Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dollars to Donuts

This oil painting was my contribution to "Currency," the 2009 Art/Word show held at Lasell College in Newton, Mass. In Art/Word productions, artists are invited to choose subject matter (usually in the form of text that the artist may or may not have been written) and illustrate it. So the art is dependent on the text for its fullest meaning. 
I've heard of an artist who works in a resort town here in New England, who claims that if he wants to make sure a painting of his is going to sell, he puts a pear in it. Good for him! But art isn't simply about satisfying the desires of the market. Unless it is.
Not far from my house, where routes 495 and 109 meet, is a bunch of businesses that cater to people out running errands in their cars: Burger King, CVS, Target, Stop & Shop, and more. This is the common landscape of contemporary roadside America. It fascinates me with its vitality and color, and it depresses me with its glaring, fluorescent-lit impersonality. At home in the middle of it all are several brightly-lit Dunkin' Donuts shops.
Dunkin's makes a lot of money selling coffee (and to a lesser degree, donuts) to people around here, yet it's clear to me that Dunkin's is mostly about the anticipation, that oh-boy feeling that something good is coming. As you head towards the orange-and-pink sign, you're thinking all about how great this is going to be. The place will be warm, the smells sweet and pungent, and the decor full of strong but inoffensive colors and graphics; it's a welcome diversion from your regular life. The menu is simple and the service is brisk, barely leaving an impression. Once you've made your purchase, once they've handed you the hot cup and the small white bag containing your cruller, it's time to leave, and then you begin to feel a little let down. You walk back to your car with less of a bounce in your step, because the experience is almost over, and really, you could brew better coffee at home.
Thinking about all this, comparing how much money Dunkin's makes with how much I make, coaxing pictures to life with paint, I decided to make the Dunkin's logo into a work of art. It didn't need to be made into art, or ask to (or agree to), but I did it anyway, taking something mundane and mass-produced and making it fresh and personal.
However, the price I pay for this self-indulgence is that I now own this painting. No big deal, you understand, but it hasn't got any market value. I've heard that wanting to make money is not a good enough reason to be an artist. But, as it takes money to live and to keep producing art, it's not clear to me how the bills are going to get paid otherwise.
That painter with the pear is serving up the coffee and donuts; sounds like he's got the system figured out. Doesn't it?

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