“You can’t doooo that,” my girlfriend said, unusually exasperated. “Art involves a standard of craftsmanship, and . . . effort.”
I’d just received a Federal Arts Council grant to fund a solo exhibition based on an ancient, naïve, drunken application. Somehow, that proposal had been approved but my girlfriend didn’t share my joy at the good fortune. She remembered submitting the proposal as an ironic joke, a type of ephemeral performance art that was never meant to be physically realized.
Of course, I saw it differently. If some misguided bureaucrat was willing to hand over twelve thousand dollars so I could explore the “Beauty of Ugliness” in a lobby installation, I would deliver just enough to justify cashing the cheque. As far as I was concerned, the hardest part of the project was already complete. All I had to do now was generate the work I’d boasted about.
The application form only required three photographs, of a sculpture, a painting and a “found object.” It was understood that the bulk of the exhibition was still gestating. Unfortunately, I hadn’t done much painting or sculpting since we graduated. Mostly, I wandered around our neighbourhood, picking up interesting bits of garbage, while my girlfriend worked at the museum gift shop.
She had been nagging me for months to get a job or, at least, be a conventionally productive starving artist. She seemed angry that my passive-aggressive bullshit was now being rewarded.
My girlfriend bustled around our kitchen, banging dinner dishes and criticising every one of my ideas to generate content for “The Beauty of Ugliness” show.
“You can’t just pluck lint from your ass-crack, glue it to a canvas and give it a title ...”
“Loss of Innocence,” I said.
She rolled her eyes. “Or photo-shop dick-shaped freckle-patterns on famous people’s faces. . .”
“Litmus Test,” I reminded her.
“You’re devaluing the entire concept of a post-modern aesthetic.” Spittle flew from the corners of her mouth. In less volatile circumstances I would have fetched my camera to document the controlled fury.
“And the turtle idea—” she shook her head “—daubing turtle feet and letting them scrabble across canvas isn’t just a stupid art concept, it’s unhealthy for the animals.”
“I’d use latex paint,” I said.
Our cat came into the kitchen at that moment and rubbed his head against my girlfriend’s calves. “What’s next?” she demanded.
In less hostile circumstances I would have mentioned that her venom was sculptural, that she could easily be transformed into a work of art, right here in our tiny kitchen.
“What’s next?” she said again, pointing at the cat. “Are you going to cut Smokey’s
paws off and let him writhe on a canvas and hope the blood spatters are beautiful?”
I probably paused an instant too long before answering. I was concentrating on quietly opening the cutlery drawer behind my back, and feeling the various knife handles.
“I would never hurt Smokey,” I said.
© Mark Thomas