by Larry Litt
Outside again, the fear and self-doubt of
art hit me hard. Why am I doing this voter
registration drive? Do I believe in the
American electoral system? Do I love these
candidates? Do I really believe in
democracy? Or am I another art world
networker willing to endure both the
weather and humiliation for a shot at,
How could I go back to the table in front
of Ron Feldman's gallery now that I'd been
rejected by him for the Campaign '96
"You haven't been rejected," the incredibly
wise and mature inner guide whispered into
my puzzled mind, "it's just that your art
work wasn't right for this show. Be
positive or you'll lose it right here on
"But I am my artwork," I answered with my
own wisdom and sincerity," it comes out of
my mind and hands like a child out of the
womb. If anything, that's who I am."
"Then you better change your mind or you'll
ruin it thinking about all the rejection
you have yet to face. Galleries ain't
maternity wards," she whispered back at me
with a bit of a hiss.
"You're right, I guess. But I feel it
anyhow," I whimpered.
"Forget it. You need a double espresso.
That always perks you up," she advised
So I closed the table and stashed it in the
truck. I walked over to Space Untitled
espresso bar, the Seoul food cafe on Greene
Street. I bought a double and sat down at a
wall table to think.
Unable to focus on the future, I looked
around at the other tables. I spotted a
woman at the next table furiously drawing
images from an open New York Times. Being a
naturally curious person I leaned over to
get a better peek. I was amazed. She was
recreating portraits of campaigning
politicians pictured in the papers. I
pondered a conversation with her, but
decided I'd had enough rejection for one
Suddenly she turned and noticed me. She had
a worried look, as if she wasn't doing her
best work, I thought.
"They look pretty good to me," I ventured
an opening gambit.
"Yes, of course they're good, but I still
"What can't you decide? Maybe I can help,"
"I can't decide who to vote for. You just
can't trust anything about politics
anymore. The only thing I trust is myself.
So I draw the candidates and whichever
gives me the better image, the better
feeling, the right flow, that's who
I vote for."
"That's a very personal decision."
"That's the only kind I can make. I don't
want to vote for someone who's going to
disappoint me again. So I vote based on my
own interpretations, through my drawings."
"Do you always draw the winner?"
"I can't tell you that. I'm sworn to
"What? Why not?"
"Because my shrink said that pollsters
would follow me around to discover who I
voted for, so I shouldn't tell anyone the
results of the drawings. Instead I sell
them to magazines as illustrations. That's
"So you're really an illustrator?"
"No, I'm a psychic visionary who has to
make a living as an illustrator," she said.
"Hmmm. Well, thanks for letting me see your
work. I still say they're very good."
"Goodness doesn't count with me, it's all
feeling. I want to know what the candidates
are really like, who they really are. It's
the only way."
I sat down to finish my now-cold espresso.
Sitting next to me, I thought, is someone
who has found a way, her personal way, to
make decisions, to see through all the hype
and spin. I have to do the same. But what
do I really want to know, what would help
me make the big choice?
How do other people do it? For instance,
how does Ron Feldman's Campaign '96 know
which candidates are for the arts and
freedom of expression? I reached in my
pocket and pulled out a quarter. I went to
the telephone next to the restrooms. I got
Feldman's number from information and
dialed. A female voice answered, "Ronald
Feldman Fine Art."
"This is an artist who wants to know how
Mr. Feldman decides which candidates to
give money to. I'm in a phone booth so I
need the answer right away. Is that
"Just a minute. I'll transfer you."
In a matter of seconds I was talking to
another female voice. "Can I help you?"
I repeated my question.
"We call candidates and ask them."
"There's no other way. Except if they're
incumbents, then there's their voting
record. It's a public record, anyone can
"You mean I can just call and ask if they
support the arts?"
"Is there anything else I can do for you?"
she asked in that ready to hang up tone.
"No," I said meekly, "I have to get some
more quarters. Thanks for the information."
"Great. By the way, who am I talking to?"
"Anyone who answers will refer you to the
right person. Good-bye."
Click and she was gone. Now the pieces were
coming together. All I have to do is call
the candidates, ask them their position on
the arts, and if they give me a positive
answer I'll give them one of my "Artists
Are Voters, Too" paintings.
Fortunately I had a copy of the League of
Women Voters government directory for just
such emergencies. Who's my congressman?
What's his number? How should I phrase the
question? I dialed the number of the
congressman's district office. "Congressman
N____'s office. Can I help you?"
"Yes. I'm a voter in his district and I'd
like to ask him a question."
"About his position on the arts."
"Please call his Advisor for Culture and
the Arts at 212-___-____."
"But I want to ask him personally."
"Then send a letter, fax or e-mail and
we'll send you a reply as soon as possible.
"But I want to give him something."
"Please include that in the letter, fax or
e-mail. Thank you."
I could tell she wanted to get off the
phone as soon as possible. "I will. Thank
"Will that be all? Have I answered your
"Then thank you. I have three calls on
"Yes. Good-bye." Click.
I dial the cultural advisor's number. "This is the voice
that goes with the number you've dialed.
Please leave a message and I'll get back to
you as soon as possible. Make sure it's
complete with time, date, your name, phone,
fax and e-mail numbers. Thank you. Oh, and
wait for the beep, sometimes it's a long
I waited a mini-eternity meditating on the
need to memorize one's own communicating
numbers for all occasions. After the beep I
told the machine what it wanted to know.
