Back in July of 2005, I spent a month in Florence, Italy to attend art school and live the Bohemian dream. My average day started with a Renaissance drawing class, complete with a break at the local bakery for a café Americano and pastry. After class, either I stopped at an eatery to spend a mere two Euro on a panini (how I miss the ignorance of the exchange rate) or at the grocer for food to prepare a meal in my apartment by the Duomo. After lunch, yawn, it was naptime. A couple hours later, stretch, I’d wake up and head outside to wander around, take in the sights, sketch, and shop. Sometimes I would go back to the art studio to work. When evening rolled around, I connected with my mates for dinner, conversation, and possibly a concert, museum visit, or whatever else struck our fancy. Those were the days. How I yearn for the carefree lifestyle of the unfettered yet dedicated artist.
Being on a tight budget, I was quite frugal with my money. I couldn’t resist, though, the opportunity to purchase made-to-order plaster casts from the school’s sculpting instructor. I selected a skull, as well as a wall-mount head of St. Jerome. I thought 90 Euro was a great deal for the two, considering I didn’t have to pay for shipping or sales tax. Never mind that the U.S. equivalent was about $150. Every bona fide artist has a plaster cast to use for academic study.
I couldn’t risk my acquisitions getting damaged, so I wrapped them in towels in my carry-on luggage when the time came to return to the States and, alas, to the responsibilities awaiting me there. Unfortunately, that required me to check an extra piece of luggage, costing me 75 euro for exceeding my baggage limit. Okay, the casts weren’t quite so economical anymore, but there was no turning back.
After a peculiar request from security to see the contents of my bag, I sat down to await boarding. Our flight ended up being delayed several hours due to an impromptu air traffic controller strike. I noticed that the work ethic was a bit more lax than in other countries. That was in stark comparison to Germany, most definitely; we missed our connecting flight when we arrived in Dusseldorf. They didn’t give a scheiße that it wasn’t our fault we were late. Germans are on time no matter what, verdammt! I was stuck there for the night, because the next flight to New York wasn’t until the following morning. Frick!
Looking every bit the peace-loving artist in my hand-made, ankle-length flowing, purple skirt, I arrived at the airport after my complimentary stay and meal at the airport hotel. That was nice of them, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they hit Italy up for the tab. I lugged my bag onto the conveyor belt, and moments later an irascible security guard picked up my carry-on. With a guttural demand he indicated for me to follow him off to the side wall, away from the screening area. He dropped the bag onto a table and tersely ordered me to open it. “They are plaster ca . . . “. I couldn’t even finish my explanation as he barked like a German Shepard, “Pull them out!”
Okay! Jeepers. I even had to remove the casts from their terry-cloth cocoons to prove to him that I wasn’t smuggling something, or whatever he suspected from this yoga-loving hippy. What up? I even listen to Dylan, damn it! And what gives with the harsh treatment of one of his sisters-in-Deutch? (I’m only half German, but it’s a matter of principle.) At least he yelled at me in my native language. How magnanimous of him. The thought did cross my mind that I got a teensy taste right then for what the Jews had to endure. On top of everything else, dealing with those Nazis must have been one serious slice of Hell. I know, that is sick and wrong of me to contemplate. However, those German guards are scary mean, even the ones who don’t pack heat. American cops lose street cred when they use Segways to troll their beat. Put a legion of Germans on them and they’d be fit to blitzkrieg Poland. I’m just saying. Anyway, he was mollified (relatively speaking) after he confirmed what I tried to tell him in the first place. Really, how many terrorists dress like gypsies? I was a bit insulted. Did I get an apology? Nein!
I all but forgot the shoddy treatment when I boarded the plane, as I was treated to the luxury amenities of a business flight. I got to stretch my legs, nosh on warm nuts, and wash them down with red wine in an actual glass. I stretched my legs and ate a hot lunch while I watched a movie on a personal television. I reclined to my heart’s content when I wanted to sleep.
My stopover in New York meant that I was required to abandon that sweet ride. I had to go through airport security again in order to change planes. As I went through the same rigmarole, I was emotionally prepared this time and gave the attendants an unsolicited description of what I was carrying. They started laughing as my luggage made its way through the x-ray. I walked through the sensor as I offered to show them the contents, “I can open my bag and remoooo-holy SHIT!” The screen showed what could easily be mistaken for two severed heads suspended in some morbid aqueous humor. No wonder. Although, I doubt traveling executioners are all the rage. If they exist, they wouldn’t be carrying their spoils, and they certainly wouldn’t go through a German airport with them. Still, Occam’s Razor should have been poking Herr Wachmann in the back when he was treating me as if I were channeling Izzy Borden. Ugh, whatever. I shared the laugh as I offered again to prove that I wasn’t an axe murderer. They assured me that it was okay and I could go through to my gate.
