Wave the #17 Flag

Paint-by-numbers f*ing suck. Who the hell thought this would be a good idea? “Yeah, Jenny. Go to Michael’s! Get a paint-by-number! It’s really calming, and will make you feel like an artist.”
And at first, it did. I would sit at my coffee table with the television on softly, gleefully painting away on Wild Horses. First #59 (Brown). Start with the big spaces first, the instructions said. Do all one color at a time, it told me. So I did, and I felt such pride as I saw the horse’s shoulder and head come together. Then I pulled out the #21 (Black), and continued on with his majestically flowing mane and some rocks. Now for a splash of color, why don’t you focus on #50 (Blue)? Oh, capital idea! That sky really pops now, doesn’t it?
But then I moved on to #17 (White).
I mean, do you people have any idea at all how unsatisfying it is to paint white acrylic paint onto a white piece of canvas board, into tiny little misshapen blobs and narrow slivers that are one-tenth the size of my brush, over and over again? Well I’ll tell you – it’s really unsatisfying. It’s probably exactly how that Greek sissy guy felt as he pushed that boulder up the hill, only to watch it roll back down again. Defeated.
It got to the point where I didn’t even give a crap whether I was staying in the lines or not, because who could even tell? And then the stupid purple numbers still showed through the cheap-ass white acrylic paint, which made me even angrier. They didn’t give me enough #17 to do a double coat, dammit! What am I supposed to do – go out and buy one special tiny container of #17?!? They’ll laugh me right out of Home Depot!
Natasha told me that they use paint-by-numbers as art therapy in prisons for the criminally insane because it supposedly calms them down. Well, I’ve seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and now I know what gave Chief the strength to rip that drinking fountain out of the wall, and it wasn’t Juicy Fruit.
Look, in general, I’m a pretty controlled person, but I’m telling you that if the guy who designed Wild Horses walked into my apartment right now, I would swing him around my living room by the legs like a rag doll, watch him smash through the window, and not even bother to look to see if he at least missed the sidewalk. Such is my rage.
But, tempted as I am to just take a giant sponge brush and paint the rest of the canvas #64 (Green), I made you all a promise. I told you and myself that I wouldn’t give up on this. If I quit now, how will you ever trust me again? What will my word mean to you after that betrayal? How will I ever look my 7th grade art teacher in the eye if I run into him in the grocery store, even though I think he might have died a few years ago?
And so I continue. I’m going to take it day by day, because that’s all I can do. One color at a time, like the instructions told me to do. Like everything in life, it’s what you take away from an experience – good or bad – that matters. And I have to admit that this has taught me a lot about myself. I learned that somewhere, deep inside me, lies a pure and untapped pool of hatred. I learned that I hate art. And I hate numbers. And I really hate people who make art with numbers. And I guess this newfound discovery makes the whole experience worthwhile.

15 Responses to “Wave the #17 Flag”

  1. Nina Says:

    By the time I got to your paint white acrylic paint on canvas board sentence, I had the neighbors banging on the wall telling me to keep the noise down. (No one ever laughs in my building. Ever. They watch TV, play music, screw around — all of it. But I never hear laughter. Or, maybe everyone laughs more quietly than I do.)

  2. Fiorello La Guardia Says:

    Well, Ms. Amadeo, I am so proud to see you morph from Michael into Sonny. Too bad you didn’t have a garbage can lid handy, right?
    Mama Corleone

  3. Shari Says:

    Maybe numerology instead. That mixes numbers and science. Does that help?

  4. Sarah Says:

    Dude, I’m so pissed that I moved and have no friends becuase my husband clearly does not understand how hilarious this is. He just pretended to listen to my synopsis of your Wild Horses endeavor then went straight back to the Northwestern football game–not even a raised unibrow.

  5. Jenny Says:

    N: Wait – you’re telling me that in the city where people strip down and scream “I’m the devil! I’m the devil!” they don’t allow laughter? You must leave this place immediately.
    F: You broke my heart, Fredo. You broke my heart.
    S1: Look, it’s fine that you’re into numerology and all, but I want nothing to do with it. So you, and Tom Cruise, and John Travolta can just take your Xenu worshipping, L. Ron Hubbard preaching pitch and sell it somewhere else, okay?
    S2: Well, maybe paint-by-numbers just doesn’t really translate into Portuguese. Move back!

  6. Roy Says:

    I looked carefully at the photo of your progress, and I’d say you’re done. I can see what the animals are, and where they are, and the sky is blue. You have to know when to stop. I think you’re there. Don’t even white over the remaining lines and numbers. It’s camp. All it really needs now is a brown coffee ring stain somewhere on it, like on all my tax forms.

  7. StationeryQueen Says:

    I always hated those things. Latch hook sets, too. I tried and kept repeating, “I’m not a moron because I can’t do this. I’m not!”
    Try just going to the art museum. Looking is much easier than doing. :)

  8. Rich Says:

    Are there MS paint by numbers. Maybe it would be mor satisfying to wave the mouse back and forth to color in the horsies. Then it would be a nice bitmap you could mass email to people who would be afraid to open the file because it might be a virus.

  9. Strode Says:

    I hate the colors on paint by numbers sets. Ewww. How many of those colors would you see in a picture of those horses? That brown/orange color make me wretch.

  10. gillespie Says:

    I would finish Fabio horse, and call it a day. That’s the money horse, anyway!!

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Jenny,
    I’ve never read you so angry. I think the format is restricting your creativity too much. Turn the cardboard over and paint your own horses. Freedom my dear.

  12. jill Says:

    I agree with Vivian, I’m concerned this has opened an heretofore untapped well of anger in you. I want you to remember your cats, Jenny. Punch and Judy need you. That’s it. There you go. Give me the brushes, Jenny. Just let go. That’s a girl. Just give me the brushes and everything will be alright. We’re here for you, Jenny. You’re not alone.

  13. jenny Says:

    R1: But I don’t know when to stop, that’s just it. Did that one guy stop when people told him he shouldn’t chip away at Venus de Milo’s arms? No, he kept on going, and look at her now.
    SQ: Ooh, latch hooks. I had a unicorn rainbow one as a kid. Maybe I was a horse girl after all…
    R2: When I goofed around with Photoshop to add the green in, the thought did occur to me: Why am I even bothering painting this at all w/ real paint? It’s the 21st century!
    S: You haven’t even seen the ones I had to mix myself! They’re even worse!
    G: Oh, Fabio horse. He’s so misunderstood.
    V: I know! Unbridled hatred is kind of liberating.
    J: [bares teeth and recoils] Hissssssss!!

  14. TCho Says:

    Wow….i never knew that it would be so frustrated. I’m getting all huffy just reading about you doing it!

  15. spinner8 Says:

    Wow, paint by numbers. What a cool idea. Sorry it turned out to be frustrating.