Friday, March 27, 2020

The Elephant Man


We'd been watching a movie on the teevee, probably something from the film noir genre that has recently captivated us, and she'd been munching on a fresh bowl of popcorn. An outburst of this sort from The Artist is a sign that her creative radar has just scanned a target.

"Quick", she said... "tell me what this looks like to you."

I joined her on the couch and stared down at the piece of popcorn in her hand. It had an unusual shape but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. She saw the questioning look on my face and said "It's the head of an elephant, you dummy. Can't you see it?"

Once she said that, it was clear what she'd seen in that popped kernel of corn that almost made in into her mouth. Yep... two obvious large flappy ears, a truncated trunk and elephant-ish head. An elephant!

"I'm gonna create an art project around it", she declared. "I can make a new shadow box or framed piece. It'll be cool!"

I'm used to this by now. She can see art potential in almost anything, which sets her mind into overdrive to figure out exactly how the project will be developed. She's the only person I know who can walk down an aisle at The Home Depot and point out potential art projects made from miscellaneous hardware items... ON EVERY AISLE.

The Quest Begins.


Art is a very subjective thing.

Throughout human history, great art is considered crap by some and crappy art is lauded by others. Every true artist understands this brutal fact and lives with the constant realization that no matter how much creative effort they invest in their medium of choice, it will likely as not be met with criticism and derision.

Vincent Van Gogh didn't sell a single painting until the final year of his life. Claude Monet's early attempts at the new style of art known as 'Impressionism' were laughed at and derided as crap when shown at a Paris salon in 1874. It took another two decades before his brilliant talent was finally... finally... recognized.

Claude. Monet.

All artists carry the burden of rejection with them like a gunny sack tossed over their shoulder, filled with negative comments and misinterpretations of their work. Doesn't matter if the medium is paint, granite, ink on paper, music, dance, glass, macaroni, recycled cardboard, plastic flatware or dryer lint. 

The artist's vision knows no bounds except the limitations of their chosen medium. However, their creative output is often limited by society's insatiable need to equate art with a monetary value before it's valued at all.

That's why the vast majority of artists never sell a damned thing, yet they continue to create what they see in their mind's eye. They're driven to do so... it's an almost uncontrollable desire.

It's also why so many artists, after failing to recreate the perfection their mind's eye has seen, suffer from anxiety and depression and occasionally remove themselves from this mortal coil.

Creativity as a crucifix... self-nailing, too!

The amazing woman in my life, referred to here as The Artist, has lived with this burning creativity her entire life. She too carries a gunny sack filled with the veiled criticism and constant rejection of her work. For over three decades, I've witnessed the struggle to realize her passion and become a working artist who actually sells her art, and she's finally achieved that hard-sought goal.

Although she creates commissioned art like a Boss, her personal output isn't for everyone (nor should any art be!) due mostly to the fact that she's semi-demented and has a wonderfully weird sense of humor.

Like all artists, she sees things the rest of us 'normies' don't. That's why she RULES.


The next day, she had a vision.

"It's 'The Elephant Man'! I'll make a small shadow box using the popcorn as the head and paint the background to match."

My mind began to reel with the myriad possibilities. The misshapen popcorn head did indeed look like an elephant and the unfortunate real-life Joseph Merrick, but I was wary about how it might be perceived or if people would actually understand the reference.

"It'll have to be kind of a small piece", she said. "I'll make sure the head isn't overwhelmed by the size of the box or frame or the background painting."

That same morning, she established it would be a shadow box so a shopping trip was planned to the local craft stores to find what she was looking for. This was a regular occurrence: once the vision is revealed, the challenge is bringing it to reality with exactly the right materials. 

She closely examined the popcorn elephant head. "This thing is pretty delicate. I'll bet it'll fall apart once it dries out, so I'll apply some kind of sealer or coating to make sure it stays in one piece."

I agreed that was probably a good idea and didn't give it a second thought. She's really good with paints and sealers and uses them with discretion. A few minutes later, I heard a terrible sound:


I raced through the house to her studio. She was standing there, head down, obviously dejected, and held up the popcorn elephant head for me to look at.

