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It's Like Jazz On Paper


Progress, by Gary Musselman

I was in Starbucks on Hill and Main in Santa Monica this past Thursday afternoon because my Internet went down, and I needed to log into their Wifi and pick up my e-mail. A guy who’s often there doing these intricate line drawings on typing paper sat down at a table on the opposite wall. The guy’s drawings are quite beautiful, and people always remark on them, but I’m so often annoyed by cell phone shouters that I usually have my headphones on, so I’d never had occasion to speak to him.

A white guy, about 55, dressed in “business casual,” set down a silver laptop a couple tables from the artist and went to get a drink. Immediately upon his return, he took an interest in the artist’s work. "Do you sell it?" he inquired brusquely, sounding very much the shrewd businessman.

The artist, on the other hand, was clearly homeless. He had his plaid shirt buttoned all the way to the top, like he was doing his best to keep up appearances, but he was unshaven and disheveled, with sun-leathered skin and the hollow cheeks of somebody who’s a stranger to regular meals. He nodded…muttering, yes, he would sell his work.

He waited for Mr. Business Casual to make an offer. He shifted uncomfortably, rearranging his pens. The offer never came. Finally, the guy spoke. “How much do you want for it?” he asked the artist. Clever. The guy must’ve read a few of those wheeler-dealer books that come in so handy when negotiating with the talented homeless.

The artist hesitated, twisting his mouth as he did the math: be true to himself or possibly get a sandwich. He hung his head. “Ten dollars?” he suggested tentatively. The buyer maintained his business cool, but the corners of his mouth curled upward into a lizardlike grin: Yes…we have a deal!

Now, even with my obvious failings as a photographer; even if the guy’s work isn’t quite your cup of tea; I think you can appreciate that his drawings are beautiful, intricate, and worth more than 10 bucks. Surely, the buyer would ultimately do the right thing, and toss in some extra cash. Wrong. He peeled off $20 for two drawings, and handed it to the artist.

Untitled, by Gary Musselman

After the guy picked out the drawings he wanted, he asked the artist to sign them. The artist stood and picked up a pen. "Wait!” the guy said. “Let me see your signature first!" He ordered the artist to sign the back of one of the drawings to show him how it looked. The artist made a motion to accommodate him, but the guy stopped him, saying he’d changed his mind, and he’d just take the drawings signature-free. Yeah, just erase all traces of the homeless guy, stick the thing in a $700 frame, and your friends will think you bought it at Bergamot for $7,000!

Untitled, by Gary Musselman

Even ickier, the discount-squeezing art patron apparently felt entitled to a little bonding time with the creator of his purchases. He started going on and on about what great art the artist was creating.

I couldn’t keep my mouth shut a moment longer. “If you do think it’s such great art –- and it is; they’re beautiful -- shouldn’t you be paying more than $10 apiece?” The creep retorted that he would have paid up to $15, but no more.

I glared at him. “I think that's disgusting. You can see that the guy probably needs the money, and you took advantage of that. Because you can get away with paying a very low price for something doesn’t mean you should.” I told him I wasn’t in a position to buy art (at least, not at what I thought was a fair price), but I thought they were beautiful, and worth at least $100.

The artist came over and took my hand in his. Still holding my hand, he looked into my eyes and whispered thank you. I told him his work was wonderful, and he should be compensated for it instead of being paid based on his life circumstances.

Untitled, by Gary Musselman

I turned back to the business guy. “I get my hair cut by this Vietnamese immigrant lady at Fantastic Sam’s, where a haircut costs $16. She’s amazing, and for the price, makes me look like I went to some chichi Hollywood salon. As a middle-class newspaper columnist, chichi Hollywood salons aren’t in the budget, but I tip her $10 because I don’t think she should be penalized just because her main worry is her frequently hospitalized mother, not getting a spot at Juan Juan."

Utterly unmoved and unpersuaded, he went outside, probably for a smoke.

Shortly afterward, I left.

Late the next morning, I was sitting at the Rose Café thinking about blogging about the encounter. At that moment, Business Casual marched over, clutching a hardcover copy of Peter Bart’s “Fade Out.” Leaning over my table, he snarled at me through yellowed teeth: “You made that artist feel SMALL!” (“That artist?” Did he not even know the guy’s name?)

He informed me that he and the artist had a “wonderful moment" going after he’d bought the art, and I’d ruined it by butting in.

Oh, please. “On the contrary,” I said, “It was ugly. You gouged a homeless guy. He was grateful I spoke up. He came over and took my hand in his, practically with tears in his eyes, and whispered, ‘Thank you.’”

“You probably drink organic coffee!” he bellowed. Organic coffee? Was this a continuation of our conversation -- or a pop quiz for people with ADHD? For the record, my preferred coffee is non-organic, artisanally roasted Ristretto, by Nancy Rommelmann’s husband Din Johnson (it’s like drinking velvet), but the guy did get me wondering: Are organic coffee drinkers more inclined to take issue with cheap, homeless-gouging bastards?

Untitled, by Gary Musselman

Turning my thoughts back to the coffeehouse creep, I explained to him the sandwich/starvation equation that surely factored into the artist’s pricing. He didn't care. It isn’t my job to say anything, he told me. “Actually, it is,” I said. “Speaking out is what I do for a living -- in my newspaper column, and on my blog."

He tried again: Who was I to make value judgments on other people’s behavior?! “Well, to quote my friend Cathy Seipp, ‘Since I have values, I'm making the judgment.’ In fact, I was disgusted by what you did, and I had to say something.”

The guy shot back that I didn’t know anything about him. Actually, I knew plenty -- from what I’d heard him say and from the way he'd behaved, which is the best way to judge anybody.

