During the opening reception for The Descent Of Man, I was approached by a man I didn’t know. He was a tall, well dressed, older man, and he was there with his family; a wife and two kids. Along with his wife, he came up to me and asked if I was the artist. I was. He went on to compliment me on the Family print, and it sounded like he wanted to buy it. And he kinda did, but not. He explained that they both really liked the print, but well, he had two children, and my print only had one. He wanted me to make him a version of the print “just like that one, but with two children”. I hesitated slightly, but I took his card and led him to believe that I would indeed create this print for him. And at that moment, I guess I was just flattered that he liked it enough to pay me for it, and I felt ok about doing a commissioned print. Hell, I’ve done commissions before and I have absolutely no problem with that, as long as the circumstances are right.
It didn’t take long for me to change my mind. As soon as I started to give it any thought, it felt wrong. See, despite the relatively generic depiction of the family, that image represents a pretty deep collection of negativity and sadness that clearly meant nothing to this man. Not only did it mean nothing, but he had no clue it existed. The only part of that print that means anything is the space between the child and each parent. Sure, it’s subtle, but it’s not that fuckin’ subtle. Not much of my work is, especially the stuff in this show. Now I felt insulted. He looked at that print that holds genuine meaning to me, and he saw a cute little family picture. It was a meaningless wall decoration that he would have bought from Walmart as long as it had two kids in it. No way could I make this print for him.
But, wait a minute… he was offering me money in exchange for my art. That’s good, right? That’s what I want, isn’t it? I’ve done tons of meaningless art in exchange for money for clients like Temple, Penn, rock bands, and whatever other random folks I’ve designed things for. There’s nothing wrong with “commercial art”. So I should be able to look at this as just another freelance job where I’m creating what the client wants in exchange for some cash. I have expenses after all. I have a kid, an apartment, an iPhone bill, internet, gas, food, PS3 games… tons of shit I need to pay for. I’m pretty poor, so it’s not exactly wise to turn down an honest dollar when the opportunity presents itself. He called me about a week and a half after the opening to check on the progress of the print. I told him I’d get back to him soon.
Well, eventually I did get back to him. I explained that I wouldn’t be able to make the print. Without getting too detailed, I told him that I’d given it a lot of thought and that I just wouldn’t feel right doing it. I told him that I would feel like a sell-out. I’m almost certain he had no clue what the frig I was talking about, but he was polite and accepted my decision. In the end I have my integrity intact, and a huge gap in my bank account.
Will all this street cred do a damn thing for me? Absolutely not.