Building “An Image”… And a story about an artist with a formula

Many people in the music industry know that what makes a band successful is not necessarily talent, but being able to “sell” their image as being “cool” to the public.

Being cool or edgy, and sounding like you ‘speak’ from the heart of the people about what the culture is struggling with, is what makes musicians and bands popular.
It is ultimately the image of the musician or the band that sells records and gets them popular.

It is the same way in the visual arts.
What makes many of the artists in the world today globally recognized is not necessarily their talent or the uniqueness of their art, but their life stories, their participation in an art movement, or their popularity which brought them into the “right” kinds of social circles…. The movers and shakers of the art market.

History is full of talented artists who have lived in obscurity, because they did not participate in the ‘games’ of social pretense, favoritism, and academic credentials, or did not work on creating an image for themselves (or did not allow an agent to do it for them).

On the other hand, many artists who were successful at creating a ‘name’ or an ‘image’ for themselves were able to prosper from it.

You may think to yourself: “So what is wrong with building an image or a name for yourself, if it brings your art or your message to the forefront and let’s you prosper at your art?”

Of course nothing is wrong with it on a smaller scale of living, but ultimately if you succumb to doing it, you will succumb to believing it as well.

The circle of delusion extends much farther than your art or yourself….
You will start believing that Gucci sunglasses, or Prada bags, are not just “an image” or a “name,” but that they are REALLY better than Walmart bags, belts and sunglasses…. And your self-delusional mind will tell you that those are REALLY the objects of your DESIRE.

You may think that you are too smart for this…. that you will NOT be fooled, that you will just work on creating an image for yourself, but that you will not ‘buy’ into the collective delusion and self deception,….. but it will not work.

The same part of your mind that tells you that it IS very important to have an image, will ultimately deceive you as well….

It is a clear and true karmic fact that the trapper himself, is at a high risk of falling into or getting hurt by the traps that he sets.

This is exactly what the old Jewish Bible, as well as the Muslim Quran, means by telling us NOT to make an image and not to worship images.

It has been a misunderstood concept for thousands of years, and it is STILL misunderstood today.

It is almost laughable at how silly and lacking in understanding this biblical concept has become…
The Bible and the Quran did NOT mean to prevent artists from painting or sculpting human images, they referred to the danger of building “mind-images” in the illusionary world, and then proceeding to worship them.

People worship almost everything, since they feel the gnawing inner sounds of discontent and are looking for happiness, joy and for meaning in their lives.

They worship money, fame, success, gold, diamonds, possessions, position, their self image, their egos, bodies, OTHER people, and useless role models that do not point to the Truth.

As an artist, building an image for yourself may appear to be TEMPORARILY rewarding, but it will not lead to anything real, joyful or lasting…..
And it will haunt you inside and prevent you from recognizing your True Spiritual Nature.

Allow me to tell you a true story…

Many years ago, when I started doing art shows, I met a very successful artist.

We did an art show together in Miami, and he sold about twenty thousand dollars’ worth of art in a single weekend.

The next time I ran into him, I invited him to dine out with me, so I could pick his brain and find out what was his secret…. How did he do it….

We went for an early dinner at a good Mexican restaurant by my house in North Miami Beach.
The next day was the day of an art show in Miami, and both of us were getting ready to set up the next morning.

At first, he was reserved and obscure in his answers.
He said he was just lucky that people gravitated towards his work….
But as the margaritas flowed, he loosened up and shared more and more.

He was not an attractive man.
Middle-aged and a bit flabby with pasty skin and receding oily black hair, he knew that creating “an image” for himself would not be an easy thing.
So instead, he created an image for his art.

He carefully developed a formula that could not fail….

He said that he figured out what middle America gravitated towards… After all, middle America was exactly the kind of people who had disposable money and who bought low to mid price art and decorated their suburban homes.

It had to be the kind of art that was easy to live with.
The art had to make a statement, but not a bold statement…. Nothing revolutionary….
It had to be pleasing and easy to relate to, but it also had to look sophisticated enough, as to give the impression that the collector has good taste.

