‘FINGER NAIL SALOONS AND STARVING ARTISTS’
Is the ear half on or half off?
(Read using your most credible ‘Al Pacino voice’)
What would it be like if Vincent van Gogh were alive today? I would be willing to say that everything would be exactly the same EXCEPT – that he would have better medication. If he could afford it. Everything else would be the same. The painting would be the same. The obscurity would be the same. The unappreciated genius would be the same. Perhaps he would be institutionalized, since he had a mildly self-destructive personality, but perhaps not. Chances are he might even be homeless. Imagine that, one of the most important artists of all time - homeless! Of course this is all pure speculation on my part. Or is it? How many of us today would recognize his troubled genius without some art historian peering over our shoulder and whispering in our ears? Would you be able to look at his paintings and say, ‘This man is a genius, ahead of his time’? Would you be able point him in the right direction so that he would receive the recognition he deserved? The big-shot art dealers in Paris weren’t impressed with him at the time so why should the average work-a-daddy citizen know better? Considering his supposed lack of social skills, would you even want him around? Better to rub elbows with him at the local arts fundraiser down at the country club. Although I doubt you’d ever find him there.
Yet everyone knows van Gogh! Everyone loves van Gogh. His work is reproduced on everything from calendars and fine art prints to T-shirts to mouse pads to key chains to fake rubber ears for Halloween. Whenever his name is mentioned the whole room swoons and waxes nostalgic. But why? Why does everyone LOVE van Gogh? Is it because they are such astute art lovers? Do they identify with his life of self-sacrifice and deprivation? His frustration? His suffering? His loneliness? I don’t think so. I think someone TOLD them that he is IMPORTANT and made a big deal out of it. He’s gotten good press. Sure, we can all feel sorry for him cause he’s dead and ‘never sold one painting in his whole life, after a lifetime of dedication’; which is untrue, he did sell one. Or so someone says. A worse tragedy is now that he’s been dead so long, his paintings are the most expensive in the world and he never saw a dime of it. That’s about the only part you can be sure of.
But then a great many artists throughout history worked just as hard and lived lives of quiet desperation, whose work could easily stand along side anything van Gogh ever painted and yet they are even more obscure today than Steven Hawking is to a New Guinea pigmy.
Yes, we know that he suffered. Is that the key to his immense popularity, his suffering? Are we sympathetic to his art because we empathize with his cruel fate? Do we feel too that our own creative efforts have largely gone un-noticed by a cold, unfeeling world that is too busy struggling to survive? And what a cruel fate that was; to be nameless in life, and have world renown after death.
Today van Gogh would have to continue suffering in some form in order to insure his future in the annals of art history. Let’s face it, suffering is B.B.O. Big box office. Jesus, Gandhi, Kennedy, Elvis, Joan of Arc; they all suffered and we love them all the more for it.
So where would you likely find van Gogh today? I believe you might find him in one of two places; either walking the streets, wild-eyed, with paints and easel in hand OR sitting behind the manicurist’s table over at the neighborhood fingernail saloon where he could not only put his artistic skills to practical use, but, contrary to his earlier incarnation, earn a respectable living. Maybe he eventually saves enough to one day open his own fingernail saloon. Maybe call it something like, ‘Vinnie’s Expressionist Fingernail Saloon’. I’m sure that with a little practice, his artistic talents could be tailored to the fine art of fingernail painting and design.
But what would happen to his ART? Would selling out compromise the very qualities that enamor him to so many? What about his emotional use of color, the erratic, frenzied brushstrokes, the hallucinogenic imagery? Happy now as a respectable manicurist, and no longer the social miscreant, but an accepted member of society, might he not succumb to the distractions that plague our world today? Television alone, our modern version of a ‘living painting’ could take its’ toll on his art, as could shopping, video games, the wife and kids and Internet porn. Or…
Or, empowered with today’s resources, might he raise up the painted fingernail into the fashionable bastions of High Art? Stranger things have happened. And since there are more fingernail nail saloons in existence than art museums, why fine art might at last become accessible to the masses, assuring the further appreciation of all art - and artists in general. The manicurist would no longer be merely ‘a lowly employee’, but would get the long-overdue respect they deserve as a ‘fingernail sculptor’, mais non-, ‘Un sculptoir du doit’. Celebrity fingernail sculptors would have their own television shows featuring celebrity manicures, celebrity interviews, manicure news and manicure tips. They would be spokespeople for high recognition name brand products, receiving millions in royalties, their faces on every magazine cover and tabloid on supermarket shelves around the world. They would be asked to host Saturday Night Live. In the history books of the future they will mention the era when fingernail art set the tone for a nations taste in the arts…. and van Gogh no longer suffered.