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August 16, 2012

The Burgeoning Monster Art Market

The other day, my kids got bored and busted out the old Mighty Men and Monster Maker. Remember these things? It has all these plastic plates with outlines of different legs, torsos, and heads that you can mix and match into all sorts of creatures, humanoid, alien, and otherwise. You lay a piece of paper down on top of it, run a crayon back and forth over it like you’re doing a grave rubbing, then sit back and admire the abomination you’ve brought into the world. I don’t think they make the MM&MM anymore, so it’s lucky for my kids that my mom kept mine.  

Mighty man and monster maker
So my kids are working away making their monsters and their mighty men and other ungodly variations on these themes when my eldest, who starts first grade in a couple of short weeks, stops and looks at what he’s created and announces, “I should sell these!” His tone says this idea has just hit him like an idea-laden thunderbolt and that he thinks it’s a winner. I do not doubt at all that he means what he’s saying. I don’t know where he gets it from, but this kid is all about the money. He keeps a meticulous runnning tally of his current holdings and is always looking for ways to stack his paper higher. Frankly, his Alex P. Keaton-ness freaks me out sometimes, but he seems to have a knack for the whole money thing, so short of steering him away from anything illegal or unethical, he’s free to build his little empire as he sees fit. 

To which he was now planning to add a branch for art. 

Alex-P-Keaton
This bugged me for some reason. This isn’t what kids are supposed to do, I thought to myself. Kids aren’t supposed to sell out, er, I mean art (that was a real typo, btw). They’re supposed to just make it and smile and then give it to their mommies and daddies and gwampawents and famiwies and their widdle fwiends and hang it on the weefwidguwator wiff widdle wadybug magnets. They’re not supposed to set down their crayon after filling in that last stroke of color and start tabulating what the market would be willing to shell out for a picture of a smiling masked superhero with tentacles for arms and the legs of a mummy. But that’s exactly what my kid did - set down his crayon, picked up a pencil, and affixed a price right there on his canvas. And then he started trying to sell ‘em, first to his mom and I, then to his little brother. Then he started thinking about other possible customers. 

Cha chingCheap at twice the price

But then I thought about it a bit. Between theater and writing, I’ve had various creative pursuits going on for most of my adult life, and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve gotten paid for any of them. A similar story goes for plenty of very talented people I know. Don't get me wrong, I'm cool with that, I've never done the things that I do for a check, but at the same time, I've started to think lately that maybe there might be a way to change that. I’m a believer that artists should not have to starve, but the obvious reality is that it’s a harder way to go, rife with a whole other set of obstacles, not the least of which is the recognition that, yes, this thing I’m making just might be worthy of a few bucks and it’s okay to hang a price tag off of it. 

Yes, I know, this particular artist is only 6 and hardly starving, but go with me here.

So I thought to myself, who am I to tell him that his six-year-old instincts are weird or wrong? As far as I can tell, it doesn’t detract from his enjoyment of making his pictures in the first place. Instead of being freaked out by his capitalist leanings, maybe I could view it like he’s not burdened by the notion that making money off of your creative pursuits is for other people with special qualifications or is otherwise somehow crass. In that sense, he's got a decades-long headstart on me. 

Except then it all went back to being weird again, not to mention annoying. I bought one of his pictures. His little brother, in spite of our insistence that he didn’t have to, got real excited and dug into his piggy bank to buy one. We hung on the wall in his room to mark the beginning of his life as an art collector. My friend Brian, generous soul that he is, commissioned a picture. All of which was fine and good and wonderful until the kid started following us around, trying to sell us more stuff.  

Nobody likes a pushy salesman, kid. 

Maybe we should introduce him to etsy. In the meantime, here's a glimpse of my future. 

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