Kind of How it Goes
A couple of weeks ago a friend named Eric stopped by the house. He lives up near Seattle and was down in Portland for the weekend. Talking on the phone a week or so earlier he was describing a room he’d rented in a house under construction – the floors were torn up, he was walking on rough flooring and bare boards, and I’d suggested a couple of cheap rugs on Craigslist. Eric ran with that suggestion and told me, subsequently, the place was looking better. You could say homier. Now, he said, it’s just those blank walls. And I said, Dude, I have about 1239 unsold paintings, most for years now, and they are stacked up and tacked up and otherwise littering my wife’s studio space and stop over when you are in Portland next weekend and I will give you two or three long-term loaners, not to say that I’m a Picasso or Park or de Kooning or anything, but still, colors on the wall. Which was why we were walking in the studio two Saturdays ago.
Eric looked around as I pulled paintings out of corners and off the floor, laying one canvas after another on a cleared-off table space, pointing out all those available on three walls of the old garage, look here’s a box filled with more, and eventually he quite definitely said these are the two I’d like. A couple of abstracts. You can see them, along with Eric, in the photo.
Now, I’d made some moaning noise while unlocking and walking in the studio door that so many of my paintings had originally been priced at $100, $200, even $300, but most had been dropped to twenty-five bucks long ago and I wasn’t even able to give them away. So I was thrilled he was going to take a couple, knowing they’d be up on a wall somewhere else, and appreciated. Which is the goal. Make art, share art. It was a genuine surprise, then, when I turned and saw Eric taking money from a wallet that had materialized in his hand and dropping it on the table – two twenties and two fives.
I immediately said no way, these are loaners, this was never a sales pitch. But he said he wanted to do it, he was making more than enough money and this back and forth lasted about 30 seconds until, okay, I’ll take this money if you let me give you seven of my greeting cards – did you know I have my own greeting cards? – and he said he didn’t usually mail cards but it would be nice to mail one back to his mother in Detroit, she’d like that. So I led him over to the house and down into the basement and spilled a whole bunch of cards out on the ping pong table and he chose the seven he wanted and then I glanced at the ceiling-high piles of my unsold books and said something like maybe your girlfriend would like a book of poetry and decided on ‘Dictation from the Backyard’. When we were back outside he told me he liked poetry, which I had no clue, and was going to keep it for himself.
Now, there is a point to this story, actually a passageway into a more expansive idea. Because – after I had helped Eric bring the two paintings and the seven greeting cards and the book of poetry to his car and thanked him and said it was great to hang out and watched him drive away, on my way back into the yard I realized I had sent him off with $85 worth of my creativity – 2 paintings @25, 7 cards @25, ‘Dictation’ @10 – sure, my costs for the canvas and paint and formatting and cover and printing was more in the $40-50 range – but the cool thing here – the really cool thing – was that my creative and artistic efforts had been sprung from piles of inertia and dust and were on their way out into the world. Making a room a little brighter, swelling a mom’s heart with love and pride, for all I know inspiring a brand new poem of its own. Like we like to say, those of us intellectuals giants — Cool Beans!!
I have hung my paintings in a whole bunch of coffee shops and restaurants in Portland and the greater area and have never once been paid to do so. But on occasion – a ‘Truro Sunset” from the Blue Scorcher in Astoria, a ‘Wareham Little Harbor’ from the Academy Theater lobby in Portland, others here and there – my art has traveled to someone’s home, and I have been paid for it. And I have read my poems from print-out sheets at my favorite coffee shop’s Thursday night open mikes, not only for free but simply thrilled with the chance to read my own words, to make art and share art. And after one reading a man stopped me and asked if I had a book for sale and when I returned with it the next week he dropped a $20 for an $8 ‘Minor Revelations’ and refused any change and since I had two copies with me I gave him both, insisted, and he said he’d give one away. And then there was the all too brief vacation my wife Susan and I had to a VRBO apartment in Ocean Beach, San Diego in July, and the homeowner had a bunch of books available for guests and when we left I placed a copy of ‘There Were Elms’ on the kitchen counter as a way of saying thank you, again, for such a wonderful stay, and two weeks later I had two books sales register on Amazon, and my wife received a text from Silka in OB – “I loved Buddy’s poems and have purchased copies for friends.” I could go on. Sure, I’d love to make back money I’ve lost on every artistic endeavor I’ve taken – music CD, a gazillion paintings, five books. But, writing this, financial equity doesn’t seem to be the point.
What’s the point? Hmmm – make art, share art. Do what I have come to believe is perhaps our most precious obligation to the planet and those crawling upon it. Share ourselves as only we can, our unique gifts, and in so doing just maybe help all of us get through another day, a smidge better off.
Yeah – that.
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