A Van Gogh!

A Van Gogh!
From the artists at ArtWorks945

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Van Gogh!

The Van Gogh project had, I thought, reached a natural and satisfying conclusion.  I auctioned off Charlie’s painting and donated the money to ArtWorks945; and I had started to plan a new project with Tyler Helfrich, the director of ArtWorks945.  We decided that we would try to get the city of Charlotte to donate a wall so that the artists of ArtWorks945 could paint Falling Down Man as a mural.

Although I had given up my dream of owning a Van Gogh, I really couldn’t have been happier with the way that the Van Gogh Project finished.  I met some great people, traded for some amazing art, and raised some money for a truly deserving organization.  What else could I have wanted? 

But then Friday evening I received a text from Tyler.  She said that she was at Summit Coffee Shop and had a present for me.

I had no idea what to expect.   I anxiously waited for Lisa to get home so that we could head over to Summit together.  And as we drove over there, I kept asking: what could it be?  What could it be?  I had a feeling that Lisa knew what was going on – she seemed to have a wry smile on her face that betrayed her protestations of ignorance – but before I could wrestle anything out of her, we arrived at Summit.

When I saw what Tyler had, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  She presented me with a Van Gogh, not an actual Van Gogh but a replication of one that the artists at ArtWorks945 painted for me.  You can see the original and then the replication up above.

What a painting!

Thirty different artists over four months worked together to produce it.  It is, without a doubt, the most moving gift anyone has ever given to me. 

I wish I could be more articulate about it.  But all I can muster is: what a painting!

Tyler said that originally the canvas was divided into eight horizontal sections and that eight artists were each assigned a section.   But as the project unfolded, thirty different artists ended up contributing to the painting.

It really is one of a kind.  Indeed, it is more one of a kind than any Van Gogh painting.  Van Gogh’s paintings all have a price tag.  This painting, however, in some genuine sense of the term, is priceless.

Thank you, Tyler!

Thank you artists of ArtWorks945!

Thank you Universe!

Friday, January 13, 2012


I’ve never liked the concept of The End. 

Does a story ever really come to an end?  And if it does, its there really only one end to it? 

I’ve never been convinced that the answer to these questions is ‘yes’.

An End – now that’s a concept I can support.  Of course ends exist.  Any story, even the simplest, has an end.  Indeed, I think every story has an infinite number of ends.  But that is a matter for a different post.

The Van Gogh project, though it hasn’t come to the end, has nonetheless come to an end: the auctions for Charlie’s painting raised over $2100; I no longer have a painting to trade up; and so, as I said, the Van Gogh Project, has come to an end.

But Betsy was right -- the auction of Charlie’s painting has started an entirely new adventure.

ArtWorks945 is taking the money that was raised and funneling it toward a public art project. The plan is to paint a mural on an underpass in Charlotte based on two paintings: Falling Down Man and Rising Up Man. 

What is Rising Up Man?  Well, it doesn’t exist yet.  But Charlie, upon hearing of the plan for the mural, agreed to design a second painting that will represent the triumph of a homeless person who is rising up.

Together, the two murals should provide a moving tribute to the power of art to transform lives as well as the importance of helping those who have fallen down to rise up again.

Perhaps even more exciting: we are going to film the process.  If we get enough footage, we will make a short documentary.

I plan to start a new blog, what I will call simply The Project, where I will document our efforts.

But for now, I will say ‘goodbye’.  And ‘thank you’.  Thank you to all those who have read this blog, thank you to all those who participated in the auction, and finally thank you to the Universe.  I didn’t get a Van Gogh.  But I did have a whole lot of fun; I met some totally cool people; and have been given the chance to help create a work of art with the artists of ArtWorks945.  What could be better, really?

And who knows, maybe I’ll get a Van Gogh some day.  One can always hope.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What a Night!

Friday night we held the auction.

Tyler and I met at 7 to set up.  We hung about twenty paintings by artists from ArtWorks945 on the second floor of Summit Coffee Shop.  A three-piece band began to prepare for their gig.  Their music provided a lovely backdrop to the auction. 