Is there a moral to this story? Well, there is a possible inference that serial killing is a more accepted practice in the good ole US of A. More importantly, when traveling abroad, there are other costs to consider than actual hard dollars expended:
One panini: $3.60 U.S.
Two artistic plaster casts: $150 U.S.
Penalty for exceeding baggage limit: $135 U.S.
The experience of being mistaken for a jet-setting psychopath: Priceless
Who doesn’t know Bob Ross—the inordinately hirsute art instructor and television personality? His half-hour program, The Joy of Painting, aired from 1983 to 1994, and brought the creation of decorative art into millions of homes around the world.
Don’t get me wrong by my sarcastic pun of the title—Bob Ross had a significant influence on the art world. He discovered and shared a way to make painting accessible and inviting to those normally daunted by the idea of picking up a brush and applying it to canvas. He made it fun and leisurely, and sparked creativity in children who happened to catch his program on public television, including yours truly. He was also philanthropic; he donated his programs and paintings to public stations, and made his living only from the sale of his books and instructional videos. He can’t be faulted for that, right? Of course he can!
First off, I must point out the obvious: What was UP with that frizzy ‘fro, and why so much of it? To top it off, it was a perfect sphere around his skull, like a halo in a medieval painting. How was hair that unruly cut in such a way that every last coiling strand was tucked into a pristine bubble? It was like Mr. Miyagi went all bonsai tree on him every time before the cameras started rolling. Was that beard a continuation of the mop growing from his scalp? It was like he bought it by the yard and wrapped his head and face in it like a keffiyeh.
Bleh. I just got bitch-slapped by an annoying thing called my conscience. I logged in fully intending on ripping this poor guy to shreds until only a pile of viscera and fringe was left in my wake. I just can’t do it, for the simple reason that this guy was just too darn nice. Besides the aforementioned generosity, he clearly made a career out of doing something that he loved. Plus, he worked up until the year before his untimely death—of cancer, no less. Why did it have to be cancer? Bah! Grabbing onto his nappy coif and dragging him through the mud just would not be sporting. I might as well kick a terminally ill child’s puppy while I’m at it. Dammit. Blast you, Bob!
So, I am left with going gentler on his legacy. I’ll try to still make it fun.
Even as a kid, I noticed the preponderance of pine trees in his paintings. It seemed like everything had a pine tree. If you don’t believe me, here are a few examples:
They moved to the right. Those sneaky bastards.
And they mated and multiplied. Horny rascals.
There is more evidence, but frankly, I was getting annoyed uploading these photos and positioning them. They aren’t in every painting, but they are in a lot of them. A lot. Plus, he painted them the same way. He scooped up paint with his palette knife, made a line on the canvas to suggest the trunk, then took a dark green mixture (probably ivory black and phthalo green) on his brush and whoosh whoosh whoosh, painted the foliage by smashing the brush in alternating angles down said trunk. It was difficult for this method to not be singed into the viewer’s memory, because he did it so often. What does this mountainous landscape need? A pine tree! How can I make this river scene idealic? A pine tree, of course! What shall I do to round out this galactic tableau? Whoosh whoosh whoo . . . okay, that probably didn’t happen. I think I’ve made my point with this one and can conclude that the dude really dug pine trees. I’m partial to painting skulls, knives, and droplets of blood in my pieces, but as Bob would always say, “It is your world.”
While an art student, I posed the following question to some of the faculty: Would Bob Ross do well in their class? Every time, I got a resounding “no”. It turns out that Mr. Ross’s mane got tangled in the craw of many professional artists, and was apparently keeping Thomas Kinkade company (that’s a different post and I refuse to pull punches). Why the animosity? Because, he made it too easy. Basically, he took the art out of art, or more to the point, he removed the mystery. How can artists who devote their lives to their craft have it be reduced to such simplicity? They spend months on each piece, laying their emotions bare on the canvas, to only have it trivialized by one man, albeit a well-intentioned one. I admit, as an artist myself, I find the argument compelling. Painting is an extremely difficult undertaking, and takes years to master, if at all. The greatest artists don’t necessarily rest on their laurels; even Rembrandt felt like he still had much to learn. I, along with many others, have spent years and thousands of dollars on an education to achieve the goal of creating lasting works. Truth-be-told, I don’t care to have my passion rendered inconsequential by some hack. There, I said it.
Excuse me while I spit out the sour grapes. PLORK! Okay, I’m over myself. While it is uncomfortable to dilute contempt that positions our egos on a high horse, it is the magnanimous thing to do. While the quality of his art is questionable, I must credit him for starting me on the artistic journey I will be on until the end of my days.
Thomas Kinkade is a whole different story. He’ll reap the whirlwind once I decide to critique him.