Saturday, November 16, 2013

How to Buy a Work of Art, First Grader Style

          I acquired my first painting when I was 6 years old.

          It's entirely my dad's fault. He should have known that if you are an artist, if you hang out with artists, and if you insist on buying their work when you see something you like (well, more accurately, trade, because Dad always had more of his own work than he had ready cash), you will teach your impressionable daughter that it's perfectly acceptable to acquire art by cash or barter.

          Especially when she has ten whole dollars of birthday cash in her pocket.

          We were visiting one of Dad's friends, and, as I said, I had this wad o' cash.

          And Jim, Dad's friend, had this painting. He'd just finished it and hung it in the living room. It was the first thing I saw when we walked in the door. It was spectacular. It called out to me. It said, "Nancy, you must own me. I was made for you." I was, in short, ensorcelled. I'd grown up around art, and I liked a lot of things I saw in the studios and homes of Dad's friends, but this was the first thing I'd ever wanted to own. The first thing that ever spoke right to me and demanded that I take it home with me.

#7 Feldspar Cove, by Jim Terry. I love this painting. I would say I love the painter,
but frankly I'm still a little scared of him.

          So I did what Dad would do. "I really like your painting," I told Jim. He thanked me, gruffly, for he was a gruff kind of guy. "I want to buy it," I said. (I didn't have any good art to trade, like Dad would have, but I thought Jim would probably take money for his work as well as trade.)

          I didn't think this was a particularly funny thing to say, but the adults all cracked up. Finally Jim said, gruffly, "Well, how much will you give me for it?"

          I didn't know much about negotiating, but I knew you never open by offering top dollar, so I said, "Six dollars." The minute the words were out of my mouth, I regretted not offering seven. I was afraid that Jim would be offended by such a low offer, for he was a gruff guy, and gruff guys, I thought, were probably easily offended.

          I was not wrong. The adults all laughed again, and I thought, "Well, you screwed that up, Nancy; you insulted him. And anyway, it's a really great painting; it's probably really expensive. I bet he wants at least $25 for it. Which is way out of my league." So I swallowed my disappointment and ran out in the yard to play with his kids.

          When it was time to go home, Dad walked out to our car holding The Painting, a funny little smile on his face. "Here," he said. "Jim says that if you liked his painting that much, you should have it."

          #7 Feldspar Cove has been with me ever since. I still love it, both for itself, and for its gruff painter. Maybe he heard his painting call my name. Maybe, on that memorable summer day, he was simply made of pure grace, giving a dumb kid who'd just made the most lowball offer in the history of art sales ever her heart's desire and a story to go along with it.

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