Abstract paintings were good, but they could not be too dark or too wild,
as the collectors run the risk of being questioned by friends and family, if this was REALLY art…

He said landscapes were good.
Everyone relates to landscapes.

His formula, was to paint abstract-landscapes.
The kind of landscapes that did not carry the minds of the viewers to the edge of the precipice, but gently reminds them of meadows and fields, houses and trees…. A landscape that was human-friendly… Familiar yet ever so slightly obscured into abstract.

As the margaritas continued to come, he got bolder in his convictions about the formula of selling art:

“Nobody has room in suburbia for huge paintings.
They have already “collected” art to decorate their homes before, and it already cost them money, so they will not get rid of it to make room on their walls for new things.
If you want to make sure you will sell, (he added) make art that can fit in their homes, and if you want to sell A LOT- Make art that is suited to fit in their dining or living rooms, not in the kids’ room, not in the hallway.

In the dining or living room, they congregate with their friends, and friends recommend to friends, because they want validation for their taste and good judgement.
Their friends will also buy your work, that is, IF…. They see it in the living room.”

The waiter cleared our plates and the artist went into details about how to make the actual art.

“I made an exclusive image for my art!” he said as he scrutinized the menu for additional food options.

“A small painting with a large frame with a very wide liner mat around the art, is always a good idea.
I usually use a white or cream color mat, since most people have white walls.
A colorful pink, green or orange mat around the painting, will clash with the collectors’ sofas, with their curtains, with their walls.
The art has to FIT IN.”

He ordered a few more small dishes and another round of margaritas.
He told me how much he enjoys talking to me… Talking about what he does… And he added:

“The best thing to do is to give the impression that the art is expensive to make, and that therefore it is precious, even though I do not spend more than a single dollar on the art…
My biggest expense is on the frame.”

I could not contain my disbelief and said that he must be exaggerating… How can he possibly make art that cost him less than a Dollar…

He smiles, rubbed his hands like a Wolf getting ready to jump on little Red Ridding Hood, and said:

“I paint in acrylics on paper, except that my ‘high end watercolor paper’…is nothing more than the cheapest wall paper on the market, turned over.
It has a thick gritty surface and people have no fucking clue that it is not an expensive grade, imported watercolor paper.

For paint, I buy large buckets of cheap acrylic house paint from Home Depot.
I can paint a hundred medium size paintings and not finish half of the paint.”

I tried to question and to understand him without sounding offensive or critical.

I knew by now that artists are a hungry bunch, and that they will go a LONG way to make a living from their art.

He was not a criminal, not stealing, and not even deceiving people, just making a well calculated formulaic art, that appealed to the masses.
He had just found an easy way to make his art popular…

I said:

“If you admit that your art is nothing but a repeated formula, done with cheap materials that is not even acid free and that will not last long, WHY do you think so many people buy it?…
Some of those people are nice, professional people.
You do not even sell the Art for cheap prices… It is well over a thousand dollars and most are at the two and three thousand dollar mark!”

By now, he was almost drunk, his reservations were totally gone and he almost relished how he was able to ‘put one over’ on the public….

He was so proud of the fact that he was able to build an ‘image’ for his art that totally blinded people to the fact that it was nothing but a repetitive formula and not at all good and lasting, valuable art.

He answered:

“It pains me to tell you this….. You look like such a nice loving young woman…
You are sensitive and very naive…
Hey you are way too fucking trusting, and one day you will be burned to a crisp…. But listen to me here…
People are dumb!
They are stupid as a stump, and they see NOTHING that is in front of them.
They see nothing, and they KNOW nothing!
They need validation, and if their friends are buying it and think it is great, they will follow and buy it too.
Do you really think that any of them KNOW why a Picasso or a Rembrandt, a Chagall or a Van Gogh is any good?
No fucking way!
They have no clue.
They either know the art sells for millions, and therefore it is of much VALUE, or they know that they themselves could not paint something like this, and so it is SKILLFUL and therefore good.”

