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Artists of the United States

A Field Guide by B. Amundson

Art Geek: Kev Monko

Let's assume that you've decided to jettison the security of a legitimate career to become a full-time, artistic-type personality. One major question remains: What type of artist should you become? This is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Artistic types are as varied as the colors of a well-appointed palette, and your selection could mean the difference between languishing away in the penniless obscurity of a sweltering garret or basking in adulation while meeting financial obligations with a quick application of your signature to the nearest discarded Big Gulp cup. Fortunately, artists are never in short supply. A whole spectrum of artists is available for your scrutiny in the U.S., and if you're willing to travel a bit, you can observe thousands more in their natural habitat.

Familiarize yourself with these individuals, learn their characteristics, dress, and affectations, and apply this knowledge to the type of artist you'd like to become. It's that easy. Before long, you'll not only look and act like an artist yourself, but you'll have genuine expertise in selecting and identifying fellow members of your artistic class.

The Southwest Artist

The Southwest Artist may reside anywhere in the country, but his spirit is always firmly ensconced in the West's largest center of artistic profitability: The Sante Fe/Taos corridor. The Southwest Artist's goal is to capture the essence of the Native American experience in a contemporary manner that perfectly complements articles of furniture found in the home of the Southwest Art Collector.

Though rarely a genuine Native American himself or herself, the Southwest Artist often approximates authenticity by donning up to 50 lbs. of handcrafted silver and turquoise at a single time, as well as an occasional feather or woven item.

His or her encyclopedic knowledge of the "Spirit Way" and other ritualistic aspects of Indian culture comes from prolonged exposure to the work of Tony Hillerman and Carlos Casteneda, whose post-royalty check publication, Journey to Ixtapa-Zihuatenejo, is considered a classic of the genre.

The Western Artist

The Western Artist is also interested in Native Americans, but his perspective tends to involve cowboys and generally emanates from a point of view closer to that of George Armstrong Custer.

The Western Artist has a spiritual love for bronze, and he inherently knows that there is a buffalo imprisoned in each block of marble, which only his facile hands can release. When painting the landscape, the Western Artist overlooks billboards and housing developments to concentrate on such commonplace subjects as the Appaloosa Timberwolf, Bald Eagle, and Male Steer Wrestling Pardner.

Western Artists have hats that are surgically attached and wear belts designed to protect the kidneys of Goliath, had he chosen a career in long-distance trucking. The Western Artist is a courteous sort except on the topic of other types of art, which are invariably made by "fairies from the East."

The Sunday Painter

The Sunday Painter practices within the "nice things" genre and specializes in portraits, still lifes, and landscapes of a kinder, gentler sort. These reticent, self-effacing types gather in groups known as "leagues" or "guilds" to whisper encouragement to each other, and some actually learn techniques from goateed gentlemen with indeterminable accents on television.

Sunday painters can be spotted behind easels near roadsides, overlooks, and picturesque meadows, so extreme caution should be exercised while operating a vehicle in a Sunday Painter Zone. No matter what their age, Sunday Painters always resemble elderly relatives, and in some cases they actually are, so treat them with respect for the sake of your inheritance.

The New-Age Artist

The New-Age artist evolved from the Hippie Craftperson movement of the '60s, whose stained glass unicorns, suede mandalas, and crystal windchime sundials infect much of the country to this day. New-Age Artists have names like Rubymoonglowherbalessence and paint subjects that are invisible to the normal person, like "Radiant Halos of Nurturing Light Consciousness" and "Chakra Release Psychic Energy Vibrations."

The New-Age Artist is well-versed in things eastern and exotic, usually culled from books in the personal growth section of the local B. Dalton, and they pay their bills by painting "aura portraits," which invariably look like the helmets of ancient Roman gladiators. Many New-Age Artists discard their exotic wardrobes to become practitioners in the burgeoning Art Therapy Movement.

The Celebrity Artist

The Celebrity Artist is an individual who achieves fame in another, more recognizable field of endeavor and, due to a need for attention and profit, inexplicably decides to pursue a career in the artistic arena as well.

Celebrity Artists come from all walks of life, including professional sports (Rosy Grier), rock music (Ron Wood), situation comedy (Suzanne Sommers), macho, right-wing filmmaking (Sylvester Stallone), pop MOR crooning (Tony Bennett), and high drama (Leonard Nimoy, Peter Falk). Their notoriety assures that their work will sell for astronomical prices despite the lack of any noticeable artistic talent.

Celebrity Artists are collected only by the most discerning of the world's connoisseurs, and their work brings new meaning to the age-old term "artistic license."

The Dead Artist

Dying is always an excellent career move, especially from the standpoint of economics and reputation in the art world. However, before making this serious and often irreversible decision, be forewarned that there is a downside to being dead and being an artist simultaneously.

For example, the Dead Artist may find it difficult to hold brushes and gesture in a bold, artistic manner, and keeping a beret on straight may be next to impossible. In addition, although the Dead Artist now has all the fame, money, and adulation that eluded him or her while alive, enjoying it in the afterlife is no small accomplishment. Because of this, I cannot wholeheartedly endorse becoming a Dead Artist.

(Author's Note: I do not recommend removing body parts to enhance an artistic career either, even if prominent Japanese Collectors appear on the horizon with tankers full of money. In retrospect, even Van Gogh expressed some regret.)

The Art Professor

The Art Professor creates every time there is a faculty exhibition or the question of tenure and its possible removal arises--that is to say, approximately once every five years. In the interim, the Art Professor is too busy with interdepartmental politics and home improvements to pay much attention to the creative act, although he'll occasionally dispense a gem of wisdom to students about the importance of Creative Integrity and the dangers of "selling out."

The Contemporary Artist

The Contemporary Artist operates under a variety of names and guises, including Cutting Edge Artist, Modern Artist, Avante Garde Artist, Cafe Bohemian, Angry Young Man, and the Fashionable Art Trendy. The Contemporary Artist actually attempts to read art magazines and can be seen arguing theory and philosophy in bars and coffeehouses while utilizing prefixes like "post" and "neo." The only thing these disparate types have in common is their shared passion and the fact that they rarely, if ever, get around to making any works of art.

The Graphic Designer

The Graphic Designer, or Commercial Artist, appears to be well-adjusted and manages to generate income that he or she is practically capable of surviving on. He functions decently at social gatherings and dresses like the majority of the population. Based on this existing data, it is only logical to conclude that the Graphic Designer is not really an Artist at all and, therefore, must not be considered part of this guide.


Go to the B. Amundson page.

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