WAITING FOR HOCKNEY (2008) is a fascinating documentary, not about what constitutes art, but what constitutes whether the art world is going to perceive an artist or a dumb slob who likes to make pictures. That's what the art world does - and it will revolt you to see how they do it.
Billy Pappas, a very self-insulated and autistic young man with a fine talent for draftsmanship, worked just over 8 years on a microscopically realistic (we call it "hyperrealistic") portrait of Marilyn Monroe. Somehow he got the wacky notion that famous artist David Hockney was a kindred spirit and could validate the work - Billy knowing that he'd conquered an unconquered level of portraiture-with-a-pencil, Billy knowing that only Hockney could realize what he'd done and proclaim Billy's genius.
Things don't work out that way. While I found this documentary format tiresome (dopey, whiny college-station music and lingering shots of Billy's eyes), I found his drawing to be a technical marvel. We artists all know technical marvels get you nowhere. That is where Billy got. Even after he landed a meeting with Hockney at Hockney's California home. Poor guy.
While Hockney remained notoriously silent about the whole thing, his 'entourage' praised Billy to the skies. When interviewed, they changed their tune, actually mocking him and his drawing. It's the art world! Did the poor guy really think he was getting somewhere? When Hockney forgot all about him (probably about an hour after Billy left Hockney's residence), Billy turned to Bill Gates, hoping for God knows what.
Billy was rewarded with a terse email saying Bill Gates "doesn't do this sort of thing" and ordering Billy to stop pursuing Gates. So much for the patrons and the philanthropists!
This documentary is heartbreaking but I think all aspiring artists ought to see it, and more importantly, feel it. Watching this brought to mind another two art documentary films I reviewed, Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? (about a lady who purchases a Pollock, tries to get it authenticated and the art world burns her because of the provenance), and Art of the Steal (which deals with a famous Philadelphia collection that the art world literally stole for itself).
All these films share one simple fact: the art world stinks like nothing else in the known universe, and is populated by precisely the kind of creatures you'd imagine would give off that stink. This is not a statement because of the treatment of Billy, but because it is true and the evidence is right here. Anyone who would defend such a set-up is either delusional or works successfully in the art rat race.
Anyone who has been burned by the art world - as I myself have been - can tell you what is true and what isn't. Billy can tell you, and the other films I cited for you, which I strongly recommend, will tell you the same thing. Oddly, even this documentary in a remote sense becomes about David Hockney, more free publicity for the Great Old Artist.
As far as I know, Billy is still working as a waiter in some dive - and doing his art projects at home. The documentary is rather lax in follow-up, and just flops to an ignoble end. Perhaps they meant to show us the true fate of Billy's dream.