Short Circuits

Honestly, I don’t have a creative bone in my body.

I have a friend who recently asked me to do him a favor. Jim, my ‘very, very good friend’ had just purchased a brand new 42” flat screen and needed my help in setting it up. I say ‘very, very good friend’ because he gave me a free TV, his old Sony 32”, which weighed as much as a Panzer 38(t) tank but worked just fine.

Jim has a nerve disorder that limits his legs, arms and hands from operating in a way he’d like them to. He can drive a car, do his own shopping and cook his own meals but his balance and mobility are severely challenged. Little tasks that require dexterity such as screwing in a light bulb or changing a battery are annoyingly impossible. Every six weeks, he drives himself to the hospital a hundred miles away for a blood transfusion.
I’m not an electrician or gadget geek but I can open a box and lift things so I went over and helped him set up the new flat screen. All I really had to do was plug it in, secure it to a console, adjust the viewing distance to his living room recliner and put batteries in the remote. He programmed the rest.
“I don’t know why I got this damn thing,” he said, flipping quickly through the channels. “There’s nothing worthwhile to look at. It’s mostly crap.”
A few weeks later, he ordered another one for his bedroom.

Jim’s interests lie in simple day-to-day retirement living. Nothing complicated. His home is a single level townhouse, clean and uncluttered for easy maneuvering and carpeted throughout to reduce his risk of falling. Even the tiled kitchen floor has bathroom rugs strategically placed to avoid slippage. There are handrails along some of the walls and he can go from one part of the house to another in a few short steps.
He spends much of his time reading, watches cherry-picked TV shows and dabbles around on his computer. His family visits periodically and he has someone who comes in to clean. I visit him every couple of weeks to see how he’s doing. With the flat screen on mute, we’ll sit and talk for several hours about the community, politics, work, religion (in our cases, lack of) and life in general.
I assume he likes his quiet independence but I wonder if he gets bored living this insular life.
“Have you ever thought about doing something creative,” I asked him, flying an ill-thought premise that the physically challenged were looking for something to do. “I’m doing an art show in a couple of weeks which might be fun. Ever try…you know… painting or sculpting? As soon as I said it, I cringed a little.
“I paid a guy to come in here and paint that wall orange,” he smirked, and then added, “Nope, I’ve never really had an interest in creating art, not that I don’t appreciate great works by others. Honestly, I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”

There are a series of art shows that happen a few times a year in the resort communities and local artists and wannabees are encouraged to pony up around a hundred bucks to acquire a space and partake in the humiliation. The show I entered was swarming with art enthusiasts, crafty crafters and bargain hunters. Like a kindergartener’s Parent’s Night, our proud inspirations were arranged on tables and hung about on makeshift screens. Every kind of creation was displayed for the uninspired to critique and then hopefully consume. Candles, jewelry, pottery, soaps, T-shirts, belt buckles, driftwood sculptures, paintings of every kind; all of it spread down a sunny lane of white-tented booths where inside, the artists primped and fawned over their wares. It was hard to tell who the actual artists were, as some seemed to hang back, mixing casually among the customers or slumping in nearby chairs, nonchalantly fake-chatting with friends. It’s a ploy we artists use to protect our egos and red faces. Only when someone lingers more than twenty-four seconds around a piece does the gifted one jump up and act like a used car salesman in order to close a deal and make a buck.

The booth featuring my own clever gems was directly across from a senior women’s group; a gaggle of women painters who seemed strangely comfortable wearing sunflower sunhats and cheerful vests. Slumped in my chair, I watched as they urgently set up their creations on racks and along the front of a long collapsible table. They were very excited and hopeful, praising each effort, large and small original paintings featuring mainly two themes: abstract floral and abstract fish. Our resort community has an insatiable appetite for this look. The ‘beach’ look. Everyone wants art with at least one of these elements portrayed: any kind of exotic flower, any kind of multi-colored fish, any kind of multi-colored sunset, and any kind of these: boats, foamy waves, pelicans, dune landscapes, seahorses, mermaids, cute kids with pails, or any blinding wearable featuring galumphing words such as ‘LIFE’S A BEACH or ‘LIVIN’ THE DREAM!’ splayed across it.
The senior women had this look down, from hackneyed attempts at orange mauve sunsets to exploding green and yellow palm trees. There were some good paintings though, interestingly thought out and competently rendered and quite surprisingly, a couple I could imagine hanging in the Louvre.

My own grid-laden booth displayed non-painted digital prints of local iconic architecture I had created on my computer. To my mind, they were very ‘NOW!’ I had been inspired by the “you’ll sell a million of these” refrain echoing around in my head. “You’ve got to do the art shows down here,” I was told by my supportive friends and family. “This shit will sell like hot cakes!”
By mid-afternoon, the painterly women’s booth was teeming with salivating buyers, humming and hawing over the golden sunflowers brightly slathered in oil and the figurative fish heavily filleted by palette knife.
“That painting of the flying fish?” my friend Frank said, nodding at an over-sized acrylic of what was either a sparkly fish jumping or a giant white-foamed wave cascading. “It’s $400! That’ll never sell.”
Four hours later after sitting in skull peeling heat, we dismantled the booth in relative silence. During the day we had watched the person next to us sell a ton of inexpensive pre-wrapped soaps (a good ‘beachy’ buy), a booth down the way rid themselves of over-priced mobile-art driftwood (good for stoking the old beach bonfire) and a gentleman take possession of the infamous ‘Flying Fish/Cascading Wave’ piece, eagerly handing a check to a befuddled still-life Grandma Van Gogh in Sunflower Hat. Maybe it was the sunstroke, but I swear I saw some guy leave with a painted piece of recycled plywood with ‘I’M A BEACH BUM & LOVIN’ IT’ scrawled on it.
As for my sales, they didn’t come close to what I had laid out for the booth, frames and digital prints.

It’s tricky, the art show circuit. Trying to guess the aesthetic tastes of people and their appreciation of art is an art in itself. I keep forgetting that this is a beach resort and those coming here are looking for three things: the beach, the beach and the beach. It’s not complicated. Perhaps I should play it safe and create something, dare I say it, ‘beachy’. I’m sure I can be inspired if I can find just the right hat.

“How’d the art show go?“ Jim asked me on a later visit.
“Not bad,” I lied. “I might do another one. Maybe. You want to try it too?”
“I probably mentioned this to you before,” he smiled, shifting comfortably back in his recliner, “but I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” There was a moment of silence.
“So, what’s on the set?” I sighed, couching back in my own chair.
“It’s the same old crap. Nothing much to choose from.”
He plucked the remote and proceeded to methodically punch the buttons; each channel quickly skipping by like capricious viewers at a resort town art show.

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