CHAMPAIGN, Illinois. The surgery schedule at Our Lady of Bed Sores Hospital generally slows down at the end of the year, but that’s fine with Dr. Emil Marino since he has a particularly novel and challenging procedure to perform today. “If all I had to do was a coupled of appendectomies, I wouldn’t be so nervous,” he says as he pulls on rubber surgical gloves. “But we’re really on the cutting edge, sailing into unchartered waters where it’s pretty much terra incognita,” he adds, mixing his metaphors like a bartender serving a crowd of college kids on spring break.
“Will my paintings start to . . . look like things?
The surgeon’s weak attempt at humor falls heavily on the ears of Mike Kruzcez, whose girlfriend Tonya Caleb is prepped and ready to be the guinea pig for the innovative procedure. “You may get your name in the med school textbooks,” Kruzcez says to her with forced cheerfulness, and she shows her appreciation by smiling bravely up at him. “Then again you may die, but either way you’ll be part of medical history.” “I wish you wouldn’t put it that way,” the young woman says. “I’d rather be part of artistic history,” she adds, her last words as she is wheeled into the operating room on her gurney.
Caleb will be one of the first visual artists to undergo a de-MFA-oscopy, an operation designed to rid her of the modernist art education she received in the Master of Fine Arts Program at Kankakee College, an hour’s drive away. “I haven’t sold a painting since I graduated three years ago,” she says by way of explanation. “And while I’m starving, some pellagra-infested downstate yahoo whose whole family is strung out on meth is getting two and three thousand dollars for every ‘primitive’ painting she cranks out.”
“My grandmother could paint something better than that!”
Previous attempts to reverse the effects of fine arts training leading to an advanced degree have failed, but not for lack of trying. “Our real problem is finding an aesthetic that won’t be rejected by the immune system of a yuppie ‘artist,’” Marino says as he makes skeptical finger quotes in the air. “Once kids see how much that guy Rothko got for painting a canvas black, they’re reluctant to learn technique.”
“Get me 100 milliliters of Grandma Moses–STAT!”
The de-MFA-oscopy is comparable to a frontal lobotomy, a surgical procedure that has been used to calm excessively nervous personalities by severing nerve pathways in the brain. “If we’re successful, a twenty-something patient such as this one should be able to produce art that will fetch a high price not just in modernist galleries, but also in backwoods gift shops,” says Dr. Myron Cloresto, Dean of the Kankakee College Medical School. “Instead of churning out paintings with a bleak, urban vision, she should be able to produce art with a bleak, rural vision.”