People think it is funny how poor I am. But the laughter stops when they ask me what I did in school and what my prospects are and I tell them well, I majored in art.
“Art?” Stern look, as though I had just landed a time machine precisely on the first prototype of a lightbulb. “What kind of art?”
Their anvil and stirrup are poised to pound out an answer of ‘graphic design for internet’ and so there is a jarring pause when I answer:
“Painting?” (Stifled reaction) “Well, shit, can you major in Sand Art too? I was pretty good at that. That and making the pot-holders with the fabric loops on that red frame thing. No, it’s cool, it’s cool. We got that in my family too, my Grandma paints. Of course, she also shits her pants.”
I make paintings. I make them, and I sell them.
You have two choices in making art. You create a market for your images, or you create images for a market. This is what separates an artist from the guy who makes Precious Moments figurines: several million dollars.
You are a middle aged woman. You are wealthy, and not too busy. You have a stack of literature by your bed that involves slow motion renaissance-faire “love making.” And recently, you got into Phantom of the Opera.
Did you get into it or did it get into you? You cried the first time you saw it and before you knew it you were crying the tenth time you saw it. You’ve seen that movie more times in your life than you’ve balanced your checkbook and you find yourself typing in POTO websites about the guy who plays the main character,Gerard Butler, because when you look into his eyes you see the kind of passion that can sustain an erection in a snowdrift. You go on eBay and buy anything he touches. You search Phantom of the Opera, Gerard Butler, sift through what surfaces. One day you come across a painting. It is a passing likeness to Gerard. The female character is turned away and she could almost be you, her face is so obscured- and it matches your living room couch. And its under 100 dollars. You click buy and you’ve joined an unwitting conspiracy to keep me fed.
Three Key Points to Making and Selling Phantom Of The Opera Paintings:
What color is a living room couch these days in the Mid- to Southwest? And I don’t mean one in an office, I mean one in a house where the wife has free domain of a credit card and a jones for Victorian romance. Did you just say mauve, forest green, or ash blue? Okay, now coax those out of three primary colors, white, and golden ochre, because paint is fucking expensive.
Gerard Butler can look awfully passionate. At some point passion is just awful, and at another point it is subtle enough that you can hang it in a room where you are supposed to make conversation with guests. Remember the line between drama and soft porn is like the skin of a soap bubble, beautiful and fragile.
We live in a litigious society. The original novel Phantom of the Opera has crossed well over into Public Domain fair use laws, but the musical and the movie may well have Cease and Desist agents trolling eBay all the live-long day for people infringing copyright laws. If you want to reference a scene from the movie (and you do) you need to make the kind of subtle changes that you can point out all like “Nuh uh that image isn’t taken from the movie! The horse is facing left!” And bingo! It’s an original work.
Now that you have a market and a strategy, it’s time for the product.
How you actually make a painting is up to your sacred process as an artist. For me, it begins with a panic attack. I need money, and I don’t know where it is going to come from. I draw several sketches of scenes that include (A) clear shot of money-maker Gerard; (B) lots of couch-friendly hues; and (C) Christine doesn’t have her punk-ass mug all up in the viewer’s face.
First I turn the music louder to combat the heat. It is unbearably hot at all times in my apartment, like a sauna with thick carpeting. I press my head between my hands and rub my eyes with my palms while I laugh hysterically, then dart angry glances at all the canvasses in my apartment. I paint over the painting I am least happy with that day with a wash of colors straight out of Seaman’s Best Furniture Sales. I arrange and rearrange several black and white screen grabs I have made of the actual movie. I make some sketches, shrieking along to the music, then I trip over my tattered painting jeans. It is so fucking hot I have no choice but to put on rap music and strip down to my underwear, wiping my brushes off on my leg and scowling openly at the window across the way from mine. One last check to make sure the playlist is fully loaded (“Like a shotgun, BANG! Whats up with that THANG!? I wanna know, how does it HANG!”) and then I start painting for an amount of time my brain does not register. Sleep is not deeper.
Whenever the phone rings again, I am pulled out of it and completely exhausted, I scream “Good bye, goodbye forever!” into the phone and fall immediately into a dreamless sleep. I refuse to look at the painting for as long as two or three days, until panic hits again and the process repeats itself. Half cursing my own folly, I put the painting up on eBay and await 6 days in purgatory until…
Someone BUYS IT!
And then I sit down somewhere and smile. I smile because now I am safe, and the mass of paint I smeared on a canvas is a Real Painting. I imagine the Painting being unwrapped by a genteel lady. She holds it gingerly, as though it were a fragile ancient textile. She puts it on her mantle and explains to guests why she bought it, every time she looks at it her heart swells a little with pride and yes, admiration. Her children grow up looking at the painting, its shapes and forms indissoluble images they recall whenever they think of home. On her daughter’s wedding day, she pulls her aside and gets out the painting, wrapped in lace and lace-ribbons. Her daughter sobs hysterically and tells her she will carry the painting instead of a bouquet, the mother nods, the father beams proudly, coming in the door and embracing the two women and Painting he loves best in this world. They cry and they laugh and they laugh and they cry and so the cycle repeats itself. Or you know someone puts it in their guest bathroom. The point is, someone wants it somewhere, and that–and rent–is smile enough for me. You motherfuckers.