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11.21.04 12:10 p.m.

Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.  

-Leonardo Da Vinci


Previously in Xenology: Angela opted for the life of an artist at Bard College.

Ce n'est pas un cercle

"You are going to be social or I am going to make it a point to randomly introduce myself - and, by extension, you - to any boy I deem remotely interesting looking or potentially eligible." Melissa had been complaining earlier that the only men that seemed attracted to her were jerks with no comprehension about how to treat her. The fact that she requires a bit of bad boy for flavor and reacts poorly to someone outright treating her as well as she deserves certainly has nothing to do with this. You would be foolish to assume so. As such, using myself as a dating filter at Angela's art opening seemed the most logical method of disabusing her of abusers. By virtue that these boys are at this college art opening, one could extrapolate that they are within our age range, somewhat open-minded, and at least nominally driven toward self-improvement. There are worse places to begin.

"No, you won't or I will make you get out of the car right now," she responded matter-of-factly, though I was the one who knew how to get to Bard College. This was not a point I could much argue, nonetheless, as she was driving and is thus allowed to eject passengers. I do not at all believe she would have forced me to become a hitchhiker, but it turned out that there would be no need.

We arrived at Bard and found the appropriate building, an unremarkable brick structure surrounded by equally as prefab college students. They were standing outside in carefully selected thriftwear, accented by accessories that clashed with their obviously preplanned outfits. As soon as we entered, we saw Angela, besmocked, painting a large red, plywood circle that was dangling from a series of other circles of differing sizes.
This is not a pipe.

"So... it's round," I offered ambiguously but enthusiastically. "Circular, but... flat?"

Angela may have explained the meaning behind the circles and offered some artistic conceit, but I missed it as I had just noticed the other examples of senior work surrounding me. Suffice it to say, Angela's solidly colored circles represented the most creative and original use of paint in the immediate room.

I returned my attention to Angela and added, "You could at least put a nipple in the center of the circles. It would be a better example of female nudity than that." I gestured to a large canvas behind us, where some person has seemingly finger painted people engaged in biracial acts (if ketchup red is a human race) of coitus, having never actually seen the act first hand. I am no great art critic, understand, so my scorn is directed on how profoundly devoid of any merit I found this "work" and not how it is a disgusting poor example of whatever artistic style it is supposed to emulate. As the graffiti inside a middle school text book, this would have been expected, if disappointingly untalented. As a senior project, it was an insult to the fifteen-foot tall kimono to its left and the canvas on which Angela stood.

Thus began my annoyance at the projects for being weird for the sake of being weird, not as any sort of statement or demonstration of skill. This was also when Melissa and I adopted the use of the word "artistic" to mean "pretentiously stupid and weird for the sake of being weird." Many, many of the projects were decidedly "artistic." It was also when I gave up on all hope of introducing myself to boy in order to bug Melissa. This was not the place to find males at all to her liking or the liking of sane women. The opening had yet to really begin, but it was clear things would only decline from this point. Having listened to Angela's growing angst with the way some of her professors criticized her work, it is no small wonder that a great many of these "artists" did not commit hari-kari with their paint brushes. It would have been the most socially redeeming use to which they were ever put.
And this is not art  
Here you can see... godawful art

Not all the project were useless, I hasten to note. There were the expected portraits that showed artistic skill that does not necessitate quotation marks. Various forms of re-appropriated media that, while not seeming to inspire specific feelings of revelation, at least did not seem to be a waste of fishing wire and railroad spikes. Some of these students should not be allowed to pass, if that is the objective with these pieces.

As Angela had abandoned us briefly to these creatures, we decided to actually critique the art in our special and ignorant way. The winner for me was between a plastic bag that imitated being a lung (I do not know what it means, but I at least cared to stop and see what it could be) and strips of naked photos hanging from the ceiling.

"The artist is cute," I noted to Melissa.

Melissa gave it an appraising glance. The aforementioned artist was dressed in little more than animal print briefs which were swaying above a pile of detritus that I didn't care to examine. "No she isn't," she stated factually, then revised, "maybe from the neck down."

"Yeah, that's what I just said." Incidentally, I was a fan of the artist from the neck up, though I didn't endeavor to imagine if I would care for the content of her skull as well as its covering. I wouldn't ever speak to this girl and, should I ever actually encounter her, I am certain to have completely forgotten what she looks like unless she makes a practice of only wearing animal panties.

I had known a girl year ago who was very attention hungry and, while taking a parallel black and white photography class to mine, printed naked photos of herself in the school's photo lab. These were apparently going to be for one of the project requirements, which I was certain would cause my teacher to roll her eyes, however minutely. I was next in line to dry my photos and saw these naked pictures. She made certain that I had a moment to get an eyeful and then acted bashfully. This perplexed me as I had given little reaction that I cared very much and, when I first met this girl, she came onto me literally within the first five seconds of meeting me. I, along with most of the college lounge, had personally witnessed her breasts during one of her intermittent flashing sessions. Lovely but inconsequential. I was sure she would have stared at the exhibit until the building closed for the night, trying to understand the artist from every angel to see if she had found a kindred soul.