Well, he countered, I couldn’t know his financial circumstances. No, I couldn’t know for sure, from his unworn leather brogues, crisp button-down, khakis, neat haircut, his laptop and the pricey-looking wire rims that he wasn’t sleeping in doorways between pieces of cardboard.

“Do you write for the LA Times?” he hissed, out of the blue.

I had to laugh. For once, being banned from the Times’ features section was serving me. I’m imagining the guy wanted to accuse me of being…gasp!…a LIBERAL! -- which I’m really not, since I'm fiscally conservative ("just to the right of Genghis Kahn," was how Scott Kaufer once put it) and socially libertarian.

“I don’t write for the LA Times,” I told him. He could, however, could find my writing on my site, I invited him to hop on and give his side of the story, since I was planning to write about my encounter with him and post it on my blog over the weekend.

He placed a soiled business card on my table, and demanded the name of my site. “,” I said. “And my name’s Amy Alkon,” I said slowly, making sure he heard me clearly. He jotted it on the back of the card.

“What’s your name?” I asked. He refused to tell me.

“I’m not surprised,” I said. “You’re probably ashamed of what you did. You know, there are very few circumstances in which I won’t give my name, because I try never to do anything I’d be ashamed for other people to know about.” I quoted him a line from my friend Sue Shapiro’s book, Lighting Up: “Live as truthfully as you can.”

He was too busy living his way out the door. As he strode off, he called over his shoulder that he wasn’t giving me his name “because I know it will bother you.”

Actually, it just confirms what I already know.

“Okay, smug girl,” I said to myself after he was gone, “What do you really know?” Is it possible I had made the artist feel bad? I didn’t think so. I flashed on the look he had in his eyes –- a mix of pain and gratitude -- as he grabbed my hand and thanked me. He did that twice –- right after I first said something, and again, as I was packing up to go home.

Because I usually see him at that Hill and Main Starbucks in the evening, I went back at 8 p.m. on Friday night. Sure enough, he was seated at the same back corner table. He smiled broadly when he saw me. “God bless you for what you did,” he said. “You’re the first woman in my life who hasn’t taken advantage of me.”

His name is Gary Musselman, and he is homeless. He sleeps on the street; in doorways, usually; and "showers" at Starbucks. He’s from Illinois, and he used to work construction, but now he just draws and draws.


Gary Musselman

It turns out he didn’t want to sell his drawings to the guy; in fact, he hated selling them to the guy. He also knew they were worth much more than $10, but he was hungry. “It's not fair; it's real cruel; But that's the way it is,” he said.

He pulled out stacks of his pictures, and showed me various examples of his style. Some were abstract; some were words turned into pictures. “It’s like jazz on paper!” I said. He loved that.

I thought the abstract stuff would probably have a better shot at selling, and explained that people might see the name stuff (while visually exciting), as illustrations, not art.

Still, I could see him earning a living, at the very least, doing graphic treatments for posters and packaging. He showed me a few he’d done with that idea in mind: the city name, “Wichita,” and others for a farm fair in Illinois.

Wichita, by Gary Musselman

A big Hollywood composer had taken him under his wing for a while, and even talked about helping him sell his work, but Musselman felt uncomfortable around the guy’s secretary, who he thinks has it in for him, and suspects he’ll steal something. Because of that, he says he hasn’t contacted the composer for maybe a year. He showed me the guy’s card. I wrote down his e-mail address and phone number, and said I could contact him (and get around the secretary) if he wants me to. He’s going to think about it.

Suddenly, something the creepy guy said to me at the Rose rang in my head. “What have you ever done for the guy?” He had a point. As I was leaving, I handed him a $20, “to keep you from having sell to cheap assholes a little longer.” He grinned. I told him he could pay me back when he starts making money from his work.

Still, I tried hard not to give him false hopes. I was honest with him about the pie-in-the-sky stuff he thought he could do (like making money by publishing a book of his work -- which I’m pretty sure is hard to do unless you’re already very famous and have a base of collectors.)

That said, here’s a homeless guy who’s not only talented, but seems very hardworking, sweet and rational. While I'm no art or graphics expert, I think he could actually make a living doing his art -- maybe even a moderate-to-very good one -- if somebody with art-world connections (or even graphic design connections) would help set him up. Sure, it's a nice thing to do, but I think somebody could make money by representing Gary Musselman.

And, finally, how great would it be if he got on his feet and started earning a living doing what he loves as a result of one cheapskate creep and an overheard conversation in Starbucks?

If you know somebody who has connections –- even to hire this guy to do some graphics, get in touch with me (, and I’ll go look for him. Or, just look for him yourself at the Starbucks on Hill and Main, Santa Monica. His name’s Gary Musselman, and he’s usually there after 6pm.

UPDATE: Jackie Danicki, who has offered to set up a site, free, for Gary to sell his art, just set up a free e-mail account for him. If you want to contact him, his e-mail address is I'll look for him later, tell him about it, and show him how to use it. He can pick up his e-mail for free at the library. You may want to copy me for a while, at Put his name in the header so I won't think it's an advice request or spam.

SECOND UPDATE:This is getting better and better. Jackie Danicki just built Gary a Web site of his own to sell his art. Free. It's here: I looked this morning, and it seems he can get a post-office box for free. I'll see if they can set him up a bank account at one of the banks. When he has one, he can take PayPal. Jackie, who is American, but lives in London, is also sending me her old 310-area-code T-Mobile pre-pay cell phone to give to him so he's reachable.

You know, usually I describe myself as a "disappointed optimist" so I don't have to admit I'm a pessimist. Today, at least, I think I'll drop the "disappointed."