Only it wasn't a popcorn elephant head any more, just a small shriveled-up food bit. The chemical sealer she'd applied reacted to the popcorn and shrunk it down into an unrecognizable mass.

"My Elephant Man... GONE!" she wailed.

"I'm sorry", I said... "I should have considered what the chemical sealer would do to that organic popcorn."

She sat down, her head still down, shoulders sagging. "Gawd, that head was perfect and I'll never ever find another one like it."

I offered to make some more popcorn, but her massive artist brain was already in overdrive. She was on fire.

"No, this is still a project I can do, just without the popcorn head, which was cool and unusual but the damage would have happened eventually anyways. I can make the head out of something else."

That something else turned out to be paper, a medium she's used for many singular art pieces that have been sold to discriminating clients who love her work and bent perspective. We did our craft store scavenger hunt and found a perfectly sized square wood tray with angled sides to make it a suitable shadow box.



It happens at every art show where we set up the Misguided Designs display booth. We see four kinds of people:

#1 -- People who casually walk by the booth, barely glancing our way without stopping to look at anything.

#2 -- People who walk by the booth, stop directly in front but don't step in under the canopy. They look inside, grimace with displeasure and continue on.

#3 -- People who walk into the booth, slowly scan the artwork on display and leave without saying a word.

#4 -- People who walk into the booth, start looking at the art on display and say "Omigod... I love this work!" or "This is the best booth in the show, thanks for being here!" or "Hold on... I gotta get someone over here right away to see this!" or "Where in the world did you get the idea for that?". These people linger under the canopy looking at everything, talk with others about how much they enjoy the work, buy one or more pieces and/or talk to The Artist about a special order or commission. Handshakes and hugs, warm fuzzies, money in the till.

The Artist creates art for herself and for the #4 people... the ones who have an alternative sense of humor, who see things others don't, who appreciate a slightly bent perspective, who aren't afraid to laugh out loud over a piece that cracks them up.

The rest of them?  They'll catch on eventually... or maybe never.

Not all art is for everyone, nor should it be.


In the end, 'The Elephant Man' came out really cool, yet another in a line of Misguided Designs mixed-media pieces made from wood, paint and paper.  Sadly, no popcorn was used in the fabrication of this one-of-a-kind art piece.

The greatest joy of my life is being married to The Artist. Though her creative quests, our lives are filled with amazing music and film and art and food, all the things that inspire and intoxicate us with an overwhelming love of life.

Several years ago, we had the chance to take our teenage Niece to visit the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA), a very special occasion since she'd never been inside a museum before.

In addition to exhibits revolving around the films of Stanley Kubrick and a display of mid-century modern furniture and sculpture, she had the chance to experience 'Levitated Mass', the massive 240-ton boulder exhibit that allows you to walk underneath it.

The best part of the day? It was watching her walk around LACMA with her jaw perpetually dropped after viewing one incredible exhibit after another. She was experiencing art at its finest for the first time, and it was our way of gifting her with the reality and purpose of art in every medium.

Meaningful art will always elicit an emotional response, whether positive or negative. Dealing with that response is another matter entirely.

Support artists of every type as much as you can. Attend art shows and boutiques and don't be afraid of looking at everything.  Ask questions about what you see... artists love sharing their creative vision with others. You never really know what kind of art will smack you between the eyes and make your jaw drop and the money fly out of your hands.

Don't fear art... embrace it with the zest in which it was created. You won't always 'get it' but that's not really the point. Creative output gives us all a fleeting glimpse into the heart and soul of the person who dragged it out of their psyche and made it real.

As The Artist likes to say:

"I don't dream in color... I dream about color."

Click on this link to see more 'Misguided Designs'.

Lead image, Gracias de Google Images; 'Levitated Mass' image, Gracias de LACMA; Don McLean 'Vincent' video, Muchismas Gracias de YouTube.


  1. "Art is a very subjective thing." That said it all. Here in the St. Louis area we have Laumeier Sculpture Park. This link will get you to a page on their site that has links to all the outside sculptures.
    If you're ever in St. Louis this sounds like a must stop for you two.

  2. Artistic inspiration is everywhere! Don McLean's "Vincent" has always been a favourite song of mine too.

  3. Thanks... it does resonate, no? Be sure to see the film 'Loving Vincent'.