“If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”
Anatole France, 1844 -1924
The other evening I attended the opening of an art exhibit at a tiny gallery in an old loft building on the east side of town. As I wandered among the incredibly high-priced images, I felt sorry for the people who would one day own them. My concern was justified because the people who make art are usually from the poorer classes, and the only people who can afford to buy it have to be affluent. Since the poorer group has a corner on the creative process and the rich have only money, there is a built-in opportunity for unfair trade practices. I’m convinced that the rich folk among us are being systematically exploited by a segment of the poorer population — those greedy men and women otherwise known as “artists.”
Allow me to explain. This tragically unfair situation began a long time ago, when a clever poor person noticed that rich people have more money than they know what to do with. This budding Michelangelo, or Picasso, or Judy Chicago, figured out that the rich were so busy making money that they had no time to learn how to do anything else. So the Artist (having awarded him- or herself a capital “A”) began making cute little objects — sketches and paintings and statues — and selling them to the wealthy folks to use as decorations in their offices, homes, yachts, private jets, and beach condos. Because these objects were attractive, and because the wealthy clients had no clue how they were produced, the various items took on a mystical aspect. For the rich, owning art objects quickly became spiritually chic, and before long they were paying outrageous prices for worthless artifacts and feeling enriched by the process. They were very happy — as were the sniggering Artists.
Today rich people continue on the same foolish path, but the process has been scaled-up. And the higher art prices rise and the sillier the subject matter, the more secure the wealthy folks become in their belief that the things they horde have real value. They rationalize their religious-like belief this way: The importance of an art object, they argue, is inherently aesthetic and therefore unmeasurable in objective terms. (This, by the way, is a theory originally spread by the capital “A” Artists’ themselves, and by their agents.) The rich victims are convinced that they are really buying “beauty” — as if that were possible — and they are willing to pay thousands of dollars for, say, a small painting of a tree. The Artist, of course, would rather look at the real tree for free, and on the side grind out a gross of pictures to foist on the gullible rich. Of course poor people know that any object that cannot be eaten or worn is of no real worldly value. This fact is lost on the rich because, never having been hungry, they have no rational point of reference. Dealing with graduates of the art school of “hard-knocks,” they are at a huge disadvantage. That’s why I pity them. When it comes to so-called art, the rich are little children attracted to bright objects, and they need to be protected from their own ignorance.
Since I believe that most “Art” is an illusion created by self-anointed Artists for one purpose only, to separate the rich from their disposable income (here defined as any money over the amount needed to live comfortably, which is most of what the rich possess), a way must be found to protect the wealthy class from art class grifters. For starters, I propose a law banning the sale of art objects to persons with annual incomes over $500,000. I know that poor people will claim that any money taken from the rich, by whatever method, is simply fair wealth redistribution, but I disagree. The poor may think of it as normal “capitalistic art commerce,” but I say it’s the blatant exploitation of one economic class by another, and in a just society this situation cannot be allowed to continue. After all, what if the tables were turned?
Originally titled “People Who Buy Art Shouldn’t Read This,” the essay was published in the May 25, 1979 Baltimore Evening Sun. The angry reaction to it by several of my artist friends — who seemed to have taken it personally — totally surprised me. Oh well, I guess that’s what I get for playing with satire. My “gag” cartoon, above, was not used to illustrate the first version of the essay — it didn’t exist then — but it strikes me as apt.
An Image Problem
Some years’ back, a client of mine commissioned a humorous illustration to be used on a non-governmental organization (N.G.O.) flyer about world population issues. First he had to educate me on the subject, and sent along a thick sheaf of reading material that I quickly skimmed (this was a pro bono effort), underlining sections that I hoped would offer up image ideas.
As one who specializes in cartooning and humorous illustration, I’m more about visuals than words, and after hacking my way through all that verbiage I came away with only some general tidbits about the negative effects overpopulation has on human development, from the N.G.O. point of view. Not an easy-to-draw idea in the stack. Meanwhile, the client had specified that he wanted “an arresting image that would interest people not otherwise attracted to the subject — one picture worth ten-thousand words.“
When I reported that I had had no luck with the first batch of material, the client sent two specific ideas for the illustration. His first concept was six comic strip panels with people talking, talking and talking. They talked about too many rich people living in too many carbon-inefficient McMansions; too many middle-class people in too many cars clogging too many high-speed highways; and too many poor people needing too many government services.
The client’s second idea was visually no better (read: no easier to draw). He suggested a cartoon of a stuffy middle-aged businessman watching a television picture with crowds of poor, homeless city beggars in the first panel; starving kids in Africa in the second panel; and hundreds of polluting factories just south of the Texas/Mexico border. (But hey, at least this time it was only three panels.)
Again, no single “arresting image” suggested by any of that stuff. By wading through all those words, though, somehow my brain became focused (at least the visual half did) on what I needed to not do, which in turn suggested what I should do. The simple concept I came up with was this: The population problem is about infinite hordes of people on the face of a finite planet. But how best to show that? Especially how to show it without getting so complex that people would be almost as bored looking at the image as they would be reading a long research paper on the subject? Even more importantly, since I wasn’t getting paid, how to expend the least amount of time and effort in production?
After a lengthy doodling session I came up the rough idea you see above. The stack of people is a pretty “arresting” image, in my opinion (perhaps influenced by the National Cartoonists Society “Reuben” Award statuette designed by Rube Goldberg). The oblivious commentator off to the right side represents people like me, those of us still under-educated to the importance of the world population crisis. At any rate, my client was pleased.
(Click images for a larger views. To see the final illustration, scroll down to the “Today’s Gag” post of 5/2/11, directly below.)