“It’s important in building our organizational machine not to exclude the dissenter, the ‘Outsider’, the noncomformist” — Leo Burnett
I don’t think most people understand Shia Labeouf. Or rather, they don’t try to understand. Which is sad, really, because the “antics” have been thoughful attempts to express what his life experience has been. Sure, the art community’s still unsure of whether they’re actually thoughtful (or original), but the completely dismissive response by the public to his attempt to pursue art says a lot about how we view people who do different things, and it says a lot about the things he’s trying to express.
Art About Pop Culture
You may be asking, what did he do again? Put a brown bag over his head on the red carpet? What does that have anything to do with art?
His work ranges from allowing anyone to come stare at him while he has a brown bag over his face to the Youtube video where he performed students’ poetry to watching all of his movie in a theater in a row. See all the pieces he’s done here.
To put it simply, his (and his art collective’s) work is commentary on the obsessive and dehumanizing nature of celebrity culture. It’s an attempt to express his experience about losing his identity to popular culture, and trying to reclaim it through performance art that humanizes him. It explores the digital and physical intersection of us as people, and what that means in our connected age. He does it all through metamodernist art pieces that provoke all these ideas (we’ll save metamodernism for another day).
And the response to this was pretty awful. Article titles ranged from Shia Labeouf’s Most Bizarre Moments to What Is Happening to Shia Labeouf. The sentiment on social media is usually in the range of “wtf is Shia Labeouf doing, he’s so weird” to “wow Shia Labeouf has lost it”.
Ultimately, I think his work is so interesting because it puts performance art, usually a niche art culture, into the popular culture lens. All this says a few key things: first, the general culture, immediately labels people who are doing different things as “weird” and outsiders. Second, we push identities onto pop culture icons, and once they do anything new or slightly erratic, we pounce on them.
I’m not sure how unique, or groundbreaking his work is from an art perspective, but the things he’s been able to illuminate about people and culture are valuable contributions to the conversation about our dehumanizing celebrity obsession.