In my dissolute youth I went to science fiction conventions and one of my favorite parts—a part that never seems to get any attention in spite of the popularity of cosplay and convention panels, or maybe because of the popularity of cosplay and convention panels—was the art room. There was always a lot of science fiction and fantasy-themed art on display, and sometimes artists would sit at tables in the art room and work on pictures. I once sat, rapt, for about half an hour watching an artist paint a spiral galaxy. When he stopped to take a break I asked him if he minded me watching.
“If I minded I wouldn’t be working in here,” he said.
Fair point, but I thought it was only polite to ask.
Anyway there was one time that a guy, not one of the artists, just a regular attendee, did a crude drawing of a robot and stuck it in the art room. Works in the art room weren’t just on display; they were also on sale, and artists would put a starting price next to each painting. There was space below the prices for people to make bids, and on the last night of the convention there’d be an auction with the last bid as the starting price.
The guy who’d put up the crude robot drawing was asking ten cents. I thought this was funny, and I also thought it was cool that this guy had just stuck his drawing among all the professional paintings. It had never occurred to me before but I loved how it made a statement about how anyone could be an artist. I don’t think he had any high-falutin’ intentions, but, hey, it’s all a matter of interpretation.
I added a bid of fifteen cents. Someone else came along later and upped it to a quarter, which I thought was very presumptuous and, sensing an opportunity, I added a bid of thirty cents.
By the time it went up for auction the price had gone up to $1.50 and it ultimately sold for $3.75. What started as a joke took a serious turn as the price war got the picture more and more attention and people really started to want it, either because they liked it or didn’t want to be outbid, and if you’ve ever wondered about the bonkers prices sometimes commanded by terrible works of art just imagine the same thing happening among people with millions of dollars and massive insecurity complexes. Tax breaks also help, but that’s another story. And none of that would have happened if the guy who’d made the drawing hadn’t decided to stick it in a place where a lot of people would see it.
It’s more than a small leap but the graffiti above reminded me of that event because it’s pretty well hidden. Like a lot of graffiti I only found it by accident–well, technically I was looking for graffiti, but there are no galleries, museums, or other traditional art spaces I can go, so it’s almost always a surprise when I find something and an even bigger surprise when it turns out to be good. The artist clearly put a lot of thought and effort into that graffiti and yet it’s hidden away, almost as though they didn’t think anyone would appreciate its true value.