Story and illustrations by Russell Gottwaldt
After a gruelling first semester as an undergrad, you further your studies and wearily begin your second semester in the FYP. You feel exhausted and misunderstood. I work so hard at my craft, and I feel I’ve contributed nothing to the canon of art, you think to yourself. Maybe I should go for a walk among the other urban dwellers and seriously reconsider my career choice. And as you walk through Grant Park, you promptly sink your foot into a steaming pile of poo and you realize what you’ve been doing wrong.
Bullshit. That’s what you should be learning to do. A devout work ethic is for undereducated fathers of poor Catholic families or for the Mexican immigrants who make your lunch. Well, you’re not bound by any religious guilt, and that’s why you’ve learned to substitute rhetoric and semantics with hard work.
Not unlike the lawyers squirming around the financial district, you learn to take advantage of a language used to articulate and clarify—and muddy it up until you can squeeze exactly what you want out of any given circumstance without having to earn it.
If you can write a dizzying artist’s statement, your piece doesn’t have to communicate anything. You learn the value of artspeak. You cram buzzwords and obscure references pertaining to and having nothing to do with your work into every statement you write.
I vow never to create again, you think to yourself, and promptly sign up for the VCS program.
Sketchbook? No, no, no. Nothing you’ve made is a sketch. Where other students may make preliminary drawings or spend weeks or months reconfiguring and idealizing their initial concepts, you create works of mad genius in an instant. Roughly once a week you present what you think is a finalized, masterfully rendered stroke of insight.
To others, it may be a soiled napkin from Potbelly’s, but to you it is an ultimate expression of something too complex for the English language. Why? Because it was your precious, artist lips that smeared saliva and brown mustard across that recycled rag, not just some whore off the street. You are the real deal, and shouldn’t have to defend yourself against scrutiny: No, it isn’t just a drawing scribbled on a piece of notebook paper. No, it isn’t a rough sketch. It is a finished piece, and the line quality reeks of precious spontaneity and boundless passion that you retards could only imagine drawing in a thirty second sitting.
You never agree to start anything unless absolutely certain that a minimum of seventy people will view, gush over and go fanatic over whatever flimsily-conceived work you quickly churn out.
After all, real talent like yours shouldn’t be wasted on just anybody.
You tell most people that it’s simply a matter of self-worth; that you create works out of a drive for petty affirmations—the kind you get when you finish something that’s appreciated by your friends and loved by your parents—but in reality, your drive springs from something much more carnal. You are going to become one of the most successful artists in your field, not because of your insatiable desire for recognition and validation, but because you want shit. That’s right. You want to accumulate as much shit as you possibly can.
Accumulation is the only thing you’ve known since you were a little tyke, when you were storing allowance money in discarded manila envelopes and trying to convince your parents that one video game system just wasn’t enough. You knew then that he who had the most video game consoles on the block also had the most power. And he who had the most power had the most friends. And he who had the most friends received the most presents on their birthday.
You love the feeling of having a portfolio of artwork get bigger, stronger, and more prestigious over time. You crave the feeling that, no matter what happens, you’ll always have more cushions on your sofa and more money in the bank to fall back on than your fellow artists. You find that all those stockbroker guys really don’t seem all that crazy in their tiring quest for the biggest slice. I mean, you do deserve things a little better and a little more than the average artist. It’s survival of the fittest in the art world and the world of capitalism, and you do work harder than most, so you should be entitled to an impressive array of art materials and a trendy wardrobe.
I mean, artists reap exactly what they sow, right?