Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Once an Artist

The stunning oil and acrylic landscape leered down at him from the studio wall: the last canvas. He had distributed the rest long ago, but he couldn’t let go of this one. The way the towering spires of Atlantis shimmered under the crashing waves of the Maine coast, their fantastic majesty almost hidden beneath the prosaic view from the window of his boyhood home, remained to taunt him in middle age.

Looking out this window, now, revealed a trio of languid contractors scraping on the new masonry wall. He wondered what it might feel like to work outside, then returned to his desk.

The email on his screen waited patiently. “We love the new design! But we’d like it a little smoother around the edges, with straighter lines. Can you tweak the colors, too? Something brighter, maybe, but not too bright. Also, let’s keep it abstract. The bump on the top left almost suggests a strawberry, and we don’t want that association.”

And he opened the client’s file, smoothed the edges, straightened the lines, tweaked the colors, and erased the bump that almost suggested a strawberry.

The next email explained that five thousand dollars had been deposited into his PayPal account, and that they appreciated his excellent work. He double checked. Yes, five thousand dollars had been deposited in his PayPal account. He could not recall his excellent work. The next email was another logo request.

Interruptions usually set his teeth to grinding, but he didn’t mind the doorbell’s two-toned chime just now. It took a few minutes to descend from the attic to the front door, where the contractor, cap in hand, asked him to come inspect his new wall, and then asked for four thousand dollars.

“Let me go get the checkbook.”

Then, nothing disturbed him, except for the fabled, half-seen impression of Atlantis peeking out from the big landscape on the wall. But he drew logos for a living. Expressive, eye-catching logos. Once you started, you couldn’t stop. You had to pay for equipment, upgrades to your home, things starving artists didn’t care about, like nice shoes and flattering haircuts. So he couldn’t be an artist anymore. He had to work.

When the sun set, he did not adjust the lights in the studio, but sat quietly in the dark, his eyes trying to pick out the secret elements of the landscape. Much later, he felt his way to the closet, and things crashed to the floor, bounced off his middle-age knees. With the gait of a somnambulist, he dragged things down the stairs, through the pain, and out the door.

Many hours later, the sun rose on the man who used to be an artist, paint-spattered and curled up in the dirt. The new masonry wall had disappeared. In its place stood a fresh, slightly-shiny representation of the heavens as seen by a medieval philosopher, depicting the planets in their vast spheres, the paths of fiery comets, and the careful hand of a divine creator hiding amongst the multitudes of numinous stars.

1 comment:

SJ said...

nice, kind of sad