[6 min read ]
Diary of an artist, Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Woke up 5:00 am
Today I publish two diary entries — from today, yesterday and the day before yesterday.
Monday, July 27, 2020
Will try to sell my photos from the Baltic sea region (Osetnik) to local firms in that area (restaurants, manors, palaces, hotels and apartments, etc.). Actually I hate selling. Preferably I would not do it at all (or hand it over to someone).
Life’s that way. You can’t be all things. More often than not the difference between being a known artist and an unknown artist is the willingness and the ability to promote and sell your work (or perhaps even more yourself). Those who are good marketers and salespeople or who chanced upon someone who is have a much greater chance to make it big in the art world. The same is true about writers I guess. I will give one interesting example in my next entry.
Also, I plan to self-publish a book in August this year. I will use my older posts and diary entries — the ones which eventually turned into a series.
Tuesday, July 28, 2020 and Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Margaret D. H. Keane (born Peggy Doris Hawkins, by her first marriage Margaret Ulbrich) is an American artist known for her paintings of subjects with big eyes (mainly women, children, or animals). Her artwork was originally attributed to Margaret’s second husband, Walter Keane. After their divorce in the 1960s, Margaret soon claimed credit, which was established after a court “paint-off” in Hawaii. In 2014 Tim Burton made a biopic about Margaret called “Big Eyes” which is now available on Netflix and that’s how I’ve become familiar with this story.
To me Walter was without a doubt a brilliant salesman, and I guess it will not be an overstatement if I say that Margaret was the opposite of a brilliant salesman. He had it in him, she did not. She, on the other hand, was the one who came up with the idea of big eyes, was skilful enough to execute on it, and actually did execute on it. She had this in her.
Walter began selling her characteristic “big eyes” immediately, but unknown to her, claimed it was his own work. He did it so well that in the 1960s he (actually she, or they both) became one of the most popular and commercially successful artists of the time!
After seeing the movie I concluded that the reason he did it was twofold. Firstly, he was a dick and liked the idea that he would be the one who would be admired for it, and secondly (and I think this might have played a huge role in the beginning of his operation) in the world dominated by men which the 1960s still were he sensed (and rightly so at that time) that the artworks will have a much greater chance of becoming a hit when they’re one unknown man’s (and not one unknown women’s) work. I don’t like it, but I guess he was right. The commercial success he achieved with Margaret’s work seems to prove this theory, but of course we can speculate and debate until the end of the world what would have happened had he tried to sell Margaret’s works under a female (her) name.
In 1986, she sued both Walter and USA Today in federal court for an article claiming Walter was the real artist. At the trial, the judge famously ordered both Margaret and Walter to each create a big-eyed painting in the courtroom, to determine who was telling the truth. Walter declined, citing a sore shoulder, whereas Margaret completed her painting in 53 minutes. After a three-week trial, the jury awarded her $4 million in damages. A federal appeals court upheld the verdict of defamation in 1990, but overturned the $4 million damage award. Margaret said she didn’t care about the money and just wanted to establish the fact that she had done the paintings.
This story is about how the support of a brilliant salesman (dick or not) helps artists or writers. It is also about the sad reality of the world for women in the 20th century. Today women have it already way better, but I know of writers who deliberately hide their female names (replace them with their initials) so that the book can sell better. Which is interesting on a yet another level, mainly how would you the reader judge such decision by a woman? Is it the betrayal of the women’s cause (their fight for equal rights)? Is it sacrificing the women’s cause for someone’s particular benefit (the benefit of one writer who happened to be a woman). On the other hand, the huge popularity of J.K. Rowling for example helps the women’s cause way more than any street protest or act of loyalty. But we also need to bear in mind that J.K. Rowling’s success wasn’t guaranteed (none is) so it could have also happened that her act of betrayal wouldn’t have helped the women cause at all.
This is one of the most fascinating themes in life to me. This duality. On the one hand I believe that had Peggy Doris Hawkins (a.k.a. Margaret D. H. Keane) not met Walter Keane or someone with similar talent (mainly for selling), she wouldn’t have become such a known artist. I mean it’s possible, but with her obvious anti-talent for selling very unlikely.
Not only that. I believe that she gained the status of an icon precisely because someone like Walter Keane appeared in her life. I mean the chance that it would have happened anyway (that she would have become such an icon — a poster child of women’s long struggle for equal rights, and against traditional male dominance in certain professions, even without having gone through what she did go through) is so small it almost doesn’t even exist. It is ludicrous to believe that she would have become this symbol anyway (regardless of whether or not she would have met a person like Walter Keane). It could only have happened the way it actually happened, or similarly.
I’m not defending Walter here. What he did was despicable and also pathetic (not counting the ideas for the promotion of the work). I also believe that it almost doesn’t matter if it was a woman or man who did that to Margaret Keane. A woman could have done for and to Margaret what Walter Keane did (brilliantly promote her work and at the same time take credit for it — in a way exploit her), but I think that in the second half of the 20th century world the gambit wouldn’t have worked if a woman attempted it (such was the world back then).
I’m only stating something which should be quite obvious — that even the things which seem terrible to us can (under certain circumstances) bring something positive to our lives. That it’s often like that in real life — something which we view as a negative experience brings something positive. Someone who helped us in some way, did also bad things to us, or the other way around. Nothing is ultimately bad or good. Heck, sometimes people with certain “flaws” in their character can do things (good things) which people who don’t have those “flaws” cannot.
Stuff I’m currently reading:
Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare by Philip Short (on Scribd).
POPism: The Warhol Sixties by Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett (on Scribd).
The Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial Society and Its Future by Ted Kaczynski (free PDF)
Audiobook: How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship by Ece Temelkuran (on Scribd) Abandoned it.
Audiobook: Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958–62 by Frank Dikötter (on Scribd) Finished it! Fascinating book!
Audiobook: Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine by Barry Strauss (on Scribd)
Kafka: The Early Years by Reiner Stach (on Scribd)
Music for this writing session: Frederic Chopin (on Spotify).