Vanity well fed is benevolent. Vanity hungry is spiteful.” Mason Cooley

THE TITLE REFERS to, not the Tom Wolfe novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, but to the 1497 event where when egged on by charismatic nutjob/monk Girolamo Savonarola hundreds of Florentinians burned thousands of objects that were believed to be “Occasions of Sin” i.e. things, events or persons that would “help” you sin. Ironically Savonarola was tossed on the bonfire a year later.

The drawing is painted in photoshop where I can go from black to white with a tap of a key and change brush size with change of hand pressure. Also the colorizing is a quick try this, undo, try that process. None of the challenges of actually painting are involved—a mixed blessing, that. It’s as simple as it can be. I stopped when it said what I wanted it to say. There is no touch ups of slippages of my hand or fine tuning details for the sake of unnecessary realism.

Was gonna call it “the (over) thinker” because of the first panel toilet scene which mocks the over-rated Rodin sculpture (His Clenched Left Hand and The Tempest are better and Daumier’s statuettes are better still.) And, as usual, I’ve over thought the concepts herein.

It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” Karl Marx

In panel 1, art is shown at its base as an impulse without a lot of consciousness involved—ingest, digest, excrete. The wholly conscious parallels of that are: world observed, ideas conceived, illustrations made. In panel 2, art is more therapeutic; the metaphor is a plaster (UK) to help with the cure of a more or less conscious psychological wound.

Then in panels 3 and 4 it’s about art as an “occasion of sin” but not with any organized religion’s sense of sin, rather as a slippage in self esteem from trying and failing to improve one’s social status. Or the other way around: rejecting social status to gain self esteem. Whether Marx is right or wrong here is to be determined.

Those scenes are the social existences of art. On one hand, this is where the artist’s craft comes a vehicle for other’s concepts, in exchange for the means to survive. On the other, the artist’s concepts—craft has no value in fine art—are used by others to thrive. Both of these exchanges are zero sum and neither tends to equity or honesty.

Panel 5 is where it all ends up. 99.99% (I only assume, I have no facts) of all art ends up here. Side trips to museum basements or more likely heirs’ attics are only temporary. The end is not a bonfire, but a landfill. When the artist’s life work gets here, it’s not because of others’ malice, but their indifference.

My advice? Let panels 1 and 2 just happen, no harm and some good in that. Then figure out where you want to be, but aren’t, between between panels 3 and 4 and go for it or find satisfaction where you are. Finally, as you are still here now—RIP Ram Dass—not there (panel 5) yet, try not to think about “there.”