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Omaha Magazine

Otis Twelve: Ars Gratia Artis

Jul 01, 2022 10:50AM ● By Otis Twelve
Otis Twelve column photo

Very few of us regular folks know the difference between chiaroscuro and a smudge left behind by the gravy-smeared thumb of that clinically out-of-control nephew who ran amok in the house last Thanksgiving, on that rectangular painting of the ruins of the Roman forum we bought at the “Starving Artists Sale” executed by a psychopath with an overloaded palette knife that we hung over the Scotchgard-and-plastic-cushion-cover-protected sofa in the living room because the artwork was exactly as advertised—“sofa sized.”

“I may not know art,” we say. “But I know how big a sofa is.”

Likewise the horizon and vanishing points, alla prima, wet on wet, or au premier coup rarely concern us when we are on the lookout for an artwork that matches the split complementary pastel color scheme of the faux-marble entryway to the McMansion or a sculpture that matches the scale of the vestibule without too many dangerous sharp edges and hopefully lacking the subtle burnt metal scent of bad arc welding.

“Art for art’s sake,” we say. “But can I get a Venus with arms still attached?”

Do not be discouraged. True, fine art is an intimidating concept. Just remember, “art” is more than just good taste. It’s good taste with a bit of jargon tacked on. If you know a bit of the shop talk and follow a few simple rules, you too can be an art maven.

1. Do not buy any art work labeled “sofa sized” or “resists mildew.”

2. Never hang pictures of politicians in the living room. Note: Dead politicians are an exception to the rule if they passed away more than a century ago and are not German. 

3. Abstract art is always a good idea so long as no sense at all can be made of the piece. Beware abstract art that people might comment on. That always leads to trouble.

4. If a statue is supposed to be Roman or Greek, do not buy the concrete versions. Note: Garden gnomes can be an exception if they are obviously a witty, dry commentary on the futility of life. 

5. Gargoyles are never acceptable on suburban homes.

6. There really are “starving artists” but they have nothing to do with those traveling arena high pressure sales. Note: If you actually encounter a starving artist it is advisable to give them money rather than food. You don’t want to know what they eat.

7. Porch flags are not art.

8. Clever, or inspirational sayings painted on wood panels to be hung near the refrigerator are not art unless they are in Latin or incorrectly rendered Kanji.

9. Family portraits are not art unless they were rendered in egg-tempera paint by a guy named Caravaggio or the equivalent more that 400 years ago. Otherwise, restrict such pictures to stairwells and rec rooms.

10. At all costs, whatever the “art” you put on your walls, for the love of God, do not use French Provincial gilt frames.

There, now you are ready to go out there and buy some art. You know what you like, right?  It was either Vincent van Gogh, or American impressionist Bob Ross on his TV show who once said, “Let’s build a happy little cloud. Let’s build some happy little trees.”  That’s what art is all about. And remember, when Michelangelo’s finished his “Last Judgement” behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel, some clowns came in and painted pants on the naked people. That brings us to our final Rule of Art:

11. Art should never include pants. 

Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 6-10 a.m. Visit for more information.

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