7. PRETEND TO BE MORE STUPID
This doesn’t mean not being stupid at all, and just pretending to be stupid: the point to stress is that however stupid you may be to start with, you should try to appear to be even more stupid.
The idea I want to develop here is concerned with art by projection.
This notion can be defined in the following way: artistic manifestations to which greater value is attributed than the artist intended.
Take the work of Van Gogh, for example.
From what I know of the history of art, and in the absence of information to the contrary, Van Gogh was not aware of the potential influence of his work, or even how novel his style was. You could argue that artists are never aware of these things when producing their work.
Van Gogh is a particularly bloody case. He took a naive view of his work, and wanted to paint like all the exciting painters he’d met in Paris.
Of course he wasn’t as naive as Rousseau, who once said to Picasso that they both were the best artists in the world—Rousseau in the Realist style, and Picasso in the Egyptian style.
But if our friend Vincent had lived longer, he would have ended up like Giorgio de Chirico, no doubt about it. Just take a look at his last work, in which he considered himself a Renaissance painter.
Though legal experts say ignorance of the law is no excuse for the offense, I believe that lack of intentionality diminishes the merit of the artist.
That doesn’t mean the work isn’t fantastic anyway, but that it is fantastic because of the value we project upon it, not because of the talent of the artist.
Value is projected onto different aspects of a work of art, ranging from a captivation with the life story of the artist (a delight of mythomaniacs) to fascination with the evocative power of the work.
I prefer intelligent artists over artists who have suffered a lot. Maybe because as an artist myself, I do not want to suffer all my life in order to be appreciated. It is a subjective choice, but a reasonable one.
8. KEEP YOUR WORD
My last name is Ortega, which has gitano overtones. I don’t know of any ancestor who was gitano, in fact, I don’t think any relative of mine even accepts that our name sounds like a gitano name.
I discovered the gitano relation on Google. If I searched for “Antonio Ortega artist” I’d find myself surrounded by toreros and flamenco cantaores.
Maybe that’s why I share the gitano conviction that a promise is sacred. Everyone knows that when a gitano person shakes your hand after making a deal, they are sealing the agreement. Not only will they respect the agreement, but they’ll stand by it, come hell or high water.
There’s a fundamental difference between respecting an agreement and standing by it. Standing by it adds a mortifying dimension, a tendency to dramatize, to take pleasure in suffering. In short, it means the promise will be kept, even if it’s part of a bad bargain.
Perhaps it’s because of this distant kinship that, for me, the sacredness of a promise has something mystical about it.
I wear a ring I bought in Istanbul. While I was there I didn’t fancy buying anything much, but I couldn’t leave Istanbul without experiencing the excitement of bartering.
So on the last day, I went to the bazaar and chose a ring from a stall that sold jewellery. I bartered with the stallholder for quite a while until we at last agreed on a price I found satisfactory. I paid with a bank note and waited for the change.
He made me a reduction on the price we had agreed upon.
9. SHOW YOUR FACE
I used to live in South Wimbledon. When I was there I had a lot of time but not much money.
One of the few things I could do was visit the local city farm. Run by the government, it offered jobs to people on the fringes of society and provided education for families.
I soon realized I was making a nuisance of myself by going so often, so I decided to look for an excuse.
I was preparing an exhibition for Sala Montcada de la Fundació la Caixa (a Catalan bank), and the city farm had an animal sponsoring program. I used the money from the exhibition to sponsor Lucy, a Gloucester Old Spot pig, and they gave me a certificate made out in the name of “La Caixa.” Now I had an official document and an excuse for spending more time at the farm.
Lucy was pregnant. When I came to see her after staging my exhibition in Barcelona, she’d given birth to a litter of ten piglets. One was very puny and had a hard job competing with his siblings for milk, so they separated him from the others and raised him on a bottle. They called him Alan.
Alan was free to roam anywhere he wanted. He wasn’t shy with people, and rubbed himself against the visitors’ legs like a cat. He also seemed smart, and had bangs like Babe, the character in the film “Babe, the Gallant Pig.”
Alan’s nine brothers and sisters were taken off to a pig farm to be turned into sausages, or ham. But who could eat a pig with a name? As David G. Torres later wrote in the catalogue for the show, “it is very difficult to eat Alan with tarragon potatoes.”
So it is useful to have a name, even if only to arouse pity…
10. GIVE PRESENTS
I don’t know if you’ve ever wondered how they recruit spies.
In the year 2000, I met a spy.
After a scandal involving the fraudulent use of “reserved funds” to combat terrorism, and the subsequent, so-called “Anti-terrorist Liberation Groups case”, the Spanish government abandoned the members of the CESID (the Spanish intelligence agency) to their fate, later dissolving the organization.
One of these former agents fancied himself as a writer. His alias was “César Blasco” and he was in London under the protection of MI5 because he’d done British intelligence a few favors.
César lived in an apartment hotel in the wealthy Knightsbridge district.
I met him in the only cafe where you could get a cup of tea for a pound.
I’d gone to investigate whether they sold turrón (Spanish nougat) at Harrods, and if it was considered a luxury item. My wife and I then went for a snack. César was sitting at another table with a mobile phone. He was in a wheelchair. One thing led to another and we started chatting. César liked to boast although he seldom had the chance to talk. With me he had an audience that was all ears.
We met a few times in his room. I was an artist, he was a writer. I gave him a catalogue, and he gave me a manuscript titled Spies Have Hearts Too. It was a novel about the life of a spy.
It turned out that the book was something of an autobiography. In it, César tells of how he came to work in espionage. That’s the story I want to share with you now:
The story begins with Paesa, a spy at the United Nations in Geneva who doubled as a Consul for Sao Tomé and Príncipe (a tiny country in the Gulf of Guinea) for cover.
Paesa needed an assistant, and César became his recruit.
César had recently immigrated from Spain to Geneva. When he arrived in Switzerland he took whatever job turned up, and what turned up was work in the construction industry.
One day, as César was on top of a roof making repairs, he got in an argument with the owner of the house. Coincidentally, Paesa was walking past. As Paesa observed that little Spaniard with his sharp temper and fighting spirit, he seized the opportunity.
Paesa invited César to coffee.
The two became friends and, before long, Paesa found César a job with Spanish intelligence at the United Nations.
They often met informally. Whenever they hung out, Paesa would quiz César about his mates at work, about journalists, and the friendships he kept outside of work.
As time went by, Paesa gave César a magnificent watch.
César felt indebted and was keen to repay the generosity…