Perhaps I like artists who have deliberately chosen to keep things small because they seem rebellious in our culture of pathological overstriving. In my Pantheon of Smallness I have a special place for a man named Kenny Shopsin.
Shopsin owned a popular deli in Greenwich Village back in the days when the village was still an inexpensive and charming place for struggling artists. Bob Dylan used to go there to eat turkey sandwiches. Madonna used to sit at the counter. Eventually the rent shot up and he moved to another place. Then his wife died and the restaurant rent went up again so he settled into a small nine-seat stall in the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side of NYC. His stall is just one among about thirty stalls—including Hispanic produce shops, butchers, fishmongers, and cheese merchants. He claims he’s never been happier.
To be in the middle of Manhattan, where people work like dogs under the tyranny of gigantism, and to not get carried away by that imperative feels like a victory.
Here is what he says in his wonderful book, Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin: “The art of staying small more or less sums up my feelings about running a restaurant—and about life. I know it goes against out capitalist system, but I have never been interested in the normal symptoms of success, such as higher profit margins and expansion of income. I never had a goal to make more money so that I could retire or so that I could hire a low-wage employee to do the cooking for me. I have no desire to open a second restaurant, to oversee a restaurant empire with my name on it, or to endorse a line of pots and pans. Running a restaurant for me is about running a restaurant. It is not a means to get someplace else.”
(Images from Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. Published by Alfred A. Knopf.)