By contributing writer Ben Hanson
Throughout the ages, man has had a spark—an innate desire to communicate and cope with the agony of the soul through creativity and expression.
Have you called bullshit on the previous sentence yet? Fantastic. You see, art exists merely for one reason: to help people avoid work and become famous. Look at the Renaissance; if you had the choice of spending your time painting some ceiling in Rome or working in the fields all day as a serf, which would YOU choose?
“But Ben,” you might say, “doesn’t art require that you suffer, dig deep into your soul, and use a lifetime of acquired skill to make something that people will enjoy looking at? Something that will speak to them and make them understand the world?”
Obviously, you are behind on your art.
True story: last year I was at the Seattle Art Museum on a field trip. After passing a wing full of (literal) pornography, I saw the most amazing thing ever: a gigantic canvas of tin foil, easily twelve feet by twelve feet, covered in white paint. It was about the same color as the wall behind it, except that it was uneven and sloppy. Two things occurred to me.
1. I know people who actually struggle in art just to draw things. Not “art,” they try to draw real things that interest people. Their art goes unseen.
2. This lazy bastard was probably paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to have his “art” displayed in the museum. In essence, they were paying for the privilege of showing off a “painting” that looked like the work of a few drunk janitors who decided to piece together all their sandwich wrappings and drench them with leftover spray paint.
I have never wanted to destroy anything as badly as I wanted to destroy that “art.” I had to physically stop myself from putting a fist through it. Then I thought, “If this man can succeed, anyone can.”
Despite the death of its creative spark, the art community flourishes to this day for a number of reasons.
1. Art is easier than work.
Walk up to a ditch digger and an artist. Ask them what they did that day. Odds are the ditch digger will be asleep after a sixteen-hour shift with no breaks, slowly dying of tuberculosis, while the artist will be jazzed on caffeine after spending all day at a hole in the wall coffee shop.
2. It makes you feel important.
People who actually do things never make the history books; people who make things do. This is because they are busy doing things, while artists are friends with people who write books about art history. You have a chance at immortality, assuming you don’t starve to death first.
3. “Artist” always sounds better than “diseased vagrant” on resumes.
If you ever find yourself in need of a job (perish the thought!) then the title “Artist” is a great way to explain that ten year gap between college and today. This also works if you have a prison record that you don’t want a potential employer to find out about. The best part is, it isn’t technically lying. Who can say that the ability to make a shiv out of an old spoon isn’t art?
In order to become an artist in this environment, it is obvious that such things as quality and effort are no longer necessary. How did the art community, once the noblest expression of the human soul, fall into such a sad state? To understand the present, we must look to the past.
Cavemen and The First Art
One day, two cavemen were busy inventing (this was many years before the invention of beer, so they had nothing else to do on a Saturday night). The first, Norg, was an intelligent and diligent man, and in the course of a few hours he had made a stone into the first wheel. The second caveman, Ront, was a much less skilled and attentive individual, and he wound up with something shaped more like a triangle. Norg was already starting to work on a primitive engine for his new four-wheeled vehicle when Ront finally got around to finishing his triangle. Ront was getting very hungry, but he didn’t feel like hunting. So, he walked over to Norg.
“Hey, Norg, like me art?”
“This am art. It use negative space. It new and exciting. It take caves by storm.”
“Big words impress Norg. Norg will buy art. But Norg want it bigger.”
“Neanderthal! Ront artist! Ront not make this for you!”
“Norg sorry. Norg feel bad; Norg buy art.”
So Ront did not starve, and Norg had something to go in his cave that matched the mammoth skin rug. The same basic conversation has gone on until the present with little modification. For instance, during the Renaissance…
“Say Leonardo, what do you call this one?”
“I call it David. Want it? This style is going to take Europe by storm.”
“I don’t know, it is just a giant naked man… maybe if he had some clothes. I do have kids, you know.”
“What?! Philistine! I made this for me, not you closed-minded fools! You wouldn’t know art if it bit you on the ass!”
“Okay, okay, you’ve made me feel stupid. How much?”
Marketers and Modern Art
The modern artist has to update his conversation slightly. These are politically charged times and the average consumer can’t afford original artwork. So, your main target audience is the government, a powerful body with more money than they know what to do with. You should take advantage of reckless government spending to line your own pockets. You can do this by making something horrible and insensitive, then calling it freedom of speech. Here’s how your conversation should go:
“I call this piece George Bush Sodomizing the Pope. It’s construction paper and crayon, and it uses a new minimalist style that is going to take the country by storm. I want a government grant for it.”
“But Catholics are the largest religion in the United States, and that’s the president. And it looks like you spent five minutes drawing it; I couldn’t even tell who that was if it weren’t for the hat….”
“Censorship! CENSORSHIP! You are killing my art!”
“But we aren’t stopping you from making the art, we just don’t want to pay for it with tax dollars.”
“Shut up and give me my money!!”
“Fine, your wish has been granted.”
Master the artist/consumer conversation and you’ll never have to work again. You see, being an artist is not about being creative, it’s about marketing yourself correctly. (For more on this, see the fine work, The Emperor’s New Clothes.) When you can convince somebody that they should pay you for art that you have never made and have no intention of making, you know you are ready.
Godspeed, artists of tomorrow!