By Booth Malone
The first artist (let’s call him “Kwak”) faced the first dilemma: “How do I price my work?”
Kwak was a natty little Neanderthal, not much good at physical labor (and before anyone shakes a spear at us, we recognize those researchers who recently have attributed the bulk of his work to his unsung partner “Wampat”). But…be that as it may, Kwak had just finished a fine head study of the Old Chief’s mastodon and was at a loss what to charge. Kwak turned to his best friend (who was even less adept at labor, but dreamed of opening a gallery), and asked him:
“So, Lug––be honest. How many seashells can I ask for this?”
Lug, a little miffed at being asked to “be honest,” (for he was invariably honest) replied, “It’s not what you can ask, Kwak––it’s what you can get. Old Chief doesn’t like to part with his seashells.”
Well, Kwak thought. That’s telling me nothing I don’t already know.
Sensing Kwak’s disappointment, Lug said, “What if I go to Old Chief? Would you take ten seashells for it?”
“Well…” Kwak was hesitant.
But Old Chief was to be avoided if at all possible. He was a scary old guy, always asking Kwak when he planned on doing some real work.
Lug sweetened the pot, “Look––if I can get more, I will. I don’t want to leave any seashells on the seashore any more than you. We’ll split whatever I get, down the middle: sixty/forty. How’s that sound?”
“Pretty sweet,” Kwak agreed.
Now Lug was just as afraid of Old Chief as everybody else, but seashells are seashells. He caught Old Chief at an opportune time: just back from the seashore––and loaded with seashells.
Lug pointed out what a fine rendering Kwak had done––his work on the mastodon’s tusk was exquisite, worth ten seashells by itself. He also mentioned the rarity of the piece (for it was, indeed, the first piece of artwork). In Lug’s eyes, that doubled its value. Finally, lowering his voice, Lug said he hated to bring this up––was very apologetic to Old Chief––but (full disclosure) the young chief in the next valley, Eats-Seashells-For-Breakfast, had expressed an interest in Kwak’s mastodon…
“But that’s my mastodon!” Old Chief had sputtered, shouting. He was outraged.
“Yes, sir. You are quite cor-rect. Though, act-u-ally, in this case…er, by, um, tribal custom, sir––Kwak has the rights to the image…but that is stuff for a future blog, and nothing you need worry about today…”
Old Chief grumbled…
“Eats-Seashells-For-Breakfast wants it, eh?” (Old Chief was Canadian on his mother’s side) “Well, Lug, you are a thief, but I’ll give you thirty seashells for it, and not a seashell more.”
“Will that be cash or credit, Sir? And…um, sorry––we must remember the sales tax. We can’t forget Big-Chief-On-The-Mountain.”
Lug was very proud of his day’s work. He had done a favor for his best friend and got him some extra seashells to boot. He also had enough shells to open that gallery. He knew just the spot…right on the path to the seashore.
Kwak too was proud of his day’s work. He had gotten Lug to shake some seashells out of Old Chief. No easy thing. His work was now where other Chiefs might see it. True, he had expected ‘sixty/forty’ to be worth more than twelve seashells––he had never been good at math, having skipped school that day––but, whatever, it was two more seashells than he could have gotten on his own.
His wife, on the other hand––for reasons Kwak could not quite follow––was not happy. Not–Happy–At–All. She (Wampat Goody-Two-Boots) had never missed a day of school, and was quite sure Miss Google had demonstrated the concept of “down the middle.” Gently, Wampat asked Kwak if he had gotten this agreement with Lug down in writing…
Kwak, gave her a blank look and asked: “What’s w…”
Wampat threw up her hands and stormed out.