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"People are being told they bought a piece of art, and they haven't, which is condescending. It's a bad joke," says Morris. "I don't want to knock the guy personally. He does his thing, and that's fine." But showing his work at the Paley legitimizes something that "has no merit" while "serious artists" get no such stage.

Elsa Longhauser, director of the Paley, doesn't need to speak. It's all in her eyes. How narrow-minded, she's saying. What snobs. The Paley is so near the Philadelphia Museum of Art that she feels her distinctive role should be to present nontraditional work that pushes boundaries. "I think Stephen is the Johnny Appleseed of art," she says.

Keene, harvesting 96 more paintings, slumps when told about the criticism. "Oh, these poor people," he says. "Art wants to be so revolutionary, but it doesn't stop and think about how it distributes itself." Keene says he used to routinely spend two weeks on "a beautiful landscape" and have it end up "in the lobby of some law office," earning him about $400. It bored him senseless, and he felt no connection to an audience or to himself, so he started doing smaller pieces and selling them in bars and at rock shows. He says that by year's end he will have sold 17,000 paintings in six years, and it's O.K. with him that not one of them will hang in New York City's Museum of Modern Art.

"I think people are hungry for something that's not judged by a cultural elite. I'm not getting rich, but I can see someone come in here, smile and take a painting home with them. That's exciting."

Keene watched six more people enter the gallery, where everything on display had a sold sign. He dipped his brush into a can of paint. "I better get going," he said.

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