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The Eye of the Beholder

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I'm visualizing massive increases in leisure activities," announced Franz Gagnon from the epicenter of his art studio. Like many art studios, the room resembled an interior salvage yard to the untrained eye.

"This could mean a new Buick and renewed interest in me by my mother and sisters. All but one of them," Gagnon said with a smile and tug at his forelock. Gagnon had a trap door of red hair covering swatches of baldness. His smile was like a beam of pure light in a cave. "Come take a look."

Me and Tyrone dutifully shuffled over, trying to avoid an exhausted air mattress with stick figures glued on top. They looked like tongue depressors that had been used to scrape the bottom of duck-hunting boots. "What're these?" I groused.

"I call it Pan Visits Mother Seton Academy. I thought there might be a market in a big Catholic town like this, but nada," said Gagnon. "But forget sculpture. Regard this painting."

We regarded. Up on a tripod was this big painting of this huge guy who was busy kicking ass and taking names in a pagoda. He had one foot on a guy's neck. With his right arm, he held another guy in headlock, and the guy's eyes were bulging. His left hand held a third guy by the throat. While he was doing all this, his eyes were red and foam was flying from his ruby-red lips.

"This would make a great poster for the World Wrestling Federation," I opined. "What's the name of that Mongol dude? Aga Khan?"

"That guy in the painting looks like the Tasmanian Devil with PMS," chimed in Tyrone.

"Does this thing have a name?" I asked. A part -- a small part -- of me really wanted to know.

"My working title is Buddha Furioso," Gagnon said stiffly.

"Buddha! Buddha is the international symbol of peace and tranquility!" declared Tyrone.

"Some depictions have him smiling," I reminded everybody. "A kinda small smile like he knows something you don't."

"In some cases, that is not an insurmountable obstacle," growled Gagnon, casting a glare my way. "But you two are regurgitating the cliche Buddha, the safe, predictable Buddha. We've got to move past the stereotypical divinity figure!" Gagnon's face was getting as red as his hair.

I kicked one foot with the other and then carefully studied the scuff marks on my shoe. This was starting to get really ugly, like a Hornets road game. But Tyrone wasn't finished. Not yet.

"Yeah, but you said this is gonna make you richer than a consultant for the RTA," he said. "Hey, this Buddha is very popular right now. I've seen him in some of the finest homes. Catholics, Jews and all. But why should anyone want your version of Buddha?"

"Two reasons," explained Gagnon. He held up two fingers to tick off, like we couldn't keep track of two whole reasons. "First, you can get the conventional Buddha anywhere. But if you want the Buddha who gives full play to his emotions, who dares to explore the dichotomy of our natures, then you gotta go to Buddha Furioso."

Gagnon went to the next finger. "Second, it's the job of the artist to look at the world in unconventional ways to show orthodox folks like you two different techniques of vision. Or else you'd never imagine certain things. Thank God for artists, I'd say. They bring art into the world."

I forcefully cleared my throat. "Last year, I noticed that there was a vote on the most influential example of modern art, and the winner was Marcel Duchamp's Fountain. Which is a depiction of a urinal. Which is as good a summary of modern art as exists, I'd say."

"Which is not to say you can't make some true coin off art stuff," chipped in Tyrone. "Remember last year? A 10-year-old cheese sandwich in the shape of the Holy Virgin sold for $28,000 on eBay. To a casino. Who says casinos don't have an economic impact on their communities?"

"Yes, but that cheese sandwich was not art." I quickly pointed out. "It was sold as a relic or a religious object."

"That's right," Gagnon reflected soberly. "Religion's all about money. Art is beauty. Art is pure aesthetic."

"You sure thought you was gonna make some green when you brought that project to the Sculpture Garden. Remember that stuff you made outta clothespins, sponges and tin foil?"

"That sculpture came from deep inside," whined Gagnon. "It was titled Abstration L'Outrance. The rejection was political."

"I've noted something," I noted. "When you first come up with an idea, it's all about the money you're gonna make. After it don't sell, then it's all about art, not money."

"Ah, filthy yen! The problem is the art world has never seen anything like Buddha Furioso. So naturally we have an unfixed market value." Gagnon tugged furiously at his forelock. "I don't quite know what to charge for it." "I have some ideas," Tyrone quipped grimly.

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