Around 7:45 people started to trickle in.  I had a beer with my friends Matt and Dave to calm my nerves.  At that point I really had no idea how things were going to go.  Was anyone going to bid on Charlie’s painting?  I had no idea.

At 8, we opened the bidding. 

It took a little bit for the bidding to get off the ground.  Indeed, after forty minutes of no bids, my nerves pricked up.  I even sent a text to my friend Rob in New York expressing my dismay.

Despite the lack of bids, however, the event itself was taking off.  Many of my best friends came; a reporter from a local paper was there; two students showed up; and many others milled about.  I had very pleasant conversations with several people about Charlie’s painting.  And there was without a doubt a definite buzz in the room. 

And then, around 9:00, the first bid was made.  A consortium of local investors led by Nick, the owner of the Brickhouse bid $700. 

It had begun. 

My nerves went into overdrive.  I drank some more wine.

Eventually, bids started to come in from four different sources.  I won’t go into all the details.  But it was incredibly fascinating to watch.  The last fifteen minutes was about as exciting a fifteen minutes as I have ever had.  The bidding became a furious competition.  I can see why people like auctions!

I have included a picture of the bidding card.

As you can see from the first line, the bids started at $651.21, which was the amount that had been raised through the cumulative auction that I held online.

As you can also see from the card, the final bid was $1400. 


I’ll say it again: Yes!

At 10 O’ Clock, when the final bid was in, I was stunned. 

Charlie’s painting sold at auction for $1400.

I still am stunned.  I simply could not be happier about the result.  Between the cumulative auction and last night, Charlie’s painting brought in over $2051.21, which is close to double its original value. 

Charlie’s Law, it would seem, has been confirmed.

And who purchased the painting?  

Cargo Logistics Network, an import-export business based in Charlotte.

Cami Meador, director of operations, attended the auction and purchased the painting on behalf of CLN, which she owns and operates with her partner David.

After the auction, I talked to Cami, who wanted to stress the importance of corporations becoming involved in philanthropy.  Unlike most individuals, corporations, Cami said, have the financial means both to raise money for and to give money to charitable organizations. 

In addition to finding ArtWorks945 a very worthy cause, Cami was also clearly impressed by Charlie’s painting -- She not only saw its intrinsic aesthetic merits but also seemed to have a sense of its potential historical significance.

There really is so much more I could add.  But I think any more words I write will simply fall short.

Plato was right -- words cannot capture beauty.  One must simply experience it. 

And that night, a night in which the most unlikely painting captured the imaginations of a group of people all of whom were willing to spend money not just to have a historically significant painting but also to help an organization that allows homeless people the joy of artistic expression, I experienced beauty in what I can only think comes close to its purest form.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hegelian Syntheses

 Though I am perhaps overanalyzing the current situation, I can’t help but think that Hegelian structures characterize the auction for Charlie’s painting that will be held this Friday. 

According to Hegel, the world trundles along as a result of two opposing forces, a thesis and an antithesis, which yield to a third structure, a synthesis.  The synthesis, Hegel claimed, resolves the inner conflict of the thesis and antithesis and in so doing exists on a higher more advanced plane than them.

With respect to the forthcoming auction, there is on the one hand a thesis: aesthetic value.  What an incredibly rarefied thing.  It really is hard to say what it is, so hard in fact that many philosophers have even denied its existence.  

Nonetheless, despite aesthetic value’s elusive nature, one thing is certain -- art in all its forms has the ability to move people to profound almost mystical states of reverie.  Beethoven’s 9th, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Van Gogh’s Starry Night: Who can fail to be moved by the profundity they contain?  

Then there is the antithesis: homelessness.  It is not rarefied; it does not move people to states of reverie; and it certainly is not among humanity’s greatest achievements.  Indeed, quite the opposite.  Homelessness is not only utterly concrete, but it represents one of the great failings of contemporary society, a failing that should move people not to states of reverie but to states of anger at the causes of it and to a firm resolve to eliminate it.

