Tuesday, September 22, 2009

An Artful Scheme

This, I think, is the ripe time to announce it, although some of the finer details still need to be worked upon. I, to use the popular phrase, will soon be rolling in money. And if you thought I have won the lottery or have been gambling in Las Vegas then you are mistaken. This money of mine will be cash of the hard-earned variety. Nor am I robbing a bank as some of the people who know me well might assume. While I cannot deny that I have been called upon to break open locks from time to time by friends, and robbing a bank produces money that is harder earned than many other professions do, I do not think I have it in me to rob a bank. I have hit upon an idea that is free form any criminal act, and yet it will fetch the right stuff by the millions. At least.

The idea is very simple. I'm going to become an artist. Or, to be more precise, a modern artist.

I hit upon this idea while visiting the modern art section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City last weekend. Now, let me confess, I was never much of an artist. I have tried different art forms since my childhood but never been too successful beyond securing good marks in the drawing class in school. I tried wax crayons, watercolour, oil pastels, pencil colours and of late, charcoal and even mouse (the electronic type, not the flesh-and-blood type) but I never got the acclaim that I craved for. In fact, whenever I have sketched a friend's portrait and shown it to them, there has usually been a certain amount of coldness in our relationship after that. The typical chat conversation often goes like this:

"Hey, I would like to show you something."

"Sure! Go ahead!"

"Here - check this out:

(Silence of a few minutes)

"Hey... did you look at that?"

"Yes I did. Were you trying to sketch me?"

"Well yeah, that was the idea."

"I may look like that ten years later, or if I eat too many pizzas. But I don't look like that now."

"But you recognized yourself, didn't you?"

"That is beside the point. Do I have unequal eyes? Or a double chin? Does my hair look like that?"
"Well, I think if you showed it to some of your friends and asked whose picture it is..."

"Very funny. You have greatly disappointed me."

That was by no means a very objective critical review of my artistic capabilities, but you get the general idea. Besides, objective critics never review my work. But I digress. I was at the Metropolitan museum looking at some works of modern art that are worth millions of dollars, and I suddenly realized where I had gone wrong all these years.

All my paintings were supposed to look like something. My charcoal sketches were supposed to represent real human beings, and therein lies the problem. As soon as you draw something that resembles something real, people start matching your something with the real something and find flaws. Draw something that resembles nothing in the world, and you are perfect by definition. As proof of this concept, I would like to present a few highly acclaimed works of art I saw at the Metropolitan last weekend and at the Guggenheim Museum last month.

Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912–1956)

Enamel on canvas; H. 105, W. 207 in. (266.7 x 525.8 cm)

Attic, 1949

Willem de Kooning (American, born in the Netherlands, 1904–1997)

Oil, enamel, and newspaper transfer on canvas; 61 7/8 x 81 in. (157.2 x 205.7 cm)

Blue Green Red, 1962–63

Ellsworth Kelly (American, born 1923)

Oil on canvas; 91 x 82 in. (231.1 x 208.3 cm)

There are some more: you can take a look at this, this, this, this and this. By now you may have noticed that these paintings do not resemble anything in the real world. At least I, a person who has spent over a quarter of a century residing in the real world cannot recall having come across anybody or anything that these paintings resemble. But more importantly, I can identify with those works of art even if they resemble nothing. I have myself created such works of art many times - in fact every time I have created a painting, I have created one of these as a by-product. Even now, whenever I make a charcoal portrait, something else is automatically born which could be titled thus if I had not thrown it away:

Portrait Rub-off (Number 7), 2009
Sugata Banerji (Indian, born 1981)
Charcoal and graphite on tissue paper; 12 x 12 in. (30.0 x 30.0 cm)
Since that was before I attained enlightenment, I threw all of them away. Coming to think of it, I and my parents must have cumulatively thrown away artwork worth billions if you count the drawings I made since the age of one, and ditto for my sister. As I realise now, if the drawing or other form of art is too abstract, we don't even need a name for it - a name of someone you know, or a name like Great Painting, or even Untitled will do. In fact that last name is quite popular - there are several artworks in the museum titled Untitled.

Modern art is not all about abstract expressionism, of course. Put in simple words, that means I have more than one way to make my millions. If I insist on imitating real world things, there is a much better way to do that than painting them painstakingly or sculpting them out of stone. In my school biology lab, we had an assortment of reptiles and amphibians immersed in formaldehyde solution in glass jars. Alas, if I had had the good sense to pinch one of those jars at that time, I would not have to run after free pizzas today. I did not understand that dead animals in spirit could be considered art but someone else did. Damien Hirst was the person who reeled in a neat fifty thousand pounds for a dead fish with a fancy name.

Damien Hirst's creation "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living", which according to Wikipedia is the iconic work of British art of the 1990s, is literally a dead shark suspended in a transparent tank of formaldehyde. Some rich kindly soul (of the type that part easily with their money) by the name of Charles Saatchi offered to pay him for whatever he wanted to create. I wonder why I never come across such people. Now if someone had promised to pay me for whatever I made, I would have designed a gold statue probably. That's not the modern way of thinking it seems, for this bloke goes and spends 6000 pounds on catching a shark and then hangs it in formaldehyde and calls it art. He pours the extra formaldehyde in some other tanks and puts some sheep and stuff in them an calls them art too. How easier can it get? This is perfect imitation of Nature. Surely even the severest critic can't find flaw with a real shark! The shark was, of course, unaware that he had turned into a work of art and did what a dead shark does best, viz. decomposed. So after a few years the artist caught another shark and replaced the old one with it. The shark community may find this a bit macabre, but the humans seem to approve of it.

So my plan is very simple. I will either turn a painter and express myself through such paintings:

Ugly Color Combination (Number 107), 2009

Sugata Banerji (Indian, born 1981)

Ink-jet printer ink on paper; 6 x 6 in. (15.0 x 15.0 cm)

or get hold of some formaldehyde and produce the most amazing imitations of Nature the world has ever seen. That is why I call it an artful scheme. Or should that word be artsy? Who cares? Soon I will be too rich to blog anyway.


  1. lol! I spent some time in the Cincinnati art museum a while ago and I loved the abstract art.

    I like your ugly color combination too though, so maybe I'm just artistically challenged...

  2. @merablogpadho: I'm not against all forms of abstract art - in fact I love to take abstract photographs, and I did like some of the art in the museum. What I don't understand is when does a plain doodle or ink-spill become an art? And what prevents me from taking something like... say... a pack or Ramen noodles, title it "Student life" or "Untitled" and put it in a museum?

  3. I can't agree more! I think, if something (art, writing, etc etc) does not require hard work, then that is not worth being called something great. Another thing is, if a picture needs a "story" to explain what it is, then I don't care about that picture.
    I really wonder if I let Mota and May dabble with some paint and sell it how much money would that bring in!