A reader writes, apropos of my recent here that younger New Yorkers don’t seem to be collecting affordable serious art:
When I go to people’s houses, I routinely have to drool at the art on the walls, and if there’s not real art, there’s really nice posters and reproductions. See, baby boomers and Gen-Xers who are science fiction/fantasy or comics fans routinely have inexpensive high-quality art on their walls, as
well as sketches by the famous tucked away in various places. I’m not an especially huge art collector and I’m not making much, but I have the following in my collection: (1) A painted cover layout by Jack Gaughan. (2) Two sketches by Hannes Bok (I paid too much for these, frankly). (3) Six pages of sketches by Phil Foglio. (He gives out his old scratch paper for free at conventions. We like.) (4) A quick-sketched portrait by Mark Wallace (“William Blackfox”). (5) A drawing by Matt Roach. I’ve also got five paintings by lesser-known folks and a ton of laser prints. Oh, and I’ve been known to buy animation cels and artwork as gifts for others.
I could easily pick up a really good cover painting for 500-1000 dollars if I attended the right science fiction conventions, but frankly, I don’t have enough space on my wall and my apartment has this little thing called rent. But lots of fans make lots more money than I do, and they buy. A lot. Most fans have more art stuck away somewhere in the house than on the walls, and there’s plenty on the walls. But every convention features an art show, with work by the most revered professionals cheek-by-jowl with rank beginners. A lot of stuff is clumsy, and some of the stuff with good technique is too pretty-pretty or too dark or too interested in showing large expanses of female flesh. But there’s a lot of good and interesting stuff out there.
Shh! Don’t tell anybody!
Pop quiz: What do you think my reaction to this letter was?
If your answer was (A) amused snobbery, you are sooooo wrong. One of my most prized pieces of art is an original cel setup (animation cel plus background painting) from The Cat Concerto, an Oscar-winning Tom & Jerry cartoon. It shows Jerry Mouse scampering up a piano keyboard, a vexed expression on his face. I love animated cartoons, and I think they’re art, too, the same way I think All About Eve is art–that much, and no more. That’s the reason why my Tom & Jerry cel setup is hung in my office, but my John Marin etching is hung in my living room.
To quote from the preface to A Terry Teachout Reader, out next spring from Yale University Press: “Just as city dwellers can’t understand what it meant for the residents of a rural town to wake up one day and find themselves within driving distance of a Wal-Mart, so are they incapable of properly appreciating the true significance of middlebrow culture. For all its flaws, it nurtured at least two generations’ worth of Americans who, like me, went on to become full-fledged highbrows–but highbrows who, while accepting the existence of a hierarchy of values in art, never lost sight of the value of popular culture.”
The point being that it’s absolutely O.K. to like both John Marin and Tom & Jerry, so long as you know that there’s a big difference between them, and that one is better than the other. Which ought to be needless to say…but we all know it isn’t anymore, don’t we?