Ars Gratia Artis – at Half a Million Dollars a Pop

Looks like my misgivings about the Delta variant were, unfortunately, well-founded, and over the last three weeks, my continued preference for working from my home office in Great Falls, Virginia has proved as prudent as I originally suspected it would be. Although actually, since I own my office suite in downtown Washington DC, I have been hanging out there, also, and conducting interviews on Zoom, Skype and so forth four or five days a month since the beginning of the pandemic, just for a change of scene. The point is, in both cases, there’s nobody there but me.
That’s because there’s been no need for Gretchen to come in to the office when I do, naturally. The last time I saw her in person at the office was in early March, 2019. And we’ve certainly been as busy as ever, if not more so, in fact, since President Donald Trump got America into this predicament, some eighteen months and six hundred thousand deaths ago. And more to come, apparently, despite the fact that even Kay Ivy, the governor of Alabama, that reddest of Red States, has finally gone public with overt exhortations that everyone there get vaccinated for covid as soon as possible, with several other Red State Republican governors following suit, some more enthusiastically than others, of course, depending on their fear of losing their next primary election for having displeased their party’s Fearless Leader. One would think that would be enough to convince the current majority of Republicans who are holding out to change their minds and get the jab. And one would be wrong, too, I suspect. At last count there were seventy million people in the United States refusing vaccination, the equivalent combined population of twenty-seven states, and there’s no indication that their brainwashing will wear off anytime soon.
And my misgivings about that situation are, despite the fact that Delta is killing and maiming younger and younger victims, and that ninety-nine percent of those people are unvaccinated, we ain’t seen nothing yet. There are twenty-four letters in the Greek alphabet, and the longer legions of ignorant unvaccinated numbskulls run around without masks, the more likely we are to see Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda, Mu, Nu, Xi and all of their subsequent little deviant microscopic protein-coated +ssRNA package pals ravaging humanity, becoming all the more contagious and deadly as they hijack cellular machinery to select ever more evolutionarily successful versions of themselves. Who knows? If those idiots are sufficiently diligent about their asinine antics, by this time next year we may have run out of Greek letters and be facing a plague of truly historical proportions, right up there with the Black Death.
Well, I will admit, my misgivings are occasionally wrong. Not often, but sometimes. I guess if I am here to write a blog entry and you are here to read it in July of 2022, we will know. I certainly intend to be here to confess that my misgivings were mistaken (or not) – after all, I’m vaccinated and I’ve been posting here since 2006.
And despite the fact that June, July and August are the traditional slow season months in Washington, Gretchen and I have been so busy lately we’ve been working six-day weeks, and this Saturday was no exception. I was hoping to knock off at a reasonable hour, but early in the afternoon, I got a call on my private land line. It was Hunter Biden. I explained that I was booked solid with consultations all day until seven in the evening, hoping he might take the hint and ask to schedule something for Monday, but no dice – at five minutes past seven, he called back.

Hunter: Hello, Tom?
Tom: Yes, Hunter, it’s me. How are you?
Hunter: Ah, well, I need some advice.
Tom: You mean, more advice.
Hunter: Yeah, yeah, I know… before the election, Burisma and all that. Uh, can I get another freebie?
Tom: Hunter, my marketing plan offers a single initial consultation free of charge. You’ve had yours.
Hunter: I know, I know… it’s just that your rates are so… steep… and I’m kinda short at the moment… cash flow and stuff… you know how it is, and…
Tom: This from a guy who recently moved into a five million dollar mansion in Venice Beach, California?
Hunter: Well, yeah, that’s just it, see? The rent was twenty-five thousand a month, and I’m a full-time artist now, and the fact is, we moved out in June to some place less… expensive.
Tom: My heart bleeds iced, purple Perrier for you, Hunter.
Hunter: Aw, come on, Tom. I’ll make it up to you – I’ve got this book deal and an exhibition at the Georges Bergès Gallery in New York coming up in October.
Tom: Okay, okay, no charge for this one, either. What’s on your mind?
Hunter: That exhibition, actually.
Tom: You’re… concerned… about it?
Hunter: Uh-huh.