Posted by aalkon at April 30, 2006 11:44 AM

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» Talented artist for hire from Jackie Danicki
My friend Amy Alkon has discovered a wonderful homeless artist in LA named Gary Musselman, and we’re going to try to work with him to get some customers for his art. (He has sold his work to at least one customer in the Starbucks where he sits a... [Read More]

Tracked on April 30, 2006 10:15 AM


Great story! And Amy, he can TOTALLY make money by selling a book of his work - check out Self-publishing today isn't like the 'vanity publishing' of the past; print-on-demand quality is extremely high, and the costs of production are so low that even best-sellers like Cluetrain Manifesto are produced through print on demand (I know, because I got a copy from Amazon). I'd be happy to set him up with a mixed media blog where he (we?) could post his drawings and sell the book - I'm thinking he doesn't have regular net access and so would need our help. Happy to pitch in.

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at April 30, 2006 3:38 AM

Good for you, Amy. I think his art is easily worth $100 apiece. We might be over that way this morning, if so I'll check out Starbucks and see if he's around.

Posted by: deja pseu at April 30, 2006 6:20 AM guys are the best...and PS, deja, he knows I posted something (because I asked him if it was okay, and showed him my site, and the photos I took, and told him how it would work)...but he probably doesn't really grasp it (who could?) fast and incredibly the 'net try to do your best to explain! Or maybe get somebody on a laptop to show him his stuff up on the site. Thank you so much!

And Jackie, is pretty incredible.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 30, 2006 6:27 AM

If your artist could secure a local "manager", a website showing his work might be helpful.
He needs someone with e-mail, someone who can help with the commerce end of things.

I think you know someone who makes artists' websites.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at April 30, 2006 7:14 AM

I wrote to a friend of mine about this last night who represents people in a related field. I haven't heard from her yet -- probably because it's 7:18, and she's still not awake. If anyone knows anybody reliable in the area who might be interested in repping this guy, please send them my way (or his). If my friend is interested, I can't think of a better person. She's very good-hearted, honest, responsible, and sharp -- and great at recognizing and promoting talent. And while I don't typically write to ask people to link to my site, I emailed a few people about this entry, because I'm hoping the power of the blog can help power this guy onto his feet.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 30, 2006 7:20 AM

Just showed Gary's stuff to DeWitt.

Deed agrees that the man is enormously talented.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at April 30, 2006 7:37 AM

That IS a great story. Good for you for speaking up. I do a little volunteer work at a soup kitchen in Charlotte NC (doing art projects with the regulars, not dishing out soup) and went out the other day as part of a project to make observations in the neighborhood. I dressed in burner/homeless chic – handmade white plastic leggings crocheted from grocery store bags, blue and pink leis wrapped around my flaming red hair, and my cute tranny wife by my side. We hadn't gone more than a few blocks before we were harrassed by cops for a good five minutes. Our crime? Looking like homeless people, I guess. These folks get harrassed and taken advantage of more than we can even imagine. Glad you did the right thing. Gary's work is beautiful. That "art buyer" is a total fucktard.

Posted by: Little Shiva at April 30, 2006 8:26 AM

Amy, we're not going to make it there today, but will definitely do so next Sunday morning. I'll be sure to tell him about your blog entry, but hopefully it will be old news to him by then.

Posted by: deja pseu at April 30, 2006 12:08 PM

Just placed an order myself for Gary's art, cant wait!

Posted by: R.Prost at April 30, 2006 7:36 PM

That's so's in his e-mail box!

PS If anybody else wants words -- which may be more popular than I thought!...just say what word you want (shorter is probably better, but Gary will have to email you back and let you know)...once I can get to Starbucks to tell him he 1. Has email, and 2. Has a Web site, and 3. Is getting orders!

Also, if anybody knows about what it takes to set up a bank account in California, please let me know...and if there's anyplace that works with the homeless, especially around Main Street, Santa Monica. He's going to need one so he can take PayPal through his site.

I think my mailbox guys, right off Main Street, can ship stuff for him (and pack it well enough) -- he can just bring it there and they'll send it out.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 30, 2006 7:44 PM

Just placed an order myself for Gary's art, cant wait!

Posted by: R.Prost at April 30, 2006 7:45 PM

This is a happy story. Can I indulge in a fantasy of him skyrocketing to major success as a graphic designer? Advice Goddess, you really do change lives!

Posted by: Lena at April 30, 2006 9:52 PM

Amy, I want a word drawing of my first name, which is "Gary". I emailed the GMusselman address and BCC'ed you on it.

Thanks for introducing us to Gary and his art. It is a great story, and I hope he benefits from your efforts.

Posted by: Gary at April 30, 2006 10:21 PM

Well, he's very hardworking and committed - just went over and saw him at Starbucks...he was thrilled to see his site Jackie designed, but he's not too swift with e-mail. Probably does need somebody to handle this stuff/rep him. Just want to make sure he doesn't get screwed over by anyone!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 30, 2006 10:29 PM

>>Can I indulge in a fantasy of him skyrocketing to major success as a graphic designer?

How about a short story? Actually, it's a fictional continuation of Amy's narrative...

Gary skyrockets to major success as a graphic designer. Meanwhile, "Ralph", the business-casual guy from the above narrative, falls on hard times (expensive divorce, business failure, etc) and eventually finds himself living on the street.

Among Ralph's few possessions are the two drawings he paid Gary twenty dollars for, all those years ago. They remind Ralph of his better days, and they give him the confidence that even as a homeless person, he can still be a productive member of society.

One day, Ralph is pushing his shopping cart past a museum. It's an exhibit of Gary's "street period" works of art, which are now sought after by collectors and are worth lots of money.

"That's it!" says Ralph. "I can sell the drawings and get back on my feet!"

No one will give Ralph a ride to the auction house, but he collects enough cans to pay the cab fare. On the ride over, he inspects the drawings. "Good condition," he thinks. "I'm glad I kept them in that seven-hundred-dollar frame all this time."

