The contemplative woman was taking a long time looking at each painting. Longer than uninterested people usually looked. The artist, Adelaide, wondered what she was thinking. Maybe this one wasn’t pondering the usual, totally unique things that sprang into people’s heads at an art show. Why would anyone paint that? Does it match my couch? Why does it cost so much? How do I sneak out without making a donation? This woman seemed a little more earnest in her art appreciation. Adelaide dared to hope that she might purchase something. Then the opening would skyrocket from bust to success with one red dot sticker peeled from the dollar store sheet and stuck proudly on the tag.
The artist watched the viewer move silently from piece to piece, seemingly drinking in each one as if committing it to memory. There was a mysterious air about the woman. Or was it just that she was so different from most people who attended art shows? There are several types of those. Adelaide, having nothing else to do, worked on classifications.
There are the socializers. They come to gossip, rub elbows, brag about their children who are artists (so thrilling!), and show off their new shoes or hats. They especially like gala openings where the wine is free. They barely glance at the art.
There are the critics. These people generally come with a wide-eyed friend to walk through an exhibit and fill them with all sorts of nonsense about art. These are the people who will check to see that every shadow in the snow or reflection in the water lines up exactly with what is above it. They look at art but do not see it.
There are the ones who pick out the artists’ worst piece as the one they like most, or find the oldest painting in the show and say, “my how you’ve grown. Your style has really advanced.” They see something, at least.
There are the ones who want the frame changed right there at the show. Just switch it with another one of the same size. Then it would match the couch. They only see the whole picture, as it were.
There really are all kinds. You can’t choose who can look at your work, and everyone will see a piece differently. People only see what attracts them in some way. You can’t choose what attracts you, either. Well, that’s what art is all about, I suppose.
Adelaide sighed. Ah, the torture of the small-town circuit.
Eventually, the mysterious woman came over to where Adelaide was sitting, pretending she was comfortable with the fact that three people had shown up to her opening and two had already left. She prepared to be asked how long it took her to paint each piece and wait awkwardly while the lady calculated how much she got paid. Right, if she sold one painting, never mind all of them. That would be fabulous. It would never happen. Don’t forget to subtract the gallery’s 35% commission.
“Your work is beautiful” (Adelaide’s heart soared.) “The detail is wonderful.” (Glory hallelujah.) “Could you paint my cats?” (The long whistle of that cartoon coyote falling off a cliff. Again.)
“Umm…” Does it look like I paint cats? I have 45 pieces here and nary so much as a whisker in any of them. Because I do landscapes.
“You have so much love in your work. It just spills out of them. And my cats are my heart. I really want you to paint them.”
Woah, cat lady. This is getting weird. “I…”
“I’ll pay extra because it’s a commission, of course.”
Helloo, cat lady. Who cares how weird this is. I’m not stupid. “Well, I could try. Uh… how many cats?”
“Two, just my two gorgeous darlings Binkie and Twinkie. They’re so sweet. I love them so much! I have pictures. I can get you a picture to work from.”
“That would be great. It’s very difficult to paint a… a portrait subject unseen. The more pictures the better, and the better the picture the… better.” A desperate attempt to come across as enthusiastic seemed to be challenging Adelaide’s vocabulary.
“I have wonderful pictures! Binkie and Twinkie are so photogenic. So squishy gorgeous! You will love them. They’re my heart. My little sweetiecats!”
“Sure. Sure! I will do my best. Just get me those pictures and I’ll see what I can do.”
It might take a miracle, but Adelaide figured it was worth a try. It was kind of cool that this woman thought an artist could evoke the magic of her everlasting love for Rinkie and Dinkie with paint and a brush. Wasn’t that what art was all about?
The pictures arrived by post the next week. Actually, it was only one picture. A blurry 4 x 6 showing a fuzzy mound with three eyes. Maybe four. That might explain the strange shape on the right. To Adelaide’s artistic dismay, both cats (or the single mound) were black. Uninterrupted, ambiguous black, made completely flat by the poor light in the photo. Shuddering, Adelaide sipped another cup of coffee before she could consider the cats seriously.
This woman’s emotional enthusiasm reminded her of another woman who had bought a painting at a charity auction. Adelaide had opted for a subject with local appeal - a speedboat on a Sunday cruise down the river with the unmistakable hills creating a pleasing composition - when she had prepared a painting for the sale. When the buyer was so excited and rushed over to claim her prize, Adelaide had thought she was going to regale her with stories of picnics and camping trips up and down the river. The classic stuff that was exactly what Adelaide had played upon to get a big price for charity. She had prepared for that.
“I love it.” The woman gushed, oddly emotional. “It makes me so happy. I wonder if you could paint my husband behind the wheel? He died.”
Adelaide had been gobsmacked. Oh no no no. Bad enough she thinks I’ll add to my completed work of art just because she wants me to, but she wants me to resurrect her husband? Oh no no no.
But Adelaide had taken the painting home for two weeks and finally painted a wee man wearing sunglasses and a ball cap behind a steering wheel through the windshield. She even added, with her tiniest brush, the name of the man’s boat. She was doubtful that she had accomplished what the woman wanted, but she had to present it since it was already sold. The woman was overjoyed with her quarter-inch dead husband and whisked off to pay the framer three times as much as the original artwork had cost her.
Adelaide felt she had seen a pig fly. Or had she performed a healing? Really, she should have more faith in her work. That’s what art is all about, isn’t it?
So how bad could it be to paint a couple of bog-standard cats for a woman whose love was so blind she couldn’t see how bad her photo was? At least Tinkie and Stinkie weren’t children. That would be the worst thing to be asked to paint.
Adelaide recalled how a mentor of hers encouraged students to relax and enjoy the painting process in order to maximize their results. He used to say, “paint for your own amusement and amazement.” How she would like to be either one of those while she struggled with Blinkie and Hinkie.
Two weeks and many, many cups of coffee tinted with several colours because of a brush dipped in the wrong container later, Adelaide had a fairly awful rendition of a feline-like mound with three good eyes and a creepy slit. It was an amorphous blob of black, but some parts were pinkish (Pinkie) and some had royal blue undertones (Winkie). There was one good paw with pinprick claws stretching out to the viewer that Adelaide was most pleased with, but altogether she had to admit the work showed a lack of… “love”. She had tried, she really had, but sometimes the paint knows the painter has no inspiration. You can’t call in a miracle.
Adelaide dressed the piece with a matte and stood as far away from it as possible. Nope. No improvement. You are your own worst critic. Except for the owner of the cats. I think you mangled her heart.
Dreading a pity sale, Adelaide dialed the cat woman’s number. “It’s ready.” She paused while the squeal of delight trailed off. “You don’t have to buy it if you don’t like it.”
She loved it. She cried. Her face was radiant with adoration when she looked at it and her knees went so weak she had to sit down. She carried it away like it was a brand new kitten. She was going straight home to show it to Binkie and Twinkie. Her heart.
Wow, Adelaide thought, stunned. She’d done it again.
As much as she had amused herself with the idea of her art being something that could touch people’s souls, she had to admit she was amazed, again, by a glimpse of the power in her own ability. Maybe she couldn’t call in a miracle, but every once in a while she might meet someone who wanted a certain kind of magic so much that a painting of hers could deliver what they desired.
After all, isn’t that what art is all about?