We've all seen them.
Those horrible O'Keefe-inspired watercolor vagina-lilies. The 4x6 photos of Japanese cherry blossoms, fields of tulips in Holland, the ratty piece of driftwood in black and white, driven by Soho desires. Or Warhol-wannabe pastiches, soup cans and car crashes, done up with newsprint and lacquer, gaudy colors and straight lines, or Mexican murals, stretching on burnt sienna walls with rugs covering window spaces instead of blinds. In other words, “art” as seen through the eyes of post-pubescent graphic design majors, housewives, or those undiscovered misfits, local area artists.
These we find on coffeehouse walls, providing décor of a provincial and homespun flavor, bringing the grief of kitsch to the urbanity of coffee culture centers and calling it authentic.
You're not fooling anyone. Modern art is, for all intents, a posthumous phenomenon. Putting up this stuff at the cafe is like displaying the corpse of Juan Valdez and the rumpled, stiff hide of his stalwart donkey in a pleasing manner. Good intentions don't disguise the putrescence.
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Aside from the quality, which is often no different than what you might find for sale in a thrift shop, coffeehouse artwork is also overpriced. Damien Hirst can fetch millions for his grotesqueries; he's still a prick selling sharks in formaldehyde. Coffeehouse art is no less sketchy. Often going for hundreds of dollars, banal original paintings and unseasoned photography graces the walls of urban cafes and coffee shops, city after city, a testament either to the desperation or charity of owners who mistakenly feel these pieces bring culture and atmosphere to the place.
Trust us, they don't.
We believe it's time to put an end to this glut of visual punishment. We come to the cafe to relax, not get eye-raped. The coffee shop is a sanctuary from home; it shouldn't be our aesthetic Abu Ghraib. What's more offensive: Playing Madonna's “Die Another Day” at four in the morning to a beleaguered terrorist in a cell, or hanging framed excrement in our caffeine chapels?
We realize stripping this “art” off the coffee shop walls will leave voids. This is not necessarily a bad thing. While nature abhors a vacuum, it certainly detests more the affront upon innocent eyes these framed abominations perpetrate. T.S. Eliot may have preferred grief to nothing, but regarding the universally poor quality of art seen in today's cafes, he would have jumped to choose the latter.
So. A call to action. Write your local barista. Don't attend street fairs (where these local artists congregate and contract virulent strains of small-time success). Encourage cafe owners to be more discriminating in their tastes. If the coffee is good, there's no reason the art shouldn't be.