She sits in a small, Venetian plaza outside of a small, easily passed-by cathedral snuggled in amongst the many larger, unmissable ones. The stool is hard on her bottom, the sun hot on her head. Worse, she is hungry. Not just now hungry, but days hungry. Weeks hungry even, so that her clothes hang loosely over skin drawn tight. It is all, really, that is left of her, hunger; hunger for success, hunger for a companionship which wouldn’t destroy any chance for that success, and the constantly gnawing hunger for food.
Hers in not the busiest plaza, but as with most any other via in Venetia there is a somewhat steady stream of tourists along this one.
And one has stopped. He is looking at her favorite, “The Bridge.” It is so much her favorite that she has only recently begun to bring it with her to show, hoping she might keep it while “living” on the lesser ones, but what she is doing could hardly be called living. If she doesn’t sell something soon then there will be no apartment to return to at the end of the day, and so nowhere to leave it behind, so common sense finally told her that she must offer someone else the opportunity to enjoy it.
It has been a minute, and he is still looking. She is growing uncomfortably anxious, though she tries her best to hide the signs. It is never easy to have a stranger critique your canvassed passions, even silently… especially silently. He does not appear to have the money for such a painting, but he is obviously American. She is told this by his clothes, which are nice enough, but have an odd, frumpy style which is definitely not European. With Americans it is impossible to tell about money. She once dated an American while at university, and one would have never guessed that Kenneth had money, nor where it came from, but he always did. She should have stayed with him, but he had demanded time that she could not give him, just like the others. It wasn’t that she hadn’t loved him, it was just that she loved her art more. Why is it that two loves must always collide?
Despite her reservations she steps from her stool, wandering closer while trying to appear disinterested in his interest, straightening “Il Leone” on it’s easel as she goes, the gnawing in her stomach ever present. Closer, she sees that he is handsome, but his eyes are only for the painting. She thinks to herself that she could take a lover… for a while… one who would feed her. A “patron” might be nice. Some handsome, rich, older friend to make love to her, and to offer her endowments, and to endorse her work to his or her friends?
“It is not the Bridge of Sighs?”
“No.” She answers quickly. Too quickly? Too desperately?
“Every painting of a bridge elsewhere that I see is The Bridge of Sighs.”
”Si. That one sells to tourists.” Her Italian accent is heavy. He is forced to lean towards her to better understand. “I do not paint for tourists." She is not meaning to sound condescending as she says this, but it still sounds a bit so. "I create art.”
”Ah. I see.”
His surety is offensive to her, though she could not have explained why. He is just another stupid-fucking American. What did he know of her? Or of art?
”It has no price," he wonders aloud. "The others are all priced?”
In her anger she had nearly forgotten her hunger… nearly. “It is new. I have not set a price.”
He smiles. "There is a date beneath the artist’s signature. It is not new.”
Fucking Americans, believing they know everything. “It is newly offered for sale.”
”It is a favorite then? Possibly even sentimental? What price would you put on it, were you to price it?”
She did not want him to have it. It was too good for him. “You could not afford it.”
”I paid €26,000 for The Spanish Steps yesterday.”
The heart in her chest stopped its beating. €26’000! What she could do with €26,000!
She did not want to undersell, but too high could be deadly, he might just walk away. Bianca could not afford to let this one walk.
”Well then, you are in luck! This one is only €20,000.” Her conscious screamed at her even as the words flooded out of her mouth, “NO! That is too much!“ But it was done.
He did not run away, as she half expected him to, but pushed his hands down deeper into the pockets of his khaki slacks as he contemplated her price.
”I don’t think so,” he finally replied. “I am looking for The Bridge of Sighs.”
The hungry voice in her head screams at her, "stupid, stupid, stupid!"
Panicking, she counter-offers, her voice weak with desperation, “I might let it go for €17,500?”
He shakes his head. “No. I want The Bridge of Sighs.”
“It is a stupid tourist site.” It was her way of calling him a stupid tourist.
”It is historic, and famous, and besides, an artist should give people what they want.”
”Then she is no longer an artist.” There was venom in her voice. “Then she is a sell-out!”
The stupid American actually smiled at her anger, pissing her off even more. “So now I am a capitalist pig, huh? Well, none of your other paintings has more than €3,000, and you are trying to gouge me for €20,000, so maybe I am a capitalist pig, but I am also the one with the money, and I know what it is I want.”
With that he turns. As he walks away the gnawing in her stomach spreads to her throat, and her cheeks, and her ears. He knows what he wants, and what he wants is not her. “Fuck you!” She roars as he fades into the tourist throng.
The stool remains hard on her bottom, the sun remains hot on her head, the gnawing in her belly remains unchanged. From where she sits The Bridge looks back at her from its easel, shaming her. It is pretty, but certainly no masterpiece.
