Neil Berkley’s Beauty is Embarrassing, is a film about the life and work of Wayne White. In the most unbiased voice that I can muster, this film is incredible. It will encourage you, inspire you, and give you the strength to create. I came into this film completely unprepared to be as moved as I was. Although I have previously loved White’s work, I had no idea of the depth of emotion involved in creating them, or his of past experiences, or of his conviction to inject humor into fine art. I want to share my thoughts on the film and I think that the best way to do that is by looking at a few quotes that I took away from the film.
“I think humor is sacred. I really do—and it’s my sacred mission. I think humor is the most important thing we have as human beings. It’s thought of as a lesser thing, but it’s really our most sacred quality. And without it we are dead.”
This is an integral piece to understanding White’s art. The movie is quite funny, and Wayne has an incredibly magnetic personality. I feel like if I met him we would already be friends. Upon seeing the laughter that is usually accompanied by people seeing his work, White is not frustrated (at least not as much as being compared to Ed Ruscha) but accepts it, and even welcomes it. “I’ll settle for laughter,” he says, “Laughter is a deep thing.” Art dealers and gallery owners in the film state that at first they could not see Wayne’s work as fine art because they were too caught up in how entertaining the paintings were. Wayne’s art was at the time (and still is) being shown at the Fred 62 diner in Los Angeles, and paintings that hung in diners didn’t hang in art galleries.
“Entertainment,” Wayne says, “is a dirty word in the art world. You’re not supposed to entertain people. You’re supposed to question their core values and make them re-evaluate their lives and give them a deep insight into-blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, fucking blah.”
The film changes focus and goes back to the beginning, to chronicle his early life, and rebellion growing up in the South, his seminal and formative years at college, and his eventual decision to move to New York. The movie also features his wife, Mimi Pond, showcases their relationship through good and bad times, and introduces their kids, Woody and Lulu.
Throughout college he made and messed around with a lot of puppets and eventually (through making it up as he went along) got a job as a puppet maker and puppeteer for Pee Wee’s Playhouse. The movie covers the darkest times of his life as he struggled with too much work, and battled depression, rejection, and general dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction led to a change from making puppets, sets, animations, and music videos to working in his studio on paintings. He had lost his humor, to pursue money and success and it had led him down the darkest path of his life.
“Follow your heart and your pleasure in art, don’t do what you think is gonna be making you money or what your parents want you to do, or what that beautiful girl or guy thinks you should be doing. Do what you love. it’s going to lead to where you want to go. Go out there and make the world more beautiful. I know you can.”
From what I can see, this is probably the quote that everyone takes away from this film. This is what White wants you to take away from his experiences. He is aware that life doesn’t last forever, and your opportunities won’t always be there, but also we need to not worry about what others think and just do what we dream of. “I’m just as insecure as anybody, in a lot of ways. Everybody’s insecure. But, there has to be this other kind of faith in yourself. And I always take this big cosmic view. Man, you’re only gonna be alive, if you’re lucky, 80, 90 years. And then that’s it. That’s all you get. So why not. Why does it fuckin’ matter. I can do anything I wanna do, you know. Fuck man. Get on it. Let’s go. Cause time’s running out.”
I had so many emotions at the end of this film that, honestly, I was not expecting to have. I did not realize how much of Wayne White went into his art. I did not know when I mentioned him in my last post, and I had no inkling of it when I started this documentary. One bit of dialogue from the film that I think really exemplifies these qualities is, when after creating a giant puppet of a school principal (because, why not?) a reporter asked him, “What do you like about puppets?” His reply was, “They come to life.”
This is from the last few minutes of the film:
“Beauty is embarrassing. Now what do I mean by that? Beauty is a many-pronged thing, you know, it has many sides to that. When we see something beautiful—truly beautiful—we’re in awe, and raw emotion comes to the surface. We’re also humbled by it. We’re not worthy. That emotional vulnerability, that insecurity—those are both embarrassing situations. ‘If only I could make something that beautiful, or if only I was that beautiful.’ So we’re sort of embarrassed for ourselves when we’re struck by true beauty. Artists and creative people are people who make beauty. Now that’s the bottom line, I mean that’s what we do, we make beauty. I’ve been trying to make beauty my whole life, and to even say that is embarrassing, but I have.”
What is amazing to me is that the title of the film is not necessarily about Wayne White. It is about me. About you. Us. Artists are people who make beauty. When I look back at what I have done, or when I really examine the idea that that notion he has is really what being an artist is, can be embarrassing. We need to see that beauty, forget about it and do what we do to add to the beauty of this world. What I love is that the very last thing that he says to the audience (right after says the quote above) that he is giving this particular speech to, is that he has been speaking to them for an hour and has not, even once, felt embarrassed.
And that is beautiful.
Check out the trailer: