I’ve been blessed enough to share with my son the finer things in life, particularly the arts. I was given a wonderful gift in the area of visual arts. I cannot remember a time when I could not draw or paint or, more importantly, intuitively grasp art. My first paint set came after I threw a fit in front of the infamous Psychedelic Shop in San Francisco when there were still hippies on the corner of Haight and Ashbury.
My son, on the other hand, is a gifted musician. As he can hear a piece and play it, I can look at a work of art and, well, it is there. I can visualize it. I can recreate it. What I can’t do is explain how to do that to someone who hasn’t been so blessed, anymore than my son can tell me how he can hear something once and play it.
Nevertheless, having studied art for some forty years, I try to pass on my accumulated learning. Today we attended the 52nd Annual Boardwalk Art Show and Festival here in Virginia Beach today, and the strangest thing happened. I’ve been going to art shows for many, many years, and I’ve never experienced anything quite like this. As is my wont, I was taking photos on the first day of the show in order to study them that night and hone in on what I thought was worthwhile for the second day.
A man accosted me with the declaration I was not permitted to take pictures. He was wearing a badge, so I assumed he was some sort of official. I said fine, I won’t take any pictures and started to move on. He blocked my path and said he wanted my camera. I told him not a chance. He said he wanted to see the picture I had just taken. I had no problem with that, so I showed it to him, after fumbling with the buttons for a moment—I’m still quite unfamiliar with the camera. He told me I would have to delete it, and to oblige him I said I would try, again noting I was not fully familiar with the camera. I tried pressing the trash can button but that wasn’t having the desired effect. I didn’t have my bifocals on in the sun, so I couldn’t really see the display to determine how to proceed.
The man now became pushy and arrogant, telling me to give the camera to him. “I don’t think so,” I said, looking at my expensive Canon and wondering if this guy isn’t somewhat mental to start with. Then he insisted I give it to my son: “He knows how to delete it.” Why he was so sure I have no idea: my son knows less about cameras than I do, and told the man that. I told him I would delete it when I got home, but the man became really belligerent at this point, saying “No, you’ll delete it now.” I guffawed at him and began to walk off, but he obstructed my path and claimed he “could not allow” me “to leave until that picture is deleted.”
Until this point I’ve been obliging, but now I get angry. I don’t take well to being illegally detained. “Who the are you? Are you an official for this event?” He said “I’m someone who paid for a booth.” Again I’m attempting to oblige him, and figure out that the camera requires a confirmation for deletion while listening to the clown drone on about Chinese pirating the work. My son said: “Dude, do I look like a Chinese pirate to you?” The man rambles on about how “they” sometimes hire people to take pictures for them.
Thinking about the absurdity of the statement considering the problem seems to be I can’t even effectively operate the camera, I finally hit the right permutation of buttons and the picture disappears.
“There! It’s gone. Now get the **** out of my life.”
I move on and a few booths later I notice him behind me. I asked him what his problem was and he said: “I was just wondering why you are taking pictures without the artist’s permission.” Understand the artist in question is standing two feet in front of me and is saying nothing. “That’s none of your business,” I replied. “Now leave me alone.”
I continued to take photographs. A couple of artists asked me not to, and I honored their wishes, although by now I was starting to get pretty miffed about the whole affair. They are displaying their art in a public place in an attempt to make a sale. There are no signs clearly announcing “No Photography”. It is obviously not in violation of the policies of the event. But I figure I will simply ignore any artist that doesn’t want me to take photos.
I notice him a few more times as we move on, always just a little behind us, watching. A couple of hundred yards down the boardwalk I notice the man behind me, again, on the cycling path behind the boardwalk. I’ve had enough and approach him. He sees me see him and starts to scurry away Now I’m following him, and when I catch up to him I ask: “Are you following us?”
“No, I’m just taking in the art show,” he claims.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “You’re back here on the cycling path, not on the boardwalk. And when we stop, you stop. It is simply too coincidental for you to be here at the exact same time we are.”
“I think you are suspicious,” he started. “Taking photos of artist’s work and not knowing how to use the camera. The Chinese…”
Again recognizing the absurdity of his argument, I interrupted him: “You’re paranoid. It’s a mental illness. Get help. I’m out here trying to enjoy my weekend. Take your meds.”
He started to say something but I’m not about to listen to anything else this mental case has to say: “I said move on. Leave me alone.”
He was shaking like a leaf and guess he decided I meant business, disappearing in the crowd.
But I wasn’t comfortable he would stay gone. My son and I decided it was time to get something to eat and leave. This fool managed to ruin the art show for us. It is a creepy thing to look over your shoulder and realize someone with obvious mental disabilities is tailing you. We couldn’t concentrate on the art, so what was the point staying?
While eating lunch I determined the people who run the show really need to know they’ve got a screwball loose. I am a member of the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia and frequent the museum enough they know me coming in the door. To that end as we were leaving we passed the booth and I saw him sitting on a bench, so I leaned over to read his name tag. He apparently thought I intended something different, hopping up and running away.
But I got a name.
Should I reveal it? My son says no. I taught him well, and am proud of him. I taught him to be gracious.
But graciousness is too subtle of a thing to be fully taught to a child. There is a time to spare the rod. There is also a time to use the rod. I’m not so sure this artist wouldn’t benefit from an art lesson or two.
She rushed up to us as we were leaving and apologized. “My husband can go a little over the top,” she excused. I felt kind of sorry for her, considering what she must be living with. From what I’d seen her husband needs some serious help. Following complete strangers, especially ones who look as threatening as I’ve been told I do (not to mention a son who trains with a SEAL team), is beyond simple folly. Moreover, I suspect he has put this poor woman in many embarrassing situations like this one.
Nevertheless, she tried to justify that “they were just trying to make a living.” As Clint Eastwood would say: “Dying ain’t much of a living, boy.” I think art is dead here. Commercializing art to this degree, that a grandfather at a beach front art show could very well be part of the Chinese mafia determined to rip you off, cannot but choke off the last breath of artistic inspiration. I could see that in her work, of course.
It was one of those pictures I take in passing, hoping that later I might see something there. Afterwards I couldn’t remember what she was even doing. She stated that she didn’t want anyone “stealing her ideas.” Ideas? Her web site talks about a study of “universal symbols”. Like that is something
new? I was there fifteen years ago, before discovering in my research everyone and their dog had tramped that ground long ago.
Ideas are something new, I think.
Curiously, one can go this artist’s web site and download a number of images of her work (which I assume the Chinese have already discovered). She notes that they’ve already sold, which raises an interesting consideration: does the purported degradation of value from copyists end when a work is sold? Are not those who were generous enough to patronize her not subject to the same devaluation? Or is that OK once the artist no longer profits?
My dilemma is: should potential patrons be warned of this artist’s decidedly inartistic approach to art?
Should I name names?