Perhaps tomorrow she should paint that other bridge...
of a brush
on a pale-skinned canvas,
forms taking shape
smooth curves, unblemished skin
an ideal form.
perhaps with a familiar face, or based
upon a photograph of a loved one,
a character from a show.
to ask questions. instead,
paint the answers,
in the form of
swaying hips and
paid up front.
draw by request, anything
your sick little mind can dream up,
and it can be yours... for a price.
it is the lesson every artist learns,
the progression from starving to success:
The Viewfinder in a Clear Frame of Mind
It is exceedingly difficult for me to unravel this topic on the monetization of art of any kind. Earning one's living by one's artwork has a dangerous way of draining the joy from life. Not always, but more often than not. The pressure is more than most people can bear. I'm not sure either that it is in fact all that desirable for salesman and artist to coexist--- though I do seek in myself for the two functions to find an honorable compromise. No small task. Understandably, we want a recipe for success or at least a list of necessary ingredients. I can only offer this most general observation for moving towards that general creative goal: that we enjoy where we are going, and how; wherever it is; whoever with, and how ever it ends. A living portrait of artistic integrity--- To this effect, I have written a few conversational vignettes, between an old and young artist.
* * *
"Baby, you can't let them know how fast you work."
I couldn't understand at first. It wasn't that I was proud. Just honest, I thought.
The painting took me 15 minutes.
"If they hear you can do it in 15 they'll expect it in 5. It's human psychology, to low ball."
Oh. I was disappointed. But ambitious. I cranked out three more.
It took me 15 minutes total.
"Good, babe. And it looks like three different artists. Bravo! now you're getting it."
That was part of the plan, in the design studio. Everything was made anonymously, signed with Studio Name, and we had spread the rumor about Associate Artists.
"Wow look at these, Constance!"
"Oh, Judith, my these are so different. Who made these dear? And where?"
"Thank you. Our Associates at the Studio."
"Oh, really, how many artists do you have with you?"
"...depends on the season. We have more in the Summer." Two. And sometimes just me. In the winter. Big, beautiful, tireless smile.
* * *
He lit his cigarette, and leaned back against the corner of the deck where the varnish was drying on our artwork. The first stars emerging above, and early gnats, everything a fresh wound for bandage. A team effort, each week, start to finish, though each of us had areas in which we pulled more, and everything came together late on Fridays for early Saturday morn.
"You know you're the face, right? and I am... the patron, behind," he said, cracking a restrained grin, in nature with his reserve and humor.
"But we work together..."
"I prefer to work behind the scenes." And I know he did too.
"This is survival. The fittest don't pick their roles. They perfect them."
It seemed a large load to carry, several people on one back, but one I could see he was willing to carry, in turn. More than his fair share.
"I understand." I understood that he enjoyed his role as idea man. The title producer has an incongruous meaning.
"Nobody buys from a tired out white man. That is not a winning story."
"Baby, people don't buy things, for things. They buy the experience, the narrative thread that will elevate them in the eyes of their families or compatriots. The extra something."
"Like when people say, you have to have a gimmick?"
"Tsk. More than that. It needs to have an unquestionable truth. A happening."
"But Art is already....illusion... no?"
"Yes, that's what makes it so damnably difficult."
* * *
"Baby, we will never make it if we insist on the one-of-a-kind."
"But we have always rejected mass market." He shook his head. Time, time.
"A good idea is a good idea. One worthy of multiplying, by whatever mechanical means."
"That's a lot of pressure..."
"The good idea? yes, but if you're looking, eventually we might find it."
"And if we stop looking, we won't even know if it passes us by?"
"Exactly right. But we start small."
I wrap my arms around his neck and shoulders, "One corner of the sky?"
I can tell he's pleased, like a street performer busking an appreciative audience.
"Something we can put on a cup."
Infectious Artistry: Keeping the Orifice Of Human Understanding From Puckering
Poverty tends to be a common affliction amongst the artistic of every medium. Edgar Allan Poe, Dickinson, Mary Shelley, Emily Bronte, Dante Alighieri, H. P. Lovecraft, Oscar Wilde, and Herman Melville are all hailed as literary giants and all died virtually penniless. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Robert Johnson, Billie Holiday, Judie Garland, and Marvin Gaye created angelic music, yet all joined the heavenly choir broke. Vincent Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Monet could replicate nature's beauty with little more than paint and canvass, but they too entered the gates of heaven as destitute souls. Sometimes it is only after great artists die that publishers, music industry moguls, and gallery owners reveal the full brilliance of the deceased to the world. Ultimately, they gain great wealth from the works of those who can no longer benefit from monetary wealth. Can artists prosper alongside those who sell their work to the public? Of course. We see it with the likes of Frank McCourt, the Beatles, and Andy Warhol. My question is does it matter? Did the great artistic geniuses of the past create to fill their pockets? They did at least to a point because an artist's got to eat (I've heard they're always starving). Still, would they create even if there wasn't a penny to be had for their work? Duh. For those of a creative bent, withholding the art that rages within would be as impossible as holding in the Arby's mystery meat sandwich a person ate the day before. In short, the creative disciples of all mediums must create because if they don't the virulent infection of artistic expression stewing within the bowels of their souls can only be purged by projectile, explosive art. What matters is that the artist has what they need to continue to express their creativity. Unfortunately, except for a few lucky bastards, this often means working a nine to five. Working a steady gig insures that both the body of the artist and the body of the artists work remains healthy. Thankfully, the art virus will enter remission just long enough for the infected to make the return home from the daily work commute which insures that the infected can continue to spread .
