Monday, December 1, 2014
This is another POV experiment in a difficult POV for me. It's a little long. Anyone want to classify it?
“Look at this.” Professor Walker spread his arms wide, as if he were basking in the glory of the artwork. He stood to the side and held up his arms, bending his wiry wrists gracefully as if he were modeling the painting. “Lose yourself. Listen to the art. Allow it to change you.”
The group of five students shuffled near the painting, listening to their feet echo in the museum. Art Appreciation was difficult for this class of twenty, now only five since the wave of dropouts a few weeks ago.
The painting was large, maybe ten feet by twelve feet, and it had yellow on one side of the canvas and blue on the other side. The yellow on the left and the blue on the right were solid paint, without any brush strokes, and met in the middle of the canvas like a seam.
“Well,” started James. He cleared his throat.
“No, no,” Professor Walker said, putting his arms down. “Do not talk. Listen.” He put a finger to his lips and took a step away from the painting, observing it carefully.
James looked at Anthony. “He’s a crackpot,” James whispered. Professor Walker did not hear, but Anthony chuckled a little.
The class gathered around the painting. They stood awkwardly and self-consciously, not wanting to make too much noise in the museum and not wanting to say something foolish. No matter how long they waited, they didn’t know the expected answers.
Aundreia shifted uncomfortably, trying to decide if the yellow were more of a lemon yellow or a banana yellow. The blue was obvious: it was a dark midnight blue.
“This painting is crap,” James whispered to Aundreia. James had glanced at the painting, but now he was and hiding behind Shonnatha and sending a text message to his brother (“lts smoke 2nite”).
“Well,” Professor Walker said, pausing dramatically. “What do you think?”
Aundreia cleared her throat. “I think it’s like night and day.”
“Good, Aundreia. What else?”
“The one side is light and happy, like day. The other side is dark, like night.”
Everyone stood still, waiting for Professor Walker to say something, but he was waiting for Aundreia to finish, to say something important.
Aundreia couldn’t think of anything to say. So, “I like it,” is all she added.
“That’s it?” demanded Professor Walker. “That is all you have to say? Every picture is worth a thousand words, and so far, you have expended less than twenty-five words. Work a little harder. How does it make you feel? Why do you like it?”
The class shifted uncomfortably. These moments were awkward and tense, but usually the class learned something in the end. Like the time when Professor Walker showed them a picture with a distorted perspective: the faraway trees looked the same size as the closer trees, and the house had an odd shape like a box that was smashed flat. Only Shonnatha had attempted to offer an idea, and all that Shonnatha could say had been, “It doesn’t make sense.” Professor Walker had explained to them about different perspectives that day.
They hadn’t learned much about perspectives that day, but they understood better. Anthony understood that sometimes you looked at things in one way and sometimes in another. James learned that he had a very different perspective than Professor Walker.
Professor Walker began to shift from one leg to another. “So? What else?” His face was getting red. The vein on his balding forehead began to swell.
James decided it was time to add something. “It looks like someone was trying to decide which paint to use in their house.” Anthony laughed, and Aundreia frowned a little. She knew that this would make Professor Walked angry. Her family had lots of children and drama, so she did her best to calm the strife. She understood that Anthony tried to fill the empty space, but thoughtless comments like this would just cause more tension.
“Are you here to act like monkeys?” He looked over the class, all five of them, without seeing their faces, and he felt disappointment. All his time and energy, and the class refused to learn, refused to become better people. “Are you here to waste my time? Are you here to waste your educations? If you are, please leave.” James took a step towards the exit, but Professor Walker was not in the mood for comedy, in fact, rarely anymore. He glared at James until he shifted again, pretending that it wasn’t his intention to leave.
Shonnatha decided she could try. She wanted to succeed, and education was the path to success, she knew, unquestioningly. “It seems like it is showing two different sides. It seems like it shows dark and light. Two different sides of the world.” She said this last part like a question.
“Are you sure?” asked Professor Walker. He was tough on Shonnatha, but he knew that she could learn so much more. “You do not sound sure about your own thoughts.”
“No, I’m pretty sure. Is it right?”
