The First Artist (But is it Art?)
Have you ever visited an art museum, and, after seeing what’s on display there, walk out wondering to yourself – “Do you call that art? Why would that museum pay so much money for it? Hey, what is art, anyway?”
Artists, intellectuals, and just about everyone else has debated this since time immemorial.
This humorous, satirical story questions the nature of printmaking, art, science, and human nature, among other things!
What came first, the “artist” or the “art”? Says who?
Sixty-five million years ago, a great dinosaur went for a walk across some vast fields of mud, leaving a trail of footprints in its wake. This was the last walk that he or any of his cousins would take, for shortly thereafter, his species was rendered extinct.
Five and three score-million years later, another kind of animal, known as Homo sapiens, came across the miraculously preserved dinosaur footprints, and decided that the rock could be cut up into squares, and sold to science museums as “impressions”, and to art museums as “prints”.
…And then someone claiming to be nearest evolutionary kin to the star dinosaur entered the scene, demanding royalties on the sales…
Of course, such a claim is hard to substantiate, and such a demand is likely to be rejected; but our greedy little hero coined an impressive plot: he went around to every art gallery and science museum that displayed the petrified footprints of his great-great ancestor, and, with great evasive efforts, pricked his thumb and stamped his bloody DNA-laden thumbprint all over the footprints.
A printmaker’s art tool?
He Thinks It’s Art, But is it “Real” Art?
How do you define “Real” art?
He was apprehended many times, but in each case would loudly proclaim that he had connected physically and spiritually with the flesh and soul of his great-great ancestor through his act. He soon became the buzz of the day in the museum and gallery world.
The lust for printed money soon had the idea presses rolling again in his mind, and he minted another Print Plot: he took his thumbprint, and employed various printmaking techniques to enlarge it and print copies of it, and then he pinned the copies up on a wall and poked his thumb with a pin and “signed” them with his thumbprint.
He laid claim that it was a primitive physical and spiritual drive that compelled him to do it, and carefully limited the number of bloody prints to the number ofdinosaur footprints that he had “printed” on, calling it a Limited Edition.
He received several million bills of printed money for it, and a few imprinted coins as well.
A prominent art museum had bought a large portion of the prints, and proudly put them on display, along with an acquired dinosaur footprint in stone; and they drew huge crowds of art lovers and curiosity seekers.
Among these viewers was an ex-security guard for the art museum. He had seen many works of art before that had caused him to wonder about what art really was, and this was no different. But when he got back home, he realized that the display had left an impression in his mind, and soon he minted an idea of his own: To churn out counterfeit prints using his own thumbprint, and “signed” with ink that looked like dried blood (he wasn’t going to prick his thumb), then sneak into the museum and swap them with the originals, and sell the originals under the table. After all, in the days when he had been a security guard for the museum, he had occasionally been approached by strange characters proposing deals to acquire art by insider theft; but he had always chickened out.
Since, number One, he had taken an intro class in printmaking when he was a student, and since, number Two, he remembered all the ins and outs of the security system at the art museum, and since, number Three, he still had contact with some of the under the table art swindlers that he’d met, his plan went as easy as One-Two-Three.
Art = Science = $ ?
Science Meets Art
Can art be science? Can science be art?
The originals ended up at a prominent science museum on the other side of the cultural side of town, displayed next to an imprinted dinosaur footprint. After all, the science museum had heard about the art museum’s great success in drawing crowds, and wanted to capitalize on the fad. Neither did they consult with the art museum about the prints, as competitors tend to shun each other in such matters.
And sure enough, the crowds came. Science buffs and curiosity seekers. Among the crowds of science museum goers was an accomplished biologist who held great interest in the areas of genetics and reptilian evolution. By now, the print displays also featured a photograph of the “bloody-DNA-printmaker-artist”, now turned celebrity. The biologist noted what he thought was a striking similarity between the shape of the newly-minted celebrity’s jaw and the jaw of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and remembered that a newly discovered DNA testing technique was giving insight on ancestral lineages predating primate species. He wanted to do a DNA analysis of the signature thumbprint, which was said to be of the artist’s blood.
The science museum was at first hesitant, but on seeing that an accomplished biologist was making the request, felt they could only benefit from the possible publicity that it would bring. Since they had only one stone dinosaur imprint, they felt it better to sacrifice the corner of one of their paper prints in the name of science and publicity.
Art Museum Rep VS. Science Museum Rep
Common Denominator: Fame + Art = Fame + Science = $
Is it in our DNA to lust for these things?
The newspapers were notified of the celebrity event to be; and, of course, a huge press write-up followed. (It seems that DNA was all the rage after a certain former President of the United States had been framed by it.) The art museum caught wind of all the media attention that was being showered on the science museum, and a classic case of competitive jealousy arose. The two competitors had basically the same product, but the science museum was now drawing far larger crowds than the art museum. Further, the celebrity printmaker was an ARTIST, not a SCIENTIST–or so claimed the art museum. But the science museum retorted that DNA is a scientific concern, not an artistic matter.
Of course, some people from the art museum went over to see how the science museum was displaying the common product, and one very discerning art museum employee (the print curator) made a curious observation: the edition numbers on both the art museum’s prints and the science museum’s prints were the same!
A science sensation was quickly turning into an art scandal. The celebrity printmaker knew not what to say to the droves of reporters rolling questions at him. Nor could he hide, for his face was by far the most recognized face in town. Had he been scamming everyone and selling “duplicate editions” just to make more money? The glare of the spotlight of negative attention nearly caused him to panic. He thought of skipping town and changing identities. But his fingerprints were on public display.
But were they all his?
An investigative agency was called in. The celebrity’s thumbprint matched the bloody thumbprints on both the science museum’s and art museum’s dinosaur footprints; and on the editioned prints in the science museum. The thumbprints on the art museum’s editioned prints matched those of a former art museum employee. His thumbprints ended up in the police records, and his fingerprints covered the bars of his jail cell as he grasped onto them. The celebrity ‘s thumbprints ended up in the gossip columns of the newspapers and magazines, as well as in some rare special feature gossip columns in the art and science journals. The art lovers, science buffs, and curiosity seekers ate it all up. So did everyone else.
In the end, we’re all raging DiNosAurs…
Hey – What is “ART”, Anyway?
See this story in its original context, with a little QUESTIONNAIRE following the story, where you can cast your vote! (And the Question asked there is NOT exactly the same one that you see above…)