“Bruce, Patrick Henry Bruce, was one of the early and most ardent Matisse pupils and soon he made little Matisses, but he was not happy. In explaining his unhappiness he told Gertrude Stein, they talk about the sorrows of great artists, the tragic unhappiness of great artists but after all they are great artists. A little artist has all the tragic unhappiness and the sorrows of a great artist and he is not a great artist.”
From The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein.
How these stories end
Sometimes these stories end well and sometimes they end badly. This one will just end.
Other stories like this one
The one about the dead salesman. Charlie Brown. The one with Michelle Pfeiffer writhing around on a piano, singing, but only if that story were more about the character played by Beau Bridges, the one with no talent, than the one played by Jeff Bridges. The one about the composer who wants to be the greatest composer but he has too much competition. That story ends up being mostly about the competition. The competition’s a genius and an eccentric and also very charming. These stories tend to veer off onto the subject of the competition. This one won’t.
Other stories unlike this one
The ugly duckling. The little engine that could. The story of how Van Gogh cut off his ear and never sold a painting to anyone who wasn’t a relative during his lifetime yet today his work is revered. Being dead, though, he’s presumably unaware of this turn of events. If somehow he is aware of it, then this story is especially unlike Van Gogh’s.
One possibly significant detail
Van Gogh’s work is now so famous, so over-exposed, that to look at his paintings makes one think of calendars and greeting cards. Consider this: what if Van Gogh had given up his dreams of artistic greatness, and instead produced work intended as illustrations for calendars and greeting cards?
Problems with time and space and speed and distance. The way the light looks. Here is the weather forecast for the mainland: rain. The way the barn looks like something dead, like something decaying, because the little artist is depressed. We will not mention death, decay, or depression, though, because the textbooks say not to. The little artist uses that barn for a studio. It is not heated. It doesn’t have many windows, either, so the light is not good for painting, although it looks pretty coming in that small high window. Thin and full of dust. The floor is unfinished. That stain on his sleeve is ketchup, not paint.
As we have seen, there are two kinds of artists — little ones and great ones. The artist in this story is a little one. Unlike Patrick Henry Bruce, our little artist is so little he doesn’t even know any great artists personally. The only great artist in this story is the one in the little artist’s head, and it’s not him. That is why this story won’t veer off onto the subject of the competition. The little artist is so little he’s too little to play the game. (Come to think of it, there may be a great artist in the accountant’s head, but we can’t be sure of that.)
There are many kinds of accountants, teachers, and airline pilots. The little artist’s wife is an accountant, the woman in the painting is a teacher. Her husband is an airline pilot.
Some more significant details
There are four kinds of money. Money you earn, money you take, money you win, money you don’t have. In this story, the money is the money the little artist’s wife makes. His wife, an accountant, makes good money.
Maybe the ketchup stain belongs here.
Sometimes you can’t paint a woman without it being about the woman.
In a semi-unconscious attempt to provoke great feeling within himself and thus call forth an artistic vision, a little artist can have sexual intercourse with the woman he is painting and still make an ordinary painting. He can have sexual intercourse with the woman he is painting multiple times and still make an ordinary painting.
When the painting is just about finished and the little artist has sexual intercourse with the woman in the painting for the last time, a sliver from the barn floor is driven into the little artist’s left buttock.
There will not be any dialogue. Instead, there will be hearsay.
It is similar to the story about the grasshopper and the ant. The ant works hard in the summer, while the grasshopper does nothing but play. When the cold weather comes, the ant has just enough food to last him through the winter if he’s very careful. The grasshopper has a sold-out show on Broadway.
If the ant is real and the grasshopper only a product of the ant’s imagination, and a kind of grasping despair overtakes the ant and the ant has sexual intercourse with a very attractive spider on the floor of the barn and the accountant’s feelings end up deeply hurt and the spider’s married to an angry wasp of whom the spider says “he must never know,” then it’s exactly the same story. Especially if there’s a painting in it and the painting is not particularly good.
Some less significant details
The accountant is doing a crossword puzzle at the kitchen table when the little artist comes in from the barn with a sliver in his left buttock.
Shortly after this story is over, and for a reason having very little to do with it, the teacher takes a stress leave from her work. She takes the stress leave because her husband, the airline pilot, finally leaves her for the flight attendant he has been sleeping with for the past ten years. So we no longer have to feel sorry for the airline pilot. Unfortunately, nothing can be done for the teacher.
The ketchup stain on the little artist’s sleeve probably belongs here.
Today his grocery list says cheese.
Some more significant details
The little artist tells the accountant everything. He tells her everything, all the while thinking that’s it, it’s all over, she’ll leave him, he’ll have to get a real job, an ordinary job, and support himself like everyone else or he won’t eat. You don’t work, you don’t eat, that’s what his father always said. His father was in retail. That’s it then, the little artist will have to get a real job. Some part of him feels relieved.
The accountant uses a silver needle to pull the sliver out of the little artist’s left buttock. Although she pokes him a few unnecessary times and although there is afterward a scene in which she shouts and she weeps, in time his wife forgives him. His wife believes in the little artist, in his talent and in his goodness both, even though there’s never been much evidence of either. The little artist’s wife is an accountant, yes, but also a kind of angel, thinks the little artist. A kind of accountgel. A kind of angtant. The little artist tells himself this and is grateful. The little artist is very grateful. To his wife, the accountgel, the little artist owes everything.
There are always greeting cards.
The little artist picks up his paint brush and tries again. Trying again, the little artist picks up his paint brush. Picking up his paint brush, the little artist tries again. The little artist picks up his paint brush and tries again.