‘Big Eyes’ tells the true story of how Walter Keane (1915-2000) became one of the most notorious yet unrepentant frauds in the history of art. When his newly married wife Margaret signed off her paintings as ‘Keane’, he saw the opportunity to sell himself as the artist for fame and gain. Initially, his excuse was that they are after all, both Keanes, and since the money made would be theirs to share.
Yet, later, when she wished to assert ownership of her works, to stop living the lie that was hard to keep up with, that was being spun bigger and bigger beyond control, he insists that his namesake is at stake. Turns out that it was the blurring of names for his ego’s advantage. Then again, wishing to reveal the truth, Margaret also wished to affirm her ego?
There was also the contention of whether the artworks were art at all. Interestingly, Andy Warhol superficially remarked thus – ‘I think that what Keane has done is just terrific. It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.’ In a scene of confrontation with John Canaday, an art critic, Keane defended ‘his art’, asking, ‘Just because people like my work, that means automatically it’s bad?’
Canaday replies, ‘No, but it doesn’t make it art either. Art should elevate, not pander.’ Yet, if worldly beauty is in the eye of the beholder, art must be in the eye of the beholder too? Art is after all, of forms, all empty of fixed (perceived) nature! Keane also criticised Canaday by claiming the latter became an art critic because he could not create art, forgetting to reflect upon the truth that he too was no actual artist, while criticism itself can be an art that reflects wisdom! So can film reviewing and reviewing of reviews!