In Ralph's more prosperous days, he kept each drawing in its own $700 frame, so his friends would think he bought them at Bergamot for $7,000. But he had to sell one of the frames to raise money when he became homeless. So he kept both drawings in one frame, and occasionally rotated them, for variety. He also made sure to grime up the frame, so no one would think it was valuable.

Ralph paid the cab driver with a filthy sockful of nickels and dimes, and even told him to keep the change. And the sock. "No more scrounging for coins," Ralph thought, "today I'm getting back on my feet!"

After explaining to the auction house receptionist that he wasn't a crazy homeless person -- or more precisely, that he was a crazy homeless person, but that he really did own valuable artwork -- he was told to wait for an appraiser.

While sitting on the fifties-colored atomic furniture and admiring the angular raised ceiling of the lobby, Ralph pondered the little ironies of life. "Maybe there really is such a thing as karma. I was a corporate raider for thirty years and never did anyone any good, but one moment of kindness in front of a Starbucks is going to be my salvation. I helped that guy escape homelessness by generously spending twenty dollars on his artwork, and now he's going to help me escape homelessness." Ralph imagined what this temporal synchronicity looked like from a distance. It looked like an M.C. Escher drawing, but with Gary's bold color schemes.

The appraiser abruptly walked in, took one look at what Ralph was holding, and said, "This isn't an authentic Musselman street drawing. It isn't signed."

Posted by: Gary S. at May 1, 2006 12:25 AM

Amongst the euphoria, guys, I'm sure you remember that there is a lot of talent that goes un-noticed - or which fails - because the rest of the character can't handle the load. Success is hard work. Please be sure that what happens is what Mr. Musselman wants - at least, more than it is what you want.

I want to see this success continue. I'm sure that you'll see that he has the tools to do so.

This is exactly what good citizens should be doing. Too many are letting Sunday Morning Theater tell them they are too good for this, and an equal number are engaged in simple charity, which is fine, but which does nothing to get the destitute the tools to walk upright.

Posted by: Radwaste at May 1, 2006 2:36 AM

Actually, Radwaste, what you can't have seen is the emails Amy and I have been exchanging about all this, where our primary concern is that this is something Gary wants and that each choice along the way is his. As I said in my blog post yesterday (

"Amy and others are talking to Gary about how exactly he’d like to proceed, because it is his life and every step of the way is his call. (We have a few ideas for actions we think he should take, with our help, and certain donations we can each make in terms of getting him contactable via email and phone, getting him a physical address, etc. He needs to give the nod for those things to happen, though.) Gary is awfully keen to have Amy’s help, so we’re laying some groundwork now in preparation."

As it happens, Gary is thrilled and we are prepared to help him as much as we can, and as much as he feels comfortable with. This is his life, and he has to live it.

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at May 1, 2006 6:32 AM

Thanks, Jackie...just woke up and saw your comment and Rad's. I'm not some "do-gooder-by-force." It wouldn't be fair -- or make sense, if he couldn't handle it. From the start, I've explained what I thought I could do, and asked him if it worked for him. He's thrilled about this. Last night, I asked whether he was stable enough to handle this. He's told me again and again that he just needs a break. Last night, he told me he's "27 years sober." I talked to a guy who knows him, too, just for two months, from Starbucks, but thinks he just needs a little help to get on his feet. He's very, very determined, and works as obsessively as I do...last night, I got to Starbucks at 8:15pm, and he was drawing still.

My main problem now is that I can't handle this myself...I need somebody to represent him, take the money, get it to him, get the drawings, send them out, etc. I can have the guys at my mailbox place ship them...he can walk there...but I'm on deadline today through Tuesday night, then I have a rush magazine piece due, and I'm working fullspeed on a book proposal. I'm not going to let the guy fall through the cracks, but there are orders here, and he's not e-mail savvy enough to pick them up and deal with them himself.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 1, 2006 6:47 AM

Anyway, what I'm hoping for, if a friend of mine isn't interested in doing this (she reps cartoonists and animators, and I'd trust her with my life, and then some), that somebody who's maybe a stay-at-home mom could rep him. There's money in this...his stuff could be selling in an e-Bay store, and online, but somebody has to take the photos, post the photos, get the money, set him up with a bank account, and explain the orders to him. I printed one out and gave it to him...but I only see him by going over to Starbucks right now, and today and Tuesday, that's out of the question, with my deadline for my column. I've told people who've made offers to hang tight for a few days, and everybody understands. Basically, Gary is ready and willing to work, and can't believe the opportunity.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 1, 2006 6:51 AM

Pen and ink, Geometry, come on, the stuff looks like school kid sketches. I am all for helping homeless people, but $100 for that stuff?

Furthermore, I would never pay $16 + $10 for a haircut, but then I am not a woman. I do understand that women pay more.

I guess in LA school kid sketches are worth big money. If that is art, then I must be an artist.

Posted by: Russell E. Wilson at May 1, 2006 6:52 AM

Ms. wife is a legal resident here in Texas from Brazil, and posseses a unique talent for design. She would be willing to help this artist...and they could talk about what he would like the site and tags to look like...

Mr. Wil Flores & Claudia Flores 281-687-4086

We could sell for him here in Houston.

Posted by: William FLores at May 1, 2006 7:49 AM

Hey, thanks...I'm on deadline it may take me a few days to get back to people. I don't want him to fall through the I'm hoping to find somebody local, too, to rep him. And Russell, I think these go far beyond "LA school kid sketches." You're "all for helping homeless people"? Um, it's my suspicion you're having a bad day - maybe a lifelong one - and feel a need to grind down other people because of it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 1, 2006 7:58 AM

Russel - I agree with you to a certain extent. I have a coworker who doodles stuff like that in meetings ... seriously. But nobody is clamoring to buy his stuff.

