I want to be a quirky, creative artist. And I want to be brave about the quirkiness, about the art. I want to drop the mic so bad. You know, like after I get the courage to actually pick it up.
Back to New Years resolutions… I know what you’re thinking. You’re STILL working on those! It’s July! B-O-R-I-N-G. And you would be right. I am.
I set out this year to soak up creative people mojo, to absorb them, to osmosis-ly grow brave, because that is what creativity requires.
My teenage years scared the weird out of me. Now I have a snarky mean girl on my shoulder telling me how lame this or that is. I cling to social constructs. It’s hard to unlearn.
But I miss my weird. I want my weird back. I’m working on that, committed to being open-minded. So I’m doing stuff that makes me open-minded-ish. Like seeking out the artists.
Where is the line of open-minded and just knowing what’s
vulgar base atrocious yuck. Do I have to “appreciate” art I can’t stand just because it’s art?
Fashion, for instance. Is that God-awful runway outfit valuable because it’s part of a new fall line? (I actually have no idea what I’m talking about because fashion confounds me. Yes. Choosing this analogy was a dumb. Onward.)
I like poetry. And bravery. So I like poetry readings. Watching them, I mean. Because I like other people’s bravery.
So, a friend and I go to a little bookshop for a poetry reading. (someday, I will graduate to doing these kinds of things alone). A man approaches the mic. He looks like my old neighbor, the accountant. His name was maybe Doug or Peter. He even stands like maybe-Doug-or-Peter… staunch, slovenly but confident. The I-could-care-less-what-you-think-and-therefore-don’t-shave look.
When the poet speaks, the words pirouette. They’re fluid, a puzzle of sounds. Subtle rhyme from line to every other line. His pace is halting, rushing, pulling back. A tide. I hunch in my seat for what promises to be a work of magnificence.
But it is all about a stream of “piss”.
Okay okay. Suspend judgement. I think. This is celebrated literary art. Open-minded, remember?
The man proceeds to describe a penis, words sashaying together. Words like flaccid, fleshy. Um…
I’m trying not to retract. It’s a siege for my prim mind. Stay present, I tell myself but I can’t help wondering if this guy is somehow related to my old neighbor. I have no idea what ever happened to that guy. Didn’t he move to New Mexico?
The poem is building to a crescendo.
What does this guy do with his days? I muse. Is he an accountant or cable company representative or professor? Does he have a wife who raves about his vivid descriptions of male genitalia, who discusses his work over a glass of Malbec?
Piss. Piss. Piss. It’s every other word. The mother in me winces.
Art is supposed to make us feel something. Conflicted, disgusted, confused? So, is this success?
And yet, I feel wrong about it. Like I’m getting it all wrong. Fine art has a clever way of projecting its own insecurity onto me. Like, am I just too shallow to get this? Am I just too foolish to see the emperor’s clothes? Surely, there is a social theme here that, if I were more scholarly, I’d pick up. What does the penis represent? The hand around it? The peeing? Or is it only acclaimed because it’s gross, because it pushes the line of social etiquette? So its graphic nature makes it raw, groundbreaking. Is that what we’re going for here?
Artists have the self-appointed obligation to scoff at hoi polloi opinion. Artists are more evolved, both more and less desensitized, and the masses are asses. Pollock, Warhol, Picasso. Marilyn Manson, Jimmy Fallon, Lady Gaga, penis-obsessed poet. It’s all art.
There’s a panel out there deciding what art is fine and what’s commercial. Those people have art degrees. And there are people who probably “appreciate” it, even if they don’t like it, because that’s what they’re supposed to do. Especially if only a distinct population likes it. Commercial success is the demise of the edgy artist. They’re not starving for their art.
The bigger the audience, the less fine the art. But what is art without an audience? And who decides this stuff? Obviously, not people like me.
There. That’s what I mean. Kind of. I think.
After the reading, a fellow audience member asked what I thought. Do you think I told him that I was honestly just grossed out? Nope. I said something like “interesting” or “different” or “the prose were elegant.” Because I’m not even brave enough to be the one to point out that the emperor has no clothes! Ack!
So, my exercise in bravery is going well.