For as long as I remember watching commercials on TV, I remember seeing ads for "starving artists" shows coming to Milwaukee. When I was a kid, I thought the artists were literally starving, and I felt badly for them. As I got older, I remainined mildly intrigued with buying a "sofa-sized" painting for no more than $59.
Fortunately, my wife shares my appreciation for kitsch, and while we set our sights incredibly low, we finally took the plunge and attended a starving artists show this weekend at the Brookfield Sheraton Hotel.
I'm glad none of the starving artists were actually on hand -- I imagine they work in a sweat shop in China or Mexico -- because we spent a half hour giggling at the "fine art," and it turns out we weren't alone.
A lot of people actually turned out for the event, and most seemed legitimately impressed with the various paintings of Mediterranean scenes, flower vases and streets of old Paris. A few people, like us, came for the irony of it all -- buying mass-produced, generic art at rock-bottom prices.
Indeed, I thought a lot of the paintings were technically well-done. Most, but not all, were much nicer than what I created when my parents gave me some oil paints and a painting book when I was 9.
But of the hundreds of paintings on display, we ultimately found only three that we could actually imagine buying. Two were pretty, but not distinctive enough to hang in our house without feeling guilty and / or tacky. However, we discovered one abstract and colorful painting that could potentially work in the early '60s-themed rec room that my dad and I are building, and we settled on a 24x36-inch version for a mere $59.
Of course, the paintings come on unframed canvas, so we felt compelled to buy a $49 frame. The traveling staff that almost resembled carnies promptly stapled it together for us. In the end, we dropped $108, plus tax, on a large and ridiculous piece of "modern art."
Now, however, I know what a starving artists sale is all about, and I'm confident that I won't need to return. I'm also sure I'm the owner of a giant painting that will become the center of ridicule by our daughter (when she learns to speak), and I fully expect her to take it to college in 18 years and hang it in her dorm room.
Hey, our starving artist painting might just be her generation's velvet Elvis. That notion, alone, is easily worth $108.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.