For some reason, Americans like to steal from their friends. In no other country have I ever had anything stolen. Lucky, perhaps, I never had anything stolen from me until the last year of prep school. The entire group of tiny sculptures I had done for a final art show at the Wooster School in Danbury, Connecticut was stolen. These included little nudes, female and male in the spirit of equal rights. My favorite was a seated two-inch figure that I called, “Man with an Erection.” If you stole one, or all, email me with a photo. I’d just like to see what was so great that you had to add them to your collection .
Next, at the Maryland Institute, College of Art (Now known by the stupid acronym MICA, what is it a reference to? The glittering mineral of little value?) in Baltimore, I had lots of art, supplies and things stolen. Not by thieves, but by friends. While complaining about the loss of a vinyl album, Meet the Bee Gees, a friend of mine, Joe Fontana, told me that he had stolen it. He refused to return it. His actions were incomprehensible.
I was very poor, putting myself through college. Money was so tight that I had to work five part-time jobs just to pay the rent, school tuition and basic survival. As gentrification booted me from one cheap, run-down apartment to the next, at one point I found myself renting a room along with five medical students from Johns Hopkins. One of them, a girl named Paula, was a compulsive kleptomaniac. I was warned by the others to just search her room and take back anything that I missed. That’s not the most odd part about rooming with these kids.
One day we all returned from our classes to find out a real professional thief had broken into our shared brownstone. One of the boys’ bicycles was stolen from the hallway, jewelry from the girls, money from dressers and other valuables. I wasn’t that concerned because I owned almost nothing aside from art supplies and books. I didn’t own a dress, let alone a dresser. All I had was a sleeping bag. When I went to check my room, I found ten crisp dollar bills laid out neatly side-by-side on my army surplus sleeping bag. The others, who were quite wealthy by comparison just laughed. It seems that I was one of the only people in history to have been taken pity on by a thief.
What hurts is that I left some paintings at a friend’s house in the basement and they were all “stolen.” I especially regret the loss of a painting that was a final project for Professor Hershberg. He had given me an A, and told me that, on the strength of that work, I should become a painter. The subject was the genitals of a redheaded man, glorious ginger pubic hair, milky white thighs and rosy man parts. The rest of my paintings were also meaningful in another way, because my father and I had made the stretchers from scrap wood. I couldn’t afford the pricey store-bought ones. I had ground the pigments, scooped the paint into empty tubes, and boiled rabbit skin glue to prime the canvas. When I asked what had happened to the pile of canvases, she shrugged nonchalantly and said something about friends taking the paintings they liked. As if that were justification. When I spotted a rabbit that I had carved out of soapstone, she had the nerve to ask if she could keep it. I grabbed it and left my sister-in-law’s house.
These are, to be sure, some of my art adventures, but if I am any example, thievery is common among friends. My engagement ring was stolen by another Wooster School alumna. When I was in the hospital, a friend and her friend cleaned my home of my remaining jewelry and other items that appealed to them. Even my mother’s friend stole a book I was reading from me while on a visit. At least a dozen of my photographs and negatives have been stolen. Six have ended up on CD covers and in books and promotional materials. The one who used the most was a friend, now deceased, who never apologized.
All of these incidents are indicative to me of a corruption of values. I would never steal. “Thou shalt not steal” has been heard, but not understood by Christians. Even my dog does not steal food from my cat when the tempting morsel is ten inches from his nose and the cat is sniffing it, considering whether or not he wants it. I have to pick it up and offer it before the dog will eat it. The dog shows respect for another’s property. I guess this makes a lot of people lower than dogs.
If you think that your god will forgive you for stealing from an artist, I won’t. Common ridiculous excuses I have heard include, “You can always make another one.” Another one I hate is, You should be flattered.” This makes me angry. You should be flattered if I give you a piece of art.
I needed to get this rant out of my system to better enjoy the Super Happy World of art.