Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How to Buy Hat Factory Painting

Bare walls give me the creeps. I'm always distressed and frankly a bit amazed especially in the homes of well-off people, homes equipped with the best appliances, expensive furniture, and two-hundred dollar faucets, when people either have nothing at all on the walls, or some very expensive signed stupid lithograph by a famous artist for which you know they paid way too much money at some gallery. These are the same people whose book shelves, if they have any at all, are lined with first edition hardcovers of worthless airport novels, still in their pristine dust jackets as if barely read or not read at all: in fact, one gets the sneaky feeling they bought them simply to adorn the shelves (in which case one wonders at the mentality that would do so, say, with novels by James Patterson and Jackie Collins rather than by Tolstoy or Proust).

But never mind; this post is about paintings, not books, and about the bare walls that should be under them. Bare walls disgust me. Every naked space on a wall is space that could be taken up by a piece of art, and not just some prefab kitsch like those horrible wide-angle framed photos of island beaches at sunset with corporate bromides typeset an small-caps with very wide kerning, a sure sign that whoever inhabits the place is a dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying philistine. Nor do I mean commercial posters whose frame jobs cost twenty times more than the artwork they contain. Nor do I mean signed lithographs, silk-screens, or other expensive reproductions of Calders or Picassos or Dalis or any of the dead fat-cat artists on whose corpses the commercial fine art world continues to gorge itself, or try.

I mean the works of living and struggling artists who are not famous yet but trying mightily to be, or maybe they aren't trying at all, maybe they simply paint for the joy of painting. There are many of them, and their paintings belong on people's walls.

Why, when it comes to fine art, are so many otherwise intelligent people so willfully ignorant? It's not merely that they don't appreciate good art, it's that they don't even try, ever. They know less, most of them, about art than they do about the engines under the hoods of their cars. They think it's too complicated, elitist, an enterprise for snobs. They don't seem to get that a piece of art, a painting, a good painting, it very simply something done by an artist. Among all the living artists they are entirely free to choose those works that appeal to them: nothing wrong with that. They need not fear the scorn of critics who may not approve their choices. However, they deserve to be scorned when, rather than make any effort to live with genuine art, they put overpriced insincere bragging-point crap selected by experts on their walls, or worse, nothing at all.

How do you go about buying real art, then? Genuine art that isn't overpriced or otherwise out of reach? Let me show you how simple it can be.

A few weeks ago I happened to read in a back issue of a literary journal that had been left behind on a shelf in the office I've inherited with my new job a short story by a woman named Jennifer Moses. I enjoyed the story very much, though it is not the point here. In the back of the journal were biographical note on the authors, each of them accompanied by a small, personal photograph. In place a a photograph of Jennifer or her family, I found one of a painting. For Jennifer, it turned out, is a writer and painter.

Now, two things struck me about this painting. First, it was done in a naive style. Naive art, for those who may not know, is art that either purposefully or by accident dispenses with the "rules" of perspective, light, proportion, composition, scale, and so on. Rousseau was a naive artist, but there have been many. I myself am a naive, and proud of it. In fact I felt as if this painting could have been done by me, which, I guess, is a rather narcissistic reason for my liking it, but then why would I paint my paintings not to like them?

The second extraordinary thing about this painting is that it was a painting of a hat factory. And hat factories, as you may know, are central to the novel I have been working on.

So I checked the artist's website, and sure enough she had done many lovely paintings, but only this one of a hat factory. So I emailed her and asked: is it for sale? Mind you, I really can't afford to be buying painting these days, but I had to ask. She wrote me back very quickly saying a)that the painting had already been sold and b) but she would be glad to do another for me. The price: $200, framed. And (she added) if I was not pleased with the result I needn't buy it.

Well, I guess I don't have to tell you my response. The painting hangs in a place of honor in the university home where I am living, whose walls, when I moved in, were bare. And that's how you buy a painting.

Monday, October 11, 2010

From a Novel-in-Progress

I've been working hard on a new novel, and also on my "Your First Page" blog, and hence I have been neglectful of this blog. When that will change I don't know, but here at least I can offer my few intrepid followers a sample of my work-in-progress, from a novel I'm calling HATTERTOWN (the capital letters are important: they are meant to mimic the names of the towns extinct hat factories as they appear in block letters down the shafts of the equally extinct smokestacks that shoot up from the landscape like ruddy brick fingers.

The sample paragraph is from a scene fairly early in the book in which the narrator imagined his mother's reasons and regrets with respect to marrying his stepfather, the owner and operator of the town's last dying retail hat store. You'll read it and tell me if you think it's any good.
"From where I half-crouched behind the beaded curtain I couldn’t see my mother, but I could picture her lying there, spread out on the parlor sofa, her long former dancer’s legs hidden under a plaid throw, cigarette in one hand, sherry glass in the other, for to go with her smoking she had taken up this other habit, a glass of creamy sherry every evening before bed—and sometimes, lately, more than one. She drank, I suppose, for the same reason she’d started smoking again, to take the edge off her disappointment, the disappointment of a woman who, having married a second time not out of love but for money, discovers that in fact she has done so for neither. Had my mother, when she married him, the vaguest inkling that Walter J. Waple was in financial straights? Certainly not. Had she had any such inkling would she have married him? Again, no. But she’d had no such inkling. About Walter J. Waple she had known very little, as a matter of fact. She knew only that he was a widower who lived in a grand stone house on Crown Heights Boulevard with a wraparound porch and stained glass windows and a turret with a witch’s hat roof and a circular driveway edged with day lilies—or were they daffodils? He had a retarded son, poor man, and perhaps for this reason he was alone, though it seemed not a very good reason, not to my mother. He owned the town’s only retail hat store, and so he must have been rich; at any rate, he was not poor, and he did not work in a hat factory. He did not smell of fusty damp wool and harsh chemicals and sweat, but of sweet pipe tobacco and cologne. His fingernails were polished and trimmed square with no a trace of factory grime under them. He didn’t swill bourbon or try to drown or disfigure his children. He was courteous and well mannered and never once presented himself to her without a bouquet of roses. Perhaps he was not rich. Perhaps he was not worth a fortune but only earned a considerable income. Still, it would be enough. With said considerable income he would buy her gowns and in his shiny blue Buick would take her out to dine (not to eat, mind you, but to dine) at gentile New England establishments with names like The Cobbs Mill Inn, The Wild Turkey, The Old Oak, The Spinning Wheel, or to that Swedish place on the lake, what was it called, the Viking’s Table, the one with the smorgasbord, where the chef always came out to greet the patrons in his puffy hat. He’d order a martini, extra dry with a droll olive, and she a Brandy Alexander. At the long banquet table buckling under steaming vats of half-drowned meatballs, golden one-eyed fish, gleaming amber turkeys, diamond-scored, clove-studded hams, and pantied racks of lamb, Mr. and Mrs. Walter J. Waple would fill their plates and life would be good."