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Is There Artistic Merit In This Painting Of A-Rod Sitting On His Toilet? An Investigation

Illustration for article titled Is There Artistic Merit In This Painting Of A-Rod Sitting On His Toilet? An Investigation
Photo: Mark Brown (Getty)

The picture of former Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez sitting on his expensive, curtain-less Manhattan loo has become such a powerful cultural image that a tipster sent us a painting of it.


The work of art came with a simple message from the person who sent it:

No clue who took the original, but A-Rod likes art so I thought it would look great as an oil painting.

The painting looks a lot like the original picture, with the subject sitting in the same place, towels embroidered with the letter A in the same place, a similar color palette. But it was different. The artist, it was evident, made some choices to elevate the moment.

Illustration for article titled Is There Artistic Merit In This Painting Of A-Rod Sitting On His Toilet? An Investigation
Illustration: Jesse B

It was unexpected. But the brush strokes, the colors, the abstraction—it all drew my attention. There was beauty here. I was looking at a work of art. This was a painting that would surely be described as a riff on Rodin’s “The Thinker” at some point in the future. It was powerful. But was I getting carried away? Did this painting actually have any artistic merit?

I emailed Dr. John Calabrese, who until very recently taught art history at Texas Women’s University in Denton, Texas. An artist on his own right, Dr. Calabrese also happens to be my stepfather-in-law. I told him about the toilet picture saga, but I sent him only the tipster’s submission with my impressions of it. He emailed back a few hours later with some sagacious observations:

Hello Jorge,

You are right on with your objective observations of this painting. Yes, indeed, it does have artistic merit and I would agree with your assessment and there is more.

I appreciate the cool quiet palette and the geometrical use of rectangles to convey space. The strokes and lack of detail help create a quiet, lonely, impersonal, ambiguous spatial setting for the anonymous figure who could very well be in prison or in an isolation ward. The small size of the hunched over figure in a corner makes for a very unheroic relationship between figure and surrounding. Whether it is Arod or not makes no difference! Another curious element is the indistinct ghostly object between the white robe on the right and the hunched figure on the left adding subtle mystery.

A very intriguing aspect is the black and gray framing within the white outer frame which appears to have the same brushstroke work as the interior setting. The interior window is part of a larger white flat wall. How large is the entire painting? It looks like the artist may have been influenced by the work of Edward Hopper.

Perhaps it should be titled “Untitled” to allow the viewer to explore and deduce and conjure up meaning based on the composition alone. What do you think?


I agreed with John. There was a lot going on here. The expression on the canvas took this captured moment into the realm of beauty and the sublime. I pictured this painting leaning over the artist’s paint in their studio. I saw it hanging in a museum, the tag “Untitled” next to it. Critics would come up to it and reflect, and then nod to themselves as they noticed the brush strokes. A small smile would pass through their lips as they got the joke, not the joke of the image, but the joke of existence, brushed beautifully in oil upon the canvas. What was the artist’s process here? Who was the man pictured? Why was he in this dreary room for this moment of his life? And why would he choose to frame himself and his monogrammed towels as such—through a huge, clear window?

I emailed the tipster back to ask about their art-making process. Perhaps I could buy this painting from them. I could have it shipped to work via those art shipping services where they wear white gloves to make sure the movers’ unworthy hands to not taint the permanence of the pièces. This could hang in my office. Yes, that would be good. It would make me smile every day at work. But it would also make me reflect. Yes, I would reflect:

Hey Jesse,

Thanks for sending this our way, it’s a beautiful painting. Did you make it?


I tried to keep calm and collected. I could not let the artist know that I wanted to acquire their work off the bat. After all, I’m not made of money. I also don’t know how buying art works.


A few hours later:

It was software generated; you’re welcome to do as you please with it

I kinda of want it hung in my own bathroom; it’s an oddly inspiring piece

What? An algorithmic artist of some sort? I pressed further about their process, and received more information:

It’s essentially just a filter, much like Instagram

Takes some time to balance levels; this one came out great

App is called Brushstroke

Sent from my Hash Brown

An app. I fell in love with a picture made by a damn application inside a device people touch while on the toilet.


Was this an embarrassing defeat? In the moment it, it sure felt like it. I was duped, not by software, but by my belief that art could come through a tipster’s email address and land right into my lap. I was duped by my brain, which ate chopped grass like it was caviar. I was duped by my taste buds, which said “Hey, this is some good shit buddy, have some more,” and by my mouth, who said, “Sure! Yum. I love that. Please let me have some more. And I hope you have some on the stove for later!”

But I’d consulted with John. Were we both grass-eaters in critics’ clothing?


You mean I gave my critical approval to a Fake, a Phony? I was rooked and I take back everything I said. I will not be party to an ersatz computer generated rip-off! Is there nothing sacred?

Disillusioned by Technology

Art ennobles, art elevates, art stays with you. It provokes and promotes discussion. It leads to change. What a piece this was.

Jorge is a Creative Producer for Deadspin Video—thanks for asking.