However, I wish Gary well. People appreciate different kinds of art, and while I cannot see the value in what Gary does, others can and do.

Posted by: Silver_Fox at May 1, 2006 9:23 AM

WOW - these are gorgeous!

Thanks for sharing them, and I'm planning on going to the website and buying one.

Not for an investment, but because I think they're stunning and having one will make me happy every time I look at it - which, after all, is why one should buy art!

Posted by: Peggy Archer at May 1, 2006 9:41 AM

WOW - these are gorgeous!

Thanks for sharing them, and I'm planning on going to the website and buying one.

Not for an investment, but because I think they're stunning and having one will make me happy every time I look at it - which, after all, is why one should buy art!

Posted by: Peggy Archer at May 1, 2006 9:43 AM

WOW - these are gorgeous!

Thanks for sharing them, and I'm planning on going to the website and buying one.

Not for an investment, but because I think they're stunning and having one will make me happy every time I look at it - which, after all, is why one should buy art!

Posted by: Peggy Archer at May 1, 2006 9:44 AM

I think the guy has an eye. It may be a vulgar or idiosyncratic taste, but it's not juvenile. These are refined lines. If you think they can't be made into something great, you should go to the Wright room in the basement of the Met in NYC.

Can it be made profitable? Who knows? If I hadn't just had 500 business cards printed, he'd get at least one commission.

Posted by: Crid at May 1, 2006 9:52 AM

Brian Micklethwait, who is a respected and widely read critic of art here in London, writes of Gary's drawings:

'These are the kind of drawings now sufficiently out of date in artistic style to appeal to large numbers of the general public, especially the sort who are internet-connected, but to be disapproved of by the regular art critics, who will not, I predict, approve. "Derivative", "emotionally empty", etc. Their real objection will be that their verdicts aren't going to count. Not this time.'

Sorry, Russell. Looks like you'll have to find some other person - homeless or otherwise - to trash today.

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at May 1, 2006 12:47 PM

These -- and I mean this as a compliment -- strike me as perfect for children's rooms. They're so alive and in motion. What fun a kid could have staring at their dancing names. I belong to several on-line mom's groups, whose total West Side membership is something like 3,500. Would you mind my posting about this on them? As someone who's worked with the homeless, I want to be sure the artist isn't overwhelmed before he can get on his feet and figure out the way that's best for him. So if you think it's better to wait awhile, I'll do that instead.

Posted by: Newcomer at May 1, 2006 1:22 PM

Mind? I'd be completely grateful. Also, my friend who reps artists is going over with me tomorrow night after 7pm - if somebody is at Starbucks and sees Gary today, please tell him we'll be there at maybe 7:15 Tuesday night! I don't know whether she can take Gary on, or whether it will be the right thing for, if you're posting stuff or know people...if there's somebody who's a reliable person who could rep him...he may need that. This could be a great job for a stay-at-home mom who has some time and wants to make some money...but they can't just flirt with the idea and drop it!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 1, 2006 2:43 PM

Jackie, Amy - I'm glad to see I was right - "I'm sure that you'll see that he has the tools to do so."

Not too long ago, there was this girl giving free relationship advice on a New York streetcorner...

I hear she turned out OK. If one of you folks have a buddy on an airport or bus terminal staff, this is a natural medium for place-name advertising...

Posted by: Radwaste at May 1, 2006 4:26 PM

Ooh, he'll do custom orders, cool! I was afraid to ask that, didn't want to insult him. But now I'm definitely going to order a custom one for my sister for her birthday. This is the kind of art--and story--she'll appreciate.

Posted by: deja pseu at May 1, 2006 6:25 PM

This would be a great story if it weren't for your self-righteous posturing re the "creep" who actually paid real cash for pictures that you were too cheap to buy yourself. If you had trusted your conviction that the pictures were really worth $100 apiece, then you could have outbid the "creep" by a substantial margin and re-sold them if necessary to recover your investment, but you did not. ok Maybe your efforts will generate significantly more than $600 for Mr Musselman, and maybe you have actually paid him that much already for the 6 of his images currently enhancing your website (and so being effectively made public domain in the process) but your selfeless assistance to the artist is also generating a significant amount of traffic to your blog. Is Mr Musselman fully aware of the possible financial benefit to you of this relationship? Even if he is, and is getting properly compensated for that as well as for his art, the fact remains that you would not have done anything to support him but for the "creep" who asked him what he wanted and paid what was asked.

Posted by: Alan Cooper at May 1, 2006 7:47 PM

Just as I don't go to restaurants if I don't have the money to pay for them, or take a taxi when I'm in New York if I don't have the money for a tip, I don't buy art when it's not within my budget. My priority right now is giving my assistant a raise. I'm not required to buy anything from anyone, but when I do, I try to be fair, not exploitative. It's one thing for a guy to have some competition from another artist. When his prices are based on how empty his stomach is...and a guy in nice shoes and clothes, toting a laptop takes advantage of that...isn't that just a wee bit low?

You seem to be a bit clueless about how blogs work. I make a bit of money from ads on my site -- for the same thing I was doing for free for three years until about four months ago -- but nothing from individual entries. Yes, I've blogged for free for three years. If I'm in this for the money, I'm kind of a moron, don't you think? I didn't even think about getting ads until last fall, and even then, I didn't do anything about it. Basically, I have ads now because Pajamas asked me to join them and stuck them on my site. Clearly, I've got to work on being a more rapacious capitalist.