When Angela let us into her small studio, one entire wall was occupied from floor to ceiling with circles of various media from cloth to caulk. I still failed to grasp the intent of the art, though it was fun to poke whenever Angela turned her back on Melissa and me. She turned her back or left us alone enough times that we painted out names on various parts of her studio and scrap paper. The opposite wall had been decorated with the shards of a mirror that had been dropped. This seemed to be a more interactive kind of art and I mused over the meaning of such fragmentation.

"Yeah, that's just a mirror I broke. I thought it looked cool," explained Angela, frustrating my every attempt to attach meaning to what I liked about her art. I was best impressed with her self portraits; one which was fairly straightforwardly her reconstituted from a photo and the other glowed the color of flames. This latter painting was an assignment to create a portrait using the specific colors found in a leaf. Next to the picture, she had clipped a bit of paper with the percentages of each color found on the leaf to replicate in the portrait. It may be literal and I may be a philistine, but I liked it quite a lot even if it was just an exercise.

When Angela finished painting the last circle, she shed her smock like a snake skin and was formally arrayed underneath. Not a speck of paint had remained on her, though I was certain that at least some had missed her smock entirely. I shall never fully understand these sanitary secrets of the fairer sex.
The artist in repose

Many more people had crammed inside this small building and they mingling loudly and conspicuously. They were appraising each exhibit as though paid by central casting to be erudite art critics. Each one of them was dressed in the purposely untidy way that so irks me, putting clothing on like it contained bits of armor and tinsel.

Melissa, putting it more concisely than I could, offered that all of these people were trying too hard to fit in by being weird. This was an intense annoyance to the both of us, who have transcended this high school mentality, but are still proud that we didn't have to flaunt individuality by conforming to being freaks. We really were the freaks. As point of fact, we pretty much still are, though our adult responsibilities preclude patronizing Punky Colours and the Leather and Spikes Emporium. Our freak power is subtle and covert, but strong nonetheless. We can wear three piece suits and be more punk than any three of these people.

Melissa and I found a bench out of the flow of this human traffic and they all began to stare and scoff. Trying to get away from the attention of strangers to just relax for a moment seemed contrary to the programming of these students and they clearly thought it was all an act to get attention. The inversion was not lot on Melissa, who was only a moment away from loudly pointing it out to the sticky haired youths beneath us.

Melissa and I rescued - at least to our way of thinking - Angela from a crowd of trendy and conspicuous students. She didn't know the dire peril from which she was ferried away, but only because their infection was fevering her brain.

Noting one of Angela's hangers-on, I asked, "Hey Melissa, do you know what is cooler than having a Mohawk on just one side of your head? Not." The boy did not hear me, which was for the best as it would have only increased the persecution complex that gave him nightly righteous orgasms.

Plain-speaking Mario, lover of Angela, arrived soon thereafter, just in time to be perplexed by two dozen students "extemporaneously" deciding to play water glasses in the center of the main hall. This inconvenienced Melissa, returning from a smoke break outside. She stepped over these human obstacles, each one giving her a glance dirty enough to sully a unicorn at one thousand paces. She rolled her eyes and repressed the urge to step on one of the glasses. Mario just smiled like a lost but loving puppy, not certain what to make of this musical interlude that stretched more than fifteen pretentious minutes.
water music  
"Spontaneous" art

During this performance, I spied Dexy quaffing a red plastic cup full of free but flat beer. I suspected that the beer was only planted as bait to attract students who were not art majors or the weekend paramours thereto. This failed abysmally, quite likely because the beer was of such a low quality as taste like the mold beneath a vat of beer. Real college students know the contents of a keg from half a mile away and detected that the risk of attended this show far outweighed its benefits. Dexy did not, but she was known as a girl of very little sense.

Dexy, as some of the long time and more obsessive readers know, was a fellow resident advisor with me when I worked at Summer Scholars. She is of Indian extraction with skin the color of polished wood as a body toned to match. This did not escape the attention of the least of our wards, which we had dubbed the Juvenile Delinquents. These students were likely only allowed into the program on the technicality that few people applied that year. Given that Dexy's job was to provide for the welfare of all the wards, one would think she could have eschewed any pitter-patterings of lust for these high school students, but one would be mistaken. Jacki was forced to admonish Dexy more than she did most of the students and I was forced to witness Dexy not getting the drift and letting tenth graders back her into corners like she was three minutes from starring in a porn.

