Saturday, June 14, 2008

The artist

You are watching a home makeover show on television, and the homeowners are going in to horrid detail describing the loathsome appearance of one of the rooms of their house. You realize that this house used to be yours, and the design they are tearing apart was your crowning achievement in home improvement! How do you react?

By Steve Mast

I guess the first thing you have to understand about me is that I’m an artist. It’s my sole identifier. It’s what defines me. It’s how other people see me and quantify me. Respect me. It is, in the end, the sole of who I am and what I am and what I do. What I mean how I live and what I live for. Without art I am nothing.
And I am very good. Some of the others, Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Dali, Manet and all the rest, I mean they were pretty good, I guess. If somebody asked I would have to say, however minimally, that I was inspired by them. But that would be a half-truth, if I were to be really honest. No student of art would admit otherwise if they wanted to be taken seriously. The real truth is that my own shining brilliance comes to light when I inspire myself. If I wanted to be really truthful with you I would tell you that I would bet those other artists were actually inspired by me, as implausible as that may sound, them being mostly dead and all.
I don’t let anybody else affect who I am and what I am and what I do. How I do it. I don’t like to use the word “Genius” or “Greatest Ever” or any other term that would be used as a pigeon-hole identifier, but the truth is that I would have to admit that this is true. I wouldn’t say it out loud. I wouldn’t confess it even in a memoir to be published at the time of my death. But in my heart of hearts I know that this is true.
The fact is that every other artist in the history of mankind has limited themselves in the mediums that they choose to express themselves in. Paint on this canvas. Carve on that rock. Solder that hunk of metal. How boring. It has its uses, to be sure, and was a necessary evolution in mankind seeing art for its true purpose. I simply refuse to live in a world where everything touched by my hands isn’t, in some powerful form, art.
The walls, the sofa, my car, my home have become the very definition of art. A fulfillment of a promise. My dining room table used to have four legs. But now it only has three and a half. I removed half a leg to symbolize society cutting down people’s ambitions and goals and purpose. How we are crippled. We are hobbled by society’s permutations of expectations. So my dining room table has also been hobbled. And splashed with greens and reds and purples and shades of yellows. And each color meant something different, something important when I splashed it on. Something moving and powerful. I cried. Unfortunately I didn’t write them down and quickly forgot the meaning, but it remains a sweeping epic of our social consciousness non-the-less.
Of course now I am unable to eat on my table, but these are the sacrifices we make to our art. That in itself is symbolic of how a man, removed from his true purpose, becomes a useless shell. So I eat on my sofa.
And this is a sofa I constructed myself out of boards of discarded wood found on people’s lawns. To symbolize how the trash of society and their discarded leavings will support me while I watch my television.
It is not comfortable. There are no cushions. But I shall sit and I shall watch. And I shall eat, too. And my TV has been splashed with reds and a light pink dotted and lined to remind me how society has been consumed and absorbed by violence. And sex. This is fed to us nightly in half-hour and one hour servings. The paint does make it hard to watch, and I don’t really turn it on much anymore, because the wet paint blew out the speakers, but it is art.
There are, of course, no paintings hung in my home. No canvas. My walls are my only canvas. And when the walls dry of the current streams of paint that have been splashed on I paint more: covered thick layers of paint constantly dripping and wet. That didn’t work so well when I tried it on the ceiling. But I have managed to create some stalactites, running down five and six inches, to remind me that I live in a cave. I am sheltered by my home, like a bat, although I find it impossible to get to sleep hanging upside down. Although if I had – if I had! It would have been art.
It is my haven. The one place I can be truly alone, truly myself, and truly an artist. Able to express myself as I need to be expressed, without police interference, like that time at the mall.
Did I mention that I live alone?
I’ve been collecting city warnings. Apparently they have some issue with the van that I have parked on my lawn, spread out in pieces instead of a lawn. Apparently they have a problem with the dripped greens and pinks and reds streaming across the walls and windows of my house. On my roof. Apparently they have a problem with the banana tree in my front yard that I painted black. Apparently I am not allowed to paint the curb purple. Apparently I am not allowed to carve faces into the telephone poles. Apparently the Halloween limbs I have sticking out of the broken bits of van have caused some people concern. Apparently I am supposed to have a lawn, and not just have the empty bits of land painted green. And they don’t like the family of yard gnomes now hanging by hemp string dangling from the power lines.
But all of that means nothing to me. I take their rebuke as a source of pride. I collect their warnings in a scrapbook. It is as close as I will come to a canvas and they are a reminder to me that I am making an impact.
I’m guessing now that I should have paid closer attention to those notices, as one of them may have hinted that I could possibly end up in jail. There was, after all, a knock at the door (and nobody ever knocks on the door, it being wet with fresh coat of dripping black) and I see the police officer outside, looking at his freshly painted hands (a fresh new work of art by yours truly), and holding a pair of handcuffs.
Suddenly he’s yelling at me to open up in the name of the law. And apparently my rights extend to an ability to remain silent, as those handcuffs are getting clicked onto my wrists. And he’s just yammering on about this right and that right, blah blah blah, and how I’m going to jail and blah blah blah. This guy is a serious drag.
But he does start talking briefly about my beautiful home and he mentions that the film crew will be arriving in a couple of hours. I guess they need me out of there so they can get the place ready for them. And I just smile and nod.
Finally a film crew is coming to respect my work. To show the world who and what I am. So he hauls me into his car and I can just smile, a mile wide. But I can’t stick to that silence right. I give that up.
“What’s the TV share?” I ask the cop. “What kind of audience we got playing for this?” He just gives me a long look and drags me off to jail.
Two hours later I’m pacing in front of the jail house TV set watching, wondering when my house will be on display. Suddenly, after a commercial break, there it is, for all the world to see. And the title comes up: “Cops: Home Makeover Edition.”
I wish I was there to explain, to show them what the house meant, what every piece of furniture symbolized and how it defined our society. A microcosm of our world. But they’ll just have to figure that out themselves cause I’m stuck behind these bars. The thrill of excitement comes over me as I watch them pull out sledgehammers and drills, setting out to destroy this home piece by piece and wall by wall. It’s beautiful.
As they drill they take the pieces and set them on these careful piles. Art on art on art on art. How appropriate it is for them to take my dining room table and saw it in half, then in quarters, then shredded to bits, added to the pile. Shards of blue and grey and red. And they take one of the Halloween arms from the lawn, the one holding a Coca-Cola bottle, a symbol of our society’s dependence on marketing and sponsorship and name branding. They throw it into a trash can and I am in awe. It’s exactly right, it’s perfect. I wished like mad I could be there to watch and help and direct the mad destruction.
Then, when it is done, and my house has been destroyed into bits and pieces of colored parcels I turn off the TV and wonder for a long time: why didn’t I think of that?

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