Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal



I can’t seem to make sense of this piece.  I don’t know how or why this would have happened, but it did.  This is probably one of the darkest pieces of work I have ever had the displeasure of creating, and worse still is that I hardly remember everything.  Was my inspiration misguided?  Did the blood I saw inspire me to make this?  Was it the drugs I took last night before I finished it that caused it to turn out this way?  None of this I can answer with confidence, but I know three things are certain; my colleague and rival Jasper Pierce is dead, we both took acid together, and his blood is on both his and my hands.  I suppose there is no harm in explaining this to a diary, as this’ll probably be the last time I use it before I change my identity and bury this along with Jasper’s body. 
I’m a 22-year-old starving artist living in southern Los Angeles.  I have lived in a small apartment most of my life, although this apartment I’m currently staying in is only smaller than usual to make up for my art studio.  Arrangements like mine are common in LA and I wanted to try and make a name for myself here.  I’ve always heard great things about LA being a hub for artists from all over to be able to “make it” in the art business, and I wanted to do the same.  However, I underestimated the old phrase of being a starving artist and have been stuck out here for months with little in the way of work.  It was always nothing but doing menial work in a local gas station or being a waiter at a restaurant while I slave away my waking hours and spend sleepless nights working on art commissions that I always felt were priced too cheaply for the amount of time I put into them.  I was hoping to break out into the larger art market, but I hadn’t had much success.  It just so happened that, while running off to a show to provide my piece to a client who had ordered a painting of mine to be a part of an exhibit they were putting on, I just so happened to run into the legendary painter and sculptor, Jasper Pierce.  I’ve wanted to meet this artist for years, and here he was, right in front of me.  He sold his first professional painting at an art auction for over $10,000 at the age of 13 and was well known throughout the art world.  He was only a few years older than me, but he had so much more experience in the art world than I did.  I looked to him like he was a god that night.  Little did I know he would soon become my rival in the art world, one that I would learn to both respect and loathe in equal measure.
He gave me a friendly enough approach that night and seemed eager to work with me at first.  “Is your name Diego Ramirez?”
I tried my best to sound as reserved as possible.  “Yes, that’s me.  How did you know who I was?”
Jasper laughed off my surprise.  “I asked Natalie who painted the gorgeous “Night at the Woods” painting and she pointed me in your direction.”  Natalie was the curator and my client who hired me to work on a painting for her exhibit.  “Care if I show you around, Diego?”  I had never been to an art show like this and had just barely arrived no more than a few minutes before.  “Sure!  That’d be great!”  At the time, I could barely contain my excitement and spent the entire night with Jasper.  It was a night that I wouldn’t forget, largely because it served as a nasty reminder as to the kind of person Jasper was in public compared to the kind of rotten individual he was behind the scene.  That night was the last time I looked to Jasper as the pure inspiration that I saw him as.  The next time we met, it was like I was speaking to a different person and every instance we interacted with each other when we weren’t in public over the next several months as we worked on more art pieces for the same clients, the less and less he felt like a true friend who had my best interests in mind and more like a bitter rival, whose throat I wanted to rip out. 
We were supposed to be working on art pieces for a big traveling art exhibit, but I had been forced to work overtime at the gas station and hadn’t had nearly enough time to work on the painting.  Worse still, when I started to have more time again just before the deadline, I got a mental block, one that I couldn’t seem to shake and one that Jasper was not willing to deal with.  He came to check up on my progress on my painting, and was not happy to say the least.
“Hey, do you have the art ready?  Natalie said she wanted that art in two weeks.  That was over a week ago.  Where the hell have you been?” 
I tried to reason with him that I didn’t have enough time to work on the art piece.  “I’m sorry, Jasper.  I haven’t had enough time to work on the painting.  I’ve been so busy with work that I haven’t had time to work on the p-“
He slapped me across the face before I could finish my explanation.  “You don’t get it, don’t you, dipsh*t?  This is the gallery of our lifetime.  This is supposed to be an exhibit that travels around the world.  This will be on the road for years and end up in the most prestigious art museums in the world and you couldn’t sacrifice more of your precious time for this?”  He had layers of sarcasm in his tone as he lectured me for what felt like several minutes.  “What did you think was going to happen?  We need to have this to Natalie ASAP or none of our art is going out there.  She wanted a full exhibit and I’m not about to fill your spot when I’ve already made a damn near masterpiece.  I mean, I probably should, considering how much trouble you’re giving us over a damn painting, I say it isn’t worth having you on.  It’s not like you labored away hundreds of hours on a modern sculpture that rivals that of the greats like I did.” 
This is when I started to snap at Jasper.  “Hey, man!  I’ve been working overtime at the gas station!  Some of us still need to pay our bills, you know!”
Jasper took a step back and gave a slight chuckle.  “It’s not like you’re taking nearly enough risks to warrant not working a 9 to 5 job though, aren’t you?  I know paintings, even overdone oil paint crap like yours doesn’t take that long to do, so what gives?  There has to be something going on in that brain of yours that I’m not getting at, what is it?”
