I live in a city with a million unemployed artists. Actors and dancers and rappers and tenors with Juilliard training, sculptors and builders and sketchers and splatterers who do not make a penny for their efforts. There ought to be a way to put all that exuberance to good use. Not waiting tables, not answering phones. A couple of months ago my brain got to firing like an out-of-control popcorn machine on the question of matching supply and demand, the latter being all those eager new parents handing over hundreds of dollars monthly to renowned institutions with masterpieces hanging in their lobbies so their eight-year-olds can fashion maracas out of buttons and beans. Glue feathers. You all know the classes. These seem to me not the optimal investment unless we are actually trying to steer youngsters away from careers in the arts. So I thought how sensible it would be – how entrepreneurial! – to start up an agency whose single purpose was introducing budding artists and starving artists in this city with so many of each, the game and the irrepressible, popcorn shooting straight out of my ears at this point and exploding like fireworks across the bare, benighted horizon.
“Never work,” said my wife, who is institutionally positioned to champion this lucrative culmination of every fruitless daydream I’ve ever had. Ping! Pop! Blam-O! “Liability issue. Lot of weirdos out there.”
“But I’d screen them.”
“For a nominal fee.”
“What do you know about artists?”
“I know passion. Anonymity. I know Art Dog,” I spluttered. “No one should ever be stuck working as a security guard when what they really want to do is paint. No one should need to hide behind a hat and a mask and tiptoe down the back stairs into the Dogopolis night!”
And yet, choked as I felt by such populist zeal, the eponymous night owl in Thacher Hurd’s classic seems not altogether haunted by his duality. I sniffed. I waved one arm dismissively, and repaired to the bedroom to double-check my reference. In fact this book contains a great many crowd-pleasing diversions – mutty bandits, a crimson Brushmobile roaring over highways and bridges and leaving a rainbow trail of paint, a “Mona Lulu” forgery that looks like it has just leapt out of a cake, and an improvisatory jailbreak reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon.
There are also iterations of Picasso’s Bathers and Vermeer’s Girl With the Pearl Earring and Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon which hardly suffer from being populated by canines, as well as a thrilling Starry Night at the conclusion for anyone not yet glutted by the original – though what is finally indelible are those searching, soulful minutes after Art Dog is finished with his ten foot high murals of lightning and monsters and “frogs ready to hop over skyscrapers” – closing time, the shadows growing smoky behind him, “a dog alone, wondering if anyone ever noticed his paintings.”
So NEA funding? A wall, a gig, a show to call his own? Maybe great art needs the cover of darkness to surprise us. Still, think of all the surfaces in your neighborhood just standing there, beigely gathering dust, like so many half-considered answers from a bygone century, when everywhere questions are begging to be asked.