Tom: Really? Why? I mean, the gallery says they’re asking between seventy-five thousand and five-hundred thousand dollars apiece for your paintings. And here you are, an artist who’s never won any awards, never exhibited at a gallery before, I mean, jeepers, Hunter, you haven’t even ever shown your work at a coffee shop, a book store, a community center, a college art fair, a…
Hunter: I didn’t need to.
Tom: Right. Because at the moment, you are the president of the United States’ son.
Hunter: No! No way! That’s not why! That’s not it at all!
Tom: Meaning what?
Hunter: My work is serious, world-class art that stands on its own esthetic merits.
Tom: You’re kidding, right?
Hunter: I am not!
Tom: Oh… kay… let’s take this… incrementally… shall we?
Hunter: Take it any way you want.
Tom: Right. You are aware, I’m sure, that this Georges Bergès fellow is not exactly the most… venerated… gallery operator in the international art world, are you not?
Hunter: Meaning what?
Tom: Well, let’s just look at the facts here. Just a moment… yes… there. Mr. Bergès is the owner of a gallery in New York’s SoHo district and another one in Berlin, Germany.
Hunter: Correct.
Tom: And, also the owner of the Bergès Creative Group.
Hunter: Yeah.
Tom: And, according to Mr. Bergès, the Bergès Creative Group is an “art management” firm which “travels the world looking for artists” he thinks “are overlooked by the traditional power centers in the art world,” artists who capture what he considers “the universal unconscious…”
Hunter: That’s right. That’s what my work does.
Tom: … And according to Dun and Bradstreet, BCG was founded in 2013, is headquartered at 580 Amsterdam Avenue, Apartment 2D, New York, New York, and has an annual revenue of $72,000.
Hunter: $72,000?
Tom: And… let’s see… okay, after five years and six months, a New York City Police patrolman makes $85,292. Big time international art enterprise?
Hunter: Gee, I donno, what are you getting at?
Tom: Have you ever heard of Sheikh Rashid Al Khalifa?
Hunter: Who?
Tom: Another… um… artist… whose work, apparently, also “captures the universal unconscious,” because it has been exhibited, just as yours will be, at the Bergès Gallery. He’s a member of the Bahraini royal family and the current honorary president of the Bahrain Arts Society.
Hunter: So?
Tom: So have you ever had any problems… connecting the dots?
Hunter: No, never. And when I do, the pictures always look like they’re supposed to.
Tom: Which is what?
Hunter: Well, you know – a dog, a boat, a butterfly; whatever the puzzle is.
Tom: Right. How did you get through law school, anyway?
Hunter: My father was a US senator.
Tom: Of course. Okay, so you think, because the Bergès Creative Group discovered your immense talent for revealing the universal unconscious, the fact that your father is now president of the United States has no bearing whatsoever on the prices that you, a completely novice painter, who has never exhibited before, anywhere, are commanding for your works? You honestly believe there’s no connection?
Hunter: Well, nobody can prove it, so it doesn’t matter.
Tom: Spoken like a true lawyer. All right, let’s have a look at some of your works of art, then. Ah, here they are, on the gallery Web site, on a page underneath a very serious-looking black-and-white photo of you, bearded, in your studio, wearing a short-sleeved work shirt, horn rim glasses perched above your forehead, five different bracelets around your wrists, gazing intently at the camera, obviously thinking great, insightful artistic thoughts…
Hunter: Yeah, yeah, I know what it looks like.
Tom: And here, we see “Untitled #1,” which partially depicts what appears to be the outline of a male human form, splattered with marinara sauce and egg yolk, superimposed on a vaguely abstract representation of a mountain landscape in the background.
Hunter: That’s what it looks like to you, maybe.
Tom: I dare say that’s what it looks like to pretty much anyone, Hunter. And here we have “017,” and “019,” which look like slightly abstract depictions of trees in flower, rendered in the style of a stoned middle-school girl doodling in her notebook with a handful of colored sharpies, surrounded by… hmm… what are those, Hunter? Auras? Lightning bolts? Peyote trails?
Hunter: Well, again, that’s your opinion.