When I was in high school, I had an AP English teacher who wrote great poetry. Looking back, my favorite poems that she shared had an almost spoken word feel. While most of her work was silky, delicate, and colored in shades of Whitman, I preferred when her verse took on a blatant, raw, and a caustic kind of honesty that scarred the listeners thoughts. Though brilliant (and I'm hoping published in poetry anthologies), Mrs. Fitzgerald also had bills to pay, therefore she taught and inspired a love for the word in others. Her husband, was an artist who taught art at Shasta College, a community college in Redding. He also did graphic art work on the side. I only saw a few pieces Mrs. F shared of Mr. F's work (he was eclectic and seemed to do a bit of everything), but to my novice artistic eye he was also very gifted. I always thought of the Fitzgerald's as old school hippies whose jobs allowed them to pursue their art while also keeping them fed, housed, and with enough cash to attend the occasional Grateful Dead show. Though I don't know for sure, it seems that the experiences, problems, and interactions the Fitzgerald's have in the work world may also have provided inspirational sustenance for their artistry. I can't say that Mrs. Fitzgerald's poems and short stories are well known or that Mr. Fitzgerald's pieces sell for six figures in a fine art galleries around the world. Of course, I think their work is worthy of such attention, but I don't think it's enjoyed this level of commercial notoriety. However, so long as the bills were paid, I believe the Fitzgerald's were content to be artistic typhoid Mary's spreading the artistic virus they carried through their work to whoever chose to be susceptible to the infection.
So, what about the great creators who created masterpieces while suffering in poverty? Would they have created even if they knew that their brilliance would go unnoticed until they slept eternally in their pauper's grave? I think they would have pursued art even if it meant living in the gutter. The desire to recreate, reinvent, and reexamine beauty with word, paint, stone, or melody is more visceral than the desire to become wealthy or even the hope to someday be dressed up as a German school boy and spanked with a rubber chicken by a 200 pound Polish lady body builder wearing a Swedish milkmaid costume. No, the desire to create art is an all consuming, virulent compulsion to bend the human condition over and repeatedly thrust new visions, textures, sounds, and ideas in until the orifice of understanding has expanded. Let publishers, art dealers, and the music industry reap the benefits of the dead. Those of us infected by the creativity virus must continue to hump the human senses sans lube because the orifice of human understanding is always in danger of puckering especially when it is cruelly exposed to the likes of the Harry Potter books, Thomas Kinkade paintings, and the sounds of Taylor Swift or Nickelback.
Can those who create poetry, literature, art, and music enjoy monetary success alongside the opportunistic executives who specialize in selling the various artistic mediums? Of course. However, the person infected with the artistry virus will create no matter what. The desire to be wealthy will always be secondary to the feral desire to produce beauty. So to those also infected with the virus of creativity, I say we much continue to go at human understanding doggy style, because if we don't I'm afraid Franklin Mint collectors plates, reality television, and (gag) country music will become the new, much diminished standard for what can be considered art.
A long time ago, a young man went out to the village to perform. He is good at dancing, singing, and martial arts, an expert in music, and a good-looking guy. As he steps onto the stage, everybody will start yelling and cheering for him. He can showcase different talents each day which attracts more audiences to watch his performances. The crowd considered him the almost perfect human being that was ever seen.A long time ago, a young man went out to the village to perform. He is good at dancing, singing, and martial arts, an expert in music, and a good-looking guy. As he steps onto the stage, everybody will start yelling and cheering for him. He can showcase different talents each day which attracts more audiences to watch his performances. The crowd considered him the almost perfect human being that was ever seen.
"He is so perfect, there is nothing he can't do" the audience whispered to herself, and others can easily agree.
After he performed, he just went home and rested, and then thand e next day he performed It became his daily routine, there was nothing else he did aside from performing in front of the crowd. Because of his fame, even people from other countries were interested in and admired him and his personality. While he's on the stage he can hear laughter, shouting, and warm support from the audience.
Hundreds of visitors from other countries watched all his performances every single day and always expected unique talents from him. However, the audience observed that the guy never smiles as he performs. She couldn’t keep it to herself that is why she asked one of the audience that lived in that village.
