American consumerism and art

uncle sam wants your art!
uncle sam wants your art!

Purple skies on the Venice beach sunsets tinting peoples faces in a warm yellow color. A guy holds a sign that says " I need a freaking cold beer", his pockets are full of $ because his sign is pretty fucking catchy. He's got a cold beer on the other hand. Some guy with his low rider bicycle cruises around offering skate wheels and boards for sale while a group of break dancers is taking a lot of the attention of the place at the end of their last performance of the day on spot 31 of the Boardwalk. I'm sitting on spot 34, next to Brian, an old school known artist in Venice. He just sold a 350$ painting i front of me. He looks at me and says: " You look at them, let them hold it, and grab it back from their hands. Then you tell them this is a 350$ painting, they'll buy. That's another random day in Venice.


The whole world -outside the USA- is very obsessed -including me before I had even been in the US- on how Americans are these people who pretty much invented consumerism, buy unnecessary new cars all the time and often own a few cars per person in the same household just for the sake of it.


Although unfortunately that has a lot of truth in it, being someone from Barcelona who has sold tons of art and paintings in the US while backpacking the West Coast in a cheap van, I have to say the culture spills in to the art scene in a way that I haven't seen anywhere else in the world, it's incredibly amazing!


Historically, having invented fast food, having influenced the whole world with shopping trends and having spread retail chain stores and restaurants throughout the entire planet -which are the basic results of an aggressive capitalism system- have probably helped shaping people's ideas on the matter. Well, and probably having turned Cinema into a multinational millionaire business in Hollywood has also got an effect on people's minds. That's not to say that the rest of the world is extremely different, in fact unless you are in Cuba -to mention a place I have personally been to- things are pretty similar in many ways, but I guess America is this big giant nation we all love pointing our fingers at.


The first time I ever sold any of my artwork was in Venice Beach, on that boardwalk I was talking about, where everyone is trying to make some cash in one way or another. It was a drawing I made with colored pencils and fine liners, I sold it for 10$ after trying to sell random things like shell-made jewellery for 3 days with no luck. That encouraged me to get serious. People there are hustling night and day. I never even knew homeless people would have so many dollar bills passing through their hands in a daily basis. Not to mention the real hustlers making real dough. When you are a vendor in that boardwalk, in my case it was on spot 34 which I'll never forget, you see everything and get to know everyone.


At first I was really shy, my mentality was as if I had no right to ask for money for my own paintings. I kept thinking, back home people would come up to me and say: "go get a real job man". But as time went by, I started to realize I wasn't back home anymore and things were different there.

There is this character in the boardwalk who everyone knows at least from seeing him there every single day. I won't say his name, but he is an official homeless man in his 50s who lives in the back alleys of the boardwalk. Every morning at 9 am he sets up his little art gallery with his own paintings on one of the numbered spots, in my times it was spot 35, and spends the day there pretty much looking and acting like a crazy man while hustling his art. All the locals know him and holler at him when they pass by, and he keeps throwing jokes at everyone while sculling up his beers. Now, if you are not aware of it, which is hard to be unless you sit next to him for a whole day, he is constantly making sales. He sells his art pieces anywhere from 20$ to 500$ -he says. The truth is though, he actually knows what he's doing. He said to me that people know he is crazy and homeless, so they know he will die one day, so they want to own something he made. He is such a legend in Venice that he is even painted on one of the massive murals in one of the back alleys. That is a pretty high level of consciousness for someone who yells "I'm a psychotic!" at his future customers. His art is not amazing, I'd say, but really, when you look at it this way, owning one of his pieces does have an incredible value. One day he'll be gone.


Either way, what I'm trying to say is, after meeting and spending time with many other of these characters in Venice Beach my confidence grew a bit bigger and I started to feel better asking higher prices for my pieces.

I remember one day though, when a customer asked me for the price of one of my biggest pieces. I said to him it was 300$. As he put his hand on his chin to think about it, he made me think maybe I was asking for too much especially being on the street, so I said to him 250$ was good as well. That guy looked at me and said: "If you said 300$ that is what it costs. Never lower your prices. This is your art."


That and many other similar experiences really kept me thinking for a long time. Over the years I came to the conclusion, of course this is a total outsider's perspective, that the US -Los Angeles being the most extreme example- is this pretty much post-apocalyptic place where everything is manufactured in a big scale and it's hard to find things that are still crafted by craftsmen. Owning things like a good car or a fresh pair of sneakers with the label still on them proving they're new has become an immense part of people's identities and achievement proofs. Everyone knows that things are designed and created to last a short period of time so that you keep buying new things, and even if some people don't know that, the culture pushes you to do so.

But, amid all this craziness and social pressure, there is one last thing remaining in our lives that is uncountable, invaluable and doesn't need replacing in the next season. That thing is Art.



family guy stewie painting cartoon recycled wood venice beach los angeles
family guy stewie painting cartoon recycled wood venice beach los angeles

Venice Beach Boardwalk, Los Angeles, 2012

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