Last week, a happily married couple (18 years!) came up to my house for the weekend from Middle America. The husband is 59, a multimedia artist with a blog, who sells the occasional piece in the low five figures to support the two of them, who have no children.
The wife is 48, a commercial printer with a fine arts background, who ran her own small printing business for many years. She is also the elected Democratic commissioner of her township, a fulltime job that pays the princely sum of $3,000 a year. The board she supervises consists of five Republicans and two Democrats, including herself. They oversee taxes, regulations and every other aspect of county government.
In 2008, the year Obama won, the wife ran for higher office with the backing of her state’s Democratic leadership, only to have the Governor (a national figure among Democrats), pull the rug, and promised party funding, out from under her, when he decided she couldn’t win. She got 40 percent of the vote against the winning Republican.
My friends are art lifers, who never hesitate to visit New York from far away, going to Bushwick galleries and the Metropolitan Museum. He, the artist, blogs about their art trips. But, loving art doesn’t pay the bills. Her business collapsed in 2009, their mortgage was in jeopardy. "Charlie," the husband told me, "out of nowhere, I sold a painting for $20,000 and that kept us going."
Soon, the wife was lucky to get a graphics job with Big Pharm and the husband got some shows and minor sales. Their love for art remains unabated, however precarious their finances. I thought about this couple, because I was thinking about what kind of art images might suit President Obama in 2012, something more advanced that Shepard Fairey’s Hope and Change. Perhaps John Boehner and Eric Cantor in drag a la Andy’s "Ladies and Gentlemen" series might suit, because all Republicans look like drag queens to me.
But perhaps my friends would be better subjects, among the 14 million who have been unemployed for more than a year and the minorities who comprise a majority of the permanently unemployable, the 48 million on food stamps waiting for fast food made in China. $25 gets you admission at the Museum of Modern Art, if you can cash your welfare check in time.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).