Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hoax, Ha-ha, or High Art?

Anyone who works in any gallery, art center, museum, art publication, or other art-related service knows the large quantities of unsolicited emails and letters sent by unabashed, self-promoting artists. Usually, they go something like this:
"I'm a [really great or new] artist who is looking for gallery representation. I make [paintings, sculptures, photographs, etc.] that are especially eye-catching and brilliant. If you're interested in seeing my work, please visit my website at [http://artist'swebsite]. [List of resume achievements.] [List of websites or publications.] Have a nice day!"
Just in case you were considering sending such an email, save yourself the time and energy. These sort of emails almost always go directly to the "trash" folder. Why? There are usually obvious phrases that point to the fact that this was a copy and paste letter, often showing the artist didn't even bother to see what kind of business he/she is sending the letter to. For example, why would you send a letter asking for "gallery representation" to a magazine? Well, we get them all the time and they always go to the trash folder.

Today, however, I received the most bizarre of such letters. Without sharing the artist's name or identifying details, here is what it says (all misspellings and grammar faults copied directly from original email):

"Dear: Director
I emailed you a copy of the work but my will has just been finished and I decided to send you a brief idea do what it states I need museum to find out I am looking for a home and I need help showing the work. last page of my web is a link to ovation tv, there is a photo and video of the work I am looking for home in a permanent collection. The work is titled [title of artwork]. It is a sarcophagus.

I look forward to hearing from you.

[artist's name]
[artist's website]

The work is titled [title of artwork]. It is a sarcophagus and this unique-shaped Glass House covered in jewelry with a wooden base covered in glass flowers will eventually contain the ashes of my husband, our dog, and me. Not only will this be one of my works of art but it will contain the artist.

My will also states that I bequeath the sum of Fifty Thousand Dollars to the museum for maintain it. And if taken, the museum is entitled to all my art work upon my death to auction of to raise money for the museum. (If they wish)"
As I read the email I nearly laughed aloud! First, why send this to Visual Overture Magazine? We're not a museum and we don't publish "news" articles. Second, is this a joke? Is someone seriously trying to sell their future dead body's ashes and that of their husband's and dog's? Third, this artist is offering money for the upkeep of their art and offering all their art for the museum to keep or sale for free?? Wow.

I thought this must be some kind of scam, but turns out the artist's website is legitimate and appears to be operated by a real person. But, at the same time, this email sounds so suspicious for a variety of reason, it definitely makes me question its validity. So, to solve this mystery, let's look at the points that make it fit into one of three categories -- "Hoax," "Ha-ha," or "High-Art."

  • Terrible English and writing skills (points to the possibility of a "Nigeria Scam")
  • Offering a large sum of money ($50,000), also points to a "Nigeria Scam" scenario
  • Offering all of entire life's artwork for free (why?)
  • Artist said they emailed me a copy of the work, but this is the first time I've heard of or seen this
Ha-ha (joke)
  • Terrible English and writing skills (poorly written on purpose for laughs)
  • Sale of ashes of three future dead beings
  • Artwork isn't particularly interesting or well-crafted (after looking on website)
  • Cheesy music on video explaining artwork with just a slideshow of the artwork from different angles over and over again
High Art
  • Terrible English and writing skills (may be sincerely written, not to say that artists have bad English or writing skills)
  • Unique idea to sell art with actual artist included as part of the art (albeit, a dead artist)
  • Lists resume achievements, indicating an artist who is serious about their career
What do you think? Which of the three is it -- hoax, ha-ha, or high art? I'd love some feedback on this one!! :)


    1. I have been busting a gut with laughter on this thread, which started from a request to connect on

      Emotionally, many artists share some of what I call the Van Gogh complex. I made this term up to help identify the sense of absurdity involved with the business world of art and how that conflicts with the actual experience of being an artist. This person seems to have, discovered not to unlike Van Gogh's unfortunate rise to success, only occurred due to his untimely death by his own hands. Did Van Gogh know that his worth would increase after his demise? On some very unconscious intuitive level? Well, then, it goes to follow in some crazed sense, that artist's should plan for success after they leave the mortal coil, and the artist in question from you article obviously has an inkling or sixth sense about their worth to this world. I would say it isn't a scam. A Ha Ha, hoax. I am inclined to vote on the side of high art! Art By Lisabelle

    2. I agree with Lisabelle. The language is not as flamboyant as the Nigerian scams we have all received and seems to follow an "English as a second language" pattern. The monetary offer is also not that outrageous. As bizarre as the request is, it is so totally unique, seems to attempt to be generous and lacks any possibility for personal gain, that, I think, what you have here is an utterly sincere request from a naive, and genuinely "Outsider" artist.