He stopped to clean the spit of excitement from his chin, and continued:

“I know that I sell shit…. That my art is shit,….
Hell, your own art is much better and more full of soul than mine will ever be…
But I will tell you a secret, you will never be as successful as me….
I make five or six hundred thousand per year EVERY fucking year from selling crap to idiots….
You have wasted your money on buying me dinner, you will never be able to do what I do…
You will get bored with it….
I will never be bored, because I am winning… Wining over those idiots who are too snobby and too rich to ever have me as a friend or over for dinner, but stupid enough to live with my art….

I ain’t trying to “make a statement” with my art, like so many other artists in the world…
Like you are…
I am only aiming to pay my bills, live in a nice house, put some fuel in the tank of my boat… Go fishing….Maybe make my wife love me a little…. maybe she will make love to me a little more often….

Hell, I hate my life…. My wife is planning to leave me anyway…..She will probably take the house AND the fucking boat…. She caught me cheating on her…..She is right…. I did cheat… I had a love affair…not only once, she only found out once, I had dozens…

I tell you it is a trap….a big fucking trap…. When you start enjoying being the deceiver…. It creeps into all other areas of your life….and now I cannot stop it…. It is part of me… Part of my mind and part of who I am….”

By the end of the dinner, I had to almost scoop him off the floor.
He was crying and sweating, swearing and unable to drive.

I took him to his hotel on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, and left him at the front, claiming there was no available parking.
I hope he stumbled into his room safely.

The next day was the art show.
He was showered, clean and dressed well, and his oily hair was slicked backwards.
He sold out most of his art within the first day.

My booth was situated next to a wonderful artist whom I had never seen before.
She was a very tall woman with a gentle disposition and sensitive art that was laced with humor.
She painted and drew mostly children playing and doing all sorts of mischievous things children do.

During the art show, she unfolded her life story, and told me many things about her life.
The thing I remember most is that she painted children, because she wanted children so badly, but could not conceive one.
It pained her to no end, and now she painted children enjoying a wonderful childhood in idyllic surroundings….

I did OK at the show, selling my art, not great but fairly good.

I mentioned to her the possibility of adopting kids, and we spoke about it at length.
She said that she and her husband were trying to exhaust all possibilities of conceiving, before they turned to adoption.

Her art was very personal, and she did not sell one painting, but she did win an award at the show.

Just a few booths from us, we saw the ‘formula artist’ with a line of people waiting to pay for their purchases.
His collectors were all well to do baby boomers, young professionals with young children in carriages or businessmen lawyers and doctors with trophy wives.

The artist beside me pointed to the formula artist and said:

“You see how well he does?” she asked me.
“His art is VERY good.
Today is my birthday, and my husband, who knows how much I love art, bought me one of his paintings as a present.
I now own one of his originals.”

I looked at her wonderful art, and I had to conceal my dropped jaw, as she unwrapped the paper and showed me the birthday painting that her husband had bought for her.
It had a well formulated red landscape with an abstraction of white houses on it, painted on the back of wallpaper, with white mat around it….

Years later, she came running to me at another art show that I did.
She was so excited to see me and we hugged and kissed.
She had one kid in her arms and her husband was walking behind her with another baby on a sling on his chest; both of them were glowing with joy.

She told me that they had adopted those kids and that she is too busy being a mom, to invest much time now in her art career.

She reminisced that the last art show she ever did, was the one we did together, where we talked about adoption and where she did not sell even one painting.

I reminded her that it was her birthday, and that her husband had bought her a painting from the artist who sold so much of his art.

Her face tightened for a single moment, and as she surveyed her husband playing on the lawn with their kids, she said that she had taken it off the wall.

She visited different friends’ homes, and saw the exact same painting on each one of their walls… She felt it was as if he had an exact formula…. The art was lacking in soul….

She did not want to hurt her husband’s feelings, since he picked it for her with so much love and good intentions……. “But between you and me.. (she said) it is just a piece of crap…”

Then she backtracked and said that she did not mean to say that it was crap, just that it radiated in her house strange energies that she did not want to have around…
So now it is facing the wall in a remote corner of her garage.

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