They Drink to Bach and Feed on Our Souls


January 10, 2022 / Aaron Boehmer



A constant pursuit of profit quenches the modern vampire’s thirst for blood.


Fresh, bloody steak with bones laden in fat is the Titan Cronus’s favorite meal. He particularly fancies eating his offspring; their cries warm his heart dearly. Quite picky about his dinner music, Cronus only ever listens to the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

“Such elegance,” he sputters while chewing on his son’s tendons.

“I adore what Bach did in the opening flourish,” he moans, blood oozing from the corners of his mouth like a burger with too much ketchup.

I shiver at the mere sight of Francisco Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son. God, I hate ketchup.

Love and Pain by Edvard Munch dances to the same chords. The painting depicts a woman’s mouth nestled into the side of a man's neck. He drowns in her piercingly red hair. Some people wonder if she’s biting or kissing him, but one look at his lifeless body reveals the truth. His carotid artery is her evening entrée.

A tale of man-eating, feminist revenge? I wish. If it was, then let the woman feast. More power to her! Unfortunately, the motif that became of Love and Pain is more similar to the ways of Cronus.





A TOXIC TOCCATA 



In 1800s Berlin, Munch’s brushstrokes unearthed the modern vampire. Inspired by its ill-favored predecessors of European colonialism and Vlad the Impaler, this monster was nothing new. The only difference was that Munch made his vampire with oil paint. He must have not used enough varnish, as the monster managed to paint itself outside its frame. Now materialized into the real world, a constant pursuit of profit quenches its thirst for blood.

I wish this vampire took after the likes of Edward Cullen, playing bizarre baseball games and going to high school for the umpteenth time. Watching Twilight is what I assume a bad acid trip feels like, but at least its story is make-believe.

Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen came about 100 years after Munch’s vampire. Nevertheless, 1893 and 2008 were somehow similar. In both years, the art market and its collectors drained the veins of artists completely dry.

“Unlivable income and unfair copyright protections for all!” the art collectors chant. “Use these tools to inspire creativity for the world at the low, low price of your soul!”

Continuing their fit of rage, the collectors yank out artists’ withered veins, spin the veins into gold, and then use them as thread for regalia. Wrapped in fraudulent grandeur, the collectors spend the rest of their day gazing at themselves with erotic admiration.

In this spectacle of egomania, they sharpen their fangs with outsourced labor and powder their noses with the ashes of imagination. A tacky vanity set, to say the least.

The artist is left with no alternative but to write off their art for a profit. Their creations spoil like the corpse in Love and Pain. The market uses its waves of luscious, red hair to baptize art in riches, drowning the artist in a somber death.





A HELLISH FUGUE



Just as with Munch’s painting, some see the ugly bite of commodification as a kiss. If it is one, I would say it’s sloppy with teeth, blood, and too much tongue. I guess some people are into that. The free market is their kink, and they harness themselves by the bootstraps to a ghastly sex swing of money and greed.

Free marketeers claim that selling art has merits because the artist earns recognition and resources. At the individual level, this may be true. A person who sells their own art has control over their work and the labor that goes into it. I confess that I partially say this to justify the selling of my own paintings. Fret not! I’m not a vampire nor in bed with the free market because I didn’t outsource any labor to create the art. Although, like many other artists, I had to buy supplies from a local Michaels store.

Exploitation comes into play when the artist employs other people in the making or selling of their art; they become reliant on the labor of others. What was once intended to be ethical becomes filled with greed and corruption.

Once a vampire feeds for the first time, they can't stop at just one drop of blood. The lure of money inevitably leads an individual to exploit other people, to see the artist and their work as nothing more than disposable transactions. Within capitalist logic, to claim that art is a creative and priceless outlet is sacrilegious. Well, damn. Banish me to hell then!





A CODA OF DECEIT AND EXPLOITATION



The vampire feeds on every corner of the industry, including work that directly opposes commodification. Anti-capitalist paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat adorn T-shirts and purses. Banksy knockoffs are for sale on Amazon despite his fervent anti-establishment stance. Like a vampire does with its prey, the industry demeans critical artistic meanings to maintain its own legitimacy.

Sometimes artists indulge in vampirism. Pablo Picasso sold his art for high prices during his career. By the time of his death, he was worth up to the modern-day equivalent of $1.3 billion. His mouth is frothed over with the thick blood of his creativity. What a sellout!

Unlike Picasso, many artists bear scars from the fangs of the art market. These scars aren’t random. The capitalist values of the market and its collectors work in conjunction with racism, white supremacy, and misogyny, deciding those who receive respect and those subjected to exploitation. The experience of Basquiat as a Black Neo-expressionist artist reveals the vampiric iniquities of the art world. Constant remakes of Basquiat’s work show a lack of care and regard for his art. It’s like his neck provided too little of a supply, so the art world stabbed a needle into his arm to pump out bags full of blood.

These bags leave Basquiat’s art a sickly green, diluted of its intended messages. Large corporations like Coach place his artistry on their dull handbags without explaining its significance. The brand superficially acknowledges his colorful abstract imagery and phrases inspired by African, Aztec, and Greek cultures; African American history; and social justice. Basquiat’s crown motif, for instance, is more than just an arbitrary illustration. It’s a reclamation of Black people’s royalty that has been whitewashed by westernized history.

In contrast, Coach created a wallet out of a 1960s Pop art symbol: the Campbell’s Soup Cans. The wallet looks tacky at best, but because its soup motif was created by a so-called genius, it’s automatically revered. The genius in question is Andy Warhol. I just don’t see the brilliance. Warhol traced pictures of canned foods, while Basquiat spray-painted masterpieces.

Moreover, the Basquiat collection is available for over 50 percent off on Coach’s website, while the Warhol wallet stands at steep resale values on Poshmark. Limited access to products with Warhol’s work on it accentuates his commentary on U.S. consumerism. Unceasing reproductions of Basquiat’s work diminish his important messages of Black power and anti-capitalism.

This disparity outlines the racism of the art world, where white people’s artistic intentions are respected, while Black people’s creative aims are dishonored. The art market is a vampire that props up white people and exploits Black and brown people.


A PLAGAL CADENCE FOR THE MURDERED SONS AND LOVED ONES



The commodification of art is a relentless evil. If artists have any more blood in their veins, the vampire will go on sucking the life out of them.

How do we kill the vampire?

Time after time, the art world shows itself to be inherently exploitative. Banksy tried to inspire change with his self-destructive Girl with Balloon painting. At an auction, the work sold for just over $1 million. Then, an alarm went off, and half of the painting shredded to pieces. Banksy had planned this demonstration to critique corporate greed in the art world. His display was a commendable exhibit, but all it did was garner gasps and warrant press coverage. The fragmented work is now worth a humble $8 million.

Alas, we should not be surprised. One cannot reform something founded on corruption. Exploitation is the root from which the fangs of the art world grew. The market couldn’t rid itself of commodification even if we tore out its teeth, leaving nothing but dry sockets. It would still thirst for blood, probably in new ways and even more than before.

Measly toothaches are not enough. Goya and Munch taught us that vampires stop at nothing for more power. The only way to stop the vampire is by completely ceasing its existence, releasing its soul of immortality.

With a wooden stake in hand, let us give the market and its power-holders a taste of their own blood. It is only then that we can build anew.

As the ashes settle on the art world, the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor fades to silence. At the dawn of a new day, a major chord begins to play, one that is free of commodification.■




by: Aaron Boehmer

layout: Grace Harter

photographer: Ren Breach

stylists: Alex Cao & David Garcia

hmuas: Amber Bray & Jane Lee

models: Anahi Chavero & Cameron Wesley


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