Wednesday, March 11, 2009

sunflowers on a starry night

A worn-looking man sits disconsolately at a café table on a quiet cobblestone street. Behind him is a dazzling starry sky, but the man is peering down into his coffee cup. His reverie is interrupted by the arrival of a man in a dark suit with a dark turtleneck and expensive-looking eyewear. His hair is in a sleek ponytail, and he is sporting a cultivated and near-perfect two-day beard growth. Even in the near-dark, his teeth are gleaming white.

MAN: Excuse me… is your name Vincent? Vincent Van Gogh?

VINCENT: Yes… yes it is. Who are you?

MAN: Name’s Metro… Mark Metro, of Metro Marketing. (extends hand) Can I buy you another coffee, Vincent?

VINCENT: Uh… no. No, I’m fine. Do I know you?

METRO: No, Vincent. But I’m hoping in the next few minutes that will change. (Pauses, looks at chair next to Vincent, then seats himself) What would you say if I told you I have secrets to success… secrets that could turn things around for you? That today could be a new beginning for you? Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s no dream!

VINCENT: Well, I wouldn’t mind selling some paintings, actually. And it gets old trying to explain my vision to people when it’s right in front of them to see. But I’m not sure…

METRO: Exactly! Of course you wouldn’t mind selling paintings! What artist wouldn’t? Listen, I’ve been checking around. I know the market… it’s my job to know the market. It’s your job to paint, right? But not just any old painting you feel like. There’s something terribly self-indulgent about that, if you’ll pardon my saying so! How can you possibly succeed if you just take shots in the dark like that?

VINCENT: Well, I was hoping a few more people could learn to appreciate what I’m doing, and then success would follow. I’m actually sort of surprised at the blank looks I get sometimes. It can be pretty depressing. But every now and then, somebody astute says, “Hey, I see exactly what you’re doing here, and it’s exciting, intelligent work… thank you for painting it; keep the faith, man.” Then I’m reminded of what I must believe is true… that there really is something to what I’m doing.

METRO: I see.

VINCENT: Of course, those people are other artists, and usually have even less money than I do.

METRO: (makes clucking sounds and shakes his head) Vincent, Vincent… why make the public work that hard? Why suffer for your sanity? A picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s talk about your last painting, shall we? Then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

VINCENT: Sunflowers? What about it?

METRO: Here’s what my research tells me about sunflowers. Sunflowers… well, they’re just not cutting it. People don’t want to see a picture of something that grows next to a barn. They want something better. They want some glamour hanging over their sofas.

VINCENT: (looks puzzled)

METRO: I’ve got one word for you, Vincent: Roses. Big, beautiful roses in an attractive vase. It works for Hallmark, it can work for you. Of course, you have some leeway with the colors, but if you’d like to further refine your efforts, we’ve done studies on the five most popular colors, broken down by demographics. Warm-up on your coffee, Vincent? (Metro gestures for a waiter, then points to Vincent’s cup, then himself). One fellow I represent, he’s got the dewdrop-on-the-petal thing really working for him. I forget his name right now, but you’ve seen his stuff.

VINCENT: Look, Metro, I don’t have anything against roses. If a patron hired me, I’d probably do some roses for him. But why would somebody look at my work and want roses, when the whole blooming point is that it’s sunflowers… done my way? Don’t you detect any irony here?

METRO: Vincent, there’s no point in being a martyr. Do you want to die without selling anything? What do you think is going to happen? Best-case scenario… a hundred years rolls by, and your sunflower canvas goes up for auction, maybe tastes have changed, maybe somebody thinks you were a genius. So what? Are they going to tap on your casket and toss you a percentage? Give you an award? Maybe somebody will write a song about you. How many potatoes does that put on your table?

VINCENT: I know you’re trying to help, but what you’re saying is pointless to me. It’s every bit as important how I sell my work as whether or not I sell it. I need to find people who can see it, because I think I’m onto something. Sure, maybe there's room for me to perfect things, but… but nothing truly wonderful can come of giving up. No hard feelings, OK?

METRO: (Shrugs) Hey, it’s your choice, man. Let me get your coffee. You know, just between you and me, there really is something about that sunflower painting. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but… oh, forget it. (Stands up, tosses coins onto the café table). Wow; quite a sky tonight. Just look at those stars. Amazing. I bet a sky like that would look pretty incredible in your style. You know… different. But it might be kind of cool.

VINCENT: (Peers at sky in silence a moment). Thanks. Thanks for the coffee.

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