Art, I believe, is similar to love and war. Why? Simple. All is fair in love and war, no? Well, so is in art.
Firstly, people have different opinions on what can be constituted as an art. Try walking into any gallery and I’m certain you’ll run into at least one object or installation project that you just fail to recognize as an art. Yet it’s displayed there, surely someone else has looked and determined it as an art object worthy for the world to see. Fair, right?
Then, after everybody has agreed that something is an eligible art object, there’s the whole business of assessing its value. It really is a business with artists and the whole army of art dealers, gallery owners and auction houses inter-related in comparing objects, gauging market’s appreciation and coming up with a price tag they’re all happy with. Still fair? Well…
A while ago on our way back from lunch my colleague Shima and I passed an office building’s hall that’s having an exhibition. A particular painting caught me dead in track.
It’s an 80 X 80cm of a big yellow cat on a clear blue background. Nothing else on the canvas besides the cat and those two striking colors. The cat holds a particular bathing position with rear legs stretched up midair, but its head turned to the other direction and its blue eyes fixated, as if someone called while it’s licking its legs. It’s an uncommon pose to be captured in pictures or paintings, but a natural one any cat lover would recognize.
The asking price wasn’t beyond my means, but much beyond anything I’d ever paid for art object. And I’d never bought a painting before. I kept coming back to inspect it until Shima threatened to declare me cheapskate for the rest of my life if I didn’t wind up buying it. But how was I going to bridge the price? Bargain it down? Based on what?
At the last day of the exhibition I walked up to the staff and asked point blank if I could bargain the price — half off. I couldn’t find any benchmark so I just picked the number I could splurge that month. The staff seemed obviously shocked, but she regained her composure quickly and dialed a number. It was the painter on the other line.
There was a dead silence after I repeated my question to him. But then he asked why I found his work interesting. I explained to him about the pose, and how striking the yellow-blue combination was.
There was another silence before he finally told me that if he really had to start selling his work in that new low nominal level, he might as well sell it to a fellow cat lover.
I sensed another kind of excitement as I came home carrying the painting. Not just for the virgin purchase factor, but there was another emotion—like I’d won something. Felt even better than grabbing the only size 7 black croc Manolos in the frenzied Nordstrom’s annual shoe sale. A few other women would own the same coveted shoes, bought at higher prices, but that cat was all and only mine to have. I hung it on the wall and named it Baby Pussycat.
A month afterwards I walked past another exhibition after a job interview and saw a rose painting that arrested my sight and halted my step. I was afraid I’d be tempted to splurge on another one, so I told myself if the company called for further interview I’d inspect the painting more thoroughly.
The company did, so I did return to the painting. It’s a stunning enormous yellow rose over dark greenish brown background, with thick layers of petals bigger than my face. The color combination was so contrast it was as if the rose was about to pop. Larger than Baby Pussycat, and more expensive. I told Shima, and she stopped blinking for three seconds before declaring me insane.
Maybe I was. I went back at the last day, and shocked another poor staff again by my bargain. I finally got it, not half off but still significantly lower, after I made the lady painter laughed when I said that since men had long forgotten the courtesy of sending me roses, I’d better just get one myself.
I hung it on another wall and called it.. Rosé. Pardon my French.
And oh, oh, the same sense of excitement filled me up again! Now I’m sure what it is. It’s that feeling of discovering something unique and hopelessly falling for it, then realizing that you can actually acquire it by offering all that you can give fairly.
Sounds like love?
See, didn’t I tell ya. Art is just like love. And all is fair in love and art.
This article is originally published in the Jakarta Post.