In Defense of Art

June 20, 2011

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This Friday will mark the debut of a new column, as Princess Kate joins us with her monthly article about the world of art. To get us in the mood, I’m re-running a short story of mine that originally ran on June 18, 2010.

On this particular evening, Sylvester Barnes traded his palette and brushes for a different set of tools. He stopped for a moment to collect his breath, and then swung the maul with all the strength he could muster.  The door resisted the first blow, but when Sylvester’s second blow landed on target, the lock yielded and the door sprung inward.

When Barnes stepped into the gallery, he was tempted to use the maul to smash every single piece of so-called “art” that had found a home in this third-rate gallery.  He’d be ashamed to use any of the statues as door stops and most of the paintings were worse than the garbage kindergartners brought home after a day of finger painting.  Certainly, all of this deserved to be destroyed, but he could not lose focus from the true mission.

Barnes came upon a door marked “Staff Only” and once again presented the maul as his key.  This door, too, allowed him entrance, and he strode into the back room studio.

Upstairs, above the Cherry Tree Gallery, Kailey Bell awoke from her deep slumber.  She was fully awake when Sylvester battered down the second door.  Kailey grabbed the pistol from under her pillow, slipped on her pink bunny slippers and snuck down the stairs.

When she arrived at the foot of the stairs, she saw the intruder plunging a hunting knife into the heart of one of her favorite paintings – Farm Pond By Full Moon.  She gasped with pain, as if the dagger was plunging into her own heart.

The man heard her and wheeled around to face her.  She recognized the man as Sylvester Barnes – an impressionist painter with a massive ego and a miniscule amount of talent.

“It’s for the best,” he shouted.  “These paintings deserve to be put out of their misery.  Moonlit lakes?  A sun setting behind mountains?  A boat adrift in the ocean?  Where’s the substance to this?  Where the creativity?  Where’s the meaning?  I’ve had piles of vomit that were more important to the world than these paintings.

“Get out, Barnes.  If you’re not out the door in ten seconds, you’ll regret it.”

“Regret it?” laughed Barnes derisively.  “What are you going to do – make me hang one of your paintings on my wall?”

Kailey pulled the gun from behind her back and pointed it at Barnes.

“Get out, or I shoot.”

“Kailey, you don’t have the balls. Go ahead, shoot me.”  Barnes laughed again as he lunged at another painting and cut it to shreds with the knife.

Kailey pulled the trigger and was devastated to hear a click as the hammer fell on an empty chamber.

She pulled the trigger again and the click was deafening amid the silence..  Barnes brandished his knife and took a menacing step toward her.  “Stupid girl.  The gun’s not even load –“

His words were cut off in mid-sentence as the hammer hit home on a live chamber.  An instant later, the bullet exited the back of Sylvester Barnes’ head, depositing a chunk of his rather small brain on the back wall.


July 15, 2010

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“And we’ll start the auction with this little box of treasures,” shouted the auctioneer.  He showed off the contents of the box – two small paintings and an assortment of door knobs. 

“Good lord,” muttered James Black.  “Leave it to Ronald Hamilton to squeeze out every last dollar.  Even after he’s dead, the old miser is trying to make a buck by selling his trash.”

“Oh, James, don’t be so critical.  That painting of the mountains looks very pretty.”

Brown snorted.  “You can get the same thing at a garage sale for a few dollars.  The only thing of value in this whole auction is the Shaker furniture.”

“What’ll’ya gimme for this,” asked the auctioneer.  “Do I hear a bid for twenty dollars?”  The auctioneer tried to work his magic on the crowd to elicit a bid, but the crowd remained silent.  The bid dropped to ten dollars, and then to seven.

Meredith Black poked her husband in the ribs.  “Bid on it, James.”

“Seven bucks for that junk?  No way.”

“Do it, James,” she said with a glare.

Black reluctantly bid, to the amusement of his friends and acquaintances in the crowd.  A moment later, he was the winning bidder.  It was the only of the junk lots to get a bid.  The auctioneer gave his best effort, but the bidders were all waiting for the Shaker furniture.

When the furniture went on the block, a buzz went through the crowd.  The items in Hamilton’s collection of furniture were in exceptionally good condition and were expected to fetch top dollar.  The bids came fast and furious, and soon shot above the level James Black was willing to pay.  Black was in a foul mood as they walked back to the truck.

“Hey, Black, you got the bargain of the auction.”  Black turned as saw the laughing figure of Charles Davis.  Davis had picked up a beautiful grandfather clock that James had coveted.

“I happen to like the painting,” retorted Meredith.  “It’s pretty.”

“Pretty,” replied David with a laugh.  “Pretty?  Yeah, that will help its resale value.”

An hour after they arrived home, Meredith Black had found the perfect location for her painting.   “James, could you hang the painting right here,” she asked, pointing to a spot near the window in her office.”

James Black quickly hung the painting and straightened it using his miniature level.

“What about the other painting,” he asked, holding up the paining of some boats.

“That one’s not very cheery at all.  Throw it out.”

“I know,” replied James with a grin.  “I’ll hang it above the toilet.  Hanging crap above the crapper –  get it?”

Meredith rolled her eyes but made no comment.  If letting him hang the dumb painting above the toilet would pull him out of his grumpy mood, it was OK with her.

When Elizabeth Black came to visit her parents over the weekend, Meredith proudly showed off her new mountain scene.

“Dad’s right, of course,” replied Liz, the art appraiser.  “Garage sale quality.”

“But it’s so pretty,” replied her mother.

“If it makes you happy, you should definitely hang it,” agreed Liz.  “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I’m quite partial to Norman Rockwell myself, in spite of the snide remarks of my colleagues.”

During supper that night, Elizabeth excused herself from the table to use the bathroom.  When she returned, she had a question for her parents.

“Have you contacted the MH de Young Museum about their missing painting?”

“Huh?” came the reply from her father.  “That worthless mountain thing?”

“No, that $200,000 masterpiece you have hanging so beautifully above the toilet.  It’s Van de Velde’s Harbor Scene – stolen from the museum in 1978.”



Note: Willem van De Velde’s Harbor Scene actually was stolen from the MH de Young Museum in San Francisco in 1978. If you happen to stumble across it at an auction, give them a call!