I'm sure I will get a traffic bump today because people are linking to this -- but I spent all afternoon Saturday, and a good bit of time on Sunday writing this entry. In that time, I could have written a magazine article I'd make $1500 for. Believe me, if I get even as much as 2,000 extra visitors on top of the 8-10,000 a day I usually get, it won't be anywhere near compensatory for the time I put in...not that I even get paid for my daily traffic. I think he'd be happy to cut me in on money he makes, but I'm not interested in that. I've gotten a helping hand from people who've believed in me and wanted me to succeed; that's my interest here.

I put his images up on my site not for my benefit, but for his. I've asked him what he wanted every step of the way. He's thrilled about this. He gave them to me to shoot, and helped me shoot them. Jackie Danicki built him a site for free, and offered to pay after there's a small fee after six months from Typepad. She's sending him her USA prepay cell phone to use. (Let's see if you can find some sinister ulterior motive there!...maybe she'll notify aliens to bug his brain through the microwaves?!) Moreover, I'm not making money from his art. I just see somebody I find talented, who's passionate about his work, and committed to it...who can be productive and maybe not homeless with a little help. That's enough for me to give it a shot.

I'm doing a lot of work to help him the best I can. Just today, I've called an art rep to come look at his stuff, the bank manager at the branch I go to in hopes of helping him get an account, and dropped a printout of this blog item off at the Rose Cafe for their buyer to look at in hopes of them possibly taking orders for his custom work. Oh yeah, and I contacted a friend of his in Illinois who he trusts to handle his affairs. I also answered a lot of email from people who want to buy his art. I'm trying to work out how by the end of the week -- PayPal or something if I can get an account opened for him -- but I encourage people to look for him and buy stuff off him directly for cash, which he really needs.

Finally, it's amazing how people can find something sinister and awful in even the best of intentions.

Just wondering...are you a friend or acquaintance of the creep? It just seems so odd you'd pop in out of the blue to post such a vitriolic entry.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 1, 2006 8:43 PM

Oh, one more thing, Mr. Mean. His images do not become public domain via posting any more than my writing becomes public domain. Are you a trademark/copyright lawyer or do you just posture about subjects you know nothing about for laughs?

Allow me to educate you, via Brad Templeton, chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

3) "If it's posted to Usenet it's in the public domain." False. Nothing modern and creative is in the public domain anymore unless the owner explicitly puts it in the public domain(*). Explicitly, as in you have a note from the author/owner saying, "I grant this to the public domain." Those exact words or words very much like them.

Did you see those words on my site? No. Gary Musselman and nobody else owns all rights to his work. I simply have his permission to put it up in hopes of helping him start earning a living as an artist.

You know, Allan, just when I was feeling all squishy and good about humanity, you had to come along! Thanks a lot.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 1, 2006 9:04 PM

This is the most patronizing nonsense I've ever seen. Does the artist not have a mouth, a brain, a self? Can he not sell his own works for a fair price? Can he not set up a website, a "free" email account by himself? Why not? Public libraries with free internet access are full of people like him. Is he mentally deficient? It seems obvious he doesn't want to make money. He'd rather be a victim. Plus, I don't like his art.

Posted by: Robert Speirs at May 2, 2006 7:05 AM

Do you not understand that he's homeless, has no idea how to use a computer, and his main concern is not starving to death and getting penicillin when he has an infection. Can he not set up a web site by himself? No, he can't. I don't think this should prohibit him from selling his work to people who want it, or makes him "mentally deficient" or "a victim."

You don't like his art? Well, I don't like you!

On a bright note, a guy named Bryan is going to help him. Here's an email I got from him last night:

Hello, Amy? Ok, we met at the Starbuck's, I took the blog to gary, and he has asked me to help with internet...bluntly, I'm not up to speed in order to help him. I accessed typepad to see about orders and such for him. Do need ot get info from you in order to be of help to gary. What I see he wants from me is like a secretary so he can do the art and have me (or someone) to keep track of the on line and the send out and such. Am I clear on the concept? Thank you so much, by the way, you've given him a definate smile and a light at the end of what has been a long tunnel for him. That is the grace for which we are give those moments. :):) to you.

Here's another from this morning:

Anyway, will be seeing Gary and let him know about tonight. I won't be there do to a screenplay reading, but will be able to show him your e-mail here this morning. He way appreciates. and we will keep it rolling. I'll be able to go for him today. Thanks again, and keep in touch as you wish and will: this e-ddress and my phone #

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 2, 2006 9:19 AM

Unfortunately, I have a feeling that this whole endeavor is going to do little good. I have personally met no homeless people who really want to do anything involving any kind of effort to get out of their situation. Yes, I know anecdotal evidence is no evidence at all, but my point is: my experience tells me that this will be very short-lived and far below even pessimistic expectations.

This guy was making art because he likes to do it. Now he has to. He is looking for a get rich quick plan, and he will be sorely disappointed.

I find myself having to agree with those who see nothing special with his art. I have seen teenagers draw this kind of stuff. He should stick to selling his art on the street, scraping by. He'll be ruined by any form of success.

Lastly, I am pretty disappointed that Amy claims she doesn't like someone because he disagrees with her. ("You don't like his art? I don't like you!") I hope that is a joke, because it is very telling about Amy if it isn't.

Posted by: Silver_Fox at May 2, 2006 11:13 AM

Because you haven't met homeless people with self-determination doesn't mean there aren't any. I'm not some bleeding heart who goes around scooping crackheads off the street. This guy works his ass off and wants this very much. There's a guy now helping him -- who can deal with the email, etc. I'm working on the bank account thing now. Because of the Patriot Act, he can't get an account without ID, and may have to order his birth certificate, etc. which will take a long time, I suspect. Will find out if he has ID tonight.

I don't dislike people for disagreeing with me; I dislike them for being nasty SOBs when there's no reason for it. You don't like his art? Why post that here? If I don't like the food at a restaurant, I don't go back. I don't walk past the kitchen and shout, "The food here sucks!" It's uncouth and rude, and that I don't like.

