Saturday, October 2, 2010

On Painters and Painting

I was having lunch in a very crowded cafeteria yesterday. There were no unused tables, and a stranger walked up and nodded. He looked weird to me. So naturally I invited him to sit down. It was what I call a weird day. Everybody looks weird to me on weird days, but there is weird and then there is weird weird. This guy was weird weird.

He sat down and started right off. “Are you a painter?” he asked.

“I painted my living room,” I said.

“No, I mean art. Like Andy Warhol.”

“Why would you use the words ‘Warhol’ and ‘art’ in the same sentence?” I asked.

“That is a strange combination, isn’t it?” he asked.

“It’s bewildering is what it is.”

“OK, how about Cezanne.”

“You’re getting closer. Try Matisse. I may have painted like Matisse. Ask me if I ever painted anything like Matisse. Just go ahead and ask if I ever painted anything like Matisse and see what it gets you.”

“OK, did you ever paint anything like Matisse?” he asked.

“No, of course not.” I made a face to show him what an absurd question that was.

“Why did I ask?”

“Because I invited you to,” I said.

“Well, I do paint,” he said. “I started a paint by the numbers set. When I get through it’s supposed to look exactly like Rembrandt’s Chalice in the Light. They say even art experts will not be able to tell the difference. Even though it is just paint by the numbers it may be worth millions at Sotheby’s auction house.”

“Chalice in the Light? I never heard of it.”

“That’s because it doesn’t exist. Rembrandt never painted it.”

“So that’s why art experts can’t tell the difference?”

“That’s right. They don’t have an original to compare it to.”

“That makes sense. So how did it come out?”

“It doesn’t look like Rembrandt at all. It looks like a picture of Godzilla. I may have to throw it away.”


“Well, because Godzilla is copyrighted of course. You can’t paint Godzilla without permission.”

“Not even if you paint by the number?”

“Regrettably,” he said.

I said nothing. The answer seemed so obvious I wondered that I had to ask.

“Now I’ve wasted a perfectly good piece of canvas,” he continued. “I painted on it.”

“Don’t feel bad,” I said. “People ruin perfectly good pieces of canvas all the time. It’s what artists do. At least you know enough to feel bad about it. A lot of artists think they have done good messing up perfectly useful pieces of canvas. There are whole buildings wasted because they are filled with wasted pieces of canvas that someone painted on.”

“That’s right. They are called museums, aren’t they?”

“Some of them are called galleries,” I said. “Just think of what someone could do with that space.”

“If they were not filled with perfectly useful pieces of canvas messed up by somebody painting on them?”


“It is no comfort. I am disconsolate.”

“I have this friend who can help. He runs a restoration company. He restores art works”

“How would that help me?”

“It’s restoration. When an artist messes up a perfectly good piece of canvas by painting on it, he strips the paint off and turns it into a perfectly good piece of canvas again.”

“Holy moly. An art restoration company.”

“Yes. He’s negotiating with the pope to get all that paint off the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.”

“I heard about that. Michelangelo made a real mess there, didn’t he?”

I nodded my head. “He painted all over it. They’ve been trying to get rid of that mess for five hundred years. All those pictures of God and all that. Some people like it but-”

‘There’s no accounting for taste,” he said, shaking his head. “I hope your friend can strip that crap off. So have you ever painted anything? Aside from your living room, I mean.”

“I painted myself one time.”


“Yes. I got it all over me. All over my arms. Fortunately it was water color. It washed right off.”


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