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Friday, December 15, 2006

and you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

Regular readers of the blog will recall that I recently committed to buy a drawing by David Byrne from Pace MacGill, the uptown art gallery. (See entries of November 22, 23, and 27, 2006.) Today I finally paid for the drawing. The whole affair of wanting it, buying it, and receiving it marks a fitting occasion to reflect on the matter of class.

As a scholar from an urban working-class background, I have often wondered how the hell to account for myself. How is it that I'm buying art and writing about the evolution of British literary forms in the nineteenth century? Why am I so unlike all the people I grew up around? After many years of reflection, I have come no closer to answering these questions, but my improbable lifestyle and place in the world do make me aware of many cultural patterns and phenomena that other people take for granted. And sometimes my class origins reveal themselves in funny ways.

The day I told the gallery director that I wanted to buy the drawing, I did not know what to expect. Reader, I can now tell you from experience that art galleries do not take credit cards. There I was thinking about all the frequent-flyer miles I was going to get. It was quite an unpleasant surprise to learn, a couple of weeks later, that they only take cash and checks.

I wonder why that is. Are credit cards deemed too vulgar by the art-buying class (of which I am now a part)? There are at least two other types of things one cannot buy with a credit card: real estate and securities. How is art like those things? The transfer of title in a real estate transaction is one of the most elaborate rituals in modern society. Is the concern for an artwork's provenance like holding title to a lot of land? I have never been to a casino, but I believe that casinos allow one to use one's credit card to buy the chips necessary to place bets. Why can't one use a credit card to place bets on art or property? Surely they are safer risks than a round of poker.

So there I was today, check in hand, ready to pay for the drawing. Another surprise: they handed the drawing over to me before knowing that the check would clear. What a strange trust to invest in a total stranger: do they figure that if one makes it that far then one must have the cash to back up the appearance? Would someone without the money in the bank simply slink away into the night without even pretending to have the money?

Now the drawing is here in my apartment, unhung for now. Half of me asks myself, how did it get here? The other half wonders, how can I get one of my relatives to come over and hang it for me without telling them how much I paid for it?


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