Thursday, July 03, 2008


Say hello to Shane, Art Conoisseur.

That's right, I'm one step away from the prententious elite: I have purchased A Work Of Fine Art. I'd better start trying to stomach wine and cheese, as I'm now one turtleneck away from joining the ranks of high society.

I've always struggled with my appreciation of art. As a life-long audiophile, I've always held a deep and substantive appreciation for recorded music. You name the album, I can likely talk your ear off for a half hour as to why it's either (a) an historically under-appreciated yet vital addition to one's record collection (see: a-ha's "Scoundrel Days,") or (b) $13.99 better spent on dog feces (see: Dion, Celine.) My opinions on music are well-reasoned, well-researched, and incredibly elitist.

Visual art, on the other hand, flies over my head on a constant basis and leaves me creatively cold. I've been to a handful of art museums, and I always leave with the same thought in my head: "Hmpf." I can stare at a painting -- even a classic one that's garnered centuries of critical acclaim and fan worship, and not have one iota of appreciation for the thing. As far as I'm concerned, Grant Woods turned pretty Iowa cornfields into ugly, bulbous cartoons. Picasso drew doodles like a child. Andy Warhol photocopied soup cans and colored them in like a Paint-By-Numbers book. The Mona Lisa? That's one ugly chick.

I can understand music. I've been around bands, I know what it takes to play an instrument and write a song. If given enough time, I might be able to do it myself. But even if I were handed the infinite amount of canvas, brushes, and time, I could never paint a realistic (or even surrealistic) bowl of fruit. It's voodoo magic to me.

As a result, my sense of home decor has been lacking throughout history:

THE EARLY YEARS: Ahh, when life was easy and the artistic essence of my soul could best be captured via posters of baby cougars and assorted wee fuzzy nature. This would be evenly tempered by the other side of my room, clad floor to ceiling in Stormtroopers and Imperial Battle Cruisers. Nothing used to rule harder than animals and Star Wars.

THE NERD YEARS: Yes, junior high, when Star Wars was joined by its nerdtastic counterpoint, Dungeons & Dragons. Orcs, wizards, and paladin rangers adorned my walls, while my bookshelf held the latest and greatest in decorative ninja weaponry. And the coup de grace? Over my Apple IIe computer hung a poster... of an Apple IIe computer. It's a wonder how I ever developed ANY social skills whatsoever.

THE ROCK & ROLL YEARS: It didn't take long to realize that, despite it being super sweet, girls just didn't seem to appreciate my replica Scimitar of +2 Undead Resistance. Besides, who needed a warlock on their walls when I had the Gods of Rock to look up to? From then on, my interior decorating skills resembled your average issue of Rolling Stone. Even in college, the first thing to grace the walls of my dorm was a beat-up picture of Pete Townshend, post-gig, looking quite serene while blood drips from his guitar-string-mauled hand. It said it all, really. Rock & roll is pain. Rock & roll is life. Life is pain. And I am one dangerous dude. Ergo, you should date me.

ADULTHOOD: It really kinda stinks that, as a proper adult, you're too old to be hanging up Radiohead posters with well-used gobs of Fun-Tak. Honestly, I'm still that same music geek -- and under my bed, you'll find about 20 rolls of band posters that nowadays serve as little more than Habitrails for dust bunnies. A while back, though, I realized that an autographed CD + a cheap frame makes for an acceptable collectable, which explains the 24 frames hanging in my living room today. I had no eye for anything else -- until two years ago.

I was returning from a vacation in Florida when we rolled in to Charleston, SC in the wee hours of the night. Hoping to scope out some family friendly culture (in the form of cute girls and dance clubs,) my friend and I got out and wandered around the downtown area. That's when we stumbled upon it. A small, unassuming art gallery housing the work of a local Charleston photographer. I peered inside. On the walls hung image after image of what I later discovered to be "landscape abstracts."

For all I know, they could be the easiest photos in the world to take, or perhaps the most difficult. Imagine a sunrise over the ocean, but manipulated and blurred to a point of near-indistinction, where every element -- the ocean, the marsh, the beach, the sky -- becomes little more than a perfect line of nature's perfect colors. The fuzzy pictures match the fuzzy memories of days gone by and fuzzy dreams of days that never were. For the first time in my life, I was transfixed by pieces of art.

I took snapshots of the studio that day so I wouldn't forget the artist's name -- John Duckworth. You can see for yourself at When I got home, I sent him an e-mail and told him how much I loved his work. He graciously sent me a kind letter of response and a portfolio catalog. After two years, I finally found myself in the possession of some expendable cash, so I did it. I bought one of his pieces. It now hangs in the entryway of my apartment and makes me happy every time I walk in the door.

I still don't know if I appreciate visual art on the level that I should. I don't get anything particularly "deep" out of my new acquisition. I just know I like looking at it, and that's victory enough for me.

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