Monday, December 7, 2009

Pansies in the Snow -- #fridayflash

Jonas sat at of his easel looking out the window at the garden. He was painting the delicate pansies with the softness of the first snowflakes shimmering on their petals. Magical flowers, the pansies, that could live and bloom through the winter even when the snow was drifting slowly from the sky.

The purple flowers surrounded by freshly fallen snow appeared on the canvas. Jonas had been painting for years. Most artists are ‘starving,’ as they say, or at least have a day job to support their art. Not so, Jonas. After his 27th showing, he was approached by a high end note card company about buying the rights to print his paintings and produce expensive cards, blank on the inside, to be sold in boutiques and museum gift shops. For about five years, sale of his cards had grown and he was able to paint full time. Jonas became recognized for his work.

“Oh, look,” a woman in an art store would say. “There are some new cards by Jonas. I must buy them and send notes to my friends across the country. Several of them collect his cards.”

Painting. For a living. Being recognized for his work. Jonas woke up each morning feeling satisfied.

One day, Jonas was started out of his sleep by the ringing of his phone.

“Hello?” he said.

“Jonas? It’s Melody. Did I wake you?”

“Uh, no. Well, actually, yes, but it was time for me to get up anyway,” Jonas said. “How are you??

“Well, I’m calling about next month’s order,” Melody said.

“Oh. I’ve got the prints all done and I’m picking them up today. I can ship them this afternoon,” he said.

“Actually, that won’t be necessary. Of course, you can still ship them and we’ll put them in the stores but sales have dropped off in the past few months. People just aren’t buying note cards as much as they used to,” Melody said. “Almost half of our Christmas cards were returned because people didn’t buy cards this year.”

“Really?” Jonas was surprised. “What’s going on? How can people stop sending Christmas cards?”

“It seems that many of those that did send cards used their own digital photos or family pictures and printed them at home. Or they ordered them online and sent them digitally so that the receiver could print them out on their end if they wanted to,” Melody explained. “We have moved into the digital age and more and more people are doing everything on the computer. The Postal Service is really taking a beating. I’m surprised they still deliver mail six days a week.”

“Gee, Melody. Would people buy my images online? If we digitized them, could they be uploaded and somehow watermarked or copyrighted and then people could buy them to send them through email or something?” Jonas asked.

“The problem, Jonas, is that people can get pictures like that for free. Of course, they’re not as beautiful as yours, but they can scan in your note cards from previous years and there’s nothing we can do about it. Besides, they have all this software for photos and art. People who can’t paint at all can create beautiful works of art by putting different elements together with just a point and click of the mouse.”

“What does this mean for me, Melody?”

Melody hesitated before answering. “I have to be honest. Business is way off. I’m getting fewer and fewer orders and I’m not sure the company will survive. After you ship today’s order, we won’t be needing any more note cards from you,” she said gently.

“I see,” Jonas said. “Well, I’ll ship today and then if things get better, please let me know and I’ll be ready with a new batch any time you need them.”

Melody sighed. She didn’t have the insensitivity to tell him that she didn’t foresee a time when things would go back to what they were. The world was changing. The appreciation for original artwork was fading. Imperfect portraits could be retouched using software. The desire to recognize flaws in the natural world had disappeared. A torn leaf on a flower was no longer considered realism; it was seen as imperfection.

Jonas stared out the window. The pansies had a few more snowflakes on their purple petals. The air outside sparkled as the sun glinted off the crystalline flakes. It didn’t sink in right away. It would be months before he realized that there were no checks in the mail.


Cecilia Dominic said...

Meanwhile, those of us whose spouses work in the digital photo printing/novelty industry get to be "widows" Nov-Dec. Sucks all around.

Also scary for those of us who are writers. Makes you wonder about the future there, too.

Maybe it's a good thing that my pansies don't want to bloom...

Beautiful and thought-provoking. Thanks, Susan!


Susan Cross said...

Hi Cecilia, I'm glad your husband is on the other end. Writing for magazines, this is what happened to me. The idea came to me last night to portray it from an artist's point of view. I'm glad it came across.

J. M. Strother said...

The digital age certianly changes the world for a host of artistic types: musicians, artists, and writers alike. It will be a challenge to find new ways to make a living in this new age. But I remain convinced that new ways will be found.

Lots to think about here, Susan.

p.s. Pansies In the Snow really appelaed to me as a title. I've worked for years to develop an everblooming garden - something in bloom each month of the year. Not an easy trick in St. Louis, but I finally found the solution. Not pansies (they got eaten almost immediately upon planting), but heather. It blooms December thru March!

Marisa Birns said...

Sorry I came to read this so late.

I didn't know how hardy the pansy is! I agree with Jon that the title is very appealing.

Digital age has brought so much to so many...and taken away so much from so many.

Your story, from an artist point of view, is honest and bittersweet...and scary!

Tom Bailey said...

These are sad but it is interesting if a person can evolve that can survive in VERY VERY VERY small niches. I have a friend that I used to draw with and they told us drawing he man was dying... He now designs for world of warcraft the top video game.

I talked to a photographer yesterday that had to adapt his photgraphy a few years ago ... he is becoming the hugh hefner of green with green enviromental bikini models.

The possibility that needs to happen is adaptation and change... which few people like initially.

I hope he finds a way to adapt and make it.

Thank you VERY much for sharing... it reminds me of video killed the radio star types of things.

Kindest regards,
Tom Bailey

Susan Cross said...

We are constantly having to reinvent ourselves. Maybe that's a good thing. It gets tiring, though.