As far as your comment goes:

I find myself having to agree with those who see nothing special with his art. I have seen teenagers draw this kind of stuff. He should stick to selling his art on the street, scraping by. He'll be ruined by any form of success.

Who are you, the great and powerful Oz? Have you met the guy? Do you know one thing about him? Have you spoken to him, found out his history, found out if he has some chance of success? When you aren't talking out of an area typically covered by denim and pockets, do feel free to weigh in.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 2, 2006 2:49 PM

Now, I see a bright spot - a little ray of sunshine, a sunbeam, a little dirt in it, sure, but bright nonetheless.

Some point at the dirt. Others point at the light.

Which group do you want to associate with?

I'll pick the light - that is, the people who are trying to make things better. This is a win/win no matter what, because even if the market doesn't support Mr. Musselman to any degree, the same humanity who would come to the rescue of a drowning child will have proven themselves again - even as others do nothing but claim, "I told you not to go out there."

Posted by: Radwaste at May 2, 2006 2:54 PM

Fuck 'em Amy- you are performing a good deed. Karma exists alongside cynicism.

Posted by: eric at May 2, 2006 3:03 PM

Honestly, Fox, that was a weirdly grim set of comments.

Posted by: Crid at May 2, 2006 4:35 PM

Welcome to Blog Scenario Theatre! The stage has been set, so let's move straight to the outcomes!

Worst Case Scenario [Probability: Minimal]

At her next encounter with the artist, Amy is clubbed on the head and sucked into a violent, druggy cult of homeless sex fiends who practice rituals of race hatred under the Santa Monica pier late at night; her accounts are drained, her mind and body are rendered listless, she loses interest in France and turns up at the next LA Press Club event, dressed in bad sportswear, only to ignore the guest speaker and her friends while snarffing hors d'oeuvres in the lobby. Her dog, now tended by Seipp, doesn't recognize her.

Best Case Scenario [Probability: Minimal]

While usually uninterested in holiday celebrations, Amy can't resist the December 2006 invitation to join Gary and his friends for a seasonal party at his Miami Beach penthouse. As she boards the Musselman Enterprises jet at Santa Monica airport, she's delighted to learn that they'll be making a short stop in Boston to collect Danicki, who'll be arriving from London at that hour. Settling deep into the leather seat and strapping her belt as the flight attendent sets her cocktail on the armrest, she takes note of the familiar and colorful design on the napkin; she really must make it to Kansas someday. But as the landing gear retracts and the jet arcs back over the bay, it's time to slip on the earphones and watch the movie; the designer of the credit sequence has a nice touch, and Spielberg is lucky to have found him.

Middle-Case Scenario [Probability: Higher]

Gary makes a couple dollars. He learns more about how to sell stuff. Maybe he gets off the street and into a better group home somewhere. Amy learns more about helping the homeless, and gains insight about assisting people who've lost their way (or had the path pulled out from underneath them). The whole enterprise costs her a few bucks, or maybe nothing but several hours of her time, which is a fair trade for what she learns about human nature, commerce, and people she thought were friends.

Posted by: Crid at May 2, 2006 5:19 PM

Wow, that is some discovery there. I love the balance of color and form. I'll be looking into it as soon as I get some spare money.

For those of you who are saying this is 'easy kids stuff' there's a reason you see 'kids' doing similar stuff. Children have an innate sense of balance for both form and color. Formal art classes are the best way to destroy this instinct. (Jackson Pollock's splatter paintings are also very hard to actually execute)

But this is some good stuff, very art-deco. Very good. I *love* it. Thank you Amy for bringing this to our attention. And thank you for putting that philistine in his place.

Posted by: LXV at May 2, 2006 7:58 PM

What a wonderful story. His art IS like jazz on paper. It reminds me of my father's art. He is both an abstract artist and a jazz musician. If I may, I would like to link to your story from my site. I really would like the outcome for Gary Musselman to be a great one....and good job on exposing the phony art collector. Shame on him!

Posted by: Jauhara al Kafirah at May 2, 2006 9:25 PM

Great story. While I'm certainly not homeless and lucky enough to use good Nikon equipment and live in Paris... my little email, photo newsletter from Paris is $10 a month which has introduced me to the "sandwhich economy".
If 1 person subscribes then I have enough to buy 2 sandwhich Grec per month and get some change back.

Posted by: Don at May 3, 2006 7:06 AM

Don't get me wrong, Amy. I think it is great that you are helping this guy out. But I feel that no good will come of this. The Internet is a cold, brutal place for commerce. His artwork has no value on that scale. As a local artist, he may be talented enough to make a living selling novelty art on the corner, but to ask this man to take orders online is incomprehensible. The minute an artist starts doing it in bulk for the money is the same minute the art has no value.

I hope I am proven wrong, however. It has happened before.

Posted by: Silver_Fox at May 3, 2006 7:58 AM

I took a friend to see him last night -- a friend who represents artists for a living, including an Academy Award-winning animator. She was bowled over by his work and sees vast possibilities for licensing. The issue is getting him off the streets right now. The bank account establishment is a stumbling block. He doesn't have ID, and the Patriot Act makes it mandatory to have it to establish a bank account. Luckily, somebody here who ordered a piece (which I saw last night - it's amazing) is going to try to pick it up at lunch and pay him cash.

People want his stuff. He has over a thousand dollars in orders right now, and he's very hardworking. As soon as the guy who's helping him (another Starbucks regular) prints out the email of the order, he does the work. He just needs a bank account so he can take Paypal and have a debit card to access the cash. As soon as he does that, he can get into a motel and have a more stable, less risky existence. Right now, he's carrying around a 50-lb case of his art. That's rough if you're a guy with no car, only feet, who sleeps in a doorway.