“Why does the performer never smile?” she asked. But the person just shrugged her shoulders.
And softly answered, “Well, no one knows, and no one cares about it, we just wanted to focus more on his talents.”
The girl wondered. Throughout his performance, she is just looking at his lips if ever she’s able to catch a smile from him or any sign of joy. But she’s disappointed. It bothers her because every day she watched all his performances, never did he curve a smile on his lips. Nevertheless, she waits in the crowd. Every day his expression would be the same, an emotionless face.
There is laughter around the stage, and the crowd will get as joyful as they can. But the girl never loses hope and could feel that something was off with the guy’s expression. She doesn’t even know why she’s even looking for that smile instead of just watching the event.
A year passes and the same scenario is witnessed, he performs but is emotionless. Then she came to the point that after his performance she followed the guy through his home but still failed to take a glance at a smile. She decided to talk to him.
"Can I talk to you about something?” she asked, pouring all her courage.
“About what?” the guy replied in a calm voice but still looking so unbothered. It’s fascinating to notice but the girl felt the comfort between the two of them.
“Why are you not smiling while you perform, even if you’re not on stage?” she directly asked. The guy was suddenly quiet, and both got quiet. The only thing that broke the silence was the unexpected answer from the guy.
“I cannot smile. I know it’s weird but, since I was born, I never learned how to smile. But I’m fine with that” he explained.
The girl looked cold, after that she listened to the guy’s explanation and she turned around and was about to leave. But the guy just looks at the distant back of the girl and speaks softly.
“You don’t need to overthink about it, people don’t need to see your smiles just to let them know you’re happy.”
As if the table has turned.
“From the first time that I’ve seen you in the crowd, you’re the only person that never shouts, cheers, and even smiles a bit.” The guy stated. He always heard the crowd, loud as always, cheering and shouting but the girl caught his attention because she seemed to not belong to the crowd.
“So, you did notice?.”
”I know it’s hard at first, but you will just get used to it. Just do what makes your heart happy.”
Tutoring, Of Sorts
It's like the tide, said Bertrand.
It comes and goes, like breathing.
It's like a chicken with it's head cut off, said Tarun. It comes, stays a while, walking in circles and you're unsure if it's going to leave or not, or perhaps if you should, because someone sent a headless chicken your way.
Well, they might not have sent it, said Bertrand and looked annoyed over having to play part in the metaphore, not deliberately to walk in your direction.
Tarun scratched her head. And from this we are supposed to calculate an income? She said holding back a nervous laugh.
Well, said Bertrand, just because a guy walks into a coffee shop and buys a cup of coffee doesn't mean he didn't have an interesting day. Sales are part of it already, and to some extent perhaps vice versa. The cottage in your story was bought and sold, before Goldilocks waltzed in like she owned the place. They just try to make money dirty so they won't have to bring it up.
And... began Torun, as if she was waiting to be interrupted, and continued; and, with that said... with monetization not necessarily being a negative factor
Negative not being enough to describe it, perhaps, interjected Bertrand.
... how am I supposed to make money of what I am doing without making it all about money? Continued Torun. Or at all, for that sake?
Take that sentence and see what you can do, give it a few days, said Bertrand, try it with and without, try it in a different order. Drinking a cup of coffee completely ignoring that it was for sale doesn’t make the cup any more of an interesting artefact, does it? Keeping flies away from a piece of poop, excuse my French, doesn’t make or break a piece of poop
Are you saying that a cup of coffee is... poop? Said Torun.
I am saying, Bertrand corrected his collar, whatever sounds good, preferably making money in the process… and I am adding… is that so different from, or indeed bad standing by itself, what most people are doing? How relaxed do you have to be before you produce something that can cash a cheque, Torun? Work!
Cash & Stock: Dividends
...I wanted something of substance. Something I could take to the banks, or out into the deep unchartered waters and aether. Physical, surreal, a living manifesto. So I carved and painted; etched and printed, as wordless moving image... a monument to stand at the edge of land and sea.
Seven days and nights I rested, all philosophical... biblically even.
Ha, then I thought to myself, no one will comprehend the vision, in magnitude, nor detail. I sat, and sat, and thought, let's cash in. So, I wrote about it, the ins and outs and labors from start to finish. A modest tome. The audience, as it was, didn't get it, though it translated rather well into hundreds of languages. And is still in printed editions... even Kindle.
In a final ditch, to recoup and share the byproduct, I wrote a poem. Yes, enigmatic, like person-to-person. Still, they didn't quite get it, but I must have fared better. Now I hear it in another's voice sung, as a song through the reflections in the window, scattering the silence and everywhere I go, its rhythm hummed... filtered as through radio.
Better than I envisioned; a work of heart.
The Monetization of Art & Poetry challenge @Bunny