Art and homelessness: what a peculiar and fascinating combination of opposing forces.  I must admit that when I started this project, the significance of such a combination never occurred to me. But now, through a series of seemingly random accidents, I have been introduced to an organization that is devoted to synthesizing those two forces: ArtWorks945. 

ArtWorks945 is an art gallery for the homeless: a place where people who have been marginalized by the cold machinations of the American economic system can go to express themselves through paint.  What a brilliant organization.  What a brilliant synthesis of a thesis and an antithesis.

But that is not all. 

In addition to ArtWorks945, there is another Hegelian synthesis to be had.

As those who have been following this blog know, I was introduced to ArtWorks945 as a result of coming into possession of one of the most intriguing pieces of art in the world – Charlie Spear’s Falling Down Man: a representation of a homeless person that was accidentally damaged and thereby improved by the United States Postal Service. 

Charlie’s painting now contains a thesis and an antithesis.  The thesis: a beautiful, moving and inspired painting.  The antithesis: accidental damage.

I have repeatedly made the claim that this particular thesis and antithesis have been synthesized into a painting that is quite literally one of a kind:  Charlie’s painting is one of the purest instances in the world of the category – painting that is accidentally damaged but thereby improved.

Of course, it is one thing for me to make such a claim and quite another for the market to respond to it.  

So what is Falling Down Man’s economic value?  How will the market respond to the synthesis of aesthetic value and damage?

I don’t know.  But I can’t wait to find out. 

The auction is this Friday at the Summit Coffee Shop, from 8 - 10.  

Somehow, I think the Universe will be there.  I hope others are too.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Another Auction!

The cumulative auction has so far raised $582.21.  It’s not the $10,000 that I asked the Universe for.  But it’s more than had been bid two weeks ago.  So I am happy about that.

I want to thank everyone who has so far bid on Charlie’s painting.  Not only have your contributions made this project both more interesting and worthwhile, but they will also end up going to a very worthy and important organization.

So I am happy and thankful, which is I suppose an appropriate state of mind for the Monday after Thanksgiving.  But even better still, I am excited. 


Because Tyler Helfrich, director of ArtWorks945, is organizing a live auction for Charlie’s painting. 

When I told Charlie about a month ago that the bid on his painting had reached $400, he sent me a very thought provoking message.  He suggested that I could turn the money already bid into both more money for ArtWorks945 and greater awareness of homelessness by making prints of Falling Down Man and selling them.  Charlie volunteered to sign the first 100 prints.

I showed Charlie’s message to Tyler; and we talked about ways to continue raising money with his painting.  She liked his idea and thought that a first step toward it might be a live auction at which we sell both his painting and other paintings produced at ArtWorks945.  And since Tyler’s brother in law owns Summit Coffee Shop, she suggested that we hold a live auction there

So that’s what is going to happen.  We are going to hold an auction at Summit Coffee Shop on December 9 from 8-10.  This time, the auction will be a real one – whoever bids the most for Falling Down Man will get to keep it.  And as with the auction going on now, all the money will go to ArtWorks945.

Who knows?  Maybe an art collector from the Charlotte area will realize the historical significance of Charlie’s painting and end up biding $10,000 for it.  Now, wouldn’t that be something?

Monday, November 14, 2011


It has been two weeks since anyone has bid on Charlie’s painting.  And I must admit, yesterday I started to feel abandoned by the Universe.  Surely, I thought, Charlie’s painting is worth WAY more than the $400 that people have so far bid.  And ArtWorks945 is such a great organization that people should be lining up to add to the cumulative bid.  What’s going on?  Why can’t I drum up more interest in this project?

As I chopped the vegetables for a chicken casserole I was making last night, such thoughts started to swirl in my head; and as can often happen with negative thought patterns, they built to something of an absurd crescendo: people are selfish; Bernie Madoff is just the tip of the iceberg; Henry VIII chopped of Ann Boleyn’s head just because he was tired of her!  My God, My God – what’s going to happen to humanity?

