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Case Study: Whaddya want from me?

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

Some of you may recognize this painting. Some of you may not. Regardless the information that I am about to share with you may make you question everything you know to be tru in your life, every relationship you have, and potentially your own existence. I apologize in advance for any damage that my words may cause. You ready? Okay here goes. The painting you are seeing above, is not an iconic painting created by one of the masters. It is not stored in a museum with other staples in the grand history of art. In fact this work was brought to light by a one off quip in the movie 'Goodfellas'. The two dogs and man on a row boat become the center of attention during a moment of levity following a gruesome murder. The painting was created by the the mother of the man (Nicholas Pileggi) who wrote the book on Henry Hill, which Scorcese' 1990 film is based off of. She based it off of this National Geographic photo.

Now believe it or not the imprint that this painting left on me was so pressing that it influenced my decision to go to art school. As hard as it may be to believe when I hear the word art this is the first thing that comes to mind. You see this was the first time that I saw a piece of artwork that I simultaneously loved and had no ability to justify. I figured maybe if I can learn to understand art I can stop harping on these dogs and this man and what it all means. And of course I was never one for "research" so I had just assumed that it was a famous painting by an obscure 19th artist whom I had never heard of. Welp, writing this almost a full year after completely my B.F.A. degree, I have figured it out. The irony is that I did not need schooling at all to arrive at the reasoning behind this painting grasp on my attention. Instead I needed to trust that initial instinct I had way back when. "I like it". Those three words forbidden to be uttered in such an order at any point in school. However in this case, it is the only necessary defense of this painting.

I think the character Tommy says it best:

TOMMY: I like this one. One dog goes one way and the other goes the other.

MOTHER: One's going east, the other’s going west. So what?

TOMMY: And this guy's saying, "Whaddya want from me?" The guy's got a nice head of white hair. Beautiful. The dog it looks the same.

Now the painting does have a playful style to it. The seemingly random subject matter is somewhat comical. Dogs positioned opposite direction on a row boat. A man behind them starring back at you as if he is offended by your looking in. But Tommy gets it. Sometimes it is okay to simply like something. Contrary to popular belief in academia, there doesn't always have to be profound meaning behind something. It is relieving to see work that doesn't take itself too seriously. And can be a good reminder when making our own work. If you like you make and someone questions it simply respond, "Whaddya want from me?"

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