“What do you mean, ‘Is it right?’” He was angry now. He wanted these students to be better and smarter and wiser. He wanted them to have greater perspicacity. “This is art not science. Our reactions and interpretations are not wrong.”
“What is wrong with what I said?” Shonnatha felt stupid and frustrated. She thought she understood sometimes, but she always seemed to be wrong.
“There’s nothing wrong with what you said, Shonnatha. But your observations are shallow and unthinking.”
Shonnatha’s face fell. She could feel the tears welling up under her eyelids, but she blinked them back into her head.
Carl never spoke in class because he saw the way Shonnatha felt. He touched her arm to let her know that he cared. That he didn’t know the answers either. He liked her, and he wanted her to feel better. Really, he wanted to touch her golden hair. Carl had three older sisters who taught him things. He could braid her beautiful long, copper hair.
Professor Walker sighed. How many times had he tried to explain this? “The artist presents something in an image, and this image creates a combination of thoughts and ideas in us. The painting has so much room for interpretation because it has no specific representation. It is just colors on a canvas. But the artist wants to evoke our thoughts. The artist wants to make us feel something. The artist wants us to change because we have seen his work. Our thoughts and our reactions are never incorrect.”
He paused dramatically, looking at each of the five faces in front of him. Carl’s chin dropped to his chest, facing towards the ground. James was looking up at the ceiling. Aundreia and Anthony were exchanging expressions of disbelief.
“Look at it,” Professor Walker said. “Don’t you want to think like mature humans? Don’t you want to use your critical thinking skills?”
The class was looking at him now, waiting for the throbbing blood vessel in his forehead to burst right out of his head.
Shonnatha jumped in. The class sighed a little when she spoke up because she deflected Professor Walker’s anger during tense moments like this. “It makes me feel sad that one part of the painting can be happy and the other side is so sad.”
“How can a painting be happy or sad?” Professor Walked asked, the tone in his face mellowing to a medium flush.
Shonnatha said, “Well, the yellow isn’t just yellow. It’s bright and happy. And the blue is so dark and sad.” She shifted, crossing her ankles and leaning to the side so her thick, coppery hair fell over her shoulder. “It’s like, there is no medium between happy and sad. When you are happy, you cannot be sad.”
“Interesting,” Professor Walker said. “Carl, what do you think?” Professor Walker assumed that Carl understood more than he expressed. He was quiet, but he wrote excellent papers.
“I don’t really know. I agree with Shonnatha.”
“That is so weak and stupid,” Professor Walker said, his face flushing three tones darker and the vein in his forehead throbbing away. When he acted like this and his face looked ready to explode, Carl’s head hurt, so he looked down at the ground. “Do you think the same as Shonnatha because you cannot think for yourself? Your ideas are valid. Do not be afraid to express what you think and feel.” James was suppressing a smile as Professor Walker became more passionate. “You all have brains. Don’t be afraid to use them. Thinking is not wrong.”
“Anthony, what do you think?”
Anthony thought he was smarter than this stupid professor who jumped up and down, but he didn’t know the answers that Professor Walker wanted. “I don’t know,” he responded. He was proud that he could admit this. “None of us know what you want us to say. Tell us what you want to hear, and we will tell you.”
The class froze, waiting for the explosion of anger, waiting for Professor Walker to share the ultimate truth that was buried in this strange, obscure painting. Except for James, they were quiet and serious, listening to Professor Walker, and yes, even trying to listen to the painting. But James was trying not to smile.
“James,” Professor Walker said. “Do you think that art is so funny?” James was not smiling anymore. “Do you have all the answers? Do you know what the truth is?”
“Aundreia,” Professor Walker said, “How does this make you feel?”
“I guess,” Aundreia started, but then she stopped. She saw Professor Walker’s face, and she had said something wrong. She started again: “I guess this painting makes me think that the artist was lazy. I could copy this art, but I still don’t know what the artist was trying to say.”
“Excellent,” Professor Walker exploded. “It’s like when we talked about the artist’s intention in class. We talked about how we can have our own ideas and emotions about art, but we will never know what the artist meant. Good job, Aundreia.” She smiled and took a step back into the small group of students, relinquishing the focus.