But as I put the casserole in the oven, my lovely wife came into the kitchen – she must have sensed my dour mood -- and gave me a hug.  Immediately, I felt better.  And then, as if her presence reminded me of something greater, it occurred to me that I haven’t yet asked the Universe for any help. 

Throughout this blog, I have told the Universe what I wanted.  Indeed, this whole project is something of an experiment in its power.  And so far, the Universe has shown itself to be quite a remarkably ally.  So my feelings of abandonment were, I reckoned premature.  At the very least I need to tell the Universe what I want.

So that raised the question: what do I want? 

As I went to bed last night I mulled that question over.  And just before I drifted off to sleep, I thought: the race goes to the swift, the battle to the strong, so why not admit to the Universe that you want a lot?

I realize now that such a thought doesn’t make too much sense.  I was, as said, drifting off to sleep.  Nonetheless, I am going to be honest: I want this auction to raise a lot of money for ArtWorks945.

So, Universe:

I want to raise $10,000 from the auction for Falling Down Man.
I want to raise $10,000 from the auction for Falling Down Man.
I want to raise $10,000 from the auction for Falling Down Man.

There.  I’ve done it.   Now, we’ll see what happens.

Anyone who wants to add to the cumulative bid on Charlie’s painting, go to this website:

When you enter your information, be sure to write in the comments box: For ArtWorks945/The Van Gogh Project.

The auction will run for only one more month.  But who knows, Virginia, maybe wishes really can come true.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


That is how much Charlie’s painting has brought in so far.

So what does that mean? 

First, it means that I have thrown a conceptual uppercut to the Appraiser’s thesis.   Since I only went to one Mixed Martial Arts class, I don’t reckon I could throw a real upper cut that would do anyone much harm.  But I do think that the Appraiser’s thesis, namely that that the damage to Charlie’s painting has rendered it worthless, has been sufficiently refuted. 

Second, it means that Charlie’s painting now bears two historically significant marks.  Not only is it perhaps the purest example of a painting that has been improved as a result of inadvertent damage but it is also the source of empirical evidence against the worldview that in a previous post I called Appraisery

Appraisery is a worldview that emphasizes the importance of money both in human affairs in general and in matters of art in particular.  It is a worldview against which it makes perfect sense to assert that Falling Down Man is worthless as a result of its damage.  Likewise, it is a worldview against which it makes sense to say that homeless people are worth less than others because they have been economically damaged. 

The fact that Charlie’s painting has brought in such a sizeable chunk of money provides, I contend, empirical evidence against Appraisery.  Anyone who has delved into philosophical affairs will know just how difficult it is to gather evidence for or against a worldview.   And I at least know of no other painting that can claim to be the source of such evidence.  So Charlie’s painting, as I have just mentioned, now bears a second quite interesting historically significant mark.

And what is perhaps most pleasing from a conceptual point of view is the fact that the evidence against Appraisery has come from people’s willingness to donate money.  Conceptually speaking, it is as if money has eaten itself.  Indeed, there is such a beautiful irony to the evidence against Appraisery that I can’t help but once again feel the hand of the Universe at play.

In addition to these conceptual issues, the money so far bid for Charlie’s painting also has practical implications. 

I asked Tyler Helfrich, the director of Artworks945 for a list of their expenses.  Here are some of them.

10-ride bus passes for job searches  -- $14 each

1-ride passes to help artists get to appointments and interviews -- $30/month

Acrylic paint -- $100-$200/month

Canvases -- $5 each; $100/month

A large-scale canvas for collaborative paintings -- $80 each (one per month)

These are just a few of their expenses.  Clearly, running an art gallery for the homeless is an expensive affair.  And the amount Charlie’s painting has so far raised is really a drop in a very large bucket. 

But that is all the more reason to hope that people continue to bid on his painting. 

So anyone who wants to contribute to a great organization or who wants to add more evidence against Appraisery, please go to the following page where you can donate money to ArtWorks945. 

In the comments section, be sure to put the words: For ArtWorks945/The Van Gogh Project.  In that way, your money will go to ArtWorks945, and I will be able to track the increasing evidence against the Appraiser’s worldview.