He started poking at my forehead, expecting me to give him an answer..  “Alright, fine.  You caught me.  I’ve hit a wall.  I don’t know how to finish this piece.  I wanted to get the right shades of brown, red and black for this thing, but I just can’t seem to picture it well enough in my head.”
Jasper wasn’t satisfied with my answer.  “Well, what the hell is it?  What are you trying to paint?”
I brought him over to the canvas I had been painting on.  See the shading I’ve got?  I’m trying to paint something I’ve been seeing in my dreams lately.  It’s something I’ve referred to as ‘El Árbol de Muerte’, or ‘The Tree of Death’, but I’ve got the worst mental block as to how to get the shades to work out right.”
Jasper started to laugh.  “You’re dumb as sh*t, you know that, right?  You know what you need?  You need a fix, and I’m not talking about some meditation or some dumb sh*t.  You need to unwind with something strong.  I’ll order us some food and some of that good-good.  You sit tight with your canvas while I order us up something.”  I sat there in front of my canvas for what felt like an hour, fumbling with my hands and with my phone, trying to figure out what Jasper had in mind.  Not long after that, he came back in my studio with some sushi and something on a slip.  “Here, let’s eat.  You’ll want something in your stomach before you take this.”  We sat down on the floor of my studio and started to eat the sushi.  I could tell this was the high-grade stuff.  There was really good tasting tuna and even some fresh caviar in the bag.  I knew Jasper was well off, but I didn’t know he ate like this.  I hadn’t had a meal this good in what felt like ages.  I couldn’t help from scarfing my food down faster than Jasper.  He had to point it out to me so I could slow down my eating.  “Hey, slow down with the food!  There’s more than enough if you just slow down, damn it!” 
After we finished the food, he took out the slip again I saw earlier in his hand.  “What’s that?”  I didn’t realize what his plans were that night, but man, do I regret taking that tab from him. 
“Don’t you recognize this?  This is acid.  Take a tab and sit your ass down.”  I took a tab from the slip and put it on my tongue as he motioned with a tab of his own.  I sat there for a while, staring at Jasper, waiting for it to take effect.  “It might take a little while to take effect, so just sit tight.”  Not long after he told me that, the drug started to take effect.  I started to see things out of the corner of my eye and started to see things take shape.  It was strange to say the least. 
Jasper began to speak to me during his own trip on the drug.  “You know, Diego?  I rarely ever get the chance to tell people this, but the art business is cut-throat, more cut-throat than any other out there.  It’s either be a monster or fall prey to some bigger fish that’s trying to get their sh*t out into the world.”  If only I knew how much of a monster Jasper really was, maybe I wouldn’t have invited him over that night, or any other night for that matter. “You see, Diego, good artists borrow, but great artists steal.  That was a line by none other than Pablo Picasso.  You’ve heard that line, haven’t you?”  I nodded my head, pretending like I knew what he was talking about to avoid him lashing out at me again.  “You see, there’s one thing worth stealing above all else, Diego.  Do you know what is?” 
I tried to come up with something convincing as my reply, but I fell just short.  “A great artist steals someone else’s style.” 
He shook his head.  “No, damn it!  You don’t get it, man.  You just don’t get it.”  He got closer to me.  “Great artists steal souls, man.”
I looked at him strange after he told me that.  “You steal souls?”
“Yeah, man!  I steal souls!  Well, I steal a lot more than that, but a great artist steals souls.  When they look at your piece, if they like it, they’ll stare at it for a few seconds before moving on to the next thing.  If they really like it, they get entranced by the piece and want to take photos of it and maybe even try and meet the artist who made it.  When I steal souls, man, there’s no better feeling than being in that moment and knowing a piece of mine stole somebody’s soul.” 
I was curious what he meant by stealing other things and, in retrospect, definitely should not have asked him.  He laughed a bit and looked me dead in the eye.  “You really think I make all of this money from doing these old art shows, do you?  Hell no!  I make my money in the underground man.  I get fluids, body parts, anything I can get really and incorporate into taboo pieces that people in the underground just love to eat up, you know?  They love that sh*t, man!” 
I was getting pretty nervous now.  “Wait, how do you get that stuff?”
His smile faded from his face.  “How about I just show you?”  Jasper reached out and grabbed me by the throat and began to strangle me.  I quickly found myself flat on the floor, struggling for anything I could use to hit him with.  I flailed around a bit until my foot knocked over the canvas and stand that was nearby us.  I quickly reached over for a brush and jammed it into Jasper’s right eye.  He screamed, strengthening his grip, all the while I struggled with the brush handle and began to shove it further and further into his eye until finally, I felt him go limp and saw him fall to the floor.  I don’t know what happened next, but something came over me.  I grabbed the brush and began to quickly mix paints with Jasper’s blood and painted with the fresh, spilling blood until I finished my painting.  I don’t know what came over me, but something about the blood was what I needed to finish the painting.  I painted the edges of the tree an old blood brown that stuck well to the canvas.  There was something beautiful about his blood making up part of the canvas that I just can’t explain and was something I preferred not to explain to Natalie, nor did I want explain what happened to Jasper.  But I suppose after all of that struggling with Jasper, I did learn something from him, good artists borrow and great artists steal. 

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