Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Thrifting: Goodwill masterpiece reminding me there is still beauty in the world

Greetings spiders and bots! I know I've been away for a while and you've probably been worried sick not getting the signal to crawl the site or whatever happens that brings you here. I can explain:
So Ive spent the last several months trying to find a rock to firmly wedge myself under so I wouldn't have to see the horror unfolding around me, but all the rocks I tried already had rather territorial centipedes and earwigs living under them. No rock, so I had to make do with staying inside with all the screens off and the curtains drawn. But I had to come out eventually when I ran out of provisions.
So I waited for when I thought it was safe and the horror had given over to ennui and I emerged and realized it's really fucking bright out. But I was able to go buy soymilk without someone grabbing my collar and demanding to know which political party I'm affiliated with. That I'd be seen purchasing soymilk probably spared them the trouble... but also didn't result in a bottle being smashed over my head in the parking lot, so there is still respect in the world! The world isn't that much different than it was when I left it. There aren't as many trashcan fires as I expected, nor as many battle-wounded with filthy rags dressing their injuries huddled in the burned out wreckage of shelled buildings. Not a single lam resistance fighter trying to catch rats for stew.  Not here anyway.
Turning the screens on after having them off for so long made me realize: damn, these things are fucking bright too. Things there have mostly returned to a strange version of normal. The kind of normal you might expect if an alien race launched a hostile takeover and then tried to run our society with the two goals of glorifying their regime and doing so without any of the enslaved noticing. So pretty much back to normal.
Venturing out I decided to see what's going on at my local (or not so local) Goodwill. Maybe the ragged dejected masses have assembled there to fight over scraps of cloth and anything metal they can melt down to make buck shot? Nope. Everyone at Goodwill was behaving more or less normally as well. It was nice to relax and focus my hopelessness on looking at all the stuff everyone doesn't want anymore and ponder all the expense that went into creating it so it could end up here... and then wonder how much exponentially more of it went to a landfill instead. See, I'll find a way to feel miserable somehow, dammit.
And then I went to the framed art section and momentarily lost my ability to feel bitter and hopeless. As I've mentioned before, I love art. I'm not too discerning, I can find beauty in most creative endeavors, no matter how minimalistic, manufactured, or how much they seem to stretch the definition of art. I have a place in my heart for thrift store art in particular. It can be awful to semi-decent, I just somehow get emotionally entangled with paintings average people make and then donate. There's a story there behind every one of these paintings and sculptures, maybe not a very long story, but a story-- like they just thought they'd try their hand at painting, found it to not be their jam, but couldn't hate the misshapen fruit of their labor enough to throw it away, so they brought it to Goodwill. Maybe they made it and gave it to someone who ultimately rejected it, but also couldn't bring themselves to toss it, because this person went to the trouble to make it for them. So they donated it thinking, maybe someone out there has awful enough taste to truly love this ugly thing the way I just can't.
And here I am. I'm that guy with that awful taste, and I'd buy every one of these things if I could afford to. My collection is small, but one day I hope to rival the Museum of Bad Art, perhaps even being ejected from a thrift store after getting into a fistfight with one of their buyers over the same framed drawing by a ten-year-old of the family dog. This is my dream, folks. This is how I'll know I've 'made it.'
The thing about bad art is why is it considered bad? Why is good art considered good? Why are certain people like Da Vinci and Picasso considered "greats" and "masters"? Is their work really that good, and if so, why? Academic consensus? I neither have nor desire a print of the Mona Lisa and I think any given Heavy Metal magazine cover artist is infinitely more technically and aesthetically skilled than any of the most well known Renaissance painters. But maybe I'm the only one and everyone I know hides their prints when I come over... so I won't steal them since I don't have any. I want to get away from using my own art preference as a measuring stick here since I don't have money to set any sort of standard anyway, so let me ask how many artists were the most renowned painters up against for that title? There had to be some competition, but how steep? Were there bad art collections in antiquity? Was there low priced decent art?
I see everyone (the people with money who can set the standard) fussing over these dull pictures referred to as masterpieces that are pretty much equal to if not surpassed in "good"ness by most of the inventory of an art fair. So did this happen only because these art fair contributors went to museums and studied the masters really really hard, or are art supplies just cheaper and more accessible now so there are so many masters no one fucking notices? I guess what I'm getting at... wait, what am I getting at... Oh yeah, it's stupid bad art by celebrated artists is good because they did it, while bad art by no one in particular is still bad. I guess. I know, I know, I'm the first one to ever point out that realization and reporters are going to be beating down my door to get a sound byte from me now. I'll try not to let the fame and my highly demanded expertise in the art world go to my head.
Since you're wondering by now when this story is going to actually go anywhere, here's the thing that stopped me in my tracks and momentarily renewed my zest for life:

Looks familiar somehow, huh? That's because it is an attempt at reproducing The Loneliness of Autumn by Leonid Afremov, who's work is among my favorite. This painting doesn't quite achieve what the original did. BUT don't think I'm calling this painting bad. Someone else might, but I won't because I actually think it's pretty good, and let me tell you why: I couldn't stop looking at it. It's like someone who's really attractive, or the way the sunlight covers certain surfaces at certain times of the day that makes them look like you're seeing a color that's never existed before until just that moment. I could even try to make some technical arguments for why it's factually, objectively, academically good, like the way your eye is drawn down the path and the way the reflections behave in accordance with their light sources, but I don't need to because I'm not necessarily trying to convince anyone else this is good, except maybe the person who painted it and ultimately orphaned it at Goodwill.
The painting is signed with TE. I have no idea who that is, or the story behind this painting. So I'll make up my own:
TE's a teenager in high school who saw Afremov's work on one of it's cycles through Pinterest or Instigrahm or whatever the kids are doing these days. He was so inspired by the artist's lively brush strokes, his vibrant use of color as lighting... The way he can make something so true, detailed and lifelike by depicting it in such an unreal and undetailed way. Afremov's style looks amazing... and deceptively easy, effortless like there are no rules and he just put paint all over a canvass and it made a picture instead of meticulously and rigidly trying to make it look like something. The second part turned out to be a vast underestimate of the time and thought that actually goes into the application of this style. So when our artist chose one of Afremov's works for an art class project, he discovered it's more than a flurry of square brush strokes dipped in whatever colors happened to be on the pallet. And just how many brush strokes Afremov's paintings are comprised of. And you see the student's brush strokes change to try and capture the activity of the light in the reflections on the path instead of flat square blobs in the trees he'd started with. There's a clear learning curve present in this work. A processing, an adaptation from expectation to reality. Ultimately though, there was a deadline for the work to be turned in by, and so the painting looks a little unfinished, like maybe TE just needed to be finished with it. Maybe TE discovered that painting wasn't really for him, something that ended up being less fun and more work than anticipated. So when he got the work back graded, he donated it, didn't even think it was good enough to give his parents, and never let them see it. Maybe he felt like he'd failed because it wasn't like he envisioned. But it doesn't have to be what was envisioned to have worth.
Of course this probably isn't remotely close to the story behind the painting. Maybe it was a young single mother who was moved by Afremov's work and became inspired to paint. Maybe this one was a first attempt she donated as she's progressed past this level, or has developed her own style she thinks is merely an attempt at his, but is really unique to her.
Who knows. But TE, if you're out there and you're not a spider or bot and you're reading this, I hope, if you enjoy painting, that you are still doing it. I've had this painting hung on my wall for a couple months now, and I still stop and stare at it because it's beautiful.
Price of masterpiece:  $2.99.

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