There’s tons of this stuff out there and it’s cheap. Who knew?
Another major national department store chain (hint: name rhymes with “market,” well, sort of) proudly proclaims itself a “great source for work by unknown artist.” A perusal of their online offerings reveals a richness of “framed wall art,” works by “unknown” liberally mixed with reproductions of paintings by arguably better-known artists, the likes of Klimt, Van Gogh and Monet—who seems a perennial favorite at these venues (his use of a pastel palette is so accommodating to a range of upholstery fabrics.)
Unknown’s subjects tend to Parisian cafés and rain-slicked boulevards, young lovers huddled under umbrellas, their heads canted intimately inward to exchange a kiss or a secret, Venetian canal boats and the like.
There are standouts in unknown’s oeuvre. The giant cutlery—forks, spoons and spatulas in your choice of wood, silver or gold toned, even nicely antiqued shabby chic—have the bold panache of pop art classics.
Who doesn’t love a giant fork! And if you hang yours in the living room or foyer, rather than kitchen or dining room, as suggested, it’s ironic.
These stores also offer many works attributed to “various,” schools of aesthetically similar (if not identical) unknowns who churn out “hand-crafted” original oil paintings. One such work, “Evening’s Delight in Paris,” is lauded by online reviewers for the “artist’s attention to detail, brush strokes and color.”
I imagine the artist known at "unknown" out holiday shopping with a friend. She flips through a stack of paintings in a cavernous warehouse store, finds “Italy at Dusk” and excitedly waves her friend over.
This one’s mine, she says, pride clutching her throat, if you stand back, you can see where I hid my initials in the sunset. They back up to a display of holiday-themed dishtowels and oven mitts, tilt their heads, and squint.
I see it, her friend squeals. She sets the painting in her cart. I’m so proud of you.
As a philosophical aside, I wonder whether it is better, more satisfying, to retain the pure anonymity of the moniker “unknown” or to be associated with others under the “various” banner. Is there camaraderie and comfort in the association? Is it considered a step up, or down, the art ladder? Is there a support group, an Unknown Artists Anonymous, where in the safety of a church basement or library meeting room, these mysterious artists can lower the mask and share their challenges and frustrations with others who have walked in their shoes?
Do they return from a mind, back and finger numbing day at the art factory with nothing left to give their own art, if that spark even remains. Is the creative drive that pushed them to pursue a career in art fast becoming a memory, a wistful, long-ago dream from back in art school days, before the need to pay off student loans and all the other mundane details of life took over.
The next time a dinner guest narrows their eyes at the painting over your mantle and begins the familiar litany of questions--is the artist famous, is he or she somebody I would know, does he exhibit, is she with a gallery--don’t prevaricate, don’t blush or stammer excuses. Stand up tall, brandish your hand through the air and respond, oh no, the artist is unknown.
Next week's post will explore the double anonymity of the animal artist.