A close friend of mine is a very talented painter who often displays his art. Friends support their friends, right? Unfortunately, being a friend doesn’t automatically equate to being a fan. I’m overjoyed his art exists and I think the world would be poorer without it. I just don't want to see it hanging in my living room. Recently, he politely asked if I'd like to purchase any of his pieces. Caught off-guard – and not wanting to offend – I bought one. I didn't have enough cash on me to pay his discounted price, so I still owe $80. When I see him next week, I’ll probably simply give him what I owe and take this as a life lesson. But a part of me wants to hand back the painting and come clean about not being his No. 1 fan. Should I?
Maybe you should bump him off. That way you get to keep the $80 and the value of your painting will probably go through the roof.
Just kidding. Man, I love Canadians. Or maybe it’s decent, soft-hearted people in general. It seems like you can get them to do, or buy, or lend you almost anything if you just push the right buttons and/or ask them nicely.
Decent, soft-hearted person (DSP): “This is a nice painting.”
Artist: “Yes, I was experimenting with a new type of extra-quick brush stroke because it was so cold in my studio after they cut off the heat … This piece is actually for sale if you’re interested. Would you like to buy it?”
DSP: “Uh …okay.”
Me, I’m a cold-hearted bastard, more or less impervious to appeals to my “guilt” or “charity” bones. However, I’m married to a real softie. Therefore, we have not only art by friends, but art by kids (I draw the line at art by kids of friends or friends of kids) adorning our walls, so I can understand where you’re coming from.
The good news: It is not necessarily the acme of good taste, so I’ve heard, to have only tasteful things.
The acme of good taste, according to those who claim to be in the know about such matters and clearly spend a lot of time thinking about them, is to have a house mostly full of tasteful things, but also to have a few tacky pieces that you’ve obviously kept strictly for their sentimental value – to show you have “heart.”
I’ve even heard these same taste arbiters say that if you don’t have one or two of these types of pieces, you should buy something horrible just to make it seem like you have something you’re hanging on to for (faux) sentimental reasons.
But you, sir, don’t have to fake sentimentality: You really are a softie (cough cough sucker cough cough), apparently. And your house can take it.
Now, the question of how much, or even whether, one should encourage someone of minimal talent is moot here – I suppose. I mean, you say he’s “very talented,” but … you’ve heard the saying “damn with faint praise,” right? You’ve sent this guy to Faint Praise Hell.
Or maybe it’s Empty Phrase Hell: “I’m overjoyed his art exists … the world would be poorer without it … I just don't want to see it hanging in my living room.”
I’d rather be told my stuff stinks. “Dave’s phrases are so pregnant with meaning I can feel them kicking … he utters verbiage so eloquent it’s like a new day dawning for humanity… I just can’t bring myself to read anything he writes.”
Sure, it’s painful. It’s like a knife in the gut. But if our work sucks, we “content creators” prefer our criticisms straight, no chaser, and certainly not enveloped in a cotton-candy-like coating of fake praise.
Unfortunately, in your case, it’s too late for that now that you’ve filled the air with praise mist and bought one of his pieces.
More bad news: I’d say you have to display the piece fairly prominently, should he or any of your mutual acquaintances happen to come over.
It doesn’t have to be right in the foyer, mind you. But no hanging it facing the wall next to the boiler in the basement, either.
Look at it this way: $80 is a small price to pay if it causes you to button your flap, henceforward, vis-à-vis art and stop uttering hollow sentiments re: friends’ stuff.
Because, uh, yeah, now that you’ve agreed to buy his art work, I would have to say, as a responsible advice columnist, that stiffing him, attempting to return his painting, and “coming clean” with your feelings about his work probably isn’t kosher/cricket.
You have to pay him the $80 you owe him. I’m sorry to use this word – I don’t think I’ve used it before in this space – but it just may be called for here: Duh!
David Eddie is an author of Damage Control, the book.
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