Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Proletarian and Proud

We are sitting on the deck of the Crow today, scoffing down cheeseburgers and fish cakes - my friend VF, who lives in Cape Breton, her friend from Art College days in Britain, Ken.

It’s instant Good Lunch Date chemistry between the three of us, and I adore Ken’s British/Irish dry, biting humor. At one point, he makes an outrageously honest observation and VF laughs and chides him a little.

“You’re so
polite, Canadians,” he replies, “so un-European.” He turns to me. “You’re the most European Canadian I’ve met,” he adds.

There you have it. Not “rude.” Not “belligerent,” “tactless” or “insensitive.”
I’m European.

I’ve earned this, I suspect, by telling the following story – fresh from Monday at work:

We’ve been waiting for the Gallery to send over possible prints or paintings for the wall near the circulation desk. The College owns a fairly impressive collection of famous artists' work. Finally, they send a couple choices. One of them is a big black square, surrounded by five inches of matting board, surrounded by a nice wooden frame and done, no doubt by a Very Famous Artist.

“How about this?” my boss asks. I look at her like she’s gone stark raving mad.

“It’s a big fucking framed black square,” I reply. “Are you joking?”

“Don’t hold back now. Just say what you really think,” one of the Gallery staff comments with a huge grin. The other Gallery person looks a little offended.

“It’s ugly,” I continue, “and it’s A BIG BLACK SQUARE IN A FRAME.” They seem to be waiting. My boss holds it up to the wall. “It goes well with the security gate, “I say, pretending to be fair and add, in case they aren’t getting it, “I’m serious.”

Once again, I have established myself as a cultural toad. A tasteless peasant. Someone has to call it on the Emperor’s New Painting.

I’m sorry. But I have to look at it this way, the way I subsequently defended my judgment to my boss.

1. It’s a big black square in a frame.
2. It’s the kind of art that makes regular people think they aren’t smart enough to understand art. I hate that.
3. In a hundred years (or even fifty), if anyone saw it – and didn’t know the entire context – just saw it, I figure they’d guess it must be art because it was so nicely matted and framed. But seeing the big black square in the middle, they would wonder what art had been there before something happened to it. Be honest. This is a distinct possibility.
4. No one has to know the “context” of really great art, music or literature – even though that might add something. There’s enough for spirit, mind or heart to connect to that you don’t require three years of art theory to like it.
5. It matched the security gate. I mean, really – think about that.

And this, darlings, is my very European opinion.

PS. Credit where credit is due. Conversation between Weedy's son - then a child - with his father.
Son - "What's that, Dad?"
Dad - "That's sculpture, son."
Son- "What happened to it?"