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What is Art?

What are the things that puzzle, enrage, delight and tickle you as you go about your life in Madison?

What is Art?

Postby smokin' the dummy » Sun Sep 16, 2007 8:18 pm

Thanks to Andy Moore for his tribute article to Art Nesson. Art was a well known fixture in the State St. area during the 70's and 80's. He was drunk most of the time and kind of surly, but I don't recall him ever shaking a change cup. He worked as a window washer as Andy pointed out. He wasn't a panhandler like some of the riff-raff on State St. today.
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Postby frozenCow » Tue Sep 18, 2007 12:43 am

What is Art? Art is a window washer.

That was the caption printed on a T-shirt (below a picture of Art the Window Washer) made by a company called something like "Mandala Designs". I knew Larry, one of the owners of Mandala. Larry sold T-shirts on the Library Mall in the late '70s - early '80s.

I remember when Larry first came out with the Art T-shirt, just in time for the Art Fair on the Square that year (like '82 or '83). Larry told me people later accused him of just using Art to make money off of him for the shirt. Larry said it wasn't true and he even worked out a deal of paying Art a kind of royalty (which knowing Art, probably amounted to some small amounts of drinking money). I believed Larry, because first of all he wasn't a bad person and second of all he wasn't making that much on the T-shirts himself.

As for Art, well maybe nostalgia has softened people's memory of him. True, I don't recall Art panhandling like some of today's street people (although there were certainly panhandlers back then), but I do recall Art's public drunkenness and occasional belligerence with the young ladies passing by. That was not a pretty sight. Nor were Art's deteriorating health and the visual evidence of the effects alcoholism had on his body. Near the end of his life, it was a sad picture.

At the time, people compared him the African American man known as Snowball who was considered to be Art's predecessor. Snowball did odd jobs such as window washing and was a fixture downtown from the 1950s until his death in the early 1970's. He too was immortalized on a T-shirt (a silhouette of Snowball leaning on a Madison garbage can, circa 1969). I remember seeing Snowball in the early '70s. He was very quiet and did not cause the kind of ruckus that Art was later known for. In Art's time, people were nostalgic for Snowball.

We always wondered about Art. What was his story? Why did he just show up on the State Street scene one day in the late 70's? Why did he live the life he did? I was unaware of Bukowski at the time, so I had no illusions about some drunken poetic mastermind. I guess I always thought there was some tragic event that caused it all to go the way it did. Of course today I would probably just say it could have been anything, perhaps a predisposition to alcoholism.

Art died sometime in the mid ‘80s. After his death we read in his obituary that he was a veteran (Korean War I think) and he had a sibling (sister I think) living in another town. It was sad to read, and if anything just left more unanswered questions. I think for many people like me, the reading of his obituary finally put a human face on a tragic street character that we simply walked past everyday.

I sometimes think of Art as I walk down the State Street of the present. What would he make of all the changes? If Art came back to downtown Madison today, he'd probably find that his flophouse went condo.
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Postby HeyZeus » Tue Sep 18, 2007 9:09 am

That was a great article. Someone needs to resurrect that t-shirt design.
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Postby blunt » Tue Sep 18, 2007 3:04 pm

Waxing nostalgic (this should be in the 20 years ago section of Isthmus):

When Cattleprod had it's very first Madison show at Club De Wash, we had earlier that week "discovered" Art Paul Schlosser and asked him to open (sorry about that).
CATTLEPROD WITH ART
Isthmus Critic's Choice wondered if our show included Mykel Board's punk band, us drawing with Sharpees, or live drunk window washing (faulty memory paraphrase).
Boy was everyone surprised.
Still are.
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Re: What is Art?

Postby Kebab ear » Sat Aug 31, 2013 10:13 pm

Great article, thanks for writing it. I actually still have my What is Art t-shirt. The memory I have of Art is him with a paper bag, probably containing a bottle, his window washing tools close at hand, leaning on a mailbox.
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Re: What is Art?

Postby SidSeven » Wed Sep 04, 2013 10:55 am

Art is a Drunk...window washer...on State st...
Art is , or was, a man. A real man.
Art is, ...money...
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Re: What is Art?

Postby Mad Howler » Fri Sep 06, 2013 12:53 am

Kebab ear wrote:Great article, thanks for writing it. I actually still have my What is Art t-shirt. The memory I have of Art is him with a paper bag, probably containing a bottle, his window washing tools close at hand, leaning on a mailbox.

Why do this?
Are you're intentions from a place of goodness?
The man died of his...
Does this amuse you?
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Re: What is Art?

Postby SidSeven » Tue Sep 10, 2013 7:24 pm

Was it Andy Moore's story about a woman dropping her purse, or wallet, or something...
Art bellowed like a bull, scooped up her misplaced valuables & began loping, down the street after her, to return them? Frightening all kinds of citizens? (Including me)
Because my recollection of that was downright scary, In my naivete
I thought he was coming after ME.
I swear to god I witnessed that...
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