Sunday, June 5, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: The Trash

I keep hearing construction-type noises, thinking the workmen have arrived, and then nothing. I look out my bedroom window and see that new stuff has been surreptitiously added to the dumpster in the driveway.

People who want to raid our dumpster for scrap metal or whatever knock on the door and ask permission, but people who don't want to drive all the way to the dump to get rid of stuff just pull up and start using it.

They throw away weird stuff sometimes, too, stuff I don't understand why they didn't drop it at Goodwill, which is less than a mile away. There's a toy box out there. Somebody dumped a cabinet that somebody else hauled away. An oil painting.

I have no idea whether the oil painting's any good or not. I don't know anything about art. I don't even know what I like. Sometimes I look at a picture and I get some kind of response that isn't fully articulable, which must be what painting is about; sometimes, of course, I get a story; but mostly it's just a picture. The one in our dumpster is some sort of Van Goghesque still life with a vase and sunflowers and an avocado green background, done on a piece of, I think, Masonite. Somebody put a lot of work into it, which is where I start to wonder. How did it go from being somebody's work of art to somebody's piece of trash?

Did the artist throw it out? Is he throwing his dreams out along with it? Or does it represent a side trip of development; a period when he was posing as Van Gogh instead of being who he is? Did he try to turn himself into Van Gogh to please someone who has since let him down and proven impossible to please, dangerous to try to please?

I'm using the generic "he" here. Obviously the artist could be male or female, or intersex, or transgender.

Does the picture represent a piece of himself he wishes to discard? Is art tied so closely to alcoholism or drug use or loneliness or schizophrenia for this person to dare indulge it anymore? I doubt it. The supposed link between creativity and madness and/or self-destructive behavior has always seemed to me to be portrayed backward. Creativity is the healthiest thing a mind can have. Self-destructive behaviors and madness interrupt and weaken it. People who have mental and emotional problems who are also great artists are doing so as much in defiance of their handicap as anyone with cancer or paraplegia or deafness or whatever. But we treat creativity as an abnormal condition in our society, so many people try to cut themselves off from it in an attempt to improve their ability to cope.

In any of the above scenarios, I'd expect to see a stack of dumped pictures, not one. Maybe the artist walked out one day, leaving only this picture behind; and the people walked out on have decided (in anger, or sorrow, or after long soul-searching) to jettison this last trace of him from their lives.

Maybe there was no emotional connection there at all. Maybe he skipped out on his rent, leaving behind all the work he couldn't carry with him, and this is the picture the landlord couldn't sell for love nor money.

Maybe the artist committed suicide and the picture is haunted. (Not likely; no weird phenomena have been noted since it landed in our dumpster. On the other hand, the workmen got no work done to speak of during the week and didn't show up when they were supposed to on Saturday. Hmmm....)

Maybe the picture was painted decades ago (Masonite was invented in 1924, mass-produced in 1929) and given to the child of the artist's best friends, the kid who called her "aunt," who treasured it because of the artist and passed it on to her children, who treasured it for her sake and kept it in the guest room till they died; and then their children, while sorting things for the estate sale, looked blankly at the artist's signature and asked each other: "Who was that? Why did Mom and Dad keep such an ugly painting? Is it maybe worth something?" So they ask the appraiser who says no, it's strictly an amateur work but the frame is good. So they sell it at the estate sale and the buyer takes the picture out and discards it in our dumpster, keeping the frame.

Maybe it was a work-for-hire, sold in a furniture store, and discarded during redecorating. How soul-destroying is it, to know that was the ultimate fate of the work you spent your days and talent churning out?

I wonder what other possibilities would occur to me if I took it out and handled it? None of them sound like a project I care to work on, so I think I'll leave it there. But you're welcome to come poke in our dumpster if you want.

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