She was sitting at the table, offering advice- no; she was giving career guidance to a young teenager. The table at which she sat was surrounded by a group of women with similar features, and who barely looked up when I approached the table. A cool reception, not unusual. I pushed ahead introducing myself.
I was curious about the conversation and the teenager’s curiosity about the future and her role in it. The child’s mother was a self-proclaimed successful accountant, and she was standing there, listening attentively with her head bent looking down at her muscle-bound calves, while she flexed them.
Again I introduced myself, this time they responded, and with obvious condescension which recognized as animosity and I’m sure I caught the whiff of a foul animus. I wondered whether it was my height, my weight or the clothing I was wearing. They were all rather short, but bulging in muscle.
Cyclists, kitted out in full cycling regalia. Short, stocky bodies with disproportionately short legs. They were all connected. The seated one was the physiotherapist and long-time family friend. A family of very successful chartered accountants, they told me again, nonchalantly. The child was in her second year of high school and I guess, had reached some kind of crossroads. Passion, and a path, the future lies ahead.The angst of the teenager, clearly coming through her pimpled pink face.
I gave my two cents and said, ‘whatever you do, don’t think about being an artist, cause the chances are you’ll starve’. It was tongue-in-cheek and truth too, but it was also a backhanded way of explaining my skinniness. it was then that the woman at the table looked at me quite pointedly and with head pulled back and lifted chin she asked ‘what do you do?’ I was poised and contained my disdain and disgust, her attitude was not unusual. I answered and made sure my smile was bigger than the bottom half of my face.
There was talk about art, artists and society before she began speaking about the current value of the artist in the corporate world. I was amazed.
I’d never gotten my foot anywhere near or through the proverbial door, ever. Not even close. Not even near. Yes, long before I began looking for regular work that would cover costs of living and full-time painting, painting had failed miserably to do so. My mind had drifted away thinking about what she was saying, so I pulled it back, intending to be attentive and present.
The topic was interesting and annoying at the same time, but perhaps it triggered my subterranean frustration which I subsequently experienced as annoyance. She was saying something about workshops, and ‘learning to think like an artist’.
I asked her to elaborate, and off she went in elaboration. ‘the artist’ she said ‘thinks in an unstructured way’. I was amazed, and amused by her animated manner, but contained my amazement and amusement, hiding it behind a wider than wide smile. ‘Oh’ I said, ‘unstructured, what did they understand by the concept of unstructured?’
She missed the sarcasm, but it was subtle so who would blame the arrogant knave, for not picking up on it. She began a lengthy speech about ‘in and out of box’ thinking. I listened feigning wonderment while my mind spat ‘cliché, clichéd and cliché-ing, rat a tat, tat monkeys do that’ – aurally, automatically and instantly at me from within the deepest region of my artist’s core. To her and them, the givers of the workshops which show, teach and tell how to think like an artist, the ability to think like an artist is merely a matter of unboxing the boxed mainframe of one’s paradigm of mind, point of departure or whatever it is that contains the ‘thinking machinery’ of an individual, a person who is not an artist, and voila, everybody and anybody will have the ability to ‘think like an artist’.
I found the idea distasteful, offensive but smiled even wider. Turning to the teenager, I told her that under no circumstances should she consider being an artist unless she had secured a stable trust fund, because the chances of earning a living as an artist were pretty meagre, and, I added, ‘even if the corporations are seeking the secret of the inner essence of the artist’s mind, kingdom will come before corporations employ artists, just because they ‘think like artists’. The kid smiled at me, saying she’d probably take the accounting route, she mentioned something about it being in her genes, or DNA, or something like that.
It’s an enormously curious thing, and I’ve thought about it often enough since the physiotherapist had informed me of it, and I wonder whether it’s really true. Is there really a premium on the ‘way an artist thinks’ in the corporate world?