Monday, March 29, 2010

Mob mentality

Derailing the train of thought of a mob is easy. Assign the color green and red to the shape of a bird and have that shape pronounce the word hello nasally through its beak. Any previous thoughts or notions, however complex and whatever their origin, are completely renegotiated for the unexpected mimicry of an English greeting. “Well, you know, the increased output of technology in the east can be partially attributed to the devastating trend of American indulgence- whoa, honey look at the parrot! Holy crap it said hello!"

Standing some fifty feet along the way is a young man in generally white apparel. A white bandana tops his head, covering windswept hair peaking out beneath it on all sides but his sunburned face. His demeanor is reserved and yet cocky. Further investigation delivers the sight of a metal triangular frame nearby and two chairs on either side of it.

Recognizing the frame for its true purpose, you see that it is an easel. It’s not just any easel though; it has a pad of paper clamped to it. You had naturally assumed that easels held finished pictures, or if you’re more familiar w/ art, that a canvas should be prepped for painting or that the painting is partially started. But definitely not blank paper on an easel, that’s just silly. This artist is obviously a slacker, just standing there like that. You continue walking.

The family behind you slows down and looks further into the assembly. There are illustrated faces above and below the blank paper. They suggest light and dark, possess varying arrays of colors, and invaryingly depict human faces. Human faces, they think, that’s interesting. “Mommy, that’s funny!” says the four year old daughter. “Yes, honey. He’s an artist-he paints faces,” the mother says. The son looks into the tacklebox near the easel. It holds many different colored chunks of things and pencils and paint tubes and a water bottle. Little does he know that this artist is standing in this sunlit spot and as a human being, has the requirement of being hydrated. The father says he’s already a character and chuckles. How original he is. They meander along, not realizing that the artist will draw their faces if prompted.

The couple behind them sees the young man for what he is, a caricaturist. They know this because of previous experiences involving theme parks and work parties where individuals were paid to lampoon their friends. Not because the heavily sharpied sign next to the caricaturist says CARICATURE below a caricatured version of Thomas Jefferson on a ten dollar bill. “So how much is it?” They ask.

The caricaturist is not obnoxious at work. He knows his sign is legitimate and he had spent what he thought to be a clever moment cartooning the third president on his corresponding bill of U.S. currency. He answers politely. The boyfriend realizes the mathematics involved and computes the total bill for his girlfriend and himself to be drawn. Twenty dollars will leave him with enough cash for the couples dinner and little extra. He really wanted to go and play House of the Dead for two hours in the arcade. For nicety, he asks, “how long’s it take ya?” “About five minutes a face” The answer. The boyfriend looks deep in thought as he walks away, thanking the caricaturist. His girlfriend pleads with him, looking confused. So does the caricaturist.

Enjoying cartoons or appreciating the arts is not enough. Many tiers of understanding need to be explored for the passerby to finally be brought to buy a caricature. The truly observant may surpass the test. But at any moment the vibrantly red and green parrot could shout hello, compromising that exploration, and the caricaturist will remain a white-clad guy next to an easel. I am that guy. I now perform in Santa Monica. How about a caricature?