One of the benefits of my Muggle job is that I’m essentially left to my own devices during the day. My two monitors provide enough screen real estate to work and also watch videos (no, really, it actually helps me concentrate).
Today I watched Exit Through the Gift Shop, the Banksy documentary about street art and a rather insane Frenchman. It got me thinking, and not just about whether or not the whole thing was a put on. I mean really, Mister Brainwash? That couldn’t be real, could it? It certainly seems within the realm of possibility that Shepard Fairey and Banksy would put that much effort into messing with us. But I digress.
There were a few things about the movie that I think apply to beer, or could apply if you think about it hard enough and squint a bit. The first is the (sub)culture portrayed in the movie. In many ways I think the street artists are similar to craft brewers, though of course the legal issues inherent in the dormer don’t exist for us. And maybe just the first wave of brewers, those who were paving the way for the rest of us. We’re not the first wave of craft brewers. Depending on how you measure it (and all ways are equally silly, in all likelihood) we’re the third or fourth wave, though the Erisians among us would of course prefer we be the fifth wave.
But the sense of excitement, of doing something nobody’s really done before, of being independent and sharing a common goal with people even if you haven’t met them… That, to me, seems like the community I’m joining.
Another, more important, part of the movie for me was Thierry’s journey. He started out as someone who liked filming, became someone who liked filming street art and then street art in itself, and at the end wanted to be a creator himself. I identify with that. I want to create. I’m just not very good at it, in most senses. I’ve tried my hand in a quarter-to-half-assed way at drawing and filmmaking and so on. Can’t do it. Writing seems to be the only thing I’m moderately decent at, and even then only nonfiction. And maybe the overwhelming number of sentence fragments in this paragraph means I’m not very good at that either.
Brewing gave me a way to create. I take disparate ingredients and when I’m done I have something that I can drink. More than that, I have beer. That it’s a creative outlet is one of the things I like best about brewing.
But is it art?
I’m interested in hearing what everyone has to say on the matter. “Is ____ art?” seems to be all the rage, at least with video games and pornography, and so why not for beer?
Personally, I say no. I don’t see beer as having an inherent message, or making any sort of statement. I would say it is a craft, however, which is why “craft beer” is an apt term to distinguish what we’ll be brewing from the mass produced light American lagers of the world. You can buy a cheap particle board desk from Target, or you can get a quality piece made by the Amish. (In all fairness, most of the furniture in my house came from Target.)
Just because it was made with care in small batches doesn’t make it art. Your grandmother’s cookies aren’t art. They’re just tasty. (I apologize if I have assumed too much, or reinforced gender roles. I’m sure your grandfather’s cookies taste good too). If you’d like to argue the point, though, I’d love to see what you have to say.
The moral of the movie, whether it actually happened or not, is that two well known artists praised the work of someone who was terrible, and because of that the person was treated as a genius and instantly became famous, regardless (and in spite) of their abilities. The hype was more important in the public’s perception than the reality. You can’t deny that the craft beer world has quite a lot of that.
Tell me that you could pay $765 on a 12 ounce bottle of beer from Brew Dog and drink it with an unbiased opinion. There is no way you’re not influenced by the non-beer elements, because you wouldn’t pay $765 for a single bottle if all you cared about was the beer. Similarly, though less excessively, I have heard so much unbridled praise for Dark Lord and Westvleteren 12 (among other beers) that I sincerely doubt I would do anything but love it, once I try it. I’ve been spoiled in advance.
And, finally, the ending quote from Banksy:
“I always used to encourage everyone I met to make art. I used to think everyone should do it.”
That is absolutely true for beer. If you’re reading this, you should homebrew.
Until next week, folks.