A short story by Colin Devonshire
Art for Art’s Sake
“Dad, what are you doing?” Jilly asked.
“That’s it, I’ve had enough,” said her father.
“You have, what about the rest of us?”
“I took over this shop from my mum, we had a thriving business. Now, it’s gone, the world has gone mad. I can’t get enough sales to pay for the expenses. Enough.”
Jilly snatched the papers her dad had flung to the counter.
“The rent has gone up, so what?” she said.
“Everything has gone up, except sales.”
“Dad, let me run the business. You can retire.”
“You want me to tell you? Okay, look around, can you see a customer? Even someone browsing? No, it has been like this for days. There is now no need for your mum to come in and help me. We’ve had lockdowns, we were hardly a necessity shop, people don’t spend on their hobbies. So, sorry, but we are going out of business.”
Mr Jacobsen pulled his leg back as if to kick a stack of unused canvases leaning against a paper-filled cupboard. He had a change of mind, relaxing his leg, leaned back against the battered cupboard, head in hands.
“Dad, I want to keep the shop going.”
“It is not up to you.”
“What if I had an idea, that will bring in money?”
“Yeah right, as you’ve done for years,” he sneers sarcastically.
“Jamie can help me,” said Jilly.
“Your brother is even more useless than you are.”
“Dad, that’s not fair, I want to modernise the store.”
He grunted, “Really? What do you do all day? Play on your phone. Jamie plays games on his computer. A lot of good that will be.”
“I am not playing with my phone, I am producing art with it.”
“Art is with paintbrushes and canvas.”
“Dad, my idea is to run art courses. People love to create pictures with their phones and laptops. I can help them improve here or online, and then we can print off the work. We earn all round. We can still sell brushes and paint like before, Jamie can mind the till. I will do all the work.”
The quick coughing fit ended with a fake smile, “I said no.”
“Dad, look at this,” she pulled up YouTube.
“See what he’s doing? He has a photograph on the app, see?” her father looked away. She nudged him, “Then he cuts half of it away with a wavy line. Now watch…” Jilly looked at her uninterested father. “Then, using the app, he recreates the portrait exactly as before! Brilliant, isn’t it?”
“No. What is the point?”
“Oh, dad people love this kind of hobby.”
Mr Jacobsen snorted, “That is not art.”
Jilly walked out. The glass in the front door almost came out of its frame.
“Mum, what has got into dad, he wants to shut up shop,” said Jilly.
“Yes, dear, he’s been thinking about it for a while.”
“I want to take over.”
“I don’t think your father will go for that.”
Jilly went up to her room. Google was busy looking for poisons in paint tubes. After gaining the information she needed, she returned to the kitchen.
“Mum, how long is dad planning on keeping the shop?”
“The sales agent is meeting with him later this month, but I don’t suppose it will sell quickly, do you?”
“I don’t know. Please talk to him for me, I can make a success of it.”
“Your dad never listens to me. Especially if it’s about business and if he’s decided.”
Jilly’s brain was pulsating, she felt it would leak grey matter from her ears. She marched back to her room. Flicking on her computer, she searched for information on ‘electronic art courses’. Jilly already accomplished the skill but needed to learn how to monetise her idea. She then went back to a page on Wikipedia where she reread about dangers in the art room.
“What do you want for your tea?” mother called.
“No time mum, I’m off to my pottery class. Bye.”
Nodding to the other students, she went straight to the kiln.
“Beautiful work, Jilly,” the teacher said as he admired the mug. “Are you a fan of Matisse’s work?”
“The Blue Nude is my favourite, so I copied it onto this as a present for my dad.”
“It’s wonderful how you got the shade of blue in the ceramic. It works brilliantly on a coffee mug.”
“Yes, I hope he likes it?”
At 9 am the following morning, Mr Jacobsen turned the closed sign to open. Jilly marched in.
“Here you are, dad, a special gift for you. And not made by a computer.”
“Wow, Jilly, it’s beautiful.”
“Give it here, I’ve also bought some coffee, I’ll make us a cup.”
Jilly went to the backroom which doubles as a kitchenette. Filled the coffeemaker with her purchase, and waited for the correct temperature, then poured two cups. She pulled out a small sachet of powder from her pocket. The Blue Nude cup had a little extra sprinkled in.
Jilly and her father talked about their favourite works of art, and how and why Matisse painted as he had. It was as if the years had turned back to when Jilly showed eager abilities as a nine-year-old artist.
“I thought you were going to make something of your life. That was before you got hooked on your damn ‘apps’ or whatever you call them. Jilly didn’t respond, she carried on dusting the shelves.
“Is there any more coffee in the pot? It tastes better in an arty mug,” he smiled.
“Designed by a digital app,” she whispered.
The next morning Jilly travelled to the shop with her dad.
“I’ll continue with the clean-up today,” she said.
“I’m not feeling all that well this morning. Is it okay if I sneak off and leave you on your own?”