Tom: Then there’s “Mother and Daughter (Side A and B),” which appears to be an inept attempt to imitate either… post-blue period Picasso or late Matisse, it’s hard to tell; perhaps both at once? And “St. Thomas,” which looks like what happened after a Jasper Johns humped a Mondrian. Oh, and how about these – “Untitled on Yupo Paper #1” and “Untitled on Yupo Paper #24.” My, my wouldn’t they look just splendid gracing the walls of a medium-price suite at the Georgetown Marriott; maybe on either side of the thirty-two inch 1080i HD television screen? Or perhaps they’d be more appropriate for a proctologist’s waiting room in Reston. And let’s not forget “Untitled #42,” which, I assume, is a bold sortie into the realm of pointillism after… Seurat? Signac? Pissarro? Mortimer Snerd? It’s hard to tell. Some sort of a landscape, is it? Or just another abstract, this time with lots and lots of colored dots? Interesting idea, that – abstract pointillist painting. Obviously execution and complete mastery of pointillist technique would be essential, otherwise it would just look silly, like this thing does.
Hunter: I don’t think you understand art.
Tom: No, unfortunately, I do. Which is why looking at your pictures renders me torn between irrational mirth and intense nausea.
Hunter: Everybody’s entitled to their opinion about what constitutes art, I guess.
Tom: Well, not everybody, actually.
Hunter: Oh yeah? Who isn’t?
Tom: Obscenely rich criminals who want to use art to launder their illegal profits; obscenely rich Silicon Valley philistines after federal regulatory favors; vapid Hollywood liberals with politically correct axes to grind seeking access to the White House; and, naturally, lobbyists for obscenely rich industrialists looking to blackmail your father by purchasing one of your pathetically derivative paint-by-numbers works for half a million dollars, just for example. The list goes on, by the way. There are plenty of others.
Hunter: Dad’s taken care of that. Everything’s going to be secret. Nobody will know who the buyers are.
Tom: Until they announce it to all of their followers on Twitter, or post it on their Facebook page, or maybe just shout it out to the world in a good old-fashioned press release.
Hunter: Why would somebody do that?
Tom: Why not? Maybe they will do it because they’re just rich and spoiled and want the attention. Maybe they’ll do it because they’re idiots who actually believe the absurd hype Mr. Bergès is peddling about your work and want to brag about having one of your masterpieces on a wall in their ostentatious and tastelessly appointed mansion. Or, maybe they’ll do it because they want to embarrass you and your father by purchasing one of your crappy paintings and then subjecting it to scathing public review by well-known art critics whom they have bought off with some additional six-figure chump change. That list goes on, too, Mr. Biden. Want some more?
Hunter: No thanks. What I want is advice about how to spin the negative press I’ve been getting about the exhibition next October.
Tom: So, am I to understand that, even after a serious, objective look at some of your pictures with me, you still sincerely believe that your work is serious, world-class art that stands on its own esthetic merits?
Hunter: Yes.
Tom: Then you sir, are about as far out where the buses don’t run concerning your paintings as Donald Trump is about the 2020 election, and I cannot, morally speaking, offer you any advice that would tend to perpetuate or intensify your fantasies. If word were to get out that I had done so – and given that it’s you I am speaking with, based on your previous displays of dubious judgement, I consider that eventuality practically inevitable – my professional reputation would be totally shot. Consequently, given what is obviously your current state of mind, the only advice I can offer is that you should immediately make an appointment with a qualified mental health professional; preferably one who is not a disciple of Carl Jung.
Hunter: And tell them what?
Tom: That your consultant, Tom Collins, suspects you are suffering from delusions of grandeur.
Hunter: So you’re saying, that if I think my pictures prove I’m an artist, I should go see a shrink?
Tom: And so should anyone who buys your paintings from Mr. Bergès. Unless, of course, they have some ulterior motive for doing so involving either you or your father. Those folks are perfectly sane. Evil, probably, and almost certainly up to no good, but not bat-spit crazy.
Hunter: Like me, you mean?
Tom: Sir, if the bat-spit fits, grin and bear it.
Hunter: Tell my why I shouldn’t hang up on you right now.
Tom: Don’t want to hear my recommendations for a therapist to help you with your obvious mental problems? I know some excellent psychiatrists, and a couple of them are in the Los Angeles area.
Hunter: No thanks. I’m fine. I’m stable.
Tom: And a genius?
Hunter: Right.
Tom: Okay, then, fare thee well, stable genius.
Hunter: What’s that supposed to mean?
Tom: I suggest you Google it.
Hunter: Hmph. Maybe I will. Goodbye!