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Kenny's Parables: The Cubist Rhino
The Story of Three Artists
Three painters, Tom, Dick and Harry, good artists, painted for love of the work, and painted wonderful pictures. But they couldn't sell any of their pieces. They were not good at selling their paintings as they were at painting them. They kept painting for a year, producing a great body of work.
Tom, who explored cubism, had a private income, and could continue to invest money, time and energy. He continued to paint for a year. Then he took stock of the situation. He had ten paintings, mostly good ones. The best painting he had done was that of a rhinoceros. But nobody bought it.
Dick, married and with one child, not well-to-do, gave up after a year. He had to make a living and he was spending money instead of making it. He became a commercial illustrator and he hung some of his paintings on his walls, gifted others to friends and relatives, and stored the rest of them in his attic.
Harry wasn't as good an artist as the other two, but managed to sell one painting to a baroness who happened to take a fancy to a portrait that reminded her of a long lost friend. After that, there was no stopping Harry. The baroness's friends and relatives bought Harry's paintings, mostly portraits, for many reasons. Some just bought them because they were in vogue that season. He married a famous sculptress, and lived happily ever after.
After five years, Tom, who was the best artist of the lot, took to drink. He resented Harry's success, as he felt it unfair that a lesser artist should taste the success that eluded a deserving one like himself. Harry must have slept with the baroness to effect that sale, he thought.
One particularly bad day, after a bottle of fine whiskey, he visited Harry's studio. Harry was talking to another visitor, a suited man who looked like a banker. Dick happened to be there too.
The suited man turned out to be an art dealer. At Harry's compulsion, he agreed to take a look at the work produced by the other two.
Dick's work, better than Harry's but not as good as Tom's, artistically speaking, he thought had a chance. He advised Dick to paint landscapes or flowers, since most interior decorators used them. Dick chose to do landscapes, as painting flowers made him feel nauseous. He promised to give the dealer two landscapes in a month.
When the dealer visited Tom's studio, he was amazed; he loved the cubist rhino. Tom told him bitterly that the rhino had been rejected by all he had tried to sell it to. He was planning to burn it that night, he said. And kill himself. He said he had only his art; he had no luck, and no rich friends. He knew that he was good but the world did not deserve him.
The dealer waited for Tom's outburst to stop. Then he spoke:
"Harry was lucky, luckier than you two, as regards selling paintings. Dick will do fine, in a matter of months. I shall see to that. You, when you lot started out, were the luckiest. You are the best artist of the three, and you had the money and time, and no family distractions. Even now, you are the luckiest. You haven't lost your skill, remained single, and retained most of your money.
You can do one of three things.
One, you can go study the market, find out what sells where, and produce work that sells, keeping your Rhino on your wall for the time that is right for it to make its entry. You just need a key to open up a market. Find another key. A key of gold won't open even a lock of iron if it doesn't fit.
My ten years of experience in this field has taught me that the quality of the piece is only half the qualification for it to sell. You can't sell a gem, however precious it is, to a starving man on a desert island. You can't sell a cake, however delicious it is, to a jeweller whose tastes lie elsewhere. Give the cake to the starving man and the gem to the jeweller. Spend time making gems for the jeweller and baking cakes for the starving man. You waste time lashing out at the bakers and gem makers who happened to be lucky or clever.
The second thing you can do is to hold your own exhibition. You know the worth of your art; now you have to allow the public at large to realize it. Once it starts to sell, dealers and patrons will come without invitation.
The last option is the laziest option: wallow in self-pity and attack any help that dares approach you. Blame everybody and sit on your ...chair. Or give up art.
I know many successful artists. They are those who took responsibility and faced adversity head on. I know many who failed. They were either those who waited to be discovered, or those who stopped doing what they were supposed to be doing and kept doing what they were not. Successful artists speak and listen. If you speak responsibly and listen with commitment, you will be successful at anything.
Take my advice or leave it."
In just two years, Tom was a much sought-after celebrity. His name led all the rest. And his masterpiece, 'The Rhinoceros,' made it to the National Gallery.
© 2014 Ashok Rajagopalan