And note to Juahura or anyone else who wants to link to him: Please do!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 3, 2006 8:07 AM

I did link to your site and to his, as well, and I sent your link over to my daughter who is at Kansas City Art Institute. I am hoping she posts it on her blog too! As for the cautious comments from Silver Fox, I think you need to understand that the gist of this tale is that Gary is the one making choices, Amy et al are just giving him the opportunity. There is no welfare mentality, no desire to put the pauper into a tux.

Posted by: Jauhara al Kafirah at May 3, 2006 5:37 PM

fiscally conservative and "take responsibility and mind your own business" is my motto!
nice to meet you

Posted by: bloom at May 4, 2006 1:31 PM

He's not looking for handouts. In fact, he paid me back the $20 I loaned him right after Deja paid him for his art. Now, I can wait for this $20, and I told him so -- and I'd rather wait for it. But, he insisted on paying me back right then and there, and I'm not about to tell him what to do. (I mean, besides insisting that he needs to open a bank account pronto!) I'm hoping the birth certificate we ordered from the state of Illinois will be here on May 11.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 4, 2006 4:42 PM

Bonjour Amy,
J'ai lu votre histoire et souhaite toutes les chances a Gary pour arriver a vivre de son art.

Posted by: Isabelle at May 5, 2006 5:13 AM

>>The minute an artist starts doing it in bulk for the money is the same minute the art has no value. I hope I am proven wrong, however.

Well, I can offer some hope on this point.

In my part of the world, we have a group of painters called the Florida Highwaymen. To make a long story short: these were African-Americans who were inspired by a local landscape artist to take up painting in the mid-1950s. They painted on whatever materials they could find, and drove up and down Florida's east coast selling their work out of the trunk of their cars (in part because Jim Crow laws forebade them access to more mainstream venues). I remember them coming around as late as the mid-1980s.

Lots of people bought their paintings for $25 or so, and didn't think much of them at the time. These works were frequently seen on bathroom walls in middle-class homes and businesses. They were nice paintings, and were evocative of the region, but nothing you'd send to the Louvre.

Around 1999, somebody made a book and a documentary about the Florida Highwaymen, calling them "the last great untold story of old Florida." This, combined with the region being overdeveloped into the charmless agglomeration of overpriced gated communities it is today, brought about a surge of interest in the Highwayman painters and their old-Florida landscapes.

Several years later, interest in Highwayman art is still very high -- even though many of the Highwaymen are still alive and still painting, and the paintings they once sold "in bulk for the money" aren't exactly rare. Depending on who you ask, there may be as many as 200,000 authentic Highwayman paintings out there.

So they're not worth a lot individually, but they are still valuable in the sense that people want them. Heck, the state governor's office has commissioned works from one of them. Not bad for a painter who once borrowed $100 from my father to pay his daughter's school expenses.

So there's reason to believe Gary's art won't immediately become worthless if it becomes popular and/or common. It's not a perfect comparison, because Gary is an individual rather than a part of a school of artists. But the story of the Florida Highwaymen gives us a reason to hope that Gary's art career might be sustainable.

Posted by: Gary S. at May 5, 2006 10:03 PM

As a local artist, he may be talented enough to make a living selling novelty art on the corner, but to ask this man to take orders online is incomprehensible. The minute an artist starts doing it in bulk for the money is the same minute the art has no value.

This comment is simply absurd. If you're good at something and it's in demand, you have every right to pursue it wholeheartedly---and certainly to earn enough to feed yourself. So he starts creating his art in do cartoonists and novelists and jazz recording artists. So what? We don't condescendingly inform them that they shouldn't try to make money doing what they're good at---and that they would be better off staying on the street. If I write a magazine article and it sells, and I give it another slant and market it to another couple of magazines and legitimately sell it again, and I ruining myself as a writer because I'm making a living at writing?

Some of you making these posts are just overbearing in your arrogance.

Posted by: Tess at May 9, 2006 1:54 PM

As a local artist, he may be talented enough to make a living selling novelty art on the corner, but to ask this man to take orders online is incomprehensible. The minute an artist starts doing it in bulk for the money is the same minute the art has no value.

Um, as somebody who has a number of cartoonist friends with lucrative licensing agreements...and come to think of it, I've done a few bulk-sold greeting cards for Nobleworks...let me be the first to tell you you couldn't be more wrong.

You know, there are a number of subjects I'm an utter moron on, such as auto mechanics and professional hockey. I keep my mouth shut when people are discussing these things. A pity more people don't feel the same compunction in regards to subjects they're equally ill-versed in.

FYI, Gary's birth certificate arrived yesterday. I ordered it for him online, expedited, from the state of Illinois. Tomorrow or Wednesday, a friend is taking him to the DMV to apply for his non-driver ID. When he has it, he can open a bank account and take PayPal. But, in the mean time, wonderful people who are into his art, like Deja Pseu and a great guy from OC, have been great about coming all the way to Starbucks and paying him hundreds of dollars in cash.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 9, 2006 3:09 PM

You truly are a goddess, bless you.(or is that thank you?) He's definitely gifted.

Posted by: mary at June 2, 2006 12:57 PM

retty much nothing seems worth thinking about. My life's been completely dull , not that it matters. I've just been staying at home waiting for something to happen.

Posted by: Kaka36220 at July 10, 2006 8:24 AM

I just don't have anything to say right now. I haven't been up to anything recently, but it's not important. I've just been sitting around waiting for something to happen, but shrug.

Posted by: Kaka61675 at July 11, 2006 1:02 PM

The economic value of user contributions to Internet sites..

Posted by: Colten Chang at December 28, 2006 2:59 PM

Nice drawings. You are very kind Amy for helping Mr.Musselman.

The world needs wonderful people like you, Amy.


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