where we must reject pop culture to prove our originality and purity, but then absorb it to remain relevant enough to be relatable, lives within these pages. Overall, I’d say Death of Art is one of the best books I’ve read in years. It flawlessly combines the stream-of-consciousness irregularities that make poetry so heartfelt with the progressive narrative of fiction that gets people to finish a book. I recommend this title to anyone looking for a break from normalcy or needing to take a deep look in the mirror.
Dallas Athent is a writer and artist. Her work has been published or mentioned in At Large Magazine, PACKET Bi-Weekly, Bedford + Bowery, BUST Magazine, The Gloss, VIDA, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Buzzfeed, and more. She lives in the Bronx with her adopted pets.