“And you,” Professor Walker said. “You, Carl. How does this painting make you feel?”
Carl decided to mention something from the readings although he wasn’t sure how it related to this painting. “I think that this painting shows that when a painting is unclear, the artist relies on the viewers to understand the art. We understand the art based on our past and our knowledge.”
“Great,” Professor Walker was excited that the students seemed to understand the reading and to apply the theory to real art. He was relieved that some critical analysis was coming out of this group. His excitement kept the vein throbbing in his forehead, but his face dulled to a dark pink. “That is so true. The art does not have any meaning outside of the meaning that we give it. The artist created such ambiguity that we cannot understand this painting without our past and our perspectives. Good. What about you, Aundreia? How does this painting make you feel?”
Shonnatha paused, shifting uncomfortably.
“When you have a powerful reaction to a painting, it is not wrong,” Professor Walker said. “Use your mind. How does this painting make you feel?”
Shonnatha looked straight at Professor Walker. “This painting reminds me of a cartoon with its bright colors. It’s like watching a cartoon when it’s dark outside. It sort of makes me happy and sort of makes me wait for something to happen. Like something strange is going on.”
“It’s true.” Professor Walker laughed. “This painting is like watching a conflict percolate between something bright and something troublesome. That’s fantastic.”
Shonnatha glowed with the praise. She smiled broadly.
“And, you, James?” Professor Walker took a step towards James, leaning over him so that James could feel his breath that smelled like Altoids and coffee. “James.”
“What?” James asked. He puffed out his chest and straightened his shoulders. He was still six inches shorter than Professor Walker.
“I want to know what you have to add to this conversation. Can you enlighten us about the meaning behind this painting?”
Professor Walker leaned closer to James. James smelled vaguely of pizza and marijuana. His irises shook a little, wavering nervously, although he stood like he imagined a soldier would stand.
“Well, James? Do you know everything? Help us to understand what you are thinking.” The vein in Professor Walker’s forehead was beginning to pulse again, throbbing like an infected finger or migraine headache. His face was bright red, bordering on violet.
James didn’t know what to think about the painting. He wanted to impress this whole class—all his classes—but really, he was ashamed by how little he studied and how little he understood.
“James? What do you think? Your ideas are not wrong. Think freely.” Professor Walker’s head was more violet than ever. He leaned closer to James, wanting to push James toward the truth and hoping he might understand.
James, however, did not feel encouraged.
James looked at the picture, and suddenly, he had an idea. This painting, this museum, this class, and even Professor Walker meant something. He looked at Professor Walker, focusing on his right eye, blue and icy like an old person’s eyes. James said, “This painting makes me angry.”
“Why does this painting make you feel like that?”
“Because it makes me furious that some uppity artist can make a painting like this and live a high life. This painting is supposed to mean something, but it’s just two colors that I could find in any Crayola box.”
“That’s good, James,” Professor Walker encouraged. “What else?”
“This painting makes me angry that there is a small club of people that seem to see more than me. I see just fine, but all I see is a stupid painting worth more than I make in ten years.”
A small stream of sweat dripped down James’s forehead. His heart thumped heavily in his chest, and the approval hit him like adrenaline. James was talking faster. “One man paints a painting that anyone can create, but if I paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel under a bridge, I’m an outlaw.”
“It’s like all the anger and all the frustration that separates me from the rest of the academic and professional world is right here in this stupid painting. It makes me want to… I want to….”
“What, James? What does it make you want to do?”
James pulled his arm back and landed his heavy fist on the left side of Professor Walker’s jaw. Professor Walker reeled back, falling back onto the floor.
“It makes me want to hit someone.”
Professor Walker looked up at James, trying to decide whether he should be impressed or whether he should call the police.
James stood up straight, looking down at Professor Walker. “You said, thinking’s not wrong.” He stood, sticking out his chest and standing tall over Professor Walker. The rest of the class looked on: Shonnatha wondered if she should help Professor Walker, Aundreia wanted to go get some help, Anthony thought that he could break them up and be a hero on the evening news, but Carl started to clap, slowly and loudly.