Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the vanities

On two occasions in the last few months I have come across jobs that I have been unable to do. Both were caricatures and both had to be OK'ed by the party I was caricaturing. I'm currently busy with lots of caricatures and normally I have no problem getting a passable likeness, but with these two no matter how I tried I couldn't please the subject. Both are captains of industry and leaders in their fields, which should not be surprising now that I come to think of it.

When it comes to caricatures in South Africa, what most people expect is to have their head drawn and plonked onto a small cute body. I usually try to avoid this, so I exercise my drawing and caricaturing skills by playfully drawing the subject in free hand. That usually does the trick for the initial rough sketch, but on occasions such as this the person didn't think it looked like them. Now I realize they are looking for a photographic representation of themselves rather than an artistic endeavor, so to avoid untimely delays I will simply print out the reference they have given me and trace the face on a light-box. Nine times out of ten the subject is delighted and off we go. But then there is the tenth instance. "It still looks wrong" they will complain and then ask for the chin to be made more prominent, the boobs bigger, the figure slimmer, the eyes further apart and the neck made longer and slimmer (without the double chin) and so on...

I then know I'm dealing with an ego of note. I am really the most accommodating person as a whole but if there is one thing I really can't stand is delusional self-worship. These are the insatiable maniacs that deem themselves far more beautiful, sexy and downright gorgeous than they really are. There is a saying: "You don't see things as they are, you see things as you are." If they consider themselves so subjectively beautiful it becomes a matter of trying to read their minds to capture their distorted self-image in a pleasing and engaging way. Talk about mission impossible.
Situations like this either end in a compromise when the party concerned realizes their attitude is showing or I have to give up and walk away from the project. I only wish I had some early-warning system to pick up those clots at fifty paces so I could price myself right of the job and save myself some time.

But the gem to be found in this puddle of misery is the realization that no matter how important they are, they are obviously still very vulnerable to other's opinions of themselves, and the higher they go the more their positive self-image seems to matter to them. Happily they are few and far between. I have had the pleasure of meeting people who have risen to the top and still retained their humility, and what a pleasure it is to know these people. I suspect they are the true Nobility of my generation and I relish their contributions to life. It would be fantastic if those people were politicians too. Sadly not.

1 comment:

  1. Good piece, some very pertinent observations -- I feel your pain -- been there and don't even have a t-shirt to show for it.