What Remains.


Consider these two images.

Both depict an artistic tool, splattered with paint.

Both might, initially, evoke some amount of wonder — wonder about these stray streaks of pigment, raw and formless, that got lost on their way to becoming Art. Was that red used for a setting sun or a soldier’s coat?  When the rest of the flesh-colored paint made it to canvas, what was happening to the body it depicted?  This is what remains – what had it all been?

This wonder might grow all the more vivid, to know that the palette on the top was one of Vincent van Gogh’s.

It might wane to know that the easel on the bottom is a piece of home decor from Anthropologie.

And it costs over two thousand dollars.

They didn’t rescue this easel from the estate of an artist.  Its splatters are not the orphans from any great mother body of work.

It is exactly what it is: a large easel that has been splattered with paint.

And it costs over two thousand dollars.

There are humans who have purchased it.

They do not buy their own easel and bedeck it with the remnants of painting.  They do not even buy their own easel and fling paint at it until it looks more to their liking.  They let somebody else do it, then purchase it, then put it up in their home so that they might Say Something About Themselves.

Somebody looked at its classification and read “STYLE: Bohemian – layered and quirky” and thought that was fitting.  Fitting for the person they wanted to seem to be.  Fitting for the object itself.  They looked at it and thought: It’s disheveled and splattered and passionate and it’s just so artistic and BOHEMIAN and it only costs me two thousand dollars.  It only costs me two thousand dollars, and I don’t have to dirty my own hands with paint, and I don’t have to dirty my own mind with art or with the failure to create art.  I can turn this tool into something that exists only to be looked at, and that’s artistic, because art is a thing that is seen and not a thing that is done.  This could be churned out of a factory and I would never know, but surely it’s not because it costs two thousand dollars so it has to be handmade and artisinal and authentic.

Surely it’s not the case that they see the price tag and immediately craft justifications for that price.   Surely it’s not the case that they fear to buy any actual art because it’s all such a mystery to them, because nobody can just say which ones are Good and which ones are Bad. Surely it’s not the case that they can’t just say “I know what moves me when I see it” because they fear to ever be moved.  Surely it’s not the case that they splatter this object — and all the other objects they own — with these justifications and hopes and raw and formless emotions that got lost on their way to becoming an actual thought or feeling.

They thought:  this is a thing that is worth the money.

They want to be a carefree, artistic, authentic Bohemian so badly that they will pay any price for it.

Any price but the cost of lifting a tool.  Of taking up oils and pigments and applying them to a surface other than their own face, for any purpose but to disguise the lines of age and pain and false smiles held far too long.  Any price but the risk of ugliness, or the realization that the facades you create, the globs of thought and feeling you express, are just as empty, just as devoid of any goal, as the erratic spatters on that easel.  Not lost on the way to anything — just strewn around to make it look like they’re working on becoming just what they’re pretending to be.

Creative.  Artistic.  Authentic.


But la vie boheme is a life where you cannot afford much of anything, but the one thing you can afford least is to stop making things. A life whereyou’d sooner spend a week without eggs, bread, and milk than a week without painting, writing, drawing, photography, singing, digital art, whatever madness you’re up to.  A life where your muse does not speak to you through the television or through the society ladies, does not tell you what things you could do to be prettier today, but which snarls at you incoherent and inchoate.   A life where you will and must do whatever you do to slake the heartlust of the beast that sits gnawing and howling and ever-hungry in the pit of yourself, the beast which may nip your heels to encourage one day and bite out your hamstrings another, the beast that cannot be bribed and cannot be tamed but with which you have together forged An Understanding and part of that Understanding is that it owns you as much or more than you ever could own it, the beast which resents all leashes and which will not simply come when you call because it refuses any name that could be spoken, the beast that you have fed of your own flesh, your blood and toil, tears and sweat, and sometimes it seems all for nothing — until those nights when everything has left you but the beast, which curls up warm around you, purring like a rusty diesel motor, and for once neither of you is asking anything of the other but to be there.  And you have nothing, but you would not do anything to harm the beast, not for two thousand dollars and not for two million, because to kill the beast of art would be the death of life itself.

But what do I know; I’ve not seen two thousand dollars in what feels like as many years, and everyone who’s really successful knows that things matter more if they’re worth a lot of money.  I can make no claim to being an artist of any kind; I just write things and try not to get in the Universe’s way.  I can’t even have pretensions of being an unpretentious Bohemian; I’m just some bunch of nothing barely on the shy side of bumhood.   But at least I know that I’ve made things, I’ve felt things, I’ve thought about things, and the sentiments I’ve splattered invisibly onto the things I own are the sentiments I developed for myself, the ones that got stuck to other things while on their way to creations and moments that ended long ago — not the ones that I just believe purchased the rights to.

People with more money than integrity can feel free to buy these easels if they’d like to, if they’d rather not make their own.

I think it would be a fine place for them to display the certificate from the star they named after themselves.

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