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Vincent van Gogh Applies for an NEA Grant

posted by Karen McKevitt on Mon, Mar 21, 2011
in General theatre talk

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Inspired by and in response to the NEA debates, Artistic Director Tony Taccone penned a short play:

VINCENT VAN GOGH APPLIES FOR AN NEA GRANT
By Tony Taccone

(Two men behind a large table, one seated in a large, imposing chair, the other standing. The man in the chair wears bejeweled cowboy boots, a fantastically embroidered leather jacket visible under his voluminous robes. The man standing is dressed impeccably in a dark blue, three-piece suit. He holds a little notebook. On the desk is a portfolio of some kind, open. Behind the desk is a flag. The artist they are talking to is unseen. They speak rapidly, in sync with one another.)

Cowboy
It makes no sense.

Suit
No sense whatsoever.

Cowboy
I’m not saying for you.

Suit
We couldn’t say that.

Cowboy
It’s a free fucking country.

Suit
In God We Trust.

Cowboy
I’m saying for us.

Suit
For the public.

Cowboy
The general population.

Suit
For the people at large

Cowboy
It makes the wrong sense. Forget no sense. It makes the wrong sense.
(looking at the portfolio) You call this a

Suit
What?

Cowboy
Perhaps a nightscape.

Suit
Who can tell?

Cowboy (to the Suit)
He’s painted a nightscape.

Suit
I’m not so sure.

Cowboy
There’s no doubt about it.

Suit (to Cowboy)
Since when does a moon?

Cowboy
Plain as fucking day

Suit
I don’t quite see it

Cowboy (to artist)
Ah ha! You see! And that’s my point.

Suit
The point we’re making.

Cowboy
The point we keep making and re-making

Suit
Ad nauseum

Cowboy
And when I say “we”, I’m talking “we” in the larger sense

Suit
The largest sense, the purest sense

Cowboy
The “who gives a rat’s ass” sense

Suit
The market sense

Cowboy
The common sense of the marketplace sense.
Because the question, Mr?

Suit
Van Gogh

Cowboy
Van Gogh. Okay.
It’s like this Van.
Ruthlessly simple.
Let me pose a question.
Can I pose a question to Van?

Suit
You’re the question man.
If you can’t pose a question then

Cowboy
Here’s the question then Van.
If a piece of art doesn’t sell, does it really exist?

Suit
(laughs)

Cowboy
This is not a koan.

Suit (still laughing)
It’s certainly not.

Cowboy
I’m not being clever.
Am I not being clever?

Suit (unsure)
Well… in a sense.
Everyone knows you’re a clever man.

Cowboy
I’m dead serious now. Van, you listening?

Suit (to the Cowboy, confidentially)
Try the side with the ear.

Cowboy
Listen up, Van.
If your shit doesn’t sell, then it’s worth nothing.

Suit
The gospel according to.

Cowboy
Nada. Zero. Less than zero if you add the labor.
Have you added up your labor?
I bet you have.
The Theory of Surplus Value inverted.
Am I not right?

Suit
The god’s honest and highest truth.

Cowboy
Let me repeat.
If no one wants to buy your shit, then there is no value.
Supply and demand. An immutable law. Handed down from above.

Suit
From Moses to Reagan.

Cowboy
The word made flesh.

Suit
And dwelt among us.

Cowboy
And so, Van, for these and other salient reasons, the Agency, Van, is rejecting your proposal.
Christ!…He’s crying. The man is crying.

Suit (offers him his hanky which is rejected)

Cowboy
Don’t get me wrong.
Personally, I like the work.

Suit
Even if we don’t completely…

Cowboy
One of these would go great
In one of my bathrooms

Suit
The den. The mantle.

Cowboy
Hell, I’d even put one in the kitchen.
The big flower.
Might brighten things up.
Because that’s the question, Van.
How to get one of these into every kitchen.

Suit
Or the bath, nothing wrong with the bath.

Cowboy
Then you’re talking.
You’re more than talking

Suit
Then you’ve got something

Cowboy
Then you’ve got product.
You’re Branding, Van.
Are you listening to me?