Dexy did not seem a whit different now, though understandably without a backward-hat wearing minor trying to remove her clothing. I asked her how she was and she smiled her recognition after a moment. I chose to have faith that this moment was only to allow the cloud of inebriation to part slightly. We exchanged pleasantries, hers more pleasant than mine, for a few minutes. When she asked after my girlfriend (two points for remembering that I might have one) and seemed confused that I was still with Emily, I politely told her that I had to go sit ten feet away from her now. This didn't seem to affect her either way.

Melissa and I ducked out early as Melissa was more than convinced that she was grateful to have never had such a college experience and I didn't see anyone worth bothering. I convinced Melissa to ignore the biting cold on the edge of the night and come to the garden with me.

"Is this the garden that is in your stories?" she asked.

My eyes widened. "You read my story?" I frankly don't really imagine that anyone - Emily excluded because she has to - really reads Deaths Worse Than Fate enough to realize that I use a garden in the plotline.

Melissa gave an ambivalent answer, which I took to mean that she had meant something different and my excitement made her a little embarrassed. She, I think, just meant the anecdotes that I tell about Bard occasionally.

"Yes, this is the garden. I need pictures for reference." This wasn't wholly true, though it had been one of the reasons that I was eager to go to Angela's show. I imagined that I remembered that garden well enough to recreate it as a literary landscape for my story. What I didn't remember accurately, I felt I could contrive better.

On our walk to the garden, Melissa and I discussed Emily, specifically her feelings for my girlfriend. This likely came up because I was expressing some relationship stress and wanted her perspective. Melissa intoned that, while she likes Emily, there are things that Emily does that can grate on her. We will not get into what specifically annoys Melissa, not out of an effort to spare Emily but because I do not think Melissa cares to have this divulged to the world at large. Suffice it to say, I understood why Melissa stated the things she did, though I did not wholly agree.

I nodded, nonetheless, not really sure what to think of this. In a way, no one will ever be good enough for me, according to Melissa. It is a protective sororal attachment which I have always appreciated once I understood its context. On the other hand, though I may be uneasy about some aspect of my relationship with Emily, I quite fancy her and want to stick up for her, even if I have brought this particular train of conversation upon myself.

The garden, moon-drenched and icebox cold, was beyond my imaginings. Though parts of it didn't measure up to the fantasy buttresses I am building to enforce its walls, it was simply more than I could have remembered. My descriptions and even pictures cannot do it justice, because so much of it is representational. Those roping vines drop seeds of literary inspiration - daring the unwary to scribble a poem against their pillar - but the will always be the place where I pulled Klara Takas into an unfortunate and awkward kiss, her unflinching lips the texture of yielding glass.
My maiden  
My muse

And the statue, my minute maiden in weathered marble. She is eroding steadily, her features softening with each passing season. It had been too long since last I saw her, greeted her, bent to look into her eyes, and kissed her. It was reverent and slightly intimate, something more real than that brief reflected upon peck with a girl I never knew again. Looking up from this embrace with a sculpture, I peered around for the flash of Melissa's camera (its technology sufficient to render the garden more than shades of glowing primaries against the dark) as though I had been romancing a girl on the side and feared being caught. She did not see this, I do not think, though she walked over to me all the same.

Melissa stopped and looked at the statue, this frozen muse. Unsurprisingly, she instantly got it. Melissa had picked flowers, at least those courageous blossoms that had yet to retract against the impending winter, on her way to the garden and she placed this motley bouquet on the statue's lap. I like to believe that the statue appreciated the gesture and she looked a little less naked for it.

This Girl

There is this girl, because there is always this girl.

This girl, whose name I have not contrived to discover, startles me every time I see her passing in the halls of Mount Saint Mary. I look a second too long, crossing the line where the casual glance becomes the obvious stare. I do not mean to do so, but my brain cannot help itself. My brain, despite every ounce of logic to the contrary, thinks this girl is Kate.

Petite, with hair the color of hot chocolate, she could remind me of anyone. She accessorizes her look in an unfortunately familiar fashion. She wears the thick rimmed black glasses so retro-trendy with the hipsters. I don't disparage them a whit, as I happen to find those glasses obnoxiously attractive on most girls, I being fetishistic for geek-chicks. She wears faded t-shirts in primary and secondary colors, covering them with unbuttoned sweaters. She is shorter and I know that Kate's hair must be longer that this by now, but she could not be better costumed she had done so intentionally.

I would ignore her and think that is probably the most reasonable course of action, or would be if she weren't so aware that I can't help but look at her face every time she passes, if only to evaporate my brain's misconception with the differences between one of my close (if distant) friends and former lover and this elfin stranger.

She knows I look and I feel I owe her an explanation as to why.

Audio Extra: Water Music (1.3M).

Soon in Xenology: Estrangement. Nude free spirits. Zack's girlfriend. Christmas. Sacrifice.

last watched: School of Rock
reading: Something Rotten
listening: Our Endless Number Days
wanting: Stendhal Syndrome
moment of zen: kissing my muse.
someday I must: return to Blithewood Garden during the day.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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