“Sure dad,” she smiled, “I know where everything is. Do you want a coffee before you go?”
Alone, Jilly took her time, looking through every drawer, cupboard and hide-hole. Anywhere her dad may have tucked something of interest. She didn’t know what she was looking for.
“Ah-ha, what is this?”
She dusted off a carton filled with rusting jars of oil paints.
“Jesus, they made this in 1922, maybe a collector would buy it?”
Tracking down a dealer of antique art, she sent him a photo of her find.
“Whatever you do, don’t open the jars. They are brilliant oils and glorious shades, but it contains arsenic. We wouldn’t dare sell it. The best you can do is to destroy it. Carefully.”
“Thank you,” she said to him.
“Idiot, you can’t destroy arsenic, it says so on Google,” she said to herself. “Also, I haven’t got an osmosis machine, whatever that is?” she laughed.
Yesterday’s powder had worked. She only had enough for one dose. Dad was feeling sick. But she needed a novel idea to progress her plan.
“That can wait, I need to get my digital course up and running,” she said to herself.
“YouTube? Facebook? Instagram? All three?”
She was making her favourite social sites busy on her laptop. Her phone was being used differently, this time in advertising.
“Mags, I’m taking over my dad’s shop. I will run eArt sales and learning. Interested?”
“Great idea? How much?”
“To you, free, you will be my guinea pig. What do you say?”
The following day Jilly’s dad was still weak but improving.
“I may pop in later and help you cash up,” her dad offered.
“Cash up, you are dreaming. There was not a soul in the shop yesterday or today.”
Mags spent two hours with Jilly.
“Look what I’ve done,” Mags beamed.
“Hey Mags, I’ll make an artist of you yet. Now, do me a favour and spread the word. Let all your contacts know I’ll teach pupils here, or we can go online.”
“Can I print this picture out and show my Mum?”
“Sure, that’s the idea, maybe she can have a try?”
Jilly’s father entered the shop leaning against the door frame as support.
“Oh hello, Mr Jacobsen. Are you feeling better?”
“Hello Mags, are you buying paints?”
“No, my new skill is on the phone, look.”
“Skill maybe, but not art, try with a paintbrush,” he said.
Mags nodded a farewell.
“Dad, why are you being so cruel, she was proud of that,” said Jilly.
“She was in here wasting your time and her own.”
“Fancy a coffee? I’ve got some cookies too.”
“Sure, thanks, my stomach feels better now.”
There was a tap at Jilly’s bedroom door.
“Can you open up this morning, Jilly, something took your dad bad during the night. He is poorly, I’m worried.”
“Probably nothing mum, like yesterday? Maybe he rushed with coming back to the shop?” she sniggered behind her hands. Jilly rushed into the shop and opened her emails.
She cheered and ran around the store. Then got down to set times for the classes.
Jilly flicked open her phone, “Jamie, can you come to the shop? I need your help and bring your fancy camera with a microphone?”
“What are you doing?”
“I’ll tell you when you get here.”
Jilly started rearranging the shop. She printed several of her artworks and stuck them on the wall. ‘Borrowing’ some of her father’s elaborate frames. A jam jar full of paintbrushes tipped on its side and a collection of paint tubes scattered on the desktop.
Her brother strolled in, “What is all this? Dad will have a fit.”
“How is he?”
“Dunno, still in bed, I think.”
“Right, I want to make an advert for my eArt course. The brushes and paints signify out with the old and in with the new, i.e. my eArt lessons. I’ll mention that I can turn their works into coffee mugs, like the one I made for dad. Like it?”
“And you’re going to sit there and demonstrate?” he pointed to the stool.
“That’s right. Can you do it?”
“Sure, I’ll film you talking, and splice in the shots of the art on your phone later.”
“Where will you stand? Because I need to clip my script to the tripod next to the camera.”
“Okay, are you ready?” Jamie asked, “Watch my fingers, when I signal three, start talking. Oh, wait, my phone’s ringing.”
“Leave it, I’m all keyed up,” said Jilly.
“It is mum, I’d better answer.”
Jamie turned away, “What? I’ll be right there.”
“Finish the filming first, I want to post it on Facebook.”
“No, dad is seriously ill, mum wants me to take him to hospital.”
“I want you to finish this now,” Jilly glared at her brother.
“Dad is sick!”
He shoved his phone into his shirt pocket and rushed for the door.
She swept the jam jar and all the brushes to the floor, the coffee mug was hurled to the back wall. She began ripping her prints into tiny strips. The tripod kicked into the air, and papers flittered. Next, to smash her brother’s camera and mic.
Sitting down, she felt better. First, a smirk appeared which spread, and then turned to a grin. Finally, the full force of her laugh as she roared, head held back.
Seconds later, the door flung back, “Madam, we are here to arrest you for the murder of your father. If you wish to say…” the sentence trailed to nothing.
Jilly was laughing too hard to listen.
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