Suit (confidentially to Cowboy)
Try the side of the head with the hole in it.

Cowboy (shouting)
It’s sell or die!
You hear me Van!
Which one will it be?!

For God’s sake man,
stop with the shouting!
I’ve got dozens just like you
bangin’ down the door.

Suit
Dozens?

Cowboy
Hundreds

Suit
Hundreds?

Cowboy (irritated)
Thousands okay, thousands!
I’m trying to nice here!

Suit
Sorry, I didn’t….
It’s just that the inventory

Cowboy
Exactly. Exactly with the inventory. The Board President here of one of the greatest if not the greatest arts institutions in the country is here telling you, Van, that his vaulted vaults are overflowing to bursting with thousands of pieces of worthless art! Hundreds of thousands ad infinitum. None bereft of craft, mind you. None without hard evidence of more than a modest degree of talent, no! Some even border on the unspeakably spectacular, unthinkable worlds that in a single instant of a single breath can suck the air right out of your windpipe, connecting every atom floating in the helioscope of your body to the translucent universe without, and that some way, somehow, when you look at them you feel that they hold within their tiny frames the boundless sensation of some desperately mysterious sublime… truth.

And yet, there they now sit, huddled in exile, confined to the damp, corrosive air of this great man's basement, steeped in the profitless dust of eternal sadness because no one fucking owns them. No one understands them. No one will buy them.

(beat)

Suit
There it is.

Cowboy
But we’ve got some good news. Sit up straight, Van, and pay attention!
Because we care deeply about art
because we do not want you to suffer the ignominious fate of those with less talent

Suit
There’s a real shortage of talent out there

Cowboy
We have a proposal.

Suit
A challenge.

Cowboy
An opportunity for you.

Suit
Very very good, it is indeed.

Cowboy
There’s a program designed to support small businesses,
you know, start ups,
for people who show the right kind of initiative.

Suit
Some get up and go.

Cowboy
Some real creativity.

Suit
Some real currency.

Cowboy
So here’s the deal.
You move to the Third World, it’s a Third World Program,
plenty of good places, just stay out of Thailand, too many teak harvesters,
you move to say, Kurdistan, or Micronesia, or pick almost any place in Africa,
and you set up shop and we give you some cash. It will look small on paper, but do not despair, the cash amount will not impress but I am telling you Van, you play your cards right and you can go global, viral, YOU, Mister Van the Man Gogh, can fucking blow up.
Are you hearing me there?

Suit
Sit up now, son.

Cowboy
You study the market. The market that wants to know you, to touch you, to get a little taste

Suit
a little piece of genius.

Cowboy
The market is not your enemy, Van. You find out what people want, right?

Suit
Not so bad!

Cowboy
You do your demographics, some quantitative analysis

Suit
Maybe some focus groups!

Cowboy
Rethink the possibilities. Re launch yourself. Advertising metrics, linking networks, affiliate marketing

Suit
Do I hear product placement?

Cowboy
You set your price points vertically, package the hell out of your inventory, exponentially increase production and voila…they’ll be living replications, patented, royalty-wielding, authentic copies of sunflowers or nightscapes or even these one-eared heads of yours mounted in a place of prominent distinction in every other house on the planet.

 Suit
“A single spark can start a prairie fire”

Cowboy (laughing)
Listen to him, Van. From Mao to Moneyball.

Suit
With more than a nod to Adam Smith!

Cowboy
So think it over and let us know soon.
I don’t have to tell you that these are prized grants, Van. Hundreds of applicants

Suit
Thousands of artists

Cowboy
Lots and lots and lots and lots. So buck up, pal! Think positive! Don’t think of this as a defeat!
Think of this as an opportunity.

Suit (singing)
“I did what I had to do
and saw it through without exemption/”
(sotto voce)
 “I planned each charted course, each careful step, along the byway”

Cowboy
It’s a new day in the arts Van. Time to grow up. Time to get real.

Both (singing)
 “And more, much more than this, I did it my way!”

THE END

 

Comments:

It's things like this that make me love BRT.

Kim | Mon, Mar 21, 2011


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