Suddenly the voice that goes with the
machine spoke. "I'm sorry, but I have to
screen all my calls. I'm in the arts too.
I'm an actress. There are people out there
trying to do horrible things to me. I have
a stalker who saw me on a soap last year.
He's been calling me ever since. Says he
needs a nurse just like me to help him
recover from his divorce and prevent his
suicide. I keep telling him I'm an actress,
not a nurse. I'm just very convincing."
"25 cents more for three minutes," a
mechanical voice said. I dropped another
"Anyway, I'm also Congressman N_____'s
cultural advisor. Can I help you?"
"I want to know what the Congressman has
done for the arts."
"Everything. He's the leading figure in
arts causes. He's for funding the NEA and
NEH. He's the head of the campaigns for
intellectual freedom and copyright
revision. He the main fighter against
censorship," she ended on an upbeat note,
"is that enough information for you to vote
"It seems to be. But is there a contest? Is
the other candidate against all the things
the congressman is for?"
"You'll have to find that out for yourself.
I have no information on the opposition."
"By the way, I'd like to give the
congressman a small painting as a gift for
his support," I said.
"Is it a campaign contribution?" she asked.
"If it is it has to be reported."
"No, it's a reminder that artist are
"Does it come with a campaign
"I hadn't thought about that," I said.
"If it doesn't have a campaign contribution
you can give it to him after the election.
Before the election we have to put a price
on it and report it to the auditors. How
much is it worth?"
"Well, " I hmmmed, "If you bought it in a
gallery I'd say $1,000."
"Then it has to be donated by a PAC. Are
you a PAC?"
"No, I'm an artist trying to discover who
to vote for."
"Well. Vote for the congressman and give
him the art afterwards," she said. "Saves
everybody a lot of trouble."
"Thanks for the advice. Good-bye."
"And tell your friends what the congressman
has done for the arts. He's the right man
to vote for. Good-bye."
How could the opposition be any better than
that? Still, I had to know before I made up
my mind, that's the American way. Question
is, who's the opposition?
I was out of quarters. The galleries and
shops were closing. I left the espresso bar
and went to my studio. At the downstairs
landing I opened the mailbox. A bunch of
stuff fell into my hands. I looked at my
watch: six p.m.
In the studio I stared at my little
painting's boxes and checks. I fantasized
them in the offices of powerful decision-
makers. Influencing decisions in the Oval
Office. In the Smithsonian's National
Gallery. No, anything but that. The
Hirshhorn, that's better.
In the mail: openings, bills, museum
calendars and an envelope that said
OFFICIAL SURVEY ENCLOSED. I always like a
survey, especially if they give you a few
bucks for answering questions about which
television shows you watch.
Damned or damned lucky, I thought. It was
from the Christian Voter Mobilization
Campaign. The first paragraph said "I have
reason to believe that you are a Christian
who deeply cares about the future." Major
error over there at Computers for
In the same envelope was a Christian
Coalition of New York "State & Federal
Legislative Scorecard." The candidates were
rated on how they voted on specific issues,
everything from abortion to balancing the
budget, promoting homosexuality and drugs
in schools, pornography on the Internet,
welfare, outcome-based education (whatever
that is), etc. The candidates were rated
from 100 to 0.
I looked for Congressman N_______ on this
list. He scored 0. He hadn't voted even
once with the Christian Coalition. I looked
up Senator D'_________, he scored 73.
Senator M________ scored, you guessed it:
I smacked my head with my palm. I got it! 0
means opposition. This survey is a message
from whomever it is that creates paradoxes
and loves to laugh at bizarre human
politics. Could it be...?
Of course! This voter guide should be read
like a golf scorecard, ironically the
official Republican game. Rules say the
lower the score the better the player.
After the senators and congresspeople, all
New York's senators and assemblypeople were
rated the same way on state issues. This
was better than I ever could have expected.
Real advice right from the source.
Now get this! On the back cover of this
scorecard they ask in huge type: Q. How do
I know who to vote for in this year's
Guess what? If you want a free copy of this
neat and easy to read contradiction, the
Christian Coalition will send you their
1996 Voter Guide free, free, free. Don't
let them talk you into a donation. Tell
them you're a starving artist. Tell them you
tithed your last penny to the church of the
immaculate deception. Tell them you have
to pay your online server or you'll be using
the mails again. Besides, they have more money than
god, donated by the televangelists
The number for the Artist-Voter "reverse"
voter's guide and scorecard (or the
Christian Coalition's guide to whom not to
vote for) is 1-800-705-4709. Write it down
now if you can't figure out how to download
And when you call, tell them the
Artist-Voter Diary from ArtNet sent you...
Be sure to go to the Second Annual
Election Vigil Party at Thread
Waxing Space, 476 Broadway, 2nd floor,
New York, N.Y. 10013, on Nov.5, 1996,
from 8:30 p.m. until the election returns
are in. Featuring refreshments, drinks, music
and voter registration !
Sponsored by the Artist-Voter Project,
Eleanor Heartney and Larry Litt,
coordinates; ArtNet Worldwide; and
Thread Waxing Space. For more info
call (212) 966-9774.
Larry Litt is a New York-based arts
activist, writer and performer.