Mightier than the Sword?

I just found out about Cormac McCarthy’s Olivetti typewriter, which he bought in 1963 for $50 and a mere 46 years, plus about 5 million words, later sold at auction for $254,500. Like many people, I also had a Lettera 32, which I sometimes lugged around the U.S. while on the road. I probably still have it around – maybe out in our shed – but I doubt Christie’s would be interested.

Even better, after the old typewriter sold for more than a quarter of a million dollars, a friend bought McCarthy a like-new Olivetti, the same model, for $11 (plus shipping).

That’s one way of making a living from your art. I always was fascinated by the story – whether it’s true or not – of Picasso going out to eat and then drawing a sketch on the menu or tablecloth to pay for his meals. Or writing checks that never would be cashed because his signature was worth more than the amount he owed. (This eight-minute student video depicts another Picasso legend, that he drew art in the sand that the tide, washing it away, rendered worthless.)

The artist J. S. G. Boggs goes Picasso one better – he draws accurate replicas of money to pay his debts. Although he’s been arrested a few times for counterfeiting (and acquitted), Boggs claims his bills are artworks, not money. His 1999 biography, by Lawrence Weschler, is indeed “highly entertaining” as claimed.

Approximately 50 years, and at least 500 million words, later, I still remember sitting in our living room all day, transfixed, while reading Leon Uris’s 1958 novel Exodus. (This guy read the book again recently, and was less than impressed, but back then I devoured the 600+ pages practically in one sitting.) My favorite moment in Exodus came when the young Dov Landau, ordered to death at Auschwitz, escapes by quickly forging multiple copies of the signature of the Nazi officer who’s condemned him. Now that’s living by your art.

About RPS

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