MODERN ART$

When I was very young I sometimes thought about becoming an artist in case my major dream of cowboyhood didn’t work out. But after my frightening, violent exit off a bouncing pony and my failing finger painting grades in kindergarten, I began to think of more reachable goals like plumber’s helper and crossing guard.

Years later I experienced a life-changing moment at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. I went at the suggestion of my wife who has a more liberal and forgiving view of modern artists than me. My growing suspicion that day as I toured the galleries was that somehow my failing finger paintings had been found at the town dump and were being used in tutorials for modern artists. Or could Miss Grumble, my kindergarten teacher, have anticipated this weird trend and stashed away the worst efforts of her students, hoping some day to cash in?

While grimacing at the expensively framed blotches, drips and random lines besmirching the walls of a large display room, a realistic metallic sculpture caught my eye, but there was no title or artist’s name indicated. I said to a gallery attendant, “This is the very best hanging in the room. Why isn’t there a title and who is the gifted sculptor?”

“Sir,” he replied, “that isn’t part of the exhibit. That’s a fire extinguisher. There’s one in every gallery room to protect these priceless art works.”

Priceless? I did some research later. One of Mark Rothko’s two-color paintings sold for $87 million. Jackson Pollock and Picasso paintings went for well over $100 million each and someone paid $300 million for an “abstract landscape” by Willem de Kooning. I realized then there was room in the art world for me. I took a few online lessons and started painting.

It became apparent on the very first day that I was a fast learner of this genre’s techniques. In just one hour I was turning out dripping paintings very similar (and perhaps superior) to Jackson Pollock’s. Around that time my wife came down and spread a tarp on the floor of my “studio” opposite our furnace and across from the sump pump.

By noon I’d created two exact Rothko copies. One was just solid dark red. The other, a slightly complicated work, was half mushy orange and half mushy yellow. I had to keep in mind which color was at the top. Of course, if I made a mistake, I could rotate the canvas.

After lunch I began my version of a de Kooning painting, based on the salient features of several of his works. It was more difficult and took me almost an hour. I entitled it “Interior View of an Explosion at a Furniture Factory”. Shattered armoire remnants and splintered settee sections were the main ingredients.

My Picasso copies weren’t that difficult. Working on the portraits I just had to remember to paint both eyes on either the left or the right side of the nose depending on the emotional or intellectual message I was trying to convey.

I hope the Stone Age artists, creators of those wonderful, understandable 20,000-year old cave